Harty updates his attitude on the foiling theme.
Words Peter Hart // Photo Hart Photography
Two years ago I devoted this back page to the nascent pursuit of foiling. My mailbox had veritably overflowed with queries. What’s it like? Is it worth it? Is it just a fad? The grapevine had let slip that I’d had a go. But it wasn’t a very big go – just an hour in tricky conditions without much of a clue what to do. But in spite of the adversity, I did ‘fly’ – in the same way as the Wright brothers flew – the take-off and landing occurring almost simultaneously. So while making a few observations and speculative predictions about the activity in general, I stated that I’d reserve final judgement until I’d given the discipline the attention it deserved. I’m a man of my word. Here I am again.
The uncomfortable truth
Being truthful in retrospect, my gut reaction to the first outing wasn’t unconditionally positive. I’d enjoyed the challenge but was unsure of its universal appeal. But such is often the fate of eccentric developments. Look at the sport of windsurfing itself. When Jim Drake took his prototype ‘Skate’ down to the scrappy beach of Marina de Rey in California in 1967, he wasn’t immediately mobbed by a throng desperate to give it a go. It was a breezy day and the vacationers were having a load of family fun messing around in traditional sailboats – all the while throwing curious glances at this solitary oddball who stuttered through space and time with all the speed and directional intention of a moth on marijuana.
Had Jim at that stage set up a stall on the beach to promote his invention, he’d have had more luck selling double glazing to the Bedouins of the Sahara.
“So is this thing faster than my boat.?”
“Errr … no .. not yet.”
“Is it easy to do? Can I take my family on it? Is there room for a beer fridge?”
“Err no, no and … no.”
“So what’s the point of it again?”
“Well it’s … different.”
“Well come back to me buddy when it’s different and better.”
The yet to be named ‘windsurfing’ was a decade away from being even vaguely popular.
The situation was similar on the shores of Portland two years ago, the scene of my maiden foiling voyage. The speed trials were on. It was breezy. Regular windsurfers were hooning around with skill and purpose. Thousands of hours of practice and highly developed equipment combined to produce wildly gratifying sensations of speedy efficiency and harmony. That’s not how I’d describe my foiling performance and I was supposed to be able to do this sort of thing.
My provider Sam Ross, already well ahead on the foiling game, was turning a few heads but any advantages were not immediately obvious.
Back on shore, he fielded questions from inquisitive onlookers. Sam is both informed and engaging, but as they left nodding politely, you could see the thought bubbles:
“So you suggest I spend £1500 on this thing which makes windsurfing more difficult, which may get going a bit earlier but which, come on, in most winds, is basically slower … and that £1500 doesn’t include a board you say? But any old wide slalom or Formula board will do – but I’ve just sold one and it was horrible!” And then when they saw a board and foil in his van and noted there was no room for anything else – well that was it. Van space considerations trump all others.
In a sport like ours, there are 3 stages of pioneering development. There’s the bit that most don’t see – the brutally hard yards put in by the lone inventor not even sure that what he’s inventing is even possible.
Stage 2 is where the ‘thing’ is available commercially, usually a bit prematurely. The activity is possible, but it’s very much a work in progress and there’s little or no general knowledge on how to do it. This is where I came into windsurfing. For me it was the golden era. Daily discoveries and breakthroughs were momentous: “Did you know … with the dagger thing down, if you press right, you go left?!” You felt so much a part of it – but you needed time. Running a school in that era, I had water hours a plenty. But if leisure time is limited, you’d prefer a less jagged path to competency. That’s where we were at Weymouth. It was do-able but annoyingly difficult and incomplete.
Stage 3 is where it arrives with defined learning pathways, understandable kit choices and informed serving suggestions depending on your ability and tastes. That’s where we are with foiling now.
If a week is a long time in politics, 2 years is a complete epoch in the development of watersports. If you buy into foiling today, you are still one of the first. In 10 years time we’ll surely laugh at this era – but it is now fully formed with most of the annoying edges knocked off and readily achievable by most.
But …isn’t it just another fad?
The dictionary defines a fad as: “An intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived.” Fads are like romantic love and the wind, the more suddenly they arrive, the more quickly they drop and disappear. Foiling has been at least 15 years in the making – too much blood, sweat, money and painful impact have already gone into its growth for it to be short lived.
But why should you give it a go?
Because it’s there and you’re a windsurfer.
When I first ‘flew’ on a foil I got the same reaction as when I first got a van. The view is so much better. I could see over the hedgerows and into people’s living rooms.
This month with the help of Tris Best and Sam, I’ve dedicated 6 technique pages to the basics. If you read it, I hope you can feel the enthusiasm bubbling from the page. Personally as someone of an age where I’m really happy every year if I don’t get worse at something, foiling reintroduced me to a forgotten sensation of being on a vertical improvement graph. In the right environment, you will crack it and delight in being literally lifted from your comfort zone and teetering on that shaky frontier between dread and ecstasy.
But I know what you’re thinking – bloody pro sailor gets given one and has been bribed to say nice things. Well let it be known that foils are in such short supply that I’ve just had to transfer a 4 figure sum from my hard earned funds for the privilege.
And by the way – it all breaks down into a bag the size of a gangster’s violin case so there’s plenty of room left in the van.
Peter Hart 1st May 2018
Photo Caption – Plenty of room left in the van – that’s all you need to know.
Photo Hart Photography.