What is the Difference Between Windsurfing and WindFoiling?

After a few hesitations I have tried my first hours on a foil windsurfer. Despite more than 20 years experience on a normal windsurf board I was happy I had a great instructor. Here is what I learned doing some research and testing a foil myself.

What is the difference between windsurfing and foiling? The main difference is the hydrofoil attached to the (much larger) fin used when foiling. The hydrofoil creates an enormous amount of upward force that  lifts the board more than 2 feet/ 60cm above the water. This enables the windsurfer to go very fast in extremely light winds. It also adds an extra dimension to the game. Not only do you have to steer upwind and downwind. The windsurfer must also constantly manage the height above the water. This might lead to spectacular nosedives during the first attempts, but becomes easier fast.

Many windsurfers that try foiling are a bit surprised about the feeling during their first attempts. There are a few important do’s and don’ts that can make learning much safer and pleasant as I found out.

Differences Between Windsurfing and Windfoiling

Preparing For The First Run

The first difference I noticed was the joy excitement that I felt looking at 10knots wind predictions. That was a long time ago. Once at the beach setting up the foil took a little more time than just attaching a regular fin.

The foil consists of a few components that have to be assembled. It took us about 15 minutes, but I think this can be done in half that time after a few practice runs. No big deal if you ask me.

Once the foil was assembled we attached it to an 130L Starboard Isonic. Using a 7.5m2 freeride sail we were ready for action. Well, that’s what we thought. Wind speeds were around 15 knots and we were not able to control the kit. Important lesson here for us. Sails can be smaller than we are used to when foiling.

So, we rigged an 6.6 freeride sail and went out again. This was much better. Although we really needed to be careful to have enough water under our foil. My friend thought he was safe in 4 feet/120cm of water but a big stone reminded him to stay well clear of the shallow parts.

Actual Foiling Experiences

I was really amazed about how fast these foils get the board to plane. Just after the first meters of planning it was clear to me how easy a foil luffs up. Steering with my feet seemed incredibly important.

Once I could keep direction and I got a little more speed the foil started to work its magic and I went up in the air. WhooHaa! That was great. Just one little issue. My upward angle got me higher and higher and all of a sudden the foil surfaced. As a result of that it lost its upward force. My first nosedive was a fact.

I now started to understand why my instructions where to not wear a harness. Too much risk for a nosedive turning in to a catapult. Lessons so far: stay in deep water. Don’t use a harness during the first lessons.

Another few runs got me going. Every time I could manage the elevation better. The up and down movement became better controlled. And I even got to steer a bit more upwind and downwind at moments that I chose.

A few more lessons will be required before I can gibe at full speed. For now I just slowed down an tack.

My provisional conclusion? In light winds, foiling is a great way to windsurf. The element of keeping the right altitude, really adds to the fun. Constantly adjusting elevation also required practice and skill. I didn’t miss the sound of the board chattering on the water when planning. The silence was nice actually. Being faster that everybody on a normal windsurfer was great.

Can I Use a Foil Under My Normal Windsurf Board?

Based on our experience the answer is Yes. We used a windfoil under a ‘normal’ freeride board and that was OK.

The shop that sold my friend everything also said it was OK. That is what we learned but I am careful here since I only tried for a few hours.

Boards that are specially made for windfoiling might have features that benefit the foiling experience more. One of which can be a construction that is more resistant to impacts as a result of nosediving.

I found the nosedives pretty scary at times and it felt  like the board was exposed to forces that don’t come with regular freeriding. Imagine your weight on the board with its tail held up 2 feet above the water by the foil, while the nose hits the surface at speed. I can’t guarantee that this doesn’t cause miniscule cracks.

Of course it is helpful to use a freeride board with a pretty large volume. We used an 1,86 weight (kg) / board volume (L) ratio. 70kg / 130L for your info. That was fine.

Make sure that your boards fin box is suitable for the foil. It takes a few big screws to attach everything.

An example of a foil. Different parts are explained.

The foil in the picture  is a foil used for wing foiling but they are basically the same. I did a lot of research on foils, their parts and their working . If you want to read all I learned from an extensive foil research I did, check my dedicated blog on foils.

What Types of Foils are Available?

As with everything in windsurfing there are several types. Windsurf Foil Boards that I have come across differed in type and material. Types vary from beginner to even special gear for loops and freestyle. Materials used arecombinations of  wood and carbon and carbon.

Foils themselves also vary. A little online research and visiting some sops learned that types like freeride and race are available with some variations between them. Materials used are aluminium and carbon. More carbon provides with lighter weight and more stiffness. It is also more expensive and perhaps a little less resistant when hitting an underwater stone like my friend did.

I have not found a wiki page on the subject yet. This wiki link at least gets you a nice image of a hydrofoil and some more info on foiling in general and .

How Much Does a Foil Cost?

A little online research (2018-oct) shows cost between about $917/€799 until over $2750/€2400 for the foil alone. The full aluminium foils are most reasonably priced. Full carbon versions are the most expensive.

Foil boards can be purchased in a range of prices. Online research showed prices of about $1778/ €1549 up to $2753/€2399. We are talking board prices here. The product pictures show no foil with it.

Related Questions

How to learn to windfoil? There are several ways to learn in everything. In my experience windfoiling can be fun, but for me that required somebody teaching me on the water. Online offers can be found for complete courses that promise to teach windfoiling in a safe and structured way. Based on my experience it might be wise to first try a windfoil at a rental centre with at least a few basic instructions.

Where is a windsurf foil for sale? Windfoils and foilboards can be bought online and in shops. In some countries clinic’s or test events are offered.  There aspirant windfoilers can try different foils and boards and enjoy basic instructions on the go. Since there are quite a few different types of foils and boards this might be a great chance to find out what fits individual needs and wishes best.

Of what parts is a windfoil made? The thing that looks like a fin is called the mast. Attached to it is a horizontal Fuselage. This is the base for the two wings: Front Wing and Tail Wing. Parts can vary in material like carbon or aluminium for the mast. The wings can vary in hydrodynamic shape and surface. The front wing usually has more surface than the tail wing.

Extra info about the new sport Hydrofoil Wing Surfing

Recently I started learning Hydrofoil Wing Surfing. Since you read this article I assume you might be interested in this new, easy to learn watersport. I found you need far less strength and wind compared to windsurfing to have fun. Want to read my blog about Hydrofoil Wing Surfing

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