As pulished in Issue #16 in 2019

The truth about foiling

Everybody wants foils and every SUP and windsurfing company has a foil range in their program. The whole thing developed so fast. I actualle wanted to leave the topic about foiling out of the magazine, but now I just couldn’t help it. SUP and Foil, I thought, are actually two different things, but then somehow not. One thing is for sure: Foiling is currently the number ONE topic of conversation. Everybody wants it, few do it and even fewer are really good, that’s why foiling is so damn sexy. So let’s take a closer look at the topic.

> A quick look at the history

In 2003, foiling was the subject of the surf documentary “Step into Liquid” for the first time. The film by Dana Brown (son of Bruce Brown, producer of Endless Summer) devotes a part of the film to Larid Hamilton and Dave Kalama, as tow foil at Jaws. At that time tow surfing was a big thing and just about to take off. As a curiosity it is shown how the boys go surfing with a foil board at Jaws. Dave explains that Maui is very windy and that you are always looking for something new.

Dave Kalama and Laird Hamilton: Foil history in the new millenium.
Photos ©ErikAeder

The conditions are often not very good, hence the inventive spirit of Dave and Laird. Mike Walze explains in the film how a windsurfing colleague brought an “Airchair” back to Maui from the US mainland and presented it to the group. They started towing behind a jet ski and as so often Laird took the next step, by removing the seat and screwing snowboard boots onto the board. The whole thing worked and everyone else wanted to try it out. Mike Walze in the movie: ” There are thousands of surfboard shapers around the globe and one of them makes a board where you sit on it. He doesn’t even know that we’ve stood on it.” The pictures that follow are as breathtaking as they are curious: Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama surf a huge wave on their modified foil boards. Their arms outstretched and huge shoes screwed to the board. The wind is blowing like hell, but thanks to the foil you don’t notice the chop. The boys surf in complete silence over the water, which would otherwise be unsurfable. In the movie the potential is also mentioned that if you will ever surf one of the biggest waves ever, then on a foil board. The surfing world was astonished for a short time and then moved on. That was in 2003 and the development in surfing went a different way. The world was not ready for foiling. First something else had to happen.


The SUP helped the foil to break through. Foiling is primarily about getting enough speed with a board to take off. Actually, it’s obvious, because with an SUP you can get into any wave. A SUP is exactly the right device to take off with a foil.

I discussed the topic with Kai Lenny in my interview in the last issue. The development went very fast, Kai mounted a foil under a Race SUP and started to foil the legendary Maliko Downwind Run on Maui. He got better and better and learned that you don’t need a big board to foil. Before we knew it, Kai was out on the open sea with a foil. Eric Terrien from France showed very early on how to jump on a foil board in a running manner and pump in absolutely flat water. The new generation of Maui Watermen such as Kai Lenny, Connor Baxter and Zane Schweitzer quickly realized what you can do with it.

The possibilities were demonstrated, the trend was set and the SUP scene was delighted. And because most SUP brands also offer windsurfing and kiting, kite and windsurf foiling was (re-)activated immediately.

The whole thing immediately spilled over to Europe. In 2018 Foiling was presented for the first time at the boot show in Düsseldorf. On Maui, where the whole SUP trend started, everyone is now foiling. The SUP surfspots are full of SUP Foilers. This is the short summary of a very fast development. Foil designs already existed and so it was no big deal that the foil spread like wildfire. The whole thing gained a foothold in less than three years.

Now everyone wants to foil, it’s the ultra-mega-trend, which is so sexy that we are dripping from our mouths. Foiling is sexy, foiling is special, foiling is expensive and foiling is extremely difficult to learn. In this sport you will definitely not find any cheap products to buy. Not everybody can join in and those who did have a long way behind them.

> Now the big question: Who are the new customers and athletes?

With reservation all who are looking for a new challenge.

One thing is certain and this is confirmed again and again from all sides: Foiling is the next level of a sport that you already master. In other words: If you have never been on an SUP, you cannot learn foiling. First you have to master the sport equipment without the wing and then you can put a foil under it.

For SUP Surfers:

First you have to be able to paddle and surf a wave perfectly and straight. Having a very good balance is essential.

For regular surfers:

You have to have a perfect pop-up and be able to put your feet in the right position immediately.

These are the minimal requirements.

Continue on the next page