Stand up paddle boarding in Swansea & Gower
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Foiling – What I now know

Foiling – What I Now know …!

The surf industry has been inundated in the last 12 months with images and movies of pro surfers and wannabe pilots flying across the oceans surface on what seems to be a micro gliders attached to the bottom of their boards .

As foiling continues to hog the lime light on social media, I thought I would take the opportunity to explain the concept and what i know of it after getting into foiling in January 2017 and as i approach a year of experience within the sport why people are getting so into this new version of ‘what Laird Hamilton did years ago’

The hydrofoil isn’t a new thing its been around for years and was developed by various inventors and boat designers for use on water.

The basics 

The basic idea involves  ‘The hydrofoil’ generating lift from its front wing, like that of a aeroplane.

When the craft or in our case ‘board’ generates enough speed the board raises up out of the water and greatly reduces the drag which then means the speed and efficiency of the rider build even more.

Surfers and Paddlers have been using either surfboards or SUP’s to allow them to literally fly over the waters surface .

SUP foiling is the easiest form to learn …and beginners usually get their first foil experience being towed behind a boat whilst standing on the board. The boat generates the speed needed for the hydrofoil to lift the person up on top of the board and out of the water.

The equipment

The board chosen depends on whether you have more experience surfing or Stand up paddling . Ideally you will want to be relatively proficient on a board in all conditions : glassy, windy and choppy.

Just because you’re an expert surfer or paddler does not make you expert foiler as I and others have found out, its a very humbling experience !

The board chosen should be stable and have enough volume to comfortably keep the rider out of the water. Volume aids in wave catching ability, speed of the board and allows for small mistakes to be easily corrected. Low volume boards however are the opposite and twitchy in the water but as the foiler progresses smaller boards are generally used.

A smaller board will have less swing weight which makes the foil feel more responsive and easier to pump for more speed.

I weigh 83kg and I chose to retro fit the popular 8’0 x 31.5 –  133 litres Starboard Hypernut with a foil when I first started .This involved taking it to a local shaper and getting him to install a pre routered block of High density foam into the board with the mounting system. This was my first worthy steed…and a steed it was for around 10 months before moving onto a smaller board Takuma ZK 6’10 x 26 “ wide board with 100 litres.

The Hypernut was nice and stable for me and I found it easy to get my correct stance and foot placement on the board before catching waves . I drew boxes on the board with a pen where my feet needed to be as a reference.

When I rode the Hypernut with the foil , sometimes the speed slowed as it does on some waves. The board would slap down onto the water surface with a loud bang as if the water was trying to grip the board hence my speed would diminish quickly.

My new board took some getting used to but with 17 days on Sri Lanka’s south shores the 6’10 soon became easier , its chined rails means when it touches down on the water it breaks surface tension easier and you foil speed is less affected . The addition of footstrap inserts also aids in where your front foot should be and helps when pumping.

Many of the major brands now have specific boards which you can use to attach a hydrofoil onto and also use on the water without a foil giving a multi purpose board.

Once on the water with the foil attached underneath the board you expect to feel a sluggish response for any paddle input given….

However there is not a distinct noticeable difference paddling the board the stability of the board is actually increased by the ‘keel’ like nature of the foil …like boats have.

The Foil 

Foils themselves are not all made the same, front and rear wing size changes dramatically depending on whether you are larger or smaller person.

Kite foils have much higher aspect (thinner front and rear wings ) as with the power from the kite you move quicker therefore don’t need as much surface area on the wings

Bigger wings will generate more lift and get the rider up easier and at lower speeds so the bigger thicker front wings you will see mean they are easier to generate lift at around 5-6mph..

Average surfing speeds are around 5-10mph . smaller wings are for smaller riders or riding at increased speed.

My first foil the Takuma V100 was heavy but would rise me up out of the water and I soon got hooked. 10 months later I felt I needed to find out why everyone on social media seemed to be raving about the GOfoils…they were expensive but much lighter.

Go Foil Maliko



I committed to a double set including the Kai and Maliko wings. It was hard to leave my Takuma the foil I knew and felt happy on , the learning curve was about to start again…I soon found out the Gofoils were much lighter and therefore even more sensitive to weight input.

Fast forward to the present and now I can look at the wave conditions and instantly know which front wing will be better to carry me through the flatter spots and help me retain speed and give the longest rides, this is partly foil and partly the new board design ...foiling evolution is happening !

Foil Construction

Weight and construction type play an important role in the Hydrofoils stability so don’t be surprised when you pick up a SUP or surf foil for the first time…they can weigh as much as 7kg!

Generally there are 3 types of manufactured foils …Carbon , Glass fibre and Aluminium and these 3 materials are sometimes interwoven so that a foil may have a aluminium mast and fuselage but the wings are made from Carbon, glass fibre or both. 

This weight is only really noticed when your carrying the board to and from the water.

Heavier foils will feel easy to manage and are a little more forgiving with pitch, roll and yaw to control. Lighter weight foils made exclusively from carbon fibre are more expensive but offer better retention of speed to the rider, however they can feel twitchy and nervous especially to a first time foiler.

Takuma V100 – a very popular first time foil

What to expect

Keeping an eye on the sea bottom or knowing the depth of water will help you focus on the job at hand rather than being fearful of smashing the foil on a rock or the bottom, just jump off and check depth with your feet !

If learning behind a boat make sure you have adequate PDF and helmet as wipeouts are sketchy!

Getting centered …your feet need to be in the exact right position on the board and your weight needs to be centered on the board . Boat drivers only really need give 5-10 knots maximum It’s then you get to experience the near weightless feeling of gliding on water.

If the boat can slowly pull you without the hydrofoil generating too much lift will get you to understand and feel where your feet need to be to control of the foil.

The rider will feel the foil wing beneath the board and slight weight changes over your front or back foot (in surf stance) enables you to feel the rise (weight on back foot) and fall (weight on front foot) of the foil. 

Top Tip – listen to the foil as you glide along, You’ll hear when you have applied too much rear foot pressure to the the board as the front wing will cavitate under the water and make a gurgling /  sucking noise like when bath water drains down the plug hole.

Pitch,  Roll and Yaw

The fun really starts when after your first attempts to stay aboard your flying carpet you knuckle down and try master this sometimes unnerving experience.

its a very tiring journey as you are focusing on so many things …all your muscle, joint and tendon sensors have been inundated with trying to control Pitch keeping the board level ,Yaw directional control to stop the nose of the board waving around and Roll to stop yourself falling over the rail.

Yaw – Swivel left and right 

Pitch – Forward and backward 

Roll – Side to side pivoting  


What to expect in 30 minutes 

This can vary massively for person to person and their experience.

Expect to have a new sensory feeling programmed into your brain .

Its like that first ride on a wave or that exhilarating waterpark slide sat in a ring, the speed , exhilaration and fear of not quite knowing whats going on but the connection that something fun just happened.

You’ll get up and then get bolted off like the board has a crazed bucking bronco beneath it …its becoming the rodeo rider and taming the foil.

For those familiar with skateboarding , it’s like dropping into a steep bowl, it takes commitment.

After every attempt you’ll learn and get better and begin to soar like a bird its a very addictive feeling. 

The next level 

The next level is trying to harness the power of the ocean …the energy contained within waves rolling as swell not even breaking .

You need to create speed to catch the wave first …be it by hand , paddle or Jetski but then …it really is like flying on water.

The feeling you get when your speed is slowing down and you silently turn back to reconnect with the steeper parts of the wave/swell before pumping way out on the waves shoulder has an unbelievable satisfaction but not without hard work your legs will certainly feel it.

Water is your canvas 

This is a superb edit of what is possible


If you want any further information please email us – [email protected]

We will be introducing foil clinics in 2018 see this link – LEARN TO RIDE THE FOIL 

Alternatively and easier but more expensive route …try the efoil – Learn to ride an electric hoverboard

All words are my own and copyright by Matt barker smith 

1 Comment
  1. Great article. I’ve have a Kai Go Foil since late 2016 and agree with every you say about learning and the advice is excellent.

    The only thing I would add is a note about limitations (and opportunities) on where you can use the foil. I had different expectation when buying on being able to use on smaller swell days but this is not really possible where i live (Guernsey). Also types of break they can be best used in is quite specific. The beauty is you can finds spots away from other regular surf spots.

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Here at SUP Gower We offer Stand up paddle lessons & Foiling Lessons ( wing sup - wing foil - sup foil -surf-foil & Efoil ) Plus Hire & Clinics. Our showroom and Plant based Cafe is stocked with boards, paddles, coffee & cake and all the food and gear you need to get on the water. GROUND plant based & much more.
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