MAGAZINE: FOILING INTO THE FUTURE – Why the Increasing Popularity of Foiling Benefits SUP

Foiling is changing the SUP Game, opening up more days on the water, and, hopefully, attracting more people to the sport.

Connor Baxter Downwind with a foil on Maui ©Starboard/Abraham
Connor Baxter Downwind with a foil on Maui ©Starboard-Abraham

“The first time the board rose out of the water onto the foil, and I was surrounded by complete silence, I knew it was something special,” wrote UK-based SUPboarder Magazine’s Rueben Ellis. Ellis is in good company when touting the appeal of SUP foiling, whether for a downwinder or surf session. This once-niche discipline is on the verge of becoming mainstream, as evidenced this year at Paddle Expo with more companies than showcasing a wider-range of foil-specific boards- and the foil to go with them.

The intoxicating draw of the foil lies in its’ unprecedented speed and ability to turn what was formerly considered un-rideable into a veritable playground.

Though further integrated into the SUP race and surf consciousness than ever before, foiling technology is far from novel. Josh Sampiero, writing for Red Bull, points out that the first hydrofoil boats existed as far back as 1906 and that windsurfers experimented with foils as early as the 1960s. Surf aficionados will remember Laird Hamilton experimenting with boots and a foil board in the early 2000s. The recent rise in popularity can be attributed in part to a 2016 video of Kai Lenny catching a double wave on his downwind race foil that went viral, blasting foiling into the spotlight. Now, three short years later, the internet (and oceans) abound with videos of pros and amateurs foiling it up.   

The intoxicating draw of the foil lies in its’ unprecedented speed and ability to turn what was formerly considered un-rideable into a veritable playground. Downwind, foils are allowing athletes to set and break records. The increasing interest in foiling downwind has even inspired races like the OluKai Ho’olaule’a, the Maui 2 Molokai, the Poi Bowl, and the Molokai 2 Oahu to add in foil-specific classes.

For the surf-inclined, smaller swell days and the formerly-unappealing bumpy mush now offer near-limitless potential. “Not epic waves, but epic waves for foiling,” waterman James Casey captioned one of the countless posts of him SUPfoiling on Instagram. Foils open up more surf days as they work best slightly further out in front of the wave where a SUP would stall and loose speed. “(Foiling) is sort of terraforming the conditions to suit our needs,” says Kai Lenny. “It’s a means to ride in a high-performance way on small waves that don’t usually allow you to do high-performance things.”

Helping SUP foiling gain traction and visibility is that manufacturers worldwide are shaping and producing a more extensive range of foil-specific boards. For 2020, Sic Maui has included a foil board line, and others, like JP Australia, have expanded their range of foil-specific and cross-over boards in shape and sizes. Additionally, some brands, like Naish and F-One, are choosing not to partner with foil-specific companies like Neil Pryde or Go Foil, but produce their own signature foil models. In turn, the increase in foil-specific options allows athletes to shift to foiling as their primary focus rather than a side-discipline.

“Should the increasing popularity of foiling be seen as a threat to the current SUP market?”

As more individuals fall in love with the freedom and opportunity foiling allows, this once niche discipline further enters the collective consciousness of the sport, becoming what some picture or aspire to when they think about SUP. Though foiling remains a discipline for initiates to approach with caution- those foil masts and wings are sharp- “It’s hard to argue that it’s not a great sport when you see guys and girls getting minute-long rides and doing big swooping turns on one-foot waves,” says SUP athlete Sky Solbach. When it comes to downwinders, “I don’t think there are many people out there who would say that gliding effortlessly across open ocean swells for miles at a time is not a fun thing to do,” he continues.

As to the question, “Should the increasing popularity of foiling be seen as a threat to the current SUP market?”, for SIC Global Brand Manager Anthony Scaturro, the answer is both yes and no. While foiling may be luring people “away from SUP,” the excitement around the renaissance in paddlesports, especially with the new wing foils and convertible SUP/Windsurf foils, makes “the whole sector more exciting, [which] should draw in more participants as a whole.” “To me,” Scaturro says, “this is ultimately good for our sport.”

“There’s a lot of potential still to explore on the foil, and I look forward to it every day, reflects Solbach.

Us too.

By: KS Publishing Editorial Team.
published in the 2020 Paddler’s Guide.


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