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Foil Surfing: What Is It & Should You Try It?

March 25, 2022 6 min read

Foil surfing is the new wave of surfing. As corny as that pun is, it’s true. Foil surfing has been exploding in popularity. Surf beaches all over the world are becoming increasingly populated by surfers riding foils, so much so that one surfing website wrote an article arguing that they should be banned from popular locations.

Combining a board adapted from traditional surfing with a larger, hydrodynamic fin under the surface of the water, foil surfing adds a whole new dimension to the sport.

Even if you’re perfectly content floating along on your rainbow cloud lounger, foil surfing is an exciting water activity to consider. Read on to learn more about hydrofoils and how they work. What makes foil surfing a game-changer in wave riding, and whether or not you should try foil surfing out for yourself.

What Is Foil Surfing?

Foil surfing is a development in watersports that makes use of a hydrofoil to create an entirely new way of riding waves. If you haven’t seen foil surfing in action, a helpful way to begin to get a picture of it is to compare it side by side with traditional surfing.

Traditional Surfing vs. Foil Surfing

Before getting into the specifics of the hydrofoil, here is an overview comparison of regular surfing and foil surfing side by side.

Traditional Surfing

  • Small Plastic or Fiber Fins
  • Board Move Along Water’s Surface
  • Dependant On Waves

Foil Surfing

  • Large Metal Hydrofoil
  • Board Lifted Above Surface
  • Size of Waves Irrelevant

Given the lead role in making foil surfing possible, understanding the hydrofoil, where it comes from, and how it works will give you a greater appreciation for foil surfing as a whole.

The Hydrofoil

A hydrofoil, also known as a blade, is a large metal fin with a hydrodynamic design that extends below the surfboard. Originally developed in 1906 for use on a boat, the hydrofoil has seen many iterations and applications since.

How Does a Hydrofoil Work?

The hydrodynamic technology used in foil surfing works similarly to the aeronautic principles that allow an airplane to take off.

The wing of the hydrofoil directs water pressure downward as it moves along — the same way an airfoil on a plane directs airflow under its wings. The created pressure underneath the foil has enough energy to cause the board and the rider to lift up out of the water.

Once the board lifts out of the water, only the foil is left touching the water. This means that there is less surface area contacting the water. Therefore, there is less drag and resistance when compared to a traditional surfboard.

What Is the Appeal of Foil Surfing?

While there are a lot of crossovers, the foil allows you to do a few different things that traditional surfing does not.

Tighter Turns, Flying Sensation

Since the design of the foil limits drag and resistance, foil surfing has a smoother feeling. In addition, you can make much tighter turns because the turning radius of the foil under the surface of the water is much tighter than the whole length of the board.

In foil surfing, the surface you actually stand on, the board, is completely above the water. The foil lifts the board above the surface by a whole foot or more. People describe the sensation of foil surfing as if they’re actually flying along the ocean.

Flying! Like the hoverboard in Back To The Future.

Tow Behind a Boat or Jetski

While tow-in surfing is a technique used by advanced surfers looking to ride waves that are too big to paddle into, being towed behind a boat or jetski on a regular surfboard is usually out of the question.

However, it is a legitimate option with foil surfing. Hydrofoils were used in several designs meant to be towed with a rope before ever being applied to a surfboard, such as water skis and kneeboards.

In fact, some experienced foil surfers suggest that being towed by a boat or jetski is the ideal way to learn. If you’re not ready to get towed into waves by a jet ski, you can still have a blast on this inflatable FUN SKI. 

Longer Rides, Multiple Waves

In traditional surfing, the length of your ride is subject to the wave you’re riding (and, of course, how well you can balance and control the surfboard). With a decent wave, a surfer might be able to stand up on a wave for 15 to 20 seconds.

Foil surfing allows for longer rides due to the technology of the foil. While riding a foil board, surfers can actually generate energy to propel them forward by pumping up and down. It’s akin to the way skateboarders generate speed in a half-pipe or how you might build momentum on a swing set by using your legs.

Instead of jumping off as they near the beach and paddling back out to the waves, advanced foil surfers will instead turn around and surf back the opposite way. You can even catch multiple waves without getting off the board.

Kai Lenny, widely known as the face of foil surfing, set a personal best of catching eleven waves in a row over the course of six minutes.

The Main Appeal: You Can Surf Anything

A traditional surfing session often boils down to one question: “How were the waves?” Flat water means more waiting around and less actual surfing.

But with foil surfing, you don’t have to worry about getting to the beach and waiting for waves that never come. The biggest appeal of foil surfing is that you can surf anything. Even the slightest hint of a wave, a harmless white foam, is enough to get you up and going on a foil board.

Should You Try Foil Surfing?

While most would agree that foil surfing looks like a blast, it’s not for everyone. Use the information above and the questions answered below to determine if you want to give foil surfing a go.

Is Foil Surfing Difficult?

As effortless as experienced foil surfers make it look as they fly along the coast, it’s actually a lot harder than it looks. The specifics of the balance involved make foil surfing more challenging than traditional surfing while you’re getting started.

It’s recommended that you establish yourself on a regular surfboard before trying out foil surfing. That means that, unfortunately, no matter how inspired you might be after learning about foil surfing, there’s quite a steep learning curve.

Is Foil Surfing Dangerous?

It’s hard to say whether foil surfing is more or less dangerous than traditional surfing. They face different concerns.

When traditional surfing becomes dangerous is when you consider a sizable wave crashing down on you and holding you under the water. (And surfing near rocks. That’s always sketchy.)

But you don’t usually have these concerns when foil surfing because foil surfing is normally done without the presence of big waves. You don’t really even need waves to foil surf; that's the biggest appeal.

Instead, the danger of foil surfing comes from the foil itself. Instead of small fins made from plastic or fiber that you find on traditional surfboards, foils are much larger, sharper, and made of metal. There’s a reason they’re referred to as “the blade.”

Taking a fall on a foil board leaves the potential of coming in unwanted contact with the blade. People have sustained significant cuts from this sort of accident. As such, it’s important to take caution, not foil surf in a crowd, and wear a helmet (especially as you’re just learning).

Can I Rent a Foil Board?

While finding a shop that rents out foil boards is not yet as easy as renting a traditional surfboard, there certainly are places out there that will. It’s probably a good idea to rent one before deciding to buy your own to see that you take to it.

Can I Take a Foil Surfing Lesson?

Like renting a foil board, you might be harder pressed to find a foil lesson than a normal surfing lesson, but that doesn’t mean it's not out there. You might also find lessons for paddle foiling or e-foiling, which have similarities but make use of paddles and an electric propeller, respectively.

As the sport grows, there’s sure to be more and more opportunities for lessons as well. Until you can book a foil surfing lesson, you can always get your practice in on a traditional surfboard.

Ready To Try?

Now that you have a better understanding of foil surfing, how hydrofoils work, and the appeal of this new development in wave riding, are you ready to try it out?

Even if you're not ready to try foil surfing yourself, you can still appreciate it and enjoy watching others fly around from your beach towel.


Why hydrofoils should be banned from crowded surf zones | Surfer Today

What Is? | Hydrofoil

Kai Lenny Surfed 11 Waves In a Row on His Hydrofoil | The Inertia

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