Should we be afraid of flying?
My first experience of a foil board in full flight was spectacular to say the least. I was hovering over the coast of Kaui in a chopper and looked down to see Laird Hamilton gliding across a blue-velvet ocean, propelled by a fifteen-foot open-ocean swell. As big Laird flung his arms wide and drifted over a sparkling sea, it was like witnessing a Greek God navigate a magic carpet.
Laird and his bros were utilising jet-ski whip-ins to generate the initial momentum and then letting the big lumps of clean swell do the rest. However, since then the foil boards have evolved into a more paddle-friendly form and have become a regular fixture in lineups.
On the Gold Coast points the foilers have perfected the art of riding a wave and then hopping, like aquatic pogo stick riders, from the back of one swell to the next wave, in order to maintain their upright momentum. When they pull off two or more consecutive rides there’s an incredible sense of perpetual motion.
Earlier this year I watched a foiler ride the full length of Aragum Bay in Sri Lanka on little more than a speed hump of swell; maintaining blistering speeds through sections too chubby for even the boatiest of mals.
The levitating craft has also become a favourite hobby for many of the pros. While Kai Lenny's exploits are well-documented, John John Florence, Sebastian Zietz and Michel Bourez are just a few of the CT elite who regularly look for a foil fix.
Perhaps the biggest foil frother is John John Florence’s shaper, Jon Pyzel. When asked to articulate the buzz of his favourite hobby, Pyzel wrote, “It’s like flying over the ocean like Golden Gods.” To emphasise his passion for foiling, Jon accompanied his text with an animated emoji of a flock of flying eagles.
In more practical terms Pyzel explains his experience of foiling in Hawaii. “Foiling is going crazy over here! I came home from Bali and didn’t surf for a month because I foiled every day. It’s nothing like surfing physically, but it gives you the same stoke of riding waves for the first time and all the joy that comes with that. And there is almost zero negatives - no crowds, no grumpy locals, no waiting for the one good wave that may not ever come. We foil spots you have never even thought about surfing and get out of the water with big smiles.”
Jon suggests that all you need to take-off is a weak little crumble to chip in on and then the wave doesn’t even have to be broken water after that. “One guy took off on a little chip shot at Turtle Bay and rode all the way to Sharks Cove without falling off,” he enthuses. That’s well over five miles or the equivalent of riding a wave from Snapper rocks to Currumbin on Coolangatta.
When I started seeing one or two foils pop up at my local beach break I had to admit the though of a finned blade beneath the feet of an amateur made me think of big, Medi-evil swords slicing through flesh. A random encounter with a local mayor also made it clear that the foils have come under the microscope of councils who are not quite sure how to create legislation around them.
Asked about the dangers associated with foiling Jon Pyzel was philosophical, “Every ocean toy is dangerous in the wrong hands,” before adding, “Don’t waste any more time not foiling,” and boasting that the practice had helped him (a 50-year-old shaper) get back to his fighting weight at 18.
Although Pyzel doesn’t build the actual foil attachments, he has been working on board models specifically designed for the practice. A recent hybrid model, dubbed the ‘Precious One’, has a multi-finned set up that allows it to be ridden as both a foil board and a regular short-board. Will this become the ultimate one board quiver of the future?
I haven’t tried foiling yet, but I can’t say I’m not curious. Hovering several feet above the water at serious speed, with arms out like wings, seems like the closest thing you’ll ever get to feeling like a swooping bird of prey. If I do ultimately fork out the wedge of cash for a foil rig (around US $2500) I think I’ll find a quiet corner of coastline or an empty, onshore day to learn. Summer and its weak wind swells are just around the corner in OZ. Will it be the summer of the foil?