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Foil Board | The Ultimate Guide

Sean O'Brien August 14August 18th, 2022
Foil Board | The Ultimate Guide

Foil board windsurfing, aka foiling, hydrofoiling or foilboarding, has been around for 20 years but never really caught on in a mainstream sense until very recently. It’s now becoming the primary mode of use for windsurfing and other surfing sports. Windsurfing on a foil board is a type of windsurfing that involves replacing your fin with a special hydrofoil that creates huge lift under you board enabling it to “fly” above the water. Gybes, jumps and full speed runs can be achieved without touching the board to the water; the rider is surfing the foil and completely above the water.

Foil boarding gives surfing a whole new dimension and level of excitement. After all, it’s a whole different way of riding waves because it allows you to ride above them.

Windsurfing Boards 3

How does a hydrofoil work?

Using a hydrofoil to ride the waves is one of those activities that looks incredibly cool and seems simple to learn how to do. In reality, though, you need to have some level of surfing skill to even attempt it. Knowing how a hydrofoil board functions is also necessary. The sport of hydrofoiling is unlike anything else. Hydrofoils and foil boards are both similar in that they are meant to react to the water by lifting you out of it rather than being pushed by it.

You can think of the physical foil as consisting of a mast, fuselage, front wing, and back wing. The fins, which are located at the tail of the board, are attached to the mast. Its length is measured perpendicular to that of the fuselage, which is horizontal and flanked by the wings. While the smaller rear wing serves as a stabilizer, the larger front wing has a thick, fender-like appearance that gradually thins to a flat underside. Imagine a plane without the cockpit and the winglets to get a sense of how this setup works. Then picture it attached to the actual surfboard-style board by a thick, rectangular bar (the mast).

Hydrofoil boards have some complicated physics behind them. The board’s ability to rise to the surface of the water on its own and to gain speed is explained by a number of scientific laws.

Gliding at an upward angle and having a curved top on the front wing both contribute to the water speeding up and accelerating down beneath the craft. In addition, Newton’s third law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Your body is lifted out of the water thanks to the upward force produced as the water shoots downward in a chain reaction. Foil surfing or windfoiling combines elements of hydrodynamics, inertia, kinetic energy, and the rider’s shifting weight on the board.

Let’s look at the different types of foil boards:

Hydrofoil Board

Electric Foil Board

Wing Foil Board

Wake Foil Board

Lift Foil Board

Surf Foil Board

SUP Foil Board

Wing Foil Board

Windsurf foil boards are a relatively new addition to a sport that has existed for over 40 years. Windfoiling, foiling or windfoil is a radical innovation in the windsurfing world. Windsurf foil boards are designed to enable boards to foil and fly in as little as 6 knots of wind when combined with specially designed high-aspect-ratio sails. Each windsurf foil board setup consists of a mast, a fuselage, a forward wing, and a stabilizing wing at the back. Masts range in span size, height, and build. Carbon and aluminum are the two most common materials for building a mast, but carbon is the more efficient and lightweight option. Aluminium masts are also popular as they can be made cheaper, however they are much heavier and not as strong as carbon. The fin box base, available as either a Deep Tuttle or a Tuttle box, is located at the very top of the mast. Fuselages are typically made of carbon or aluminum. Similar to the fuselage of a plane, these float on water while attached to the mast and wings. The Wings’ span widths will change to adapt to different wind speeds. More lift is generated by a larger wing, allowing for earlier foiling potential. As soon as you begin foiling, the front wing becomes the primary lift generator, while the rear wing takes on a more stabilizing role. Some manufacturers provide riders with interchangeable front wings so they can select the optimal size for their riding ability and the weather.

Windsurf foil board designs vary; but overall they have very reinforced fin boxes to deal with the large loads put on the back of the board from the foil. Many new designs have reinforced fronts of the boards as there is potential to crash more when learning to foil which can damage the carbon foam sandwich construction of most windsurfing boards.

Olympus Digital Camera

Windsurf Foil Board

Windsurf foil boards are a relatively new addition to a sport that has existed for over 40 years. Windfoiling, foiling or windfoil is a radical innovation in the windsurfing world. Windsurf foil boards are designed to enable boards to foil and fly in as little as 6 knots of wind when combined with specially designed high-aspect-ratio sails. Each windsurf foil board setup consists of a mast, a fuselage, a forward wing, and a stabilizing wing at the back. Masts range in span size, height, and build. Carbon and aluminum are the two most common materials for building a mast, but carbon is the more efficient and lightweight option. Aluminium masts are also popular as they can be made cheaper, however they are much heavier and not as strong as carbon. The fin box base, available as either a Deep Tuttle or a Tuttle box, is located at the very top of the mast. Fuselages are typically made of carbon or aluminum. Similar to the fuselage of a plane, these float on water while attached to the mast and wings. The Wings’ span widths will change to adapt to different wind speeds. More lift is generated by a larger wing, allowing for earlier foiling potential. As soon as you begin foiling, the front wing becomes the primary lift generator, while the rear wing takes on a more stabilizing role. Some manufacturers provide riders with interchangeable front wings so they can select the optimal size for their riding ability and the weather.

Windsurf foil board designs vary; but overall they have very reinforced fin boxes to deal with the large loads put on the back of the board from the foil. Many new designs have reinforced fronts of the boards as there is potential to crash more when learning to foil which can damage the carbon foam sandwich construction of most windsurfing boards.

Inflatable Foil Board 1

Inflatable Foil Board

An inflatable foil board is a new product to the market. Inflatable boards have up to 20% more volume than comparable hard boards, making them more stable and able to support more rider and passenger weight. Since their performance has improved, more and more professional and recreational riders are opting to use inflatable foil boards simply because of their portability; you can roll them up and fit them in to a backpack! Something you literally cannot do with any other board. Storage and transport is one of the biggest issues traditional windsurfing faces and is a huge reason why kitesurfing and wing foiling became popular for windsurfers to make the switch. Maybe inflatable foil boards are the answer to bringing riders back to windsurfing.

Kite Foil Board 1

Kite Foil Board

Despite its intimidating name, kite foiling (also known as foilboarding, hydrofoil kiteboarding, and foil kitesurfing) is surprisingly simple to learn. The only difference is you are now using a kite foil board; a regular kiteboard with the addition of a hydrofoil to the underside of board. Using the foil, you can kite across the water effortlessly.

Kitesurfing and kiteracing are two of the many applications for kite foil board action. They are not buoyant in any way whereas regular kitesurfing kites might have inflatable tubes which float. In comparison to their inflatable counterparts, foil kites have a few unique control and safety features that necessitate special training to use properly. A kite foil board requires a high level of kitesurfing expertise. Foil boarding is more difficult to master than regular kitesurfing.

A few of the benefits of kite foil board sailing are: The foil “flies” under water, creating a very smooth ride; Highly effective in low-wind conditions, especially when combined with a foil kite. Some of the disadvantages of a kite foil board are: it’s harder to learn than regular kitesurfing; Be careful not to cut your feet or legs on the hydrofoil, or to be yanked forward onto it; Carrying them around may be a hassle; The need for deeper water for operations; Prices for boards and foils tend to be high.

Surf Foil Board 1

Inflatable Foil Board

An inflatable foil board is a new product to the market. Inflatable boards have up to 20% more volume than comparable hard boards, making them more stable and able to support more rider and passenger weight. Since their performance has improved, more and more professional and recreational riders are opting to use an inflatable foil board simply because of their portability; you can roll them up and fit them in to a backpack! Something you literally cannot do with any other board. Storage and transport is one of the biggest issues traditional windsurfing faces and is a huge reason why kitesurfing and wing foiling became popular for windsurfers to make the switch. Maybe an inflatable foil board is the answer to bringing riders back to windsurfing.

Surf Foil Board 1

Surf Foil Board

Surf foil boards, also known as hydrofoil surf boards or simply foilboards, are smaller surfboards that feature an underwater hydrofoil. Because of its configuration, the board breaks the surface of the water at varying rates. Laird Hamilton, a pivotal figure in the development of big wave tow-in surfing, is widely regarded as the forefather of the surf foil board movement due to his discovery of the foilboard’s ability to harness swell energy via a jet ski, pulling the rider into a wave.

Although it has some similarities to surfing on a surfboard or stand-up paddleboard, foil surfing is a very different experience. Extremely committed wave riders who are investigating and experimenting with this cutting-edge craft report that the increased difficulty is part of the appeal.

Surf foil boards differ from regular surf boards in a few key areas. The characteristics of a surf foil board are that they are shorter, thicker, and more floaty than regular boards. They have a high volume-to-length ratio. They have very gentle rocker lines (makes it easier to pop up on to the foil) and they are designed to be very stiff while keeping the weight down. This helps with pumping the foil with your legs.

Lt Windsurfer Board
Lt Windsurfer Board
Foil Waterskis

History of the Foil Board

Nearly a century ago, various watercraft started incorporating hydrofoils. Large and small motorboats, sailboats, rowboats, windsurfers, wakeboards, and waterskis have all used them. In 1906, Italian inventor Enrico Forlanini created the first hydrofoil boat (1948-1930). The foil was built using the tried-and-true “Ladder” style, with many descending struts and a plethora of wings in between. In 1906, it was tested with a 60 hp engine powering two counter-rotating air props, reaching a high speed of 42.5 mph.

A boat designed by Alexander Graham Bell and Casey Baldwin in 1919 was inspired by Floranini’s Ladder. The boat was mostly designed by Bell, and it was constructed by Baldwin. The Hydrodrome 4 (HD-4) was a boat that, until the 1960s, held the record for fastest hydrofoil boat speed at 60 knots.

In the 1960s, militaries around the world each created their own hydrofoil vessel. The Patrol Hydrofoil Missileship (PHM) was the forerunner to the Jetski, and it was developed by the United States Navy and Boeing. Also, a commercial passenger variant was created.

Aeronautical engineer Walter Woodward of Upper Newton Falls, Massachusetts, created the original “waterski” hydrofoil in the early 1960s which is probably what we consider the modern hydrofoil for watersports. Frazer Sinclair was the first person to put Woodward’s creation to the test by putting it through its paces in the air. A new water sport, towed hydrofoiling, has its debut.

As foiling arrived to surfing (and later windsurfing), “The Strapped Crew” were a group of big wave surf pioneers who took the new foil boards to Jaws and other notoriously difficult waves. As time went by, more and more people took notice of this revolutionary new approach to surfing.

There was a logical progression in the improvement of these boards’ quality and production. The modern hydrofoil surfboard is largely the result of Kai Lenny’s ingenuity and experimenting. Because of this, a brand new form of surfing and method of interacting with waves emerged.

In windsurfing, despite being around for almost 20 years, the PWA only debuted foil racing in 2019 with the first exhibition course racing events. This was later switched to becoming a combined foiling+fin slalom series from 2021 onwards.

Further reading – Windsurfing Boards

How hard is it to learn foil boarding?

If you’ve surfed or windsurfed before, you’ll find that a foiling board offers a similar yet distinct sensation. Foiling boards calls for some additional components and considerations. Sailing with a foiling board is generally seen as more challenging than traditional surfing because there is so much more action in a foiling session and you are up higher in the air with further to fall.

Are foiling boards dangerous?

The risks associated with foil boards do really increase. In particular when compared to standard surfboards. They can go through the lineup at significantly greater speeds than the rest of the lineup while being much larger and more irregular in shape. In this way, foils can add an element of risk when utilized by inexperienced surfers.

Why are foilboards so expensive?

A foilboard will set you back more than your average surfboard or windsurfing board. This is due to the fact that they are comprised of more individual elements and feature a more complex, cutting-edge layout. There may be an increase in cost if you’re interested in more exotic foil boards like e-foils.

Is foil windsurfing faster?

Since there is less resistance, your speed can be faster on a foil windsurfer. Another component that adds to the foil’s speed is its hydrodynamics (lower surface friction). A higher top speed is possible after varnishing the surface to eliminate any roughness. Nonetheless, the devil is in the particulars and in some conditions (usually higher winds), regular fin windsurfers have more control and are capable of faster speeds. The world record for speed for a windsurfer is on a regular fin board.

How much wind do you need for foil windsurfing?

With big race sails, wider boards and large lift foils its possible to get flying in sub 6 knot conditions with a bit of pumping to get started. The majority of recreational foilers, who use 5-6m sails and heavier, recreational foils made from aluminium instead of carbon, will find that you require 15 knots to get comfortably flying without too much extra pumping.

How does windfoiling compare to wing foiling?

A significant advantage of windsurf sails over wings is their efficiency. In other words, wings aren’t very effective. A windsurf sail responds to even the slightest breeze, lifting the rider’s board (whether on fins or foils) and driving them forward. Windsurfing equipment can be propelled through the water by even moderate gusts of wind.

In contrast, wings bend and warp easily since they are inflatable and without fixed battens and a solid master, and getting up on foil requires a little different skill than sailing with a mast, boom, and sail. Additionally, windsurf sails are horizontal with respect to the direction of the wind. Because it is attached to the board, it cannot be tilted in any direction other than straight up and down. By their very nature of being able to be spun through 360 degrees, wings do provide for some degree of agility. To fly, you should take use of the greater mobility afforded by wings.

Sean O'Brien

Sean O'Brien

Sean represents Australia on the PWA World Tour and is Design Lead at Brisbane Agency.com. He is an 11x Australian Windsurfing Champion, former YA sailing coach and current member of the IFWC Foil Committee.