Just like the emergence of the SUP through the early 2000s, the hydrofoil surfboard seems to be making more appearances in the lineup and at beaches around the world.
And just like the SUP, there’s going to be surfers who immediately hate even the mention of a foilboard and talk about all the ridiculous things they’d rather do instead of trying it. Regardless of your personal stance, it’s hard to argue the hydrofoil surfing is not at least interesting.
(If you’re interested in learning about the foil or a surfboard in terms of board design, here’s the page you’re looking for.)
What is a Foilboard?
A foil board is a surfboard with a hydrofoil that extends down into the water instead of fins. Once the rider generates enough speed, the hydrofoil creates lift and lifts the surfboard out of the water.
The foil itself looks like an airplane wing at the bottom of a large blade.
Whereas as surfboard planes on the wave’s surface and generates speed through gravity along with lift and drive, the hydrofoil harnesses the energy under the surface and the foil acts to generate lift and momentum.
By shifting the angle of the foil, the surfer is able to create lift and drive – resulting in forward momentum.
The surfboard portion of a foilboard is typically much shorter and thicker than a typical surfboard. This is because the board part is really not all that important – it’s the hydrofoil that’s doing most of the work once you’ve built enough speed – the board just needs to be big enough for you to catch a wave and stand.
The mechanics of riding a hydrofoil surfboard are much different than surfing – it’s been described that it feels more like flight that it does riding a wave.
Since the hydrofoil allow the rider to generate speed and momentum, it is able to catch unbroken waves, ride smoothly in choppy conditions, and even keep moving on flat water.
Today, you can even find motorized hydrofoil boards powered by an electric propeller that’s controlled with a remote. These allow you to cruise over completely flat water at up to around 25 mph. This will also set you back $10,000 or more.
A non-motorized hydrofoil set up is going to cost your a few grand.
While safety when surfing in general is important, it may be even more so on a hydrofoil – for the rider and those around them. Unless you’re towing into giant, choppy waves, surfing breaking waves is probably best left to your surfboard. Considering the weight and shape of the foilboard, surfing around other people is a dangerous idea.
If you’re interested in trying a hydrofoil for yourself, find an empty spot with some mushy waves.
History of Foil Surfing
Believe it or not, foil surfing and hydrofoils have been around for quite some time.
In the surfing world, Larid Hamilton began experimenting with hydrofoil boards for tow-in surfing big waves in the 90s.
And more recently, foil boards have grown in commercial popularity.
But, the origins of the hydrofoil go back much further.
The first hydrofoils were designed for boats – dating back to 1906 and continuing today.
By the 1960s, waterskiers began experimenting with hydrofoil technology. Aeronautical engineer, Walter Woodward, is credited with the invention and went on to create a company to market them.
In the 70s, the design was tested, experimented with, and improved some more for waterskiing which led to hydrofoil kneeboards, hydrofoil dual waterskis, hydrofoil single skis, and eventually the Air Chair.
Technology from waterski hydrofoils and the air chair which were designed for towing were then transferred and applied to kite surfing, which has been refined and recycled again for hydrofoil surfing – for both tow-in and paddling.