Foils Provide ‘Lift’ for Local Watermen and Shops

Foils for Surf, Kite and Stand-Up Boards Have Reached LBI
By JON COEN | Jul 25, 2018
Courtesy of: Mark Halikus Foiling has reached LBI. Mark Halikus "flying" a stand up paddle board with a foil in the surf.

Every couple of years something comes along that makes a dramatic change to our watersports. Twenty-five years ago, everyone’s surfboard was about the same; today it’s a rainbow of shades, lengths and widths. Ten years ago, there were about three stand-up paddleboards on LBI. Today there are three on every SUV.

This summer, many watermen are experimenting with foils. A hydrofoil is a “wing” attached to the bottom of a craft via a “mast.” When the craft reaches a certain speed, the foil creates lift, literally lifting the craft out of the water and greatly reducing the drag. Foils have been utilized on boats for almost a century; locally, they’re being used in the surf, on kiteboards, behind boats and even on paddleboards.

“I wish this had come around 10 years ago, especially for smaller waves,” said Tucker McGrath of Beach Haven.

Funnily enough, the idea of foils first reached the surfing consciousness 15 years ago. Dana Brown, son of Bruce Brown (“The Endless Summer”), made  the film “Step Into Liquid” in 2003. In that movie, he had a segment on Hawaiians Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama towing into massive Maui waves behind Jet Skis with technical bindings and boards with foils. They were actually lifted above the waves.

Often when ideas are presented, other innovators see new ways to do it, or alternate applications. But no one rushed to mimic or build on what Laird was doing. A few years later, he helped spark a commercial boom in stand-up paddling. Maybe the industry was too sidetracked by that. Maybe it was the awkwardness of snowboard boots in the ocean?

But today, it’s certainly having an effect locally, and some people are completely converted to the feeling of minimal resistance in the water.

After Laird, the next sport to adopt the foil was kiteboarding, about 10 years ago. It allowed far less resistance and more speed. Less surface area minimized the effect of the chop on the surface.

You’d have to credit Hawaiian Kai Lenny from Maui for putting the spotlight on foils for surfing. Lenny is regarded as one of today’s most impressive all-around professional watermen. He’s a kitesurf champ, stand-up paddle surfer, big-wave specialist, professional contest surfer and paddleboard racer.

Lenny first used the foil on a stand-up board but quickly got it wired on a shortboard surfboard. He was ripping all size waves and even “pumping” himself back to the line-up for the next wave. When that hit social media two years ago, it seemed to finally ignite interest. Today, he’s riding open ocean swells or doing airs in the surf break.

Foiling is at an exciting time locally where watermen are just starting to combine knowledge of hydrodynamics with surfing experience and “fly” their boards. While it’s certainly a look into the future of riding waves and wind, there’s something richly traditional about watermen in a garage, surrounded by tools, experimenting with equipment, imagining how it will work in the water.

Though Island Surf & Sail in Brant Beach has been closed this season while still finishing its build-out after being raised last spring, owner Terry Deakyne has been on the leading edge of the foil movement.

“I have used a foil to kiteboard,” Deakyne said, “but surf foiling is more fun. Some spots on the Island can get crazy good where there are longer, rolling waves.”

To this point, Deakyne has been using it for stand-up paddle surfing, but he is buying a foil for a shortboard surfboard that he will paddle prone. But his goal for the summer is to get moving on a SUP board on a “downwinder,” a longer paddle in following wind and rolling swell, “flying” above the water.

Deakyne has foils by Naish and GoFoil. He has given gear to Mark Temme and Marc Halikas, both of Surf City. They have been experimenting with it on SUP boards.

“Foiling is definitely the newest aspect of surfing to find a market,” said Halikas. “I go on a forum called StandUpZone, and someone was talking about how the SUP industry is kind of tanking because it’s so flooded. Now foils are just starting to take hold and be produced at a lower cost than a few years ago, so it could lead to something bigger.”

Though he is a year-round surfer and stand-up paddle rider, he admits he has not gained much control yet.

“It’s much more difficult than I anticipated. But I’m 60 now and not as limber as I was in my youth. Terry and Mark Temme are much more experienced than I am. But I’m determined to learn how to do it,” said Halikas.

Mark Temme has given foiling with his SUP a few tries and calls it “the purest way to tap into wave energy.”

Temme, a former lifeguard and lifelong surfer, was an early adopter of stand-up paddling in both the surf and flat water. He’s completed distance races and competed in SUP World Tour events in Hawaii. Temme said having the proper conditions and equipment are key. By his research, foils will work best in long period groundswell, the kind that LBI gets from a far-off hurricane. But we have yet to get that type of swell this summer.

“The foil taps into swell energy, so faster-moving deep groundswell provides maximum energy,” he said.

He explained that foils are measured by surface area: the greater the surface area, the greater the lift. Deakyne recently gave Temme a foil with more surface area that he is waiting to try.

In Barnegat Light, Bob Selfridge has been foiling on his kiteboard since 2015. He recently bolted the foil to his SUP and is experimenting with the lift in rolling waves. Brian Farias ordered a Naish Thrust Foil for Farias Surf and Sport. He has it attached to a Pyzel surfboard. The attachment consists of two boxes with screws and plates. He said it’s hard to ride but a great feeling.

McGrath said he has had great results. A bartender and craftsman, he’s a local phenom when it comes to riding different boards, from standard surfboards in heavy surf to classic longboards, wooden alaia and boards he’s shaped himself. He’s using a 5-foot-8 surfboard, paddling into waves prone, and he said he’s hooked.

“As long as I have the foil with me, I’ll never get skunked again,” said McGrath, speaking to the foil’s ability to make fun out of nothing waves. “It’s kind of mystifying, even when you’re actually flying it. There’s so little drag.”

McGrath broke one surfboard from the stress of the foil but since then has had a stronger, custom board made by Secula Surfboards in South Carolina.

He got his first foil from Ken Gallant at South-End Surf ’N Paddle, who is very enthusiastic about this innovative way to ride a wave. The shop got a foil last summer.

“You’re picking up the bottom half of the wave, the part you can’t utilize on a surfboard,” Gallant said. “Guys are riding waves that haven’t broken or bits of whitewater. People are foiling on waves so crappy you can’t even ride them on a surfboard.”

He said the best introduction to foiling is to get it going behind a boat first.

“You need to get towed behind a boat before you try to surf them,” Gallant explained, “It’s too difficult to figure out where you plant your feet when you’re just paddling into waves for the first time. You have to learn to fly it at 10 or 12 mph first.”

That’s exactly what Stephen DePietro of Beach Haven did.

“Getting behind the boat is the first step to learning, but I’ve been riding mine in the ocean for about a month,” he shared. “Before this storm swell came, I was on it every day. Knee high and mushy are the best conditions. All you need is a little whitewater push and you’re up and riding. When the wave dies, that’s the best part. You actually go faster when you’re just riding swell that isn’t breaking.”

On a wave, the surfer can “hop” the board, much as he or she would pump a surfboard to keep momentum. DiPietro and McGrath are already able to keep their momentum going, back to the peak to catch another wave. Once there’s enough energy, they can literally float 2 feet above the wave.

Foils aren’t deadly, but everyone who has tried them has taken some bumps and bruises. When Gallant’s dealer sold him one, he also asked Gallant to buy a helmet. Deakyne jokes that shin guards and a chest protector aren’t a bad idea, either, as the foil has a way of smacking the rider after wipeouts.

“Hopefully people will use them where they should be used, which is not around a lot of other surfers. There’s a lot of sharp stuff on there,” Gallant added.

Naish, based in Hawaii, is a leader in the field, with lots of experience in kite and stand-up paddle. A few other companies are making foils, but the consensus is that some of the companies are backed up on orders. A foil costs about $1,000. A foil with a specific board is in the neighborhood of $1,600 for surf and $2,000 for SUP.

With another seven weeks of summer conditions, we will likely see foil boarding continue to advance on LBI. Should anyone keep it going through the winter will be a real test.

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