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What is a foilboard or hydrofoil Surfboard?

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Hydrofoil surfboards have been around for a long time. As surfers, we first caught glimpses of them on video when the Maui crew was experimenting with early tow board technology back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, but foilboards didn’t have the same practical applications of other modes of surfing being conceived by Laird Hamilton and his merry band of mad aquatic scientists. While tow boards and stand up paddle boards have become mainstays of the mainstream, foilboards stalled in that “interesting” gray area where cool but wacky inventions often remain. But what the heck is a foilboard anyway?

Basically speaking, a foilboard is a surfboard that uses a hydrofoil attached to the bottom to lift the board and its rider clear above the water’s surface, allowing much less friction or drag to slow the surfer’s forward motion. While current foilsurfing seems to be a really cool slant on wave riding, innovation is sure to unlock endless possibilities not yet imagined.

Although the foilboad was originally conceived and created by surfer and water skier Mike Mack to be used behind a boat, it was big wave surfing pioneer and all-around waterman Hamilton who applied it to riding waves in Hawaii. The use of Powered Water Craft (PWC’s) to aid surfers in catching waves that were previously too big to paddle also enabled Hamilton to get the foilboard up and floating at a speed fast enough to glide into a moving wave and capture its energy to achieve impressive speeds along the wave face.

Presently, foilboards are more of a novelty in wave riding, but they are superior to standard boards in two important ways: foilboards are faster than traditional equipment and more stable when strong winds cause large surface chop.

Speed is the goal of all surfers, and foilboards achieve impressive velocity due to their minimal friction. Traditional surfboards ride with almost their entire surface area sliding across the surface. Foilboards, on the other hand, lift out of the water, leaving only the hydrofoil slicing below the water and allow the surfer to float freely several feet in the air.

Surface chop is another problem for traditional surfboards as they lose control when popping over and digging through bumps on the wave face. It’s especially dangerous in big waves. Once the fins come out of the water or the rail gets caught, the high speeds and overwhelming power of open ocean swells can be deadly. On a hydrofoil, however, the board slices smoothly and quickly through the chop like the proverbial knife through butter.

Carafino Hydrofoils on Maui has been applying this concept to kiteboards with exhilarating results. According to the company, foilboarding is a “life changing experience” that can be done in “ultra-light wind as low and steady as 8 mph with a 12 meter kite,” which is impressive since kiteboarding is traditionally a sport for when the wind is blowing much too hard to surf. The reduced friction of foilboards allows them to go faster and lift higher with less pulling torque than traditional kiteboards. Hydrofoils are also being applied to windsurf boards with similar results.

The future of foilboarding is exciting as innovative surfers and board makers continue to experiment. With speed and stability conquered, the next hurdle will be maneuverability. Traditional surfing still has the edge in terms of quick, rail burying turns and speed carves around the falling lip of wave. Foilboards offer a more floaty, ethereal experience, but they are proving to be a solid addition to the surfing culture.

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