This section is to help those that can kiteboard well already and want to enter the world of kite hydrofoiling
Learning to hydrofoil can be very intimidating. One is so excited after deciding to invest in a hydrofoil and you just want to feel what the magic carpet ride is all about. And then at the end of the first day you might not even have travelled a few meters on the foil and feel very intimidated. After falling off for the 20th time and suffering from a sore neck from the whiplash and random bruises from the foil it is easy to think: "I'll just stick to my regular boards. I used to be good at kiting and now I look like a total useless novice."
Don't worry! If you could learn to kiteboard then you can definitely learn to hydrofoil! The conditions and the type of hydrofoil that you use also play a role. I hope that this website can help to speed up the learning curve a bit. It is all info that I wish I knew when I started and wasted good kiting days just falling off and getting hurt.
Getting Out There
After assembling the beautiful beast called a hydrofoil and walking towards the water with your board under your arm you quickly realise: "Oh, no, how deep into the water must I go? And how do I get there?"
Ideally, you should have cross shore wind. But learning in onshore wind is possible. You have to walk as deep into the water as you can and then some more. So how deep is deep enough? Obviously 1m is the absolute minimum depth if your foil is the standard 0.9m long, but that is too risky. I'd say the minimum depth for learning is about 1.4m. Rather be safe than sorry!
When I went out with a foil the first time, and went as deep as I could walk, I soon realised that body dragging with a foil board in one hand is not so straight forward. Especially if the wind is onshore and you need to body drag upwind with a very odd shaped board. How do you get this thing to track upwind with you while body dragging? The best method I have found so far is to put the board on its side, with the foil just cutting the water surface. Use your elbow and front hand to keep the board rotated onto its side and point the nose of the board slightly upwind as you body drag.
Don’t worry too much about technique here. Whatever method works to get you out onto the water is fine. Just make sure you don't press against your board with your harness hook since it can damage the board.
Here is a very nice video made by BraCuru about handling the foilboard in the water:
Up, up and away
So, everything is ready. Wind is blowing steadily. You managed somehow to get to deep water far from obstacles and other kiters. Now, to finally try and ride a hydrofoil!
Normally, a hydrofoil board will tend to want to lie flat with the foil part hanging straight down under the water. If you try to get onto the board from this position, the drag on the foil so far below will most likely cause the board to tilt onto the leeward rail from where it is normally impossible to tilt the board back to the windward rail using your weight. The foil adds just too much inertia and drag for you to do this. You have to get up onto the board with at least a bit of tilt towards the windward rail.
If you are learning is strong winds, the kite will like by dragging you downwind slowly even when it is parked straight above your head. This slow downwind drift will make it difficult to stay upwind of the hydrofoil board, since you cannot just push the board downwind into position like a normal board. If you try to push the foilboard downwind, it will roll onto the leeward rail and cause your legs to kick into the sharp fins under water which is not nice. One way to avoid this is to keep the board next to you, with the nose facing downwind so that it can glide downwind at the same speed that you are drifting without tilting over. Once you are ready to attempt getting onto it, it will be easy to push it out in front of you and yaw it perpendicular to the wind direction using only one hand.
When you start, I believe it is best to have only one footstrap on the board. Two footstraps do not really make it easier, and just increases the chances of falling awkwardly and hurting your ankles. I think that strapless riding might even help you get used to balancing the foil easier, but the start sequence is much easier with at least one footstrap. After getting the board in front of you pointing perpendicular to the wind direction, put your foot into the footstrap and tilt the board up so that the foil is almost coming out the water downwind of the board as shown here:
Now the start is very similar to a normal twintip start, except that you don't want to edge too much. The foil provides a lot of lift, so expect the edge to be shared between the board edge and the foil down below. Use the kite to pull you up onto the board and get the board rather flat with only a slight windward tilt.
You should get up onto the board almost like getting onto a race board. Unlike water skiing behind a boat, use only a little bit of power from the kite and hop onto the board before you get speed. The board can be quite flat when you get up, but it must not tilt over otherwise you will not be able to tilt it back.
Just getting up onto the board takes most people quite a while so do not feel too intimidated if you find it very difficult. After a bit of practice it will be much easier.
Once you can get up onto the board, ride the hydrofoil with the board still on the water. Do not try to let the board lift up too soon. First get the feeling of riding with the foil way down below the water. There is no downwind slide when riding a hydrofoil, even at very slow speeds, which is something to get used to.
Start off by riding more or less 90 degrees to the wind. If you feel that you are not getting enough speed, then go more downwind. The foilboard should go almost as fast as a twintip before the board lifts off the water. It should not have more drag than a twintip even with the main board on the water. If you feel that you are going too fast then head more upwind in the beginning. If you find that you are going too slow, head more downwind.
Finally, time to get up onto the foil and ride in silence. This is the difficult part. Getting the board up above the water and keeping it there.
Make sure your feet are positioned correct before you try to lift the board onto the foil. The board's recommended footstrap positions should work just fine. Remember that it will take a lot of practice for your muscles to react automatically to control height, so don't get worried if you do not get it correct right away.
Obviously to get the board to lift up and the foil to carry your weight you have to lift the nose to get a lifting angle of attack on the foil. It is very tempting in the beginning to lean back to get the board to come up. But the board will come up so quickly that you will likely not have enough time to lean forward again and correct your balance before the wings come out of the water. Try to keep your weight centered, and do a small hop, but keep both feet on the board. Do a kind of up and down hop, lifting the weight of your front foot, and thereafter your back foot, to let the board's nose rise and then correct it immediately afterwards before the board has even lifted off the water. Keep doing this, making the hops/jumps bigger and longer until you can feel the board coming up off the water. Don't be afraid to let the board back down onto the water. It is easier to get the feeling by doing little foil runs of only one meter and then putting the board back onto the water, than trying to ride further on the foil and crashing the whole time.
A mistake that a lot of people make while learning is to travel too slowly, and lean to far onto the back of the board. Keep your weight forward until you have a nice comfortable speed. A good speed to start with is around 12 knots, which is almost as fast as you would ride when riding a twintip upwind. Try to find the balance point on the board where the foil almost wants to lift up when you speed up, but will not lift up until you do a slight hop motion.
It is tempting to get the board to lift up by bending your knees and you might not even realise that you are doing it. Don't! Try to keep your knees straight (but not locked). Bending your knees makes it more difficult to control the height of the board. It also helps a lot to turn your shoulders and look upwind.
Also, keep your focus on the water just ahead of you. If you look elsewhere it will be more difficult to control the ride height. Practice this hopping technique, making longer and longer runs on the foil. These will be your first feelings of riding in silence. Enjoy it!
As with all good things that are really worth pursuing, hydrofoiling is hard work and there is a price to pay to experience it. That price is wipe-outs. But they need not be painful if you fall off smartly. Here are some tips that I found really helped me learn without injuries:
- Do not make your foot straps too tight. If they are too tight then you can easily hurt your ankles when you fall. You only need the footstrap to hold the board in position during the water start. Once you are on the board the footstraps hardly help at all since you are balancing around a point far below the board and rolling the board with your ankles will have no effect. I think using only one footstrap in the front of the board will make learning both safer and easier. If you can get onto the board strapless, then learning to ride the foil will be even safer if you go strapless quite early on.
- If you are going to fall, try to fall forward (towards the nose of your board). The front of the board only has the nose of the board that is sharp and hard, and you cannot hid it full on from the riding position. If you fall to a side, you can easily land on the foil, which is hard and sharp and can seriously hurt you, especially if it hits your head. Alternatively, if you loose your balance the other way, try to fall backwards, pushing the foil out ahead of you. The worst way to fall is to fall over to one side of the board, because normally your feet would kick the board to the opposite side causing the board to roll and causing you to fall on top of the sharp foil wings.
- Control your speed so as not to go too fast while learning. But how do you do this if the foil has no drag? Firstly, you should use a slightly smaller kite size than the size you would normally use on a given day. Over speed will mostly be a problem when you start wanting to go downwind. Move the kite over your head if you are too powered to ride slowly. When you are going too fast, try to put the board back down on the water. This will add enough drag and stability for you to regain control. A racing foil will make it much more difficult to keep your speed low when learning.
- When handling the board in the water before water starting, remember that the foil under the board is hard and hurts if you kick it while swimming into position. Be aware of the fact that you will normally drift downwind onto the foilboard due to the kite, and try to stay clear of the foil under the water.
- Don't give up. When learning and falling off uncountable number of times it can be frustrating. Keep courage. Use good conditions to practice, and before you know it you will get it and ride around comfortably!
Here are some more tips from BraCuru in a nice video that he put together:
Once you can sort of control the ride height and you are going quite a couple of meters, you will notice that controlling the roll of the board (in other words keeping balance between windward and leeward sides) is not so easy. When I first got going far I found that the board would slowly lean over to a side and no matter how much I tried with my feet to correct it, I just could not get the board in balance before it tilted over. I tried tightening the footstraps but to no avail.
I really wondered how some people can ride strapless, yet I cannot even control the roll of the board with two footstraps. And then a light came on: To correct the board's roll, you must steer the board in the direction it is falling towards.
In other words, if the board is falling too much towards windward, simply ride more towards the windward (upwind) side and the board will level out again. And vice versa. You should quickly get the feel for this and this smooth balancing dynamics makes the hydrofoil really fun to ride. And then strapless riding is just as easy as riding with really tight footstraps or even boots.
So remember to not even try to roll the board with your feet like you would on a twintip. Rather just steer the board in underneath you and use steering to control the board roll.