Pics: Oli Lane-Peirce
Hydrofoils (foils) come in all shapes and sizes and fit many types of flight discipline. Some cover all the bases whilst others are targeted towards specific styles of foiling. It can appear confusing to those getting involved for the first time, with many combos of different length fuselages, foil masts, stabiliser wing sizes and types and front wings. As you get more into foiling you’ll probably start looking at all the techy bits and start experimenting with the component parts. For this article, and the beginning of your foiling journey, it’s the front wing we’ll be focusing on.
Low aspect foils
When starting to fly you’ll be wanting two main things: early take off and stable flight. Both elements will see you progress rapidly. To achieve both, however, the best course of action is to choose a low aspect winged foil. These are the wings that appear most shovel-like. They’ll be wide (span) with a fairly long chord (nose to tail). And they’re usually quite thick at the leading edge.
Low aspect foil wings are often referred to as surf wings. That’s because they’re a tad slower than higher aspect, designed to stay in contact with the wave (rather than outrun it) when surf foiling. They also provide tons of power and lift resulting in as early take off as poss. In addition, low aspect wings are often quite carvey, designed to swoop and turn as you would when surfing conventionally.
For wing surfing purposes low aspect foils are a good choice. Wings are low power ‘engines’ without the efficiency of a rigid power source like a windsurf sail for instance. As such using your wing in partnership with a low aspect foil will result in airborne fun quicker than if using a high aspect foil – at least during those initial steps. The rail to rail stability of low aspect foil wings also allows riders to get comfortable once at altitude and hopefully progress to nailing those first gybes. Also, if you actually want to progress your winging to surfing, where you use the wing to tow into swells, flagging the wing behind you once on a wave, then a low aspect foil will be the best choice.
High aspect foils
Generally, high aspect foils are the exact opposite of low types. They’re much thinner, have a thinner chord, are a bit more unstable, need more power to lift and are faster. As such any wing foiler‘s technique needs to be much more dialled in. But, once flying on a high aspect foil the stock factor can be through the roof, such is the speed you get vs the actual true wind strength.
Any winger switching from low aspect to high will struggle to go back, such are the benefits. Foil brands have been beavering away at the design table trying to get high aspect foils as user friendly as possible – and it’s getting there. You can still use a high aspect foil for things like surfing, but you’ll need a bit more experience to get the most out of it. Where this type of foil really comes into its own is if you’re planning to jump. You can, of course, boost a low aspect, but the additional speed of a high aspect foil will usually see wingers getting much more sky time.
As much as you can split foil types into high and low aspect you can also split these categories down further by describing some hybrid designs as mi-aspect.
Mid-aspect foils aim for the best of both worlds. It’s not quite as cut and dry as that but for the purposes of this article, we’ll keep things simple. Some mid-aspect foil wings err to the lower end of the spectrum whilst some vice versa. Ultimately, whatever type of foil you’re looking at you should have an idea where its strengths lie and what you’re likely to find when using it.
Research is key with any new purchase (whether watersports equipment related or not). Look up details online, scan the web for reviews (although don’t put 100% of your faith in these as sometimes reviews can be biased one way or the other). Talk to your retailer who should also be clued up. Ultimately get as much knowledge about foils and foiling as you can if you intend taking the leap and getting involved.