Red wine and wind-slop dreams with Parko and Kai Lenny
Late arvo, and the swell has dropped. It’s two foot, and onshore, the sun bending and blinding into the Atlantic. I check the surf at Estagnots, one of the bigger beach carparks on the Hossegor stretch. I park up the back and almost get run over by a dreadlocked skateboarder, as skinny as a minute to six, who is desperately and unsuccessfully trying to impress a five-pack of Belgian backpackers. Stumbling forward I am then almost sliced by the blade of an upended foilboard. I look around to see about a dozen of the scalpels and that’s just in the carpark. A check of the surf reveals double that. I haven’t seen that many foils since we harvested the great mull crop at Stanwell Park in 1992.
I remembered back to when they were once a futuristic tool, seemingly designed for only Laird Hamilton. Kai Lenny, who I can makeout in the Estagnot lineup, easily identified by the fact he is the only one doing flips, however has single-handedly revolutionized the sport for surfing, all be it borrowing from kiteboarding windsurfing, and wakeboarding tech.
My first question to Kai when he leaves the water is how the fuck do they work. He patiently explained that the hydrofoil works on the same principle as aeronautics. Like an airplane wing, the foils have areas of high and low pressure. The wings on the foil deflect water pressure downward and given Newton’s Law about equal and opposite reactions, the upward motion pushes the board (and hopefully) it’s rider into the air. The key with the foil is that this process can occur at speeds of just three miles per hour.
A quick internet dig sees that the first use of the technology was used for what was called an Air Chair. This was used as a seated foil that was towed behind a boat as early as 1990. In the ocean, Mango Carafino, yep that’s his real name, was a big wave tow surfing athlete and water sport instructor from Maui who was one of the earliest innovators. However, typically, it was Laird Hamilton who alerted the wider world to the foil’s potential. Hamilton was using the foil in giant waves at Jaws more than a decade ago and has been at the forefront of the design ever since. Then Kai Lenny has taken up Hamilton’s baton, creating shorter, easier to paddle and more maneuverable foil boards, as well as designs that can ride open ocean swells for miles. On the back of Lenny’s exploits, many other surfers have tried, and fallen in love, with this new way of propulsion.
“The foil has changed my life,” Joel Parkinson later tells me over a bottle of red that has a picture of his head on it. Billabong has put on a farewell party for him and with free wine and fois gras, I’d snuck in. I’ll do anything for you, the Tracks fan. “On those northeast wind days of which we get, what, 200 days a year, I’m on the foil all day. We get towed out a mile outside of Kirra and can ride a single swell to D-Bah. I shit you not, I’m praying for windslop days, it’s a game changer.”
“The beauty of the foils is that it opens up a whole new realm,” Lenny had told me earlier, echoing what Parko said, just minus teeth stained with grape juice. “You don’t need great conditions and every single wave in the ocean becomes rideable.”
It seems the learning curve is rather steep, but once you are away, a whole new world of ocean going freedom awaits. Life can be a drag, foil boarding might just be the antidote. Draining my fourth glass of vin rouge, and wrapping some parma ham around a slab of cheese, it hits me that foils are about to become a part of the everyday surfing experience. With that searing insight, I pour another glass. I might go foiling tomorrow. Then again, I might not.