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SUP Foiling: is it hard, is it scary, is it fun?

SUP foiling – flying above water, perched on a hydrofoil, with wave energy propelling the rider forwards – looks amazing. Almost Voodoo esque as the craft and paddler levitate, Marty McFly style, zooming silently and (seemingly) effortlessly. But there’s obviously more to it than that. Is it hard? Is SUP foiling scary? And just how much fun is flying above water? We caught up with our friends at Foilshop UK to find out more.

We’ve seen you SUP foiling lots this winter season. Have conditions been good then?

Here at Foilshop HQ there’s been a run of conditions lasting for 12 weeks plus! And by conditions, we’re talking waves ranging from ankle high to shoulder height. So not massive. But then you don’t need huge waves for SUP surfing or SUP foiling. Which is the beauty of both sports. It’s been windy at times. Yet the weather gods have seen fit to smile on us and provide windows of SUP foiling opportunity between gusts. Just lately though conditions have been glassy and windless.

Glassy water, sunny skies and gentle waves make for great SUP foiling conditions.

What does SUP foiling offer over SUP surfing?

Once up on foil the foil’s wings are all that make contact with the water. And these days foil wings are high performance and superbly engineered. Foil designers have come a long way with their shapes in the last few years. They’re supremely efficient. Having lifted on foil the frictionless ride and lesser drag of not having a board in contact with the wave means you glide faster than on a fin and cover way more ground.

It’s extremely addictive with rides of a mile long possibly (no exaggeration). Our local spot has foil friendly waves that break on a sand bar jutting a mile out to sea. With a solid swell foilers can catch waves on the outside and fly all the way to the inside. It’s just a pain to paddle back out! SUp surfing gives longer rides as well. Just not quite as long or as fast as on foil.

Is foiling hard? And is it scary when learning?

Hydrofoils look scary to the uninitiated. And, yes, you do have to be mindful. Beginners should wear a helmet and impact protection vest. And when a wipeout’s imminent they should try and stop it. Instead, aim to kick the gear further away. If you’re learning in foil friendly waves (i.e. not too big or powerful) the rider won’t get cleaned up too bad either.

Just as with conventional SUP falling is par for the course when learning to SUP foil. Jumping clear of the gear means injuries won’t occur though.

The first few flights will be very different from anything you’ve felt before. So maybe a little unnerving. You get used to the feeling of flight quickly though. SUP foiling’s very achievable, in a short space of time, if you have SUP Surfing skills under your belt.

How much fun is it?

Extremely! Foiling is an amazing experience and provides so many smiles. You don’t need quality conditions. Once you’ve dialed in your skills junky waves that most SUP surfers wouldn’t sniff at are good to go. Suddenly, your view on what good waves are changes. If you get to the point of being able to link waves by pumping from one to the next it’s even more fun! But simply taking off and flyng is enough. And to reiterate: SUP foiling’s not that hard or scary once you’ve those first few paddle strokes under your belt.

Do you need specialist equipment? And is it expensive?

Cost can be prohibitive, we’ll admit. It’s a big ask to have a paddler shell and take a punt on something they’re not familiar with. The rider in question mightn’t enjoy foiling either. Fortunately, there’s a well used secondhand market where you could pick up your first set up. Or sell on gear you don’t want or need. Going for a board that you can also use in fin mode might be a good idea to start with. That way you’ll enjoy additional versatility.

Wing foiling is possible on the same equipment if you choose accordingly.

If wing foiling pricks your interest you can also ride this way for even more foiling fun. You can pick up a used SUP foiling board and foil for around £1000 if you’re quick. Bargains and good quality gar don’t hang around.

Has SUP foiling replaced SUP surfing for you?

Not at all! There are still days when riding a fin is the best choice. Plus, mood. Sometimes it’s nice to ride a foil whereas other times fin sliding is better. Whatever the conditions dictate is how best to approach things. That way you’ll be guaranteed maximum time on the water.

How good do you need to be to try SUP foiling?

If you can paddle and not fall too often and have some experience of riding small to medium waves then you can have a bash at foiling. You don’t need to be an advanced ripper or pro. Foiling is applicable to late intermediate riders. Not just advanced. Keep in mind safety, don’t learn to foil where there are crowds, choose your foiling location wisely and take things step by step. That way your SUP foiling progression will be guaranteed.

For more foiling chat head over to the McConks guide to foiling here.

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