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Which spot to choose for surf foiling?
With the surf foil the potential for good spots has widened. Soft, knee-high waves that are struggling to break are now considered good conditions! Likewise, the fallback spots change rank. The right spot for foil surfing combines several parameters.
Preferably choose a spot that you know, on which you have your bearings. Choose waves empty of all surfing, small and soft waves that will be neglected by other riders.
To start off well, the size and shape of the waves are essential. Slow waves, with little slope, from a knee size to a thigh size, which ideally will have a hard time breaking, and will die in too much water. It could be a current edge, or a reef with too much water at high tide, for example. Ban all hollow waves at first.
Hitting the bottom can cause great damage to your foil. It is absolutely necessary to foresee a safety margin under the foil. By just looking at the waves, it’s not easy to estimate whether the depth offers this safety margin. The breaking principle is relatively simple and the depth is a component. But the influence of the wavelength, the size of the swell and the typology of the relief make its estimation complex.
If you don’t know the spot, ask the locals. In all cases, carefully analyze the surface of your playfield.
- Pay attention to the surface of the water around the surf zone. If there are chops around this area, it is probably a sign of an unwelcoming underwater bottom.
- The shape of the wave is also an indication. If it’s hollow, it means that the depth decreases sharply.
- The distance to the beach is also a parameter to keep in mind. It’s obvious that if it breaks too close to the beach the chances of getting up and out of the wave in time are low. Conversely, if it rises far from the beach you will have time but you will have to be careful of the shallow water which generates the wave.
A breaking wave (or not …)
To get up with a surf foil, you need a wave with a gentle slope that breaks a minimum. Too much foam will throw you off balance and could put you in a dangerous situation. You have to choose a breaking wave that is just enough to push you. This breaking point can even be a breaking line because unlike surfing without a foil, a close-out is no longer a lost wave. Firstly because on a surf foil it is easier to catch up with the section. Secondly, because this close-out can be the start of a series of waves that you will connect by pumpin’up to the peak.
If there is no breaking wave to get up, there is still an option. However, it is reserved for seasoned practitioners. This is the beach start. It’s technical and requires a lot of explosiveness, as well as suitable relief. Well executed, the beach start can provide access to nearby waves that do not break but whose swell power allows them to be surfed with a foil.
Do not practice foiling in the middle of other users of the water (surfers, swimmers, boats). You wouldn’t make friends and rightly so. A collision could have serious consequences. Even if you are experienced, keep your distance. Flying a surf foil is very fine, do not overestimate yourself.
These 3 parameters are the basis. There are many spot configurations that allow you to have fun surf foiling. It goes from the wave that rolls in a pass to the beachbreak wave that just allows you to get up. There are still other options such as tow-in with a boat, a jet-ski or why not a kitesurfer to enjoy a spot.
How to get into surf foiling?
The first take offs
Forget your surfer reflexes, don’t jump on your feet when high on the wave. Let the board descend slowly in bodyboard mode, and do your take off at the bottom of the wave on a flat area. By putting a lot of pressure with your hands on the front of the board, you will prevent the foil from getting up too early. During the take off, focus on your front foot, it must be placed perfectly in line with the board, it is your front foot that determines 80% of the balance in flight.
This is the key to good stability. So stay relaxed, and keep good flexion. Do not force yourself to fly on your first waves or during your first session. Just try to feel the whole thing lighten up, and if you can feel the whole thing going sideways it means your front foot is not perfectly centered.
To make it easier to control the foil, adjust it towards the back of your board.
The first flights
The first mistake is usually to be surprised by the rise of the foil, and having the reflex to put your weight on the rear, the foil will then pitch up, and you end up stalling. Flight is all about small adjustments, very fine downforce. It’s the speed that will get you off the ground, so as soon as you feel the foil going up, gently lean forward. This will be enough to put weight on your front leg and stabilize the flight.
Give yourself steps to progress
A few sessions to fly straight with the foam, simply to learn how to stabilize your flight. Then a few sessions to follow the waves, doing diagonals. Then gradually, you will tighten these diagonals. Your first turns, first wave outings, first pumping, first connections, …
The path may seem long, but with each session, at each stage of progression, you will be rewarded with new sensations.
Think back to your very first wave in surfing, and the joy it got, multiply that by 100, and you’re almost there
There are only two categories of surf foilers, those who drop after two sessions, usually due to totally unsuitable conditions or equipment, they get scared, and give up. Then there are the others for which surf foiling becomes totally addictif. There is no in-between.
Why practice surf foiling?
The first reason is the need to exploit the days that are near-flat or deemed unsurfable with a classic surfboard. On average in Europe we have 10 good surf foiling sessions for 1 good surf session. This is an average which obviously varies depending on each spot, but it gives an order of magnitude of the “return” of the sport.
Avoid crowded spots
A good surf foiling playground is generally a spot neglected by other surfers, because many will find that 40cm sets or a few knots of wind that damage the body of water make for uninteresting conditions. Also, a wave that quickly fades in deeper water may not seem worth it for most surfers, but if the ripple remains sufficiently formed, it will be enough to make you fly.
Discover new spots
A small reef that interests no one, the edge of a rip current, tiny waves that don’t even appeal to surf schools, a reef that at high tide will give waves that are too soft, whitewater just long enough to take off, the options are plentiful. A hollow wave that breaks is perfect for surfing, but it will instantly lose a very large part of its energy and therefore of its interest in foiling since the wave will disappear. The perfect foiling spot to learn is a wave that will break gently with a light slope, just enough to help you start or take a take off with soft whitewater, and if then this wave turns into a swell line, it’s perfect to link crazy turns.
Ride the longest waves of your life
Unless you live in front of J-Bay, a wave surfed for 7 to 8 seconds is still a good wave. In surf foiling, you can surf for 30 seconds, 1 minute, or more. The distance covered during a surf foiling session versus a classic surf session can easily be multiplied by 10, if not more. Go on a left, then go right, then return to the left… The waves do not close-out anymore, you will catch up and pass closing sections with amazing ease. Watch a good surf foiler in action, he will cross the spot from one end to the other then back again. You can literally fly over the spot.
Work and maintain your physical condition
In surfing, your legs rarely get hot, unless you live on a world class spot. In surf foiling, you will work your legs and cardio, because inevitably you will progress, start pumping, and you will end up connecting your first waves. And it will be the start of a very long series of technical and physical victories that make the unthinkable possible! During your session, you will have taken waves and done your weekly jogging.
Looking up thanks to the foil
From the take off you reach the speed of a CT surfer, which requires you to look far to read the wave further ahead. When you take a surfboard again, your maneuvers are more anticipated. Foiling gives you one of the keys to surfing: the feeling of having time.
Surf foiling will not replace surfing, the two complement each other perfectly.
But your surf foiling equipment will be on the water way more. So you will maintain your paddle fitness, even during the summer periods, when the swell is rarer. You will be ready on days of good conditions, and you will choose to surf on days of good conditions only. It’s the end of surfing in mediocre conditions. Every day is amazing.
Do dock starts
On a lake, in a harbor, by a river, in your private Olympic swimming pool … An ocean that is really flat can be the occasion for a dock start session among friends. This type of training is perfect for developing your physical condition and precision of the stance. This will make you twice as strong for the next session in the waves, in foiling as in surfing.
Getting into beach starts.
You all have in mind this wave that rises but never breaks for a take off. With the beach start technique, you can get on this kind of wave and the festival begins. In general, there are 25 attempts to make a successful dock start, and double for a beach start. But what else would you do that day? Nothing, or mountain biking, so these attempts are a great game between friends and really not a waste of time. You have to be strong on your legs, have cardio and goooo.
Surf the smallest board in your quiver
Surf foiling boards are shaped to have the greatest length / volume ratio. This will allow you to easily surf with a 4’8 thanks to a volume close to 50 L. And the foil helps you to drop earlier. Surfing tiny boards has never been easier. One must admit it’s really cool to fly on a micro board! And it fits in the trunk hey hey …
Surf with finesse
If you are not really a powerful surfer, that’s good! The foil is a story of finesse, whether with your stance or when reading the wave. Surf with grace, effortlessly, and noise-free. Surf foiling can look like a mix between the Hoverboard of Back to the Future and a Snowboard session in 50cm of snow powder, that’s about it but better, because there is no friction.
For the sensations
You will have the same sensations when foiling a 50 cm wave as surfing triple the size, make a turn and you accelerate. Whatever your level in surf foiling, you will be rewarded, making your first stabilized flight is indescribable. Think back to your very first wave in surfing, and the joy it took, multiply that by 100, and you’re almost there. At each step you open the field of possibilities, you discover new tricks.