I mentioned in my first post that I was hooked; I’m well and truly addicted to foiling now, a little like that buzz you get when you first learn to kite or indeed the buzz you get from kitesurfing itself. That buzz has arguably faded somewhat for me in recent years, don’t get me wrong, I still love kiting, but unless the conditions are amazing it doesn’t excite me as much as it used to…
Foiling has redefined the sport for me as I know it and I find myself craving the conditions I need as a novice to make it work… Believe me, just like when you learnt to kitesurf, the right conditions make a big difference! The great thing about foiling though, those conditions are generally rubbish for any real kitesurfing, crap kite conditions are suddenly brilliant!
I was lucky enough to head to the Edge Race Cup, which also played host to the British Nationals a couple of weeks ago. I went as a photographer to get some images for the magazine and it was great to not have any responsibilities and just to be at the event as a bystander with a camera.
I had the opportunity to be in one of the media boats for the first mornings racing and I jumped at the chance to get out on the water and close to the action. Having spent the best part of 4 or 5 years religiously following the racing events in the UK and competing and training for them, it felt kind of weird to see my buddies on the water and me on the boat.
When the start sequence kicked off however, I remembered the stress of it all and felt the comfort behind the lens. It was amazing to be treated to a display of some of the best kiters in the world tearing around the course. The Formula guys looked good, but the kite foil crew, that was something else. Guy Bridge was pure magic on the water and stamped his dominance all over the weekend.
It was humbling to see how good these guys were, never dropping tacks, foiling the whole time and just being so goddam fast! Equally it was great to see my buddies from the Formula scene who had made the transition and doing well on the foil boards. On the beach there was plenty of opportunity to take a look at the plethora of equipment dotted all over the place.
One thing became very apparent; they haven’t really come up with a fixed design yet for these foils. Every brand and manufacturer has a different take on it. I was impressed at just how light the TemaVento board was coupled with the Spotz 2 foil set up. This was the gear Guy Bridge was riding and it was clearly fast on the water and weighed a lot less than a number of the other set-ups on the beach.
Equally the foil looked frighteningly high aspect, I guess I felt considerably like a learner driver looking at an F1 car; I could appreciate the aesthetics, but in my head I knew the chances of me doing anything other than hurt myself on such a weapon right now were very slim!
I was really keen to find some time to get on the water myself and in the afternoon I donned my novice clobber and made my way to the waters edge. It was a nerve-wracking moment, with so many of my friends on the beach watching and knowing of my inability to really ride the thing, it felt like all eyes were on me…
Exmouth, where the event was being held is a pretty land-locked location with the wind coming over the hills, making it gusty and swing in direction too. It had proved tricky for the racers and to make it even harder there was the small matter of a channel with a ripping tide to get across. In my head I had planned to cross the channel, walk the sandbar and then ride on the other side, well out of the way!
To my amazement, and shock, I jumped on and foiled straight across the channel without crashing, (it’s a small channel), this was feeling good! The sandbar hike was a lot further than I had expected, added to that the water was super shallow on the other side and I had to walk a fair way to get into deep enough water to ride.
With all that done I was up and going, and you know what, I was foiling! Foiling and crashing, but I was starting to get a feel for more prolonged moments of airtime. The wind, as I mentioned, was gusty, and on the 9m Bandit when I was powered I was finding it easy to get up and stay up.
Knowing how hard these things are to get downwind I was concentrating on just riding across the wind rather than upwind too much. The wind was shifty, up and down and at times I was worried I was going to end up swimming in as it disappeared completely a couple of times and left me swinging the kite about to keep it in the air.
In the end it filled in and I logged another hour on the board, I felt I had at least experienced a few half decent flights and of course eaten a lot of sh!t in countless wipeouts… Looking at the positives; I made it back to the beach with a dry kite and didn’t have to walk either upwind or downwind so I was chalking this up as progress, the first dry kite session is a reason to celebrate if nothing else!
After the event with the bug well and truly in place and a full bore foil addiction blossoming I found there was an issue… Wind! As “luck” would have it the next week provided us with relentless 30 knot NE breezes, which is a great direction where we live. Unfortunately, with just three hours foiling experience, the thought of pumping a 7m up and going out to no doubt destroy myself I had to settle for “normal kitesurfing”. It’s a poor substitute make no mistake!
In the end I had to wait a full week before the wind calmed and things got a little more suitable. I was starting to get desperate for my next fix, so I ended up heading to a beach where I knew the tide would be wrong, but figured I’d give it a go anyway. I wouldn’t normally have bothered and I won’t do it again. I think I spent at least 30 minutes doing the foil Jesus walk (not to be confused with the airstyle trick, this is the art of walking a long way with the foil slung over your back searching for deep water), just to get into water deep enough to ride.
By the time I got out there the wind had dropped and once again I was having to swing the 9m Bandit about quite a bit to generate power which makes balancing on the foil pretty tricky. It was the same old story of being alright in the gusts and then struggling the rest of the time.
However, whilst only a short session of just under an hour, I did make it back to the same spot on the beach, which involved some downwind riding (very slight in reality) and the kite was dry! Thankfully the tide had come in too, so I was saved the hike. Having a deep-water launch spot makes a real difference in this sport. Because the Liquid Force Foil Fish is priced to be competitive it makes use of glass and aluminium, the board itself is pretty heavy too, so long hikes are not the most pleasurable of experiences!
Session number 5 saw me head into it with 4 solid hours of riding experience under my belt. It was another session at the Murco Garage, Hythe, which is not far from my house, the scene of most of my foil shenanigans… The guy in the mobile food van nearby must be quite enjoying watching me flog myself to death on a regular basis!
Mary kindly came and took some pictures, although in her own words:
“It’s a bit boring to watch really, you just get up and go along, mowing the lawn!”
What’s funny is, while it might look boring as hell to her on the beach, for me it’s such a buzz tainted with the imminent knowledge of a hard wipeout at any moment. Equally, I’m stoked as hell to ride a few hundred yards without crashing, whereas from the beach that must look altogether far less impressive!
Anyway this session things really started to click, I’d originally pumped a 9m kite up, but decided last minute as the wind seemed to have dropped, to go with the 11m Evo from North so I had a bit more power. That turned out to be a great decision as with the extra power riding upwind was easy, yet I realised I now needed to put the time into learning to go downwind.
Let’s just say this was trickier than just riding across the wind or indeed upwind. The difficult part is keeping the kite in the air, especially when the wind is light, if the kite ends up below you then all sorts of leverage issues seem to arise and there were plenty of “out the front door” hard slams. Once again, I was glad of the brain bucket and the impact vest!
After an hour on the water the wind dropped to nothing and I was left swinging the kite about fighting a losing battle to keep the thing in the air. The inevitable crash happened and with no chance of a relaunch I started the swim in. It had all been going so well…
Another lesson learned here, I’d drifted downwind past my launch site and about 70 yards of submerged rocks and muscle beds lay between the shingle beach and me. I can honestly say I’d have had more fun getting showered with plastic cups full of piss whilst watching Kanye in the rain at Glastonbury.
Clambering over the rocks, with a downed kite whilst keeping the foil up and out of the water as the small waves knocked me off my bleeding feet every so often was not how I wanted to end what had been a very successful session! It didn’t help there was an overly excited fat man who had stopped eating his fish and chips to come and frantically wave at me in a fashion that said “I’ve called the RNLI, they are coming to rescue you from the obvious terror you are in!” Except the real terror would be the poor RNLI being called out for someone who was clearly coping as best he could, given the situation, and whilst a chopper out of there would have been nice it was hardly necessary!
This brings me nicely up to my sixth session on the foil and with 5 hours of riding time logged it would be fair to say that this session I finally felt like I had actually really and truly cracked it. I launched from the Murco Garage once again, the wind was between 12 and 16 mph, I pumped the 11m North Evo up and headed out on what was a grey and unremarkable day.
Having learned that coming in during a low tide downwind of this launch spot was akin to getting punched in the balls repeatedly by Mike Tyson, I decided instead to venture upwind a reasonable distance and then concentrate on riding downwind to the launch spot again. Amazingly this all seemed to click and whilst turning the thing around is still about as easy as understanding the intricacies of quantum mechanics I could ride upwind without crashing and downwind with enough crashes to remind me I was still sh!t, but at least I got half a chance to dry off in between…
This ability to actually go where I wanted to on the foil left me with a new found confidence and after about an hour I was soon bombing up and down the coast like a man possessed… Would you believe I spent over 3 hours on the water?! I covered 35 miles and in the end only came in because I was getting pretty cold. I was still falling in remember…however, for the first time since I’ve had the foil I actually felt in total control, I was the master of it, rather than it being the master of me…
What have I learned? Lots really, but riding the foil has now at least become an unconscious ability that I now no longer need to really think about, it is starting to come naturally and my brain is adjusting to the challenge! I’ve got to a level where I’m attempting tacks and gybes, whereas before I barely had any comprehension of how anyone would even be able to consider this, it just seemed so unattainable!
Here are my 10 top tips for beginners…
1: Wear a helmet and buoyancy aid/impact vest, you will crash hard and you will be grateful you are wearing the extra protection.
2: Start in a reasonable amount of wind, 15-20mph, but use an underpowered kite at first
3: Learn to body drag and manoeuvre the board into various positions while you are in the water first.
4: When you crash, try and keep your arms close to your body, instinct makes you put a hand out, but from that height and with that much force, this will just pull your shoulders out of their sockets.
5: As you get more confident go out a little more powered. More power will help you ride, but too much will see you out of control, it is worth waiting for the best conditions. Sheet in and out to adjust the riding height of the foil, this really helps with your first few attempts!
6: Learn to ride across the wind first, these things blast upwind with ease, so getting across the wind cracked will make it easier when you come to ride downwind.
7: Riding downwind you need the perfect amount of power in the kite, if you are over-powered the foil will keep rising up out of the water and chucking you off. Depower the kite and this should calm down…
8: Be patient, it takes time to get this cracked, but with the right equipment, like a great set up (ie. the Liquid Force Foil Fish) you will progress quickly. I was fully prepared to have weeks and weeks of struggles, I’m now reasonably confident after 8 hours of water time.
9: Use both straps to start, this will help you waterstart and ensure you have the correct foot placement for the set up you have, keep them loose though!
10: Remove the back strap to learn tacks and gybes, I’ve not done this yet, but getting my back foot out of the strap without upsetting the trim of the board in preparation for a transition ends in a big splash. I’ve got it on good authority that, while no back strap will make moving the board around harder, it should make the transitions easier…
If you’ve been reading this and it has tempted you to have a go, I honestly cannot recommend it enough. A foil makes what would otherwise be shitty conditions awesome, it’s hard, but great fun and the learning curve was a whole lot better than I expected…
The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll have it cracked!
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