By: Aloe Driscoll
“It’s funner than surfing Mavericks,” claims Tyler Conroy, a regular at
Mavericks. We are driving up the coast to go surf foiling, a sport I have never
tried but Conroy has been obsessed with it since he first set foot on a hydrofoil
surfboard two years ago. A hydrofoil is comprised of a long metal mast and two
sets of wings that attach to the bottom of the board and allow it to lift above the
water. “You feel like a bird,” Conroy says. Conroy is an ambassador for F-One Foil, a global company that produces
hydrofoils, kites, and boards for a variety of watersports. Founded in 1996 and
based in France, F-One got its start producing kiteboards. The company
expanded to pioneering kites in a range of different sizes, and developing a
proprietary kite with a delta-C patent, which is now the most widely sold kite in
the world. About 10 years ago, kite racers began experimenting with hydrofoils to
increase speed, and F-One began engineering kite foil designs. At the time, only
one size of hydrofoil was available; however, the company developed a series of
products that opened up the market to amateur kiters and made the sport
accessible in lighter winds (since foil creates less drag on the water).
With the development of its hydrofoil line, F-One expanded beyond
kiteboarding to include surfing, stand-up paddle (SUP), windsurfing, wakesurfing,
and the relatively new sport of wingsurfing. “We went from one category to six
categories in a few years,” reflects Nico Ostermann, F-One’s North American
F-One has set me up with a 5’0 Rocket surfboard ($899, all prices from
bayareakitesurf.com) and a Gravity Hybrid Carbon 1800 Hydrofoil with a 65cm
mast ($1,748). When Conroy and I pull up to the spot, the waves are thigh-high
and junky. I wouldn’t bother surfing these waves with my favorite groveler, but
Conroy is as ecstatic as a dog in a bacon factory. “Hydrofoiling makes crappy
waves really, really fun,” he insists.
The foil board paddles and duck dives like a normal surfboard, but when I
catch my first wave, it transforms into a possessed pogo stick and launches me straight into the air. “You have to keep your weight forward,” laughs Conroy as he
flies by. He pumps above the surface chop, gliding far out onto the shoulder and
carving back into the whitewater, generating speed in places where a traditional
surfboard bogs. When the wave finally dribbles down to nothing, he kicks out but
doesn’t slow down—he just keeps pumping back to the lineup and straight into
another wave. By the time we get out of the water, I still haven’t gotten the hang
of the foil board, and I’m shocked to realize that four hours have flown by.
“Surf foiling is the hardest of the foil sports to learn,” Ostermann tells me
later. “You should try the wing.” The wing is a hand-held kite that harnesses the
power of surface wind, used in conjunction with a hydrofoil board, which taps into
associated swell energy in the water. Wingsurfing is similar to kitesurfing;
however, according to Ostermann, “the wing is super simple and a lot safer.”
A week later, I meet Bruce Johnson at Coyote Point to demo the F-One
Swing, a 5.0m 2 wing ($899), along with a 7’6 Rocket SUP ($2,349) and Gravity
Hybrid Carbon 2200 Hydrofoil with a 75cm mast ($1,798). Inside the bay, the
water is windblown and waveless, which Johnson says will be best for my first
wingsurfing experience. After we pump air into our wings, Johnson gives me a
15-minute tutorial on wingsurfing, helps me carry my setup to the water’s edge,
and turns me loose. This is already more user-friendly than the week of
kiteboarding lessons I took last year, which I spent encased in a harness and a
tangle of lines, literally tied to an instructor.
I kneel on the board, grasp the handles of the wing and lift it into the wind.
The board begins to coast along the water and I climb to my feet. Just like that, I
am wingsurfing—kind of.
I make three trips downwind, wingsurfing a quarter mile down the beach
and then walking back up again, since I haven’t yet learned how to go upwind.
Though it’s hard to carry the hydrofoil SUP and the wing flapping in the wind, I
feel like I could do this all day, or at least until my arms fall off, because I am
stoked in a way that I have not been stoked in a long time. For the second time
this week, I lose track of time because I am having a blast in conditions so
crappy that I normally wouldn’t have considered surfing at all.
“Typically surfers hate the wind. It’s possible that the wing is that one
product that can bridge the gap,” Ostermann predicts. “It seems to me that if
there is one moment in time that things are coming together, it’s now.”
For more information, contact bayareakitesurf.com.