The last couple of years I saw more and more wind foilers on the water. The foil made planing easy for those who had it, while I couldn’t plane. I just had to try that myself! But I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a foil board. Can I foil on a normal windsurf board? Here is what I learned.
Can you foil on a normal windsurf board? Yes, you can foil on a windsurf board. As in many new sports the development in gear goes really quick. The first foilers used windsurf boards to develop the foil wings. Recently boards and even sails have been specially adapted for foiling. So before you just buy a wing for your normal windsurfer there are a few things to consider. Perhaps you are better off buying a special windfoil board. Can’t take long before the first occasions hit the market.
Many windsurfers consider windfoiling. There is actually a lot to picking the right gear. And to learning to use it safely. I was lucky to have an instructor who told me exactly what to do and what not to do. As an experienced surfer it’s is easy to underestimate wind foiling and crash hard. If you just attach a wing to your board, wrecking your finbox is a risk. On the other hand, as I experienced, windfoiling can be great fun. In this blog I share the information that got me foiling around without a scratch. And with a big smile that lasted even while I write this.
I didn’t want to buy or rent a foil board before I knew whether I liked foiling at all. So I used a freeride board and a ‘beginner foil’ that a friend of mine had bought after he learned the basic skills at a clinic.
The things I learned to have a great, and safer, first experience can be divided in a few categories:
- Gear (board(-size), foil parts and sail)
- Safety measures
- When and where
When foiling on a windsurf board, a few things change compared to normal windsurfing. The biggest difference is the fin being replaced by a relatively large foil wing. I was really surprised how big this structure was and how cumbrous it felt under the board in the beginning. Don’t worry, once I was planing all that changed.
The foil wing
The foil consists of a mast, a front and a back wing and a fuse that connects the wings to the mast. To get an impression you can check these parts at the slingshot website. If you just want to see a few complete foils this linkt to Starboard foils elaborates on the subject. It has a nice overview of the different types of foils for wave, slalom and other conditions. might help or this one. Want to get an impression of foiling 2019, by Naish Windsurfing? I found this Youtube video informative.
Like all windsurf parts, these parts have different features. I guess it is wise to get good advice on what type of foil to start off with. The length of the mast and the hydrodynamic effects of the wings can really impact the speed at which you learn.
I started with a pretty easy and forgiving set. Among several shops I have seen the possibility to rent a foil. If I would decide to buy new foil kit, I would really try a few parts before buying. Perhaps a clinic is ideal for testing several types of foil kit.
Why use a windsurf board instead of a windfoil board? Comparison of costs.
Off course, there is nothing wrong with foiling on a special foil board. My problem was the cost. I couldn’t resist checking some online prices. A quick search got me some basal info:
Buying a new windfoil board can cost around $2000*. I found info at two websites or here. That money buys you a board, WITHOUT the foil. This is the reason why I tried using a foil under a normal windsurf board.
Buying just a foil also cost a few bucks but at least you won’t have to buy a board immediately. As I said, I borrowed a foil from a friend that thought me the basics. A quick online search learned me that a foil costs around $1200*. Still a lot of cash, but far less than the same amount with the costs of a board.
*= This is just a price indication for this blog. I have not tested these particular boards, foils or other gear from this website.
Using a windsurf board for wind foiling
When starting to learn foiling it’s a bit like learning windsurfing again. A little extra volume in the board is nice for floatation, since you have to pull up the sail.
We used a occasion freeride board with a 130L volume. Since normal windsurf boards have no extra reinforcement at the finbox this is a bit of a risk. Especially when hitting the ground with the foil. Making sure the water is deep enough, even if the board sinks a bit while you are hauling up the sail, can really save a lot of money and frustration.
Special windfoil boards often have reinforcements at the fin box area to be more resistant against the pretty hard nosedives that one can experience. Our ‘normal’ windsurf board didn’t have that. This is a risk we just took for granted. Luckily the nose was just fine despite a few pretty brutal nosedives. I have no idea what the effect of multiple sessions is. But, after a few hours of trying and learning we had far less nosedives. So I guess it is a risk I can take. At least to start learning without buying a special foil board.
As the foil sport becomes more mature the foil boards will probably become more and more specialized for the purpose of foiling. Therefore I think that, if one gets serious about foiling, eventually considering a foil board for the long run is definitely worth considering. Especially if you go wind foiling a lot. . As my test showed, for the time being, just buying a foil and using it on a freeride board you already have, can be a great option. Particularly if you are already a windsurfer and you have a freeride board that has the required features.
Foils often use a TUTTLE BOX or a powerbox. TUTTLE boxes have the advantage of two big screws that go through the board. The powerbox makes use of one screw. These boxes can really pull the mast into the box strongly. The adapter between the mast and the box is inserted a few cm into the box so that provides a solid attachment.
US boxes have a single screw that doesn’t go through the board at all. It’s also more tiny, and the rails that hold the board could be less resistant to the sideway forces a foil pruduces. So I guess that is why I haven’t seen them used for foiling.
Recent developments show that other connection systems are developed too. An example is the ‘Abracadabra Quick Plate Connection’ by Naish.
The mast of the foil is connected to the board with an adapter and a special plate that spreads out powers from the mast to the finbox on to the board. Since the the law of the lever on the foil can create pretty strong forces in many directions on the box compared to a normal fin, spreading them is a good way to prevent damage by peak loads of forces.
A little online research showed me that some websites offer special reinforcement advice and gear to fortify your Tuttle or Power box. Extra layers of carbon are applied to create more strength. This is an option but, in my opinion it also shows why special foil boards are nice. They are already reinforced where necessary. Not just at the fin box but also at the nose. The later to resist the powers of hard nosedives.
As I mentioned I was surprised by the size of the foil. The foil mast we used was sticking out 31,5 inch / 80cm into the water. The wings go even deeper if the board is tilting. Before stepping on to the board it is really important to make sure you are in deep enough water. The sound of the carbon wings scratching rocks and the mast creaking in the finbox is horrible.
Sail size and type
We used a 7.5 m2 freeride sail with cambers. Using a normal windsurf fin, wee couldn’t plain with it in the conditions we were in. So we thought we needed at least that sail size for the foil to get planing. WRONG! After a few attempts we realized that a smaller, no camber sail was far more ideal. The 6.5 m2 freeride sail we used was more easy to control and provided way enough power to get planing. Actually I think a 5.8 or even a 5.5 m2 would have done the trick too.
In my experience, if you use your windsurf sail sizes to go foiling, the foil provides so much upward lift that the sail becomes to big fast.
The foil mast alone looks like an 80 cm fin. Imagine what that does even without the to foil blades. So, my conclusion is to take sail sizes smaller that my windsurf intuition tells me. At least for practicing. We learned to pump the sail a bit to get a little speed. As soon as the foil produced lift hydrodynamic resistance from the board disappeared and the smaller sail was easily big enough to keep planing.
My conclusion was that a no camber freeride sails was doing the trick well. It was an over 5 year old traditional windsurf sail.
Special foiling sails
Some brands already offer special foiling sails. An example is Duotone (former North Sails). Their website shows the ‘Warp’ and the ‘Warp foil’. They also have the F-Type, that they claim is ideal for foiling. It has a removable soft camber
As I mentioned, the foil mast felt like a huge fin. So as soon as the sail delivered a little power I was steering upwind. That is something to get used to in the beginning too. This brings me to the topic of technique.
Technique tips that got me going (Bonus info)
As I mentioned this blog summarizes the tips I got and the lessons I learned during my first foiling experiences on a windsurfer. I am not a teacher at this. Safest way to learn, in my opinion, is to take at least a few lesson. Nevertheless, I share my knowledge here so you can get an idea of what you need to think of when going foiling.
Pulling up the sail, don’t waterstart!
The first thing I was told was to find deep water to prevent the foil from hitting the bottom. The second advice I got was: never waterstart during the first lessons. Reason for this was that the carbon foil parts can be pretty sharp. In case you hit them while swimming a nasty cut in your suite or skin could be a result.
Foot position and steering
As an experienced windsurfer I don’t really think about steering with my feet. I just do it. While foiling this changed. Biggest difference? All of a sudden I had to steer UP and DOWN with my feet too. That was an amazing feeling. Luckily my instructor told me exactly where to place my feet. I had my feet a little at the front side of the footstraps. The footstraps where placed for normal windsurfing. Since boards differ quite a bit, and developments go fast. Perhaps it’s best to just ask a instructor or another expert about where to place your feet on a particular board. Especially during the first lessons or while buying a new board.
Pump the sail a bit to get planning
… and then just handle it with ease. To get planing I had to pump the sail a bit like I would on a normal windsurfer. I was amazed by how much lift the foil produced. As soon as the board left the water, very little sail power was needed to keep planing and even accelerating.
Tacking in the beginning
After foiling a few meters. That felt great by the way! Of course, I had to turn. Tip I got for that was to slow down. Get the board in the water gently. And then do a tack.
I saw a guy who was an entry level foiler, try to gybe at speed while hovering. He had a massive nosedive while he steered downwind to gybe. Guess that is why I was advised to first get a bit more experience managing the height of the hovering.
Again, I am not a wind foiling instructor. These are just the safety tips I got. I share them so you can get an idea. Make sure you get proper safety instructions before you get on the water.
I was told:
- No waterstarts, the foil can cut your skin!
- Where a helmet
- Don’t use a harness in the beginning. You don’t want to get hooked in while learning to manage the hover height.
- Make sure you are always in water that is 20inch / 50cm deeper than your foil. More if there are object on the bottom. My friend hit a really big rock that was over a meter high. Some rental stations I saw had a pretty accurate water depth chart. Next time I go I will study it seriously before hitting the water.