Why Hydrofoiling with a Kite?
"Why Hydrofoiling with a Kite?" you may ask. Kite boarding is really fun. You can do multi-story-high jumps like this one above, go very fast, do all kinds of tricks, surf lots of waves effortlessly or go cruising vast distances. Why would you want to make use of a hydrofoil to kiteboard if kiteboarding has so much to offer already?
Hydrofoil kiteboarding is a very unique experience and has a lot of advantages that opens a whole new dimension to kiteboarding. Imagine having:
- Better upwind ability than a race board
- Riding in silence (you won't believe the noise a kiteboard makes until you have "flown" a hydrofoil)
- Having a board that is far softer on your joints than any other board
- Better surf-ability than a directional: a hydrofoil can even surf non-breaking ocean swell!
- Requiring a much smaller kite (which is generally much more fun to fly with)
- And having amazing light wind performance allowing you to cruise around in very flat water when no one else can even get out (forget about buying a bigger kite, the hydrofoil on a medium size kite gets you riding comfortably in less than 10knots)
Even just the feeling of gliding over the top of the water is truly amazing!
Kite hydrofoils have a number of unique advantages over any other types of boards. Here are the most prominent:
Hydrofoils are very efficient. Much more than any other kite board and even more than race boards. This efficiency directly translates to incredible upwind performance. My first long tack on a hydrofoil had me disorientated, because I sailed straight towards a side of the dam that should not be possible for the given wind direction.
Hydrofoils not only go upwind very well, but also very easily with much less effort than one would think. You don't have to work hard to tack upwind a few kilometers to get away from a crowded kite spot any more. Now you can decide where you want to kite regardless of where you launched from! No worries about the wind direction. Going far upwind is as easy as kiting downwind.
The hydrofoil's efficiency also gives it phenomenal light wind performance. When the wind is too light for most people to use a twintip, then a hydrofoil is truly fun. With a 10m kite you can comfortable go as soon as the wind is strong enough to hold the kite stable at the edge (3 o clock position) of the wind window. And whereas a twintip is boring is winds under 17 knots, a hydrofoil will give you an amazing fun ride in these lighter winds. If you enjoy exploring the shoreline like me, then you actually prefer lighter winds even after being a mega-strong wind kite addict before.
Since the hydrofoil has so little drag in the water, you need to extract very little power from the kite to keep going. This means that the kite will sit closer to the edge of the window and feel a lot lighter while you are riding. When I discovered race boards I loved the fact that you could travel upwind fast and far, but it would be a physical workout. The exercise is fun, but only so far and then exploring further is not fun any more. With a hydrofoil, you go upwind faster, and far easier. It is far less physically demanding to ride than a race board, or a free race board. Since the drag is so much less, the kite also feels completely different when you ride a hydrofoil versus riding the same kite on a race board. On the race board, you sheet the kite out really far to trim it at the best possible lift/drag ratio when going upwind. You need a special bar system or really long arms to get the most out of your kite going upwind on a race board. But on a hydrofoil the the kite sits closer to the edge of the wind window and getting the best lift/drag angle from the kite is at a normal kite sheet position. No long arms or custom bar trimming systems needed on the hydrofoil. Since the kite is so close to the edge of the window, the bar pressure is a lot less and it might actually feel like you have a different kite.
Kiting on butter flat water is always a treat, but kite spots with offshore winds that are safe enough to kite in are few and far between. Hydrofoils on the other hand cut through the water, so finding offshore wind is not a requirement to have a smooth ride any more. A hydrofoil can fly over big chop and feel smoother than the smoothest of water on a twintip. Imagine standing on a flying carpet and flying half a meter above the water. The feeling is amazing and very addictive.
The first thing I noticed when I got going on a hydrofoil was how noisy all other kite boards are. Suddenly there is no sound! OK, maybe a bit of wind noise if you go upwind, but if you kite downwind the silence is amazing! You can even hear the white-caps breaking around you! It is a truly unique experience to travel at speed and still hear soft sounds like your own harness strap flapping or a sail boat making a wake near you.
A hydrofoil board leaves no wake behind. If you look back you won't even know where you just came from. The only water disturbance you can see is a soft water spray that is lifted up from the mast where the water surface meets the mast trailing edge:
The hydrofoils we use for kiteboarding are not stable. They require user input to stay up. That makes it really difficult at first, but once your muscles know what to do it is automatic and fun. Almost like riding a bicycle (or maybe a unicycle). One would think that it would be very tiring and you would have to concentrate the whole time to stay up, but it becomes second nature. And yet, it stays difficult enough not to become boring. Riding a twintip in light wind, when you can only "mow the lawn" (ride up and down and not do any tricks or jumps) can quickly become very boring. But riding up and down on the hydrofoil has that bit of difficulty to it that keeps it fun and interesting.
Most surfers that have seen hydrofoils before saw it in videos from Hawaii where very good surfers used stand-up hydrofoils to tow into very large waves and surf them. Since a hydrofoil cuts through the water it is not too badly affected by chop on the wave face and can be used to surf extremely large waves. Yet it is so efficient that it can surf small waves as well. In fact, a hydrofoil is efficient enough to surf open ocean swell and does not even need a breaking waves. By riding the swell you can surf a wave from far out, and go towards any direction on the wave face, even if the waves breaks everywhere at the same time and does not allow normal surfers any distance to surf it. It is an awesome feeling when you learn to park your kite for minimum pull so that you gain your speed from the wave's energy instead of the kites energy. Since the hydrofoil can ride back upwind phenomenally well, you can also surf more waves more often at the same spot.
What about the not-so-nice side? As with all good things, there must be some draw backs.
The biggest problem with hydrofoiling is that you need deep water with no obstacles in the top 1m of water. There is always the risk of hitting an underwater object at speed. A shallow sand bank or large underwater rock that extend too close to the water surface can damage or destroy your foil. Then there are floating objects that might float just under the water surface and be difficult to see. And making very fresh sushi unintentionally has happened before, but is is a rare phenomenon fortunately.
It is important to know the underwater hazards of the place you hydrofoil at. The obvious things to consider are shallow sand banks and rocks. At particularly shallow dams where the water visibly did not allow me to see how deep it is I have taken an SUP and rowed around dipping my paddle into the water to test the water depth. You can quickly find out which areas to avoid. Rocks in the ocean can normally be seen at spring low tide, or from a higher vantage point if the water is clean.
Most hydrofoils for kites have a keel of about 0.9m long (distance between the bottom of the board and the top of the wings. This means that the maximum distance between the underwater foil and the board is 0.9m. Most of the time the foil is canted to one side slightly which decreases the usable ride height. One would assume that this would mean that chop must be less than about 0.8m high if you want to keep riding over it? The good news is that this is not the case. Since chop/waves move the water up and down, riding towards chop automatically lifts the foil up and over the chop and then down on the other side side again. I was very impressed the first time I noticed this phenomenon. I though the 1.2 m high chop heading towards me would surely either cause my board to hit the water, or my foil's wings to fly out the water on the other side, but before I knew it I had gracefully traveled over the chop without having to make ride-height corrections.
When I first looked at getting a foil I thought that my (then) local gusty inland winds would not allow me to ride a hydrofoil. Thankfully I was wrong and it is possible to balance on the hydrofoil is some very gusty conditions. But is does make it more difficult in the beginning.
In general, a hydrofoil is less fun in stronger winds which tend to be more gusty and create bigger chop. Lighter winds are generally very smooth and then the water surface too. A hydrofoil really complements a twintip really well. One for light wind when the other board would be boring, and the other board for strong winds.
Learning to ride a hydrofoil is not that easy. It is not like any other board where you can jump on and try it. Learning to ride a hydrofoil can take just as long as it took to learn kiteboarding.
Some might say that hydrofoiling will soon be boring because the the pinnacle of progress you can strive for is to cruise around on the foil without falling off. They have obviously not tasted the addictive feeling of hydrofoiling over the water. And once you can ride anywhere you want to, you can still make progress. You can ride normal, then toe-side, you can practice jibing, and then tacking, you can do back rolls, and some people even do a foot position change while the board is foiling above the water and then jibe. And then you can do down-winders or even up-winders, or go cruising a couple of kilometers to different shores before returning back to your car. If you ever get bored of that then you can go hydrofoil surfing where you can surf breaking waves or even just surf the swell while using your kite to pull you into the waves. Since the foil can get back upwind much faster than a directional, you can surf a lot more waves than on a directional board. Hydrofoiling is anything but boring.