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.
Pics: Oli Lane-Pierce
Why would you?
Much as with bikes having the ability to boost, increase speed, cadence, climb and aid your efforts having the ability to inject a little extra juice when wing foiling is definitely welcome. Unfortunately, the UK’s wind isn’t as steady as you’d think. It’d be nice to enjoy non-gusty Trade Winds as they do in parts of the world but with weather systems (low/high pressures) controlling our conditions we’re reliant on Mother Nature’s moods. Different wind directions, speeds and all with local effects – such as topography and tides in the mix (at least where the accompanying pics were shot) means you’re forever battling (to some degree) what’s on offer.
Electric hydrofoils and associated boards are definitely gaining traction in terms of interest and desire. The stumbling blocks of price and weight (impacting transport) does halt riders in their tracks – for now. As the tech improves and costs come down it may be we start and see more eFoils at waterway locations. Only time will tell on this.
If you’re already a wing foiler and looking for something to aid your riding (and have access) then an eFoil in the mix when conditions aren’t tip top could be a way to enhance the fun. We’re not going to lie, it’s a tricky thing being able to control a wing and control an electric hydrofoil via the handheld, Bluetooth wireless controller. The throttle is super sensitive meaning a deft touch is needed. On top of which you need to consider foil ride height in relation to water state) and all those puffs of breeze coming at you like aerated bullets.
After a few runs, however, it can be picked up quite easily if you’ve got prior foiling skills in the mix. And we have it on good authority the lightweight, super controllable nature of the McConks Go Fly 5m wing helps things enormously. Whether levitated via the power of electricity or wind alone as soon as you have something like a wing flapping about behind you it does affect stability to a degree. But as we say it’s doable with the right gear.
Our rider in question’s using a 150L board for ample float. Those who’ve seen the McConks prototype eFoil may be intrigued about its eWing foil performance. We also asked the question the answer was that it’s too low volume for a 90kg rider to get into position (for the time being) in patchy breeze. Watch this space though as we know steps are being made to get over that plateau.
So, if you’re a wing foiler looking an additional form of propulsion to enjoy winging to the full maybe an electrically powered hydrofoil could be the answer. At the very least it’s some additional fun if you can get hold of the gear.
For anyone who keeps a keen eye on watersports trends and fashions, 2019 was the year that wing foiling really took off (pun intended!). Although wings have been around since the 80s, and some ‘mad scientists’ have continued to use wings since back in the day, it’s only recently that wings have really captured the watersports zeitgeist. And that’s for two key reasons – a. hydrofoils and b. inflatable technology.
Early incarnations of wings were made using similar canopy material to windsurf sails, the other notable difference being the wing‘s struts which were hard, much like windsurfing masts. With improved inflatable construction and efficiency, born of the inflatable stand up paddle board industry, this tech has been implemented with wings. Inflatable wing designs are now much lighter weight, easy to pack down and transport/store and arguably easier to use on the water – whether foiling or not.
So what exactly is wing foiling?
Simply put it’s plugging a modern hydrofoil into an applicable board (usually a foil ready SUP or hybrid foil specific board). Then the rider in question will hop aboard and use their wing – held aloft – to harness the power of breeze and be propelled along. At certain speeds (usually quite low with the right type of foil) the hydrofoil‘s lift kicks in raising the rider and board above the water. As soon as this ‘release’ occurs everything turns silent and frictionless because of the lack of water contact. Wingers will be flying solely off the foil only using the board as a platform to perch and control the foil. In foiling mode manoeuvrability is greatly improved when compared to winging with a board stuck to the water. And the upwind and downwind capabilities of your equipment are far superior on foil to that of being off foil.
Having mastered the basics it’s then a choice of how to ride. Wingers can stick with those back and forth, upwind/downwind runs, possibly chucking in some foiling turns at either end. Others may have a bash at ‘moves’ such as jumping and the emerging foil style discipline – although that’s quite technical. The most popular route for wing foilers is into waves.
Using wings riders head out beyond breaking waves before turning round and heading back towards the beach to ride swells, just like in SUP foil mode. The only difference is wingers have this ‘thing’ in their hands. Having picked up a wave the trick is to luff the wing by holding onto the front strut handle with one hand, allowing it float behind the rider’s back on the breeze. This total depower and ‘forgetting’ of the wing allows foilers to use the power of each swell to keep them foiling and perform moves (at least those with skill) reminiscent of surfers (think carving), the only difference being it’s all done above water. Having completed a wave ride it’s then a case of carving board and foil round to face back out to sea, grabbing the wing simultaneously to utilise the wind’s power. This process is then repeated.
(Note: the above vid is Kai Lenny who has obviously spent considerable time honing his skills! This level of wing foiling won’t occur overnight and is simply and example of what you can do).
But is it hard to learn?
For first timers grabbing a wing and heading out their McConks inflatable SUP, without a hydrofoil, harnessing the wind and getting a feel for going back and forth is easily achievable. Riders WILL end up downwind to begin with which is to be expected. The trick is to use the board’s tail edge, by depressing it slightly, in conjunction with the wing‘s power to edge upwind.
On from that it’s then a case of learning how to foil. McConks doesn’t provide hydrofoils or foil boards (yet). A low aspect, shovel like foil (which is a touch slower and more stable), combined with a higher volume and fairly wide foil board will yield best results to start. If you can get a few tows behind a boat or jetski then this’ll give better an understanding of how the foil lifts and reacts.
Following this you may decide to test your foiling mettle in waves – just be sure NOT to go where others are when learning. SUP foiling is great fun when done in smaller, crumbly swells and will teach riders a lot about the foil’s reactivity.
With time on the water under your belt, both on foil (either behind a boat and/or in waves) and off, combined with wing wind exercises, such as learning how to change hands, you’ll be ready to pair the two in actual wingfoil mode soon enough.
There’re a few skills you’ll need to actually take off. Getting to your knees first, then powering up the wing a little will give stability and something to lean against as you pop to your feet. Once standing powering up the wing further, by sheeting in (without dipping the wing tips into the water causing a crash), will increase stability further. These are the exact movements you employ if wing riding aboard your McConks SUP without a foil. The key part next is to pump. Hopefully you’ll understand a bit about pumping from your time spent flying behind a board and/or on waves. Pumping is a case of weighting and unweighting the board to push the foil up and down thereby inducing water flow around the foil wings. Pumping the wing in tandem will also help (this is a skill you can practice on the beach and in non-foil mode also). Quick smart you’ll suddenly find the foil lifting and be flying above the water.
Written down the above sounds quite convoluted and technical – it is to a degree but not as hard as you might think if you take things step by step. For actual specific technique details check out the many videos online that’ll hopefully help. The below gives an example of how to get on foil with the McConks Go Fly 5m wing using the described technique above.
For any questions about the McConks Go Fly 5m wing get in touch.
You can read the parts of our windSUP/windsurf/wing surfing/wing foil articles by hitting the links below.
Stay tuned to the McConks blog for more about the windy side of SUP coming shortly –