SUP foiling gets pitted against SUP surfing in this Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co guest article.
SUP foiling – in fact, foiling of all types – sparks lots of interest currently. If you partake in watersports of any kind you can’t fail to have been reeled in by the almost voodoo exploits of flying above water. Whilst wing foiling is enjoying the lion’s share of attention SUP foiling also gets a look in. But how does flying on a wave compare finning on a wave?
With Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co. not being a foiling brand we hit up one of our friends from Foilshop UK. Tez Plavenieks (also editor of SUP Mag UK and Windsurfing UK) has been playing with hydrofoils for a while. Having a vested interest in foiling, and being in a position to test oodles of foil gear, we thought he could shed some light on the art of flying. Oh, and he just so happens to have also tested over 2000 stand up paddle board products! Over to Tez…
I’ve been foiling for a while having first tried my hand at windsurf foiling. Pretty soon after – as in a few days – I hopped aboard a SUP foil set up and took my first flights in waves. Even though hydrofoils were accessible they were still a world away four years back to the kit you get now. There wasn’t as much available for a start! But the kit today is much easier to use and more forgiving.
Foils themselves come in (generally) two types. Low aspect shovel style foils and thinner, narrower (chord – nose to tail) and wider span foils referred to as high aspects. In short, high aspect foils require more rider input (and/or better conditions) but are more efficient when foiling. They’re faster than low aspect foil wings and can glide much further. Both types, depending on brand and model, can have low take off speed (sometimes referred to as stall speed). It’s this element that can make or break a beginner’s foiling at the start.
Having not fully developed foiling skills, riders need a little help. With a low take off speed it doesn’t take much oomph to lift. And to learn foiling you actually need to be flying. It’s mostly best practice when starting your SUP foil journey to go bigger with the foil. But when researching, note any blurb about low take off speeds. That way you’ll have any easier time of it. Remember: the foil is the most important piece of equipment next to your SUP paddle.
SUP foil boards.
SUP foil boards are generally multi-discipline these days. If foil specific then chances are you can SUP foil, wing foil and possibly windsurf foil on the same one. Some foil boards also offer fin performance as well. But in my experience, there’s too much compromise between flying and stuck to water riding. If you want to foil go foil specific.
A compact design, with much less width than your standard SUP board, pretty much typifies a foil board. That said, depending on what you go for, you can find plenty of stability – even with SUP foil boards around 100L. Once you get used to the shorter nature of your chosen foil board (and the side to side yaw of it) you’ll find no issue with balance. Paddling any distance will be hard work, but you shouldn’t have to as smaller waves, often breaking closer to shore, are greenlit for foiling!
SUP foil paddle.
As with stand up paddle surfing (and SUP in general) your paddle is everything. Yes, you need a foil to fly but without a paddle you’re just standing. So keep this in mind. In a lot of cases, your regular SUP paddle will work fine for foiling. If it’s a fixed shaft type then you might not have quite enough length to paddle whilst on foil. In which case, something a few inches longer will help. Or, alternatively, a good quality adjustable SUP paddle will solve the problem.
Due to SUP foil boards being so short you need a lot of oomph to get into a wave. Something with power is therefore key. A stiffer shaft will help as that direct drive makes for efficient paddling off the bat. I don’t normally like uber stiff SUP paddles for general paddling as these ruin my shoulders. But for SUP foiling, where I’m not paddling as far, it’s key. Your paddle should also be bulletproof. There’s a chance you may clip your foil under the water – particularly if the front foil wing’s wider than your board. If your paddle isn’t up to the job then you may break it. And that goes for your foil if you clunk it with the paddle.
Waves, waves, waves.
One of the big draws to SUP surfing is you don’t need quality waves to ride. It’s been widely reported, but surf conditions not great for prone riding are usually good feeding ground for SUP surfing. Due to the oversized nature of the board, you enjoy added glide, momentum and the ability to outgun crumbly sections and so on. Using your paddle efficiently is also a big benefit. This gives additional power and leverage for turning.
With SUP foiling the main differences are speed (once up on foil) and glide. The same soft breaking waves you may be riding on a finned board are ripe for foiling. Once up and flying the frictionless nature of the foil over eggs everything you get riding stuck to water. The foil is reactive – extremely so! You’re lightning fast compared to a board on the water. And the glide is phenomenal. As such, whilst SUP surfing delivers longer rides in smaller waves, SUP foiling does this plus 10! Foiling also gives the option, once you dial in the technique, of pumping back out to the next wave, turning and doing it all again. All without actually touching the water. In theory, you can do this for as long as your legs hold out. But it is tiring. Many SUP foilers tend to opt for length of ride off one wave and then take a breather.
SUP foiling vs SUP surfing.
To be honest, you can’t really compare SUP foiling to SUP surfing as they’re different beasts. I still ride a finned board when conditions require. If the waves are solid and bigger then I jump on my SUP surfing board. For slacker swells, I’ll foil. My motto is ‘tools for the job’ and I don’t close my mind to the options available. Some riders get fixated on one thing and let it become all consuming. I prefer variety and utilising the options I have to deliver the most amount of fun.
For instance, there are some days at my local that it’s just too shallow where the waves are breaking for a foil. Even with a shorter foil mast. Other times it’s chunky but breezy. So in this instance, I’ll favour a foil and ride the smaller inside waves where there’s more shelter.
Mood also plays its part. There’s nothing quite like a gouging turn, feeling the board’s rail bite before slinging the nose into a pitching lip. You can’t quite achieve the same on a SUP foil board. I used the word ‘feel’ just now and the different feels of being on fin or foil are what I’m all about. I know others who’re the same. But as with ‘tools for the job’ I like to change my mood and therefore feel. Sometimes I’ll ride a SUP surfing board and SUP foil board in the same session.
The expense question.
I appreciate to throw a large dollop of cash at something you don’t have any experience of is a big ask. It’s also tricky choosing foiling gear that’ll suit you and the conditions you generally ride in. It’s tricky enough with stand up paddle boards and paddles let alone the hydrodynamic beast of a foil. And there’re no two ways about it: foils and associated gear are relatively pricey. Yet anyone who makes the leap, puts those initial learning hours in, and perseveres will discover another immensely fun activity. And fun can’t be quantified in terms of monetary expense.
Once you’ve made your SUP foiling purchase there’s no reason to quickly swap it. There’s a lot of hype in the foiling industry. And most brands launch new products seemingly every week. There’s nothing to suggest this kit will deliver any more fun than you’re already enjoying.
Of course, at some point real breakthroughs do occur as far as foiling accessibility goes. But this is over a period of time. Whatever you choose now, SUP foiling gear wise, will last you at least a few seasons. I still have foils from three ago that work fine.
Surfing and ‘surfing’.
For me, the ability to ride all conditions I find on the day is gold. This includes breezy weather. It’s no secret I’m also a keen windsurfer, windsurf foiler and winger. I also use electric hydrofoil boards for no wave/no breeze sessions. And, of course, still paddle flat water aboard SUPs as much as any other recreational paddler.
With waves, I see everything I do as just surfing. A hybrid extension of the sport, maybe, but it’s the same stoke I get after a fulfilling session. If you already stand up paddle surf and are thinking about SUP foiling, then get involved. You’ll already have the base skills from finned riding to take flight. It’s just a case of putting the time and effort in.
Likewise, if foiling’s not your bag then so be it. Nobody’s forcing you to take part. But don’t be scared about trying. A good many think foiling’s dangerous. And whilst you do have to be mindful of the foil it’s not as scary as you’d expect. There are safety precautions you can take during the learning process that’ll induce confidence. And to be honest you can belt yourself with a finned stand up paddle board which can also do injury! Bottom line is though: whatever floats your boat and gets you wet’s all good.
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