Diary of a Hesitant First Time Foiler

Cracking it!


An inside look at what you might discover in your first week learning to foil.

Taken from our technique feature published in issue #99 of Kiteworld Magazine.


Caroline Morris is not only Kiteworld’s lovely advertising manager, she is one of the most excitable kitesurfers we know and is totally devoted to strapless surfboard riding. Foiling wasn’t on her radar at all and she felt very apprehensive about it. However, being good friends with Rob Claisse from Progression, and as they both stayed on in Cape Town long after all the crowds had gone home, he finally managed to encourage her to have a go. Here’s how she got on in her first seven sessions…


WORDS: Caroline Morris

PHOTOS: Progression and Caroline Morris

Caroline setting up the foil


Why haven’t I tried before now?

First of all, I’ve been fully focused on getting better at wave riding for the last few years and didn’t feel that I had enough rounded skills to try foiling. Plus, I’m a very accident-prone person and already have enough battle scars, so I’ve always shelved the idea. I’m also very competitive with myself and didn’t want to be a crap beginner again.

I guess I finally gave in because the Cape Town season was coming to an end, so if I got injured I wouldn’t ruin my whole season. There’s also less wind at that time, so being able to get out in lighter winds would ensure that I’d get my water time and be able to better fit it around work. The waters were also much less crowded, but ultimately, I would be silly to keep refusing Rob’s offer to be my foil guru.


I watched the first few Progression videos to pick up the terminology and concepts. Rob drove us both to Langebaan lagoon for the sessions I’d take. The journey is about 90 minutes and I’d learn a lot of valuable theory on these road trips by picking his brain. Rob firstly explained how the physics of a foil works and how it behaves.

We went over some basics at the beach, like how to carry the foil (that thing is awkward and gets heavy after a while!) and the best way to pick it up and head into the water (keeping the board on the upwind side of you so there’s no risk of falling on it when you enter the water).

Rob put me on the Shinn Jackson and P wing, which is a large wing that’s apparently easy to control with the shorter mast of 60cm. He said he was positioning the mast towards the back of the board to account for a beginner’s bad stance, which I thought was a bit rude!

I insisted that I didn’t want use straps as my knees aren’t great and it’s been a couple of years since I’ve used a twin-tip. I ride purely strapless on a surfboard now. Rob said sure, but that it was unusual. If I struggled with waterstarts he’d put the straps on.

Going into the water I was incredibly nervous – to the point of my stomach turning and feeling queasy!



Hold onto the rail to move the board into position in front of me in an arc motion from the side of my body.

Being strapless, when placing my feet onto the board I was to put my back foot on first and then dive the kite with my front hand, while still holding onto the rail with my back hand to maintain the board’s position.

Rob said to keep weight on my front foot (like on a surfboard, but more exaggerated and with weight evenly spread across my foot this time – not just the heels).

Finally, Rob’s key tip was to keep the kite high and maintain weight placement, with my shoulders balanced upright over my knees.


chatting in car

Left: Rob Claisse, foil guru. Right: The sponge



The first and overriding element to overcome was learning to carry the board and then manoeuvre it in the water, which isn’t as easy as it might sound! The whole thing rolls and drifts out of position so easily. After struggling to get the board aligned right it would often slip away again and holding the top rail was too hard as I found it a difficult stretch to reach with my legs pulled up in front of my chest. I drifted a long way and had a couple of walks back up the beach – full beginner mode again!

After a few attempts at getting into position, I realised I could actually hold the bottom rail instead and be faster at arcing the board towards me, which made the whole getting up process quicker before the current took the board away (similar to how I remember my first strapless surfboard waterstarts). I then found getting up and riding far easier than simply getting the board and foil into position.

After a few runs I was getting up on the board more comfortably (not trying to foil), riding both ways and was able to kite upwind and downwind. I was already starting to think (albeit ahead of myself) about toeside riding and how I might gybe. A couple of times the mast rode up but I was able to push it back down again as Rob said that it was super important to master control and not let the foil rise up too early.

Next up, I was ready to ‘rise and glide’. Rob told me to keep my speed, raise the kite, shift my weight back slightly (through a slight movement in the hips) and then as soon as I heard everything go quiet, I was to slightly shift my knees towards the nose of the board while maintaining my position. BOOM, I was up! 

Being strapless meant that when I did fall, I fell far enough away from the board so as not to clash with the foil and get hurt.

Everything seemed more or less under control, although I felt the need to have my back foot further towards the tail (like on a surfboard). The more challenging part was when I hit choppier waters. I always thought the foil wouldn’t be affected by chop or waves, but the energy of the water moving just below the surface really had a big impact on my balance control.

Next up, Rob moved the mast settings so that I could have a wider stance (a natural progression). I practised rising up on the foil and putting it back down on the water to get in position for my first gybes. I had been kiting a couple of hours and heading back in for some lunch made me realise just how utterly exhausted my body was. There wasn’t much juice left in my legs and I was making silly little mistakes. Learning all over again takes up so much energy and my AppleWatch demonstrated I’d burnt three times the usual calories of a session!


Cracking it!

Cracking it!



  • Watching the first videos in the Progression series to get the terminology and concepts.
  • Being adamant that I wasn’t going to use straps seemed to help as it was then less of a step for me.
  • Practising yoga – I was used to keeping my core strong and stable while making small tweaks to my body position elsewhere.
  • The Shinn Jackson board with the P wing really is easy to learn on. The wing is very stable while the board doesn’t have too much volume, so is easy to move into position for a waterstart.


Weird places – like the tops of my feet (I guess I’m not used to using full foot pressure) and my arm, because carrying and moving the board and foil in the water is much harder than I expected.


DAY #02

The wind was much lighter, around 10-12 knots, but with up to four knots of current in places. Effectively that made the wind 10 – 16 knots. The first session was only about 45 minutes and it was a challenge on my biggest kite, a nine metre Airush Ultra. Waterstarts were much more difficult in light wind, but this was vital practice. 

After a break, my second session was much better with an improved stance and I was riding around much more efficiently and without the shaky legs. I’m so used to keeping the kite low in overpowered Cape Town conditions, so I had to really consciously work on keeping the kite high.

The bigger kite felt much more stable than the seven though and was far easier to try new things as the kite was less likely to inadvertently drift out of position.

I’m proud to say that despite getting very far ahead of myself, I tried (and succeeded!) in my first attempt at a foiling gybe! Doing so perhaps made me a bit too cocky though as I then tried to do things too fast and lost my flow. Foiling is technical and just when you’re up, you can be brought back down to earth very quickly!

The only people out on the water were me and three other foilers. At times I was scared I’d crash and have difficulty relaunching the kite. We all crashed our kites at one point or another and it was a heavy lesson of kiting in the lightest winds I’ve ever ridden in. Now I know that learning to foil will make me a much better kiter and perhaps this is key to getting where I want to be with my wave riding. It was like a penny had dropped!

Once off the water I was showered with compliments and invited to join the local foiling Whatsapp group, which felt awesome. I wholeheartedly think my strapless experience (three years and often in challenging spots) has a lot to do with how fast I’ve been able to pick things up. A lot of what I was trying didn’t feel too dissimilar or was at least intuitive to pick up.

That all comes from riding an easy foil though. Learning to foil must be so different now to how it was a few seasons ago.



Cruising. Up next, a more dynamic body position for turns


DAY #3

Rob started making me set up my own foil and I was learning the importance of packing everything away so it doesn’t corrode or wear away as some parts can get stuck easily with salt water.

It was windy enough for my seven metre again which was good as I’m more used to that kite.

Before hitting the water we agreed on three goals to keep me focused :

  • Build up to making ten runs of the lagoon without touching down. (This didn’t happen at first, but I was really comfy riding around and nailing this goal by the end).
  • Toeside and gybes. I made them but they weren’t pretty, so Rob said I should kite at a broader angle, turn quicker and get my body down lower to be able to apply more front foot pressure.
  • Make foot change gybes off the foil. I was just about getting them, but they were really ugly and Rob said I shouldn’t worry because I was getting too far ahead of myself.

Overall I felt confident on the foil and was learning to negotiate other kiters (including crashed beginners) without panicking.

I felt completely and utterly broken the next day. I’d crashed so many times and applied so much effort over about three hours that my body was screaming. It’s a good idea to have a decent sports masseur to call up last minute as no amount of magnesium, yoga or muscle rub would have got me through the day!

Learning something new is a pretty humbling experience  – we forget how good it is for us. But next up I wanted a bigger mast and to go faster! I also want to be able to do a foot change on the foil within the next few sessions, but Rob said I was being ridiculously unrealistic!


DAY #04

This time we went up to Langebaan with two other beginners (Amanda and Hayden). As usual we were the only ones on the water as foiling is just amazing for getting out in precious little wind – my time on the water has literally quadrupled!

It was windy enough for my trusted seven metre (though I switched down to my five metre later on when other twin-tippers were still on 12 metre kites!). For some reason I wasn’t doing very well at first and was tripping up and struggling with the choppy waters.

The second session that day went better after some food energy. I practised riding toeside as Rob had filmed me the session before and pointed out how straight my body was. He explained how to correct it. Of course the tips were working and I started to get a feel for things.

We went out for a final blast after lunch and it was my best session so far. Suddenly I had my mojo back and instinctively learnt to pump the board over the chop and was even enjoying the sensation of it. I felt relaxed and was managing to ride toeside for long runs, which meant I was also successfully gybing (turning from heelside to toeside) nicely, too.

It was a real buzz to kite with others who were also learning and I can really see the benefit of being on a camp as the camaraderie made the session.


Langebaan lagoon

Langebaan lagoon is certainly a lush foiling location!


DAY #05:

Once again, lots of recapping in the car on the way up, chatting over what I’d learnt, what was easy and what wasn’t. We agreed on what I should be tackling next:

  • Get more confident riding toeside (and not worry about my bad side for now) – and get my gybes dialled in.
  • Try the foot change on the foil – but don’t think of it as part of the gybe like on a surfboard. They should be treated separately and not done in quick succession.
  • Try a tack similar to a push tack on a surfboard.
  • Get confident looping the kite by tackling my fear and practising looping without the board, standing in shoulder-depth water.

I was up, riding with confidence and completely nailed toeside from the get-go and can now ride upwind in toeside for long runs. I also managed back-to-back gybes while staying on the foil the whole time. In the end I only touched down when exhaustion set into my legs!

I’ve realised that crashing from a height means water is getting in my ears more and causing earaches, so I needed to buy some SurfEars.

I only kited around 90 minutes and in that time crashed in a wind shadow, my kite inverted and I had to fly it back to shore and re-do my lines. Don’t underestimate the amount of energy that is expended relaunching kites – flying in light winds means I really need to conquer my fear of looping – I can do it so why was I so scared?

I tried one tack and of course had no chance of getting anywhere close, however I managed the first foot change on the foil until I lost momentum immediately after. I really want to nail this move because I think it will feel really good!

I also tried someone else’s Slingshot foil board – which was a lot higher volume but I could waterstart it and I like that it was narrower. I am starting to wonder what I might purchase as my first foil. Do I want another low volume board but with a faster foil?


Talking me through Progression videos

Running through the good, the bad and the ugly with Rob


DAY #06

Rob was editing the next Progression Foiling series and invited me over to show me some examples and talk through how to succeed at downloop gybes on the foil.

Despite having a few years of kiting behind me, I have always had a complete mental block over looping the kite and have avoided doing it. When I commit to trying it I always succeed, so the fear is completely irrational, but it’s come to the point with foiling where avoiding loops will inhibit my progression. Without having a coach like Rob to tell me so, I would probably dodge them for life and never be as good a kiter as I hope to be.

Rob showed me some of the footage and explained the timings, kite and body positioning. He made me promise to try it. I, on the other hand, was just keen to nail the foot change on the foil, which Rob agreed I was also ready to try.

The wind in Langebaan was way stronger than expected and I was on my five metre Airush Wave kite. I was struggling with the bigger chop from the stronger wind, but also all my timings were off with a smaller, faster kite. Each small movement at the bar makes a huge, exaggerated impact.

Rob reminded me to warm up first before I trying anything new and suggested we kite around the island in the middle of the lagoon; something I’ve never done before because I’ve been too nervous of going all that way. It felt great to have the freedom of exploration on the water as it’s so easy and fast to travel in different directions on a foil. I wasn’t confident with my skills though and kept tripping up much to my frustration, but maybe my attempts to downloop had unnerved me too much, so I decided to move on to something else.

It was only really in the last 30 minutes that everything started to come together again. I can’t believe that the first foot change I tried I almost succeeded (the foil and board sank just after I’d swapped my feet). I took a moment in the water to think and decided that keeping my core solid with even more of a low position might save me. It worked and I went on to nail three foil gybes with the foot change gliding fully out and riding away on the foil nicely. I’m not naturally athletic and was picking things up far quicker than I thought I would. I think my surfboard background and yoga really helped!

As the sun went down I packed up on a high!


Sitting on the board!

Advanced manoeuvres


DAY #07

It didn’t feel like there was enough for my seven metre, so I went out on the nine metre Airush Ultra, but was just struggling so much. I felt like my riding was all over the place, I couldn’t ride toeside, wasn’t able to keep my kite high and was falling off a lot. I feel stupid to admit it, but what I didn’t realise was that I was really overpowered! After a while Rob came to tell me so and I chatted about how different it is to experience being overpowered while foiling. He said it takes a good while to be able to manage foiling overpowered, so wasn’t surprised that I was struggling.

Back on the the seven metre again and I felt much happier. Today was the day to try sitting on the board! I had such a laugh while attempting to ride sitting down as my squatted body position was so undignified, but at least I managed to do it for about two metres before I sank. This is the next thing I want to nail (never mind those scary loops!).


Caroline’s foiling escapades continue – watch out for an update to her foiling journey in a new feature

in our upcoming issue #102 – out November.

Also check out Progression’s video interview with Caroline for more insight on what it’s like learning to foil:




Find more on Rob and Progression’s series of instructional videos as well as their live camps at:




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