When I started windsurf-foiling last year, it was a bit awkward to return to the status of a beginner. But, I liked the feeling, and even more, I was looking forward to learning new skills.

One of the best feelings in windsurfing for me was always when I cracked a move that I considered almost impossible. I remember how I felt more than 20 years ago when I did my first water start or first power jibe. It was a long time since I felt that way… until a few days ago! My first fully flying foil jibe!

I know, I know, it took me too long to do it; obviously, I am not very talented at that, but anyway: IT WAS FANTASTIC! I was literary flying through the jibe, and in my mind, I am still flying.

Well, as before, in “pure” windsurfing, foil windsurfing is full of moments of ecstasy, break-trough days, but also days of frustration when you ask yourself what the point of doing all this is. Fortunately, much more of the first than of the second.

After two full seasons of wind foiling, I have some experience to share. In this post, I’ll focus on the equipment. Because obviously, you have to replace the fin with the foil. And, preferably, the windsurfing board with the wind foil board. And, your windsurfing sail for a specialized foil sail…

Wait: does that mean that you have to replace EVERYTHING? What is this? A new sport?

Well, no, you don’t have to replace everything, but it IS a kind of a new sport.

Hydrofoil

The hydrofoil concept is not a new one in watersports. In windsurfing, however, in the last couple of years, you can see a drastic increase in people using foils compared to the “conservative” fin lovers. However, do not be tempted and fall into a clique mentality, refusing to try foil windsurfing “just because”, or quite contrary, looking from above to those who don’t use it because “foiling is a step forward”.

I admit, for a year or two, when the foil was only emerging in the mass windsurfing scene, I was inclined towards a conservative “only fin” approach. Replacing that precious thing below my board for something else seemed like blasphemy. I had an epiphany after the first try. It was the same but also different. I didn’t feel like I changed the sport (as in, for example, switching to kite or wing); it felt like I stepped into a parallel universe where my beloved windsurfing was the same but just a little bit… well, adjusted and in some aspects also improved.

So, what is a windsurfing foil?

A windsurfing foil replaces the fin. Instead of one sophisticated piece of carbon (or whatever the fin is made of), you now have four sophisticated pieces assembled in the form of an underwater airplane and attached to the board with the mast (not the sail mast, but the foil mast).

Pros and cons. More equipment, but also more fun. Male and female energy windsurfing. Quick entrance into the zone. Read the article “Why is foil windsurfing a hassle?”

How to switch from windsurfing to wind foiling?

Two seasons ago, I didn’t know anything about the foils. I tried to read and watch some videos, but it was a complicated matter, and very soon, I found myself in the waters over my head.

There are many foils out there. Different designs and concepts. Different sizes. How should I know what I need if I don’t try it? Unfortunately, there was no place near me where I could do that. Windsurfing schools rarely offer courses in windfoiling. The answer I got from one in Viganj, Croatia, was quite casual: just take any foil, they told me, and if you know how to windsurf, you’ll manage somehow. Great.

The advice I got from windsurfers with some experience in foiling was usually flawed in the same way I remember from my beginner’s days in windsurfing. Somehow, advanced riders tend to push you toward more advanced stuff thinking again that you’ll “manage somehow,” and later, you’ll not need “beginners” equipment.

That is wrong on two accounts.

First, you’ll learn much faster and with much more enjoyment on beginner’s stuff.

Second, in foiling, “beginner’s stuff” is not something you’ll put behind you once you learn the real craft. It all depends on what you want to do on the water. And if you are at least a bit like me, cruising around over the water just for fun, with no ambitions for performance or competition, is something you’ll keep on doing way after you master foiling baby steps.

So, here is my recommendation: start with low aspect foil with a huge front wing. My first foil was a freeride RRD foil with a 750 cm2 front wing. How better off I would be with a 1500 cm2 front wing on RRD universal foil (it is so big that it can be used with the wing or kite foiling)! Later, I tried that and also Starboard Supercruiser foil with a 1700 cm2 front wing. Those foils (and foils like them) are made for low wind/small sail combinations. They are best for the beginning. You’ll probably crack your first foiling jibes on them without much effort. Later, even if you become addicted to higher foiling speed, you can use them for cruising, freestyling, or just having fun on the water.

Foil parts confusion

Although I stand firmly behind my first recommendation for switching from fin windsurfing to wind foiling, I admit things are not so simple. Your skill matters, of course. And your weight matters. If you are a heavy rider, you’ll probably have to adjust more foil parts than someone with 75-80 kg (most foils are made for average riders).

The volume of a board is not so important – most foil boards are around 150 liters. About sails – the usual. If you are heavier, you’ll need a bigger sail in the same conditions.

However, with foils, you have options of adjustment of foil masts, fuselages, front and tail wings + so-called shims (adjustment of the lift-up force of tail wing)

Until now, I have tried four specialized foil boards, four foil sails, two carbon, and two aluminum masts, six fuselages, eight front wings, and six tail wings.

So, I don’t know everything! ;-) There are tons of equipment out there, and my assessments of the importance of different parts can change over time. What I know can be simply wrong or applicable only to me.

Anyway, here is the summary of my experience with wind foiling equipment until now.

Do you need specialized wind foiling bards and sails?

In the beginning, you don’t need a new board. You can attach the foil to the foil-ready boards. Pay attention to the type of box. Don’t use powerboxes (although some manufacturers will claim that with an adapter, it will be fine – it probably won’t). Also, remember that a foil box is not the same as a deep tutlle box (they look similar, but if you buy a foil with foil box, and you have a deep tuttle foil-ready board, you’ll have to do some cutting to adjust the foil.). Anyway, foil-ready tuttle or deep tuttle boards will do fine. So always check what you have with what you buy. In some cases, you’ll need an adapter.

But, while you can certainly start with some wider foil-ready board, you’ll soon discover that those boards are not so stable while foiling. They have a lot of swings in the front, and control over the foil is not ideal.

If you like your first foil flights and want to investigate further, I recommend buying a specialized foil board. Until now, I was on foil-ready freerace board (Fantic Blast 130), RRD slalom foil H-Fire RRD, Starboard Foil Freeride 150 and 125, and Olympic IQ Starboard. My favorite is SB Foil Freeride 150.

My recommendation: go for a nice and friendly freeride foil board. Competitive foil boards are technical and demanding to use. Later, you can go for those, of course, but I am sure there will be times when you’ll come back to a much more easy-going freeride setup because foiling is all about easiness.

While foil boards are significantly different in comparison with usual windsurfing boards, I am not so sure about sails. I have three LoftSails Skyscapes (6,4; 7,0 and 9,0) with three cambers (declared as foil free-race sails). They are very powerful yet light in the hands, and I like them very much. However, I can not say that I noticed a significant difference between those three and cambered freeride or slalom sails, or even no-cam freeride sails. For example, I used NeilPryde Speedsters (7,2 and 8,2) for foiling, and they worked great.

Definitely, for the beginning and, in most cases, after, you can use your usual sails. Specialized foil sails will suit you better only if you are sure you will devote a lot of time to foiling. Manufacturers claim that foil sails can do fine with the fin (I did not check), so they are interchangeable. The choice is yours – you can windsurfing with the foil sail, and you can foil with the windsurfing sail.

Foil masts

In most cases, a prospective new owner of a foil will buy a given foil setup recommended by a manufacturer (a mast, fuselage, front and tail wing). I already gave you my recommendation for the first foil (low aspect, big front wing). However, most manufacturers also offer a variety of options. You can make your setup: longer mast, shorter fuselage, bigger, smaller, or just different front and tail wings. Those options are mostly meant as an upgrade because standard setups are… well, standard. If your sizes (weight, height) are not standard, you’ll do well to consider changes right from the start. To do that, you must have at least a basic understanding of what possible changes could mean for your foiling.

Regarding masts, you have two features for consideration: the length of the mast and the material the mast is made off.

Usually, wind foil masts come in two lengths: 85 cm and 95 cm. Sometimes, you can find even longer, 105 cm masts.

If you foil on flat waters, small chops, or small waves, 85 cm is enough. Longer 95 cm mast you’ll need for riskier maneuvers, open sea competitions, and if you prefer higher flights. 105 cm… well, you don’t need that for the beginning, for sure.

95 cm is a nice option because sometimes you’ll just go too high (over foiling), which can end up in serious catapults. I prefer to have that extra “fuse” of 10 cm, just in case. Otherwise, 85 cm is quite enough.

The material: aluminum and carbon. I tried both, and here is what I think: if you have some extra money go for carbon. It will be a little faster, a little more responsive, and a little more stable. Notice “a little” in previous sentences. You’ll have to decide if that “little” is worth the money (for example, an aluminum mast can cost 400 euros, and a carbon mast 1400-2000 euros).

If it is, then carbon is, of course, the way to go. But, otherwise, I guarantee that you’ll have the same fun with beginners and later freeride foiling on the aluminum mast.

Fuselages

For windsurfing, foil fuselages come in length from 85 to 120 cm. Why manufacturers combine different lengths with different sizes and shapes of wings for preset foils is beyond me. I have to believe that they have good reasons for that. Probably, in most cases, you’ll be good if you follow their assessment.

But, if you are not in the “most cases” category, or you just want to experiment for yourself, the adjustment in fuselage length is one of the options.

My experience: shorter fuselages are more lively and maneuverable. Lift-off is not so quick, but they are faster.

Longer fuselages are more stable, and you can make them go upwind beyond what you thought was possible.

I’ve tried 95, 100, 102, 105, 110, and 115 cm fuselages in different foils. Due to the difference in wing shapes and the way wings are attached to them, they are not all comparable. But, for example, Starboard Freeride foil comes with a 95 cm fuselage. I felt very unstable with that—too many touchdowns, too touchy for small body movements. I suppose toll people (usually, height leads to an increase in weight) will always have such problems with short fuselages. The resulting forces create longitudinal instability of the board.

So, I switched first to 105 fuselages and, in the end, 115, which worked the best with freeride foil.

For me, a shorter fuselage is ok with low aspect foils like Starboard Superflyer or Supercruiser and a more upright stance. Still, I would use 105 for those foils (or standard 102 cm, which comes with a preset original). I would use 95 cm (less than that is not an option for me) only exceptionally when the wind is stronger.

I suppose the taller and heavier you are, your preferences will go in a similar direction. With less weight and height, you could find shorter fuselages more suitable.

Well, remember, this is only my experience so far. I may be wrong, of course. 😊

Front wings

Well, this was a mind-bender, truly. 😊 Before I tried different foils, I could not imagine their differences. And differences are vast!

First, as I’ll already recommend, don’t look too much ahead in the future. Start with a low aspect big front wing. You’ll learn fast and have great fun. These foils are usually flatter and come in sizes from 1300 – 2000 cm2

Later, you’ll have to choose what you want to do on the water. If you like slow cruising or some easy freestyling, you can keep your beginners’ foil and enjoy it for many seasons.

If you want some more speed but still nothing technical and demanding, you can take freeride front wings. Smaller are faster, but not so quick in lift-off. Bigger are slower, but they will lift you in less wind. Choose stability over speed, and don’t go for the smallest freeride out there. I like Starboard Freeride front wing in size 1100 cm2, although I must admit that RRD foil of 750 cm2 gave me quite fun when the wind picked up.

Apart from the foil area (bigger or smaller in cm2), sometimes you must look at the span. A longer and narrower front wing can give you stability with some more speed. However, this is not something that you’ll find as an option within one manufacturer; if you want it differently, you’ll have to find the manufacturer who makes foils of your preferences,

Even later, or sooner if you are ambitious, you’ll probably want to try something really fast. I own Satrboard IQ setup, with Race 900 cm front wing, and I have to say it is a bread apart. However, I am not good enough to say anything about it at this point, so I’ll better be quiet.

But of course, there are racing and speed foils out there. They can be small, up to 500 cm (smaller than some tail wings). Also, they are THINNER than usual recreative front wings. Again, those are out of my league. For now.

Tail wings

Tail wings are stabilizers. They don’t come in so many shapes as front wings, but nevertheless, they can make a great difference in how the foil performs. As with fuselages, manufacturers will offer preset tail wings for various purposes. In most cases, the customers will be fine with their recommendations. In some cases, however, you know, you’ll have to find your own ideal setup.

The bigger the tail wing is, the foil will have greater lift-off capabilities. It would also be more stable. The area of the tail wing will give you more longitudinal stability (so you can compensate for the shorter fuselage with a bigger tail wing), and the span of a tail wing will give you transversal stability.

Smaller and thinner tail wings are faster; bigger and thicker are more stable. However, it all depends on the overall stability and functionality of the foil. For example, on the freeride front wing, I was faster with the 330 tail wing than with the 255 tail wing. The conditions and everything else was the same. I suppose the freeride front wing simply works better with the bigger tail wing.

Or I need to learn how to use the capability of racing tail wings better. Well…

Anyway, you will not have so much hassle with tail wings as with front wings,  but they are here, and better be prepared that the change of tail wing can greatly impact your foiling sessions.

Shims

If you think things are complicated enough with confusing foil parts, wait for the shims!

Definition of a shim: it is a small plastic wedge that changes the tail wing angle of attack.

“Angle of attack” in practice defines how much lift the foil will give you. It shouldn’t be too much; it should be just enough.

You will insert an adequate shim between the fuselage and the tail wing and thus change the angle a little. Usually, it goes from -2 degrees to + 2 degrees in 0,5 degree steps. If the wind is strong, you need to reduce the angle (go to minus); if you need more lift (low wind, small sail), you put some plus degree to your tail wing with a shim.

I can not say that I mastered the “art of shims”, but I felt their impact. A change of 0,5 degrees can make a big difference.

One observation, though – which I am not completely sure of – is that shims are more connected with the rider-foil relationship and less with a condition on the water. If you find that you “understand” the foil with shims set on minus 1, you’ll probably be fine with that, more or less in every condition. If so, that is good news, because you don’t have to change shims all the time. Once you find your sweet spot for that particular foil setup, you can be quite confident that it will work in most wind and water conditions.

But, yes, shims are an additional hassle. Some manufacturers (Slingshot, for example) even advertise their products with the “no shims, no problem” meme. I can understand that from the point of view of a casual foil free-rider: plug-and-play is an attractive feature in everything. However, if you don’t want to think about the “angle of attack,” just set the shims to zero and forget about it. And those who want options will have it. So, despite the hassle, I am pro-shims! 😊

Conclusion (until further development)

Was it worth going through all these foil businesses? Yes, definitely. It looks like a hassle, but the reward on the water is immense: dancing with the wind pushed up into another dimension.

Obviously, I have a lot to learn, but that is what I liked about windsurfing from the beginning: the learning curve can be slow, but it is neverending. I look forward to new discoveries, insights, and, more than anything, enjoyable days on the foil.

As for the information in this article, it may be that I didn’t get all details right. At the moment, I am studying the physics of foiling. It is an interesting topic I once might write about.

In the meantime, I wanted to put on “paper” what I’ve learned so far. I wish I had found an article like this two years ago. It is not that this information is not available in different videos and written materials about foiling. But, when I went through them, I was mostly confused and left with questions. So, I wanted to put in one place what I would need if I went through the beginning steps again.

I hope some of you will find the information in this article helpful for your own adventure of discovering foil-windsurfing.

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About the Author: Adrian

Author and writer of more than fifty books, teacher, lecturer, explorer of consciousness, avid windsurfer, and lover of outdoor activities. He’ll write mostly about windsurfing on fin and foil, spot reviews, and camping equipment.
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