It seems that the whole kiting world suddenly got very interested in hydrofoils this year. Stand up foilboards have actually been around for some years, and Carafino led the way with a commercially available foilboard for kiteboarding since 2006. So what is all the hype about, and why now?
Imagine being able to kiteboard above the water. Gently floating over the chop in silence. Silence so unheard of that you can even hear the white water breaking next to you while you glide along at speed.
Now imagine being able to go upwind like a racing yacht. My average sessions at Kitebeach (in Cape Town) takes me upwind from where Seli the wreck used to be upwind to Sunset beach, and then back again. If it was not fast and easy I would definitely not be doing it often.
Add to that the fact that when the wind is light, you are still powered up enough to go wherever you want to, as fast as you dare to go, and there will be no one else on the water (except maybe some SUPs and surfers). On light wind days, a gentle cruise on a yacht looks so inviting with flat calm seas, and only a gentle breeze. With a foilboard, you can now go kiting on these lovely days.
So what is a foilboard (or hydrofoil) some of you might ask. Well, it looks like this:
It is almost like a mini aeroplane, which is connected to a very long fin under your kiteboard. Once you get up to speed, the foil will make enough lift to hold your weight and you will be able to lift the whole board off the water and keep riding only on the submerged foil. Almost like those hydrofoiling ships, but only on a surfboard.
So how did it all start? From what I can gather, the surfers in Hawaii were the first to take a sit-down hydrofoil that were used to tow you behind a boat, and modify it so that one can stand on it. They then used these with tow in surfing and surfed some very big waves. Soon after that, someone must have tried it with a kite and the sport was born. These early foils had boots connecting the board to your feet. Obviously with kiteboarding still new (and dangerous), adding a metal sword to the bottom of your board and binding yourself onto it was more extreme for most people to try so the hydrofoil side of things did not become widespread just yet.
Soon after this, Carafino was launched which was the first hydrofoil dedicated for use with a kite. It moved to carbon fibre foils instead of aluminium, and you only required straps for these instead of bindings. The sport did not explode, but slowly gathered more riders who enjoyed the uniqueness of foilboarding.
As with most advanced technologies around sailing, the French were the next to really develop the sport. They advanced the most difficult part of it: the speed. And with increased speed you also need improved handling. They developed the foilboard from something that could maybe reach 18 knots, to something that goes around a course faster than any kite race board, going multiple times faster than the wind speed and definitely faster than most sailing yachts. And it seems this year, the Americans woke up to this new sport and as you can see in these videos, they are really embracing it:
So if kite hydrofoiling is so good, surely there must be some unknown drawbacks to explain why it is not more commonplace? Well firstly, it is expensive. A foil with board will set you back 1500 Euro or more. I have been trying to make my own foils, and I can see why they are so expensive. They are not so easy to manufacture.
The next drawback is the learning curve. It took me just as long to learn to ride a foilboard as it took me to learn kiteboarding. With most kiteboards, any experienced kiter can hop onto any kiteboard and test it out. If you have not learnt to use a hydrofoil, then it is not just a matter of a couple of minutes to get used to it. You can say it is a totally new sport, both in terms of learning it, and in terms of the new sensations it brings. It complements normal kiteboarding really nicely, since cruising around on a twintip and doing jumps can become monotonous, whereas foilboarding is so different that it ignites that excitement again no matter how bored you've become of kiteboarding.
Then of course there is the issue of availability. These high tech boards are few and far between, so if you cannot even see one, who would risk paying so much for one. I think that foilboarding is reaching the critical mass, where enough people have them that others can also at least see them in action and realise that they would be much better off with one of these than with some new surfboard or kite.
So who would want one of these boards? I think foilboarding suites the typical kiteboarder who mainly freerides, and has to make the most of conditions available. The type of rider who is not a gymnast, able to pull off the latest craziest tricks, who does not have a perfect uncrowded surfbreak to kite everyday and is getting bored of just plain freeriding. A foilboard will rejuvenate ones kiteboarding again, and allow you to go out (and have fun) in marginal wind conditions.
The second group of riders are the kite-surfers. Believe me, a foilboard might look boring in the surf, but once you have tasted the energy from underneath a wave, a regular surfboard will feel like it has no power. Foilboarding in the waves is a totally new experience. Even small, non-breaking waves suddenly have lots of energy to propel you forward and if you are the surfer that likes to surf using the board and getting your energy out of the waves as opposed to the kite, then a foilboard is the thing for you. Plus going back upwind to catch the next wave is no longer a drag, since the foilboard shoots upwind so quickly. I sometimes find that I ride waves down the line, with kite drifting to the point of almost falling out the sky while I surf, and then I can be back upwind for the next wave in one tack!
And then finally, for the raceboard riders out there, if you want the fastest board out there, which requires much less physical effort, (but maybe quite a lot more mental effort) then a foilboard is for you.
If you are looking to get one of these, here is a list of the manufacturers that I know about: http://kitehydrofoil.com/index.php/equipment/where-to-buy.html
Since you will probably not have anyone to teach you how to ride one, I have made a detailed how-to section which I trust will help newcomers learn faster than it took me to learn: http://kitehydrofoil.com/index.php/equipment/where-to-buy.html
If you want even more info (and you can read French then the French kitefoil forum is probably the best resource of kite hydrofoiling information available anywhere: http://kitefoil.forumactif.org/
Here is some motivation for what is possible on a foilbaord (and now I know why this guys is the best kite racer in the world):
I hope to have some "flying" buddies out on the water soon?