FREERIDE FOIL & FOIL BOARD TEST 2019
Test Editor Tris Best // Second Testers Maurin Rottenwalter,
Joe North & Dan Hallam.
Photos Dan Hallam & Tris Best // Test location Portland Harbour.
A year is a very, very long time in a discipline as fast moving and dynamic as foiling. Not only have the foils and foil-specific products evolved considerably since our last test … but so, it seems, has the whole direction of travel! 2018 brought us our first PWA foiling champion and a foiling world championship open class, providing the test bed for the latest and greatest racing-oriented kit. There have been pioneers pushing the limits in foiling freestyle and wave riding … and as we go to print, it seems the World Sailing Council are reopening the debate about the potential for foiling to be adopted for the 2024 Olympics, to be decided after sea trials conducted towards the end of this year.
This test was originally published in the July 2019 issue.
History repeats itself time and again, in windsurfing as with every other walk in life. When a new design concept or direction is embraced, it’s only natural for the early adopters and innovators to push the boundaries and explore. Wind foiling is on that journey at the moment and the rate of progression is breathtaking. But there’s a big difference in the development process today. It demonstrates the maturity of the industry and is something that, we believe, every brand involved should be proud of. And it’s this: whilst there are the trailblazers careering down certain paths and challenging what is possible, the nucleus and focus chosen by all is the notion of making foiling more accessible and user-friendly. There is a much greater understanding demonstrated by all the brands involved in this test, producing equipment that is easy to set up and enjoy.
So what is the direction of travel in 2019? Where is it all going? Anyone remotely familiar with foil anatomy will acknowledge that the front wing is crucial and defines the performance range of the foil. For 2019, two-thirds of the lineup can be classed as low-aspect in shape, pushing early planing, low speed thresholds and ease of use. The driving influence is from development and progression in SUP and surf foiling, using large low aspect shovel-like front wing shapes, to generate lift and stability at low speeds to catch waves, unbroken swell lines or even the wake of a boat. These qualities and assets are instantly transferrable to windsurfing and what is more, they’re transferrable using largely the same front wings and foiling components. All that needs to change is the setup and foil geometry. It’s an exciting and liberating way forward; cross pollination between water sports can only be a good thing.
There are some notable brand names missing from the test lineup unfortunately, due to their products not being available within our test window. Their inclusion may well have balanced the field between low and high aspect wings, and we will find out in the very near future, as the intention is to grab them at the earliest opportunity and report our findings in a catch up test. Watch this space…
On the board front, we have six foil-specific boards on review here – more than were even available on the market in 2018! As with last year, tail width is the primary consideration, matching the right board to each specific foil’s dimensions (since the shift to low-aspect foils has increased the diversity available). Boards come in all shapes and sizes, largely classed by volume (albeit we believe this may well become a thing of the past for this board category). Yet unlike conventional windsurfing, where the larger the board volume, the easier it is to use, we’d go as far to say that the narrower foil-specific boards – 120s for example – are actually far easier to get on with compared to their larger siblings, many of which we tested last year. The reason is simple. On the smaller board, the tails are narrower, so the geometry of the fittings (the footstraps in relation to the mast track and fin box) is more familiar, making it easier to transition from normal windsurfing and back again. Some of the boards here are perfect introductory-progression platforms, with enough waterline and rocker-flat to be pumped onto the plane in an ‘old-school’ fashion using the sail. Others here are quite stumpy in appearance with no-nose outlines, the virtues of which become apparent once hovering in the air. They are, in effect, a step on from their counterparts, assuming some previous foiling experience and base-level understanding of how to utilise a foil for early release. They look extreme … and yet the learning curve for wind foiling is extremely steep, meaning they aren’t beyond the realms of possibility for anyone reading this article. A little tuition can go a long way … and then it is just time on the water. To illustrate this, consider the RRD Pocket Rocket. At 180 cm in length, most would look at it and think tacking is an impossibility. And yet … with a max width of 76 cm by the shoulders, a volume of 122 litres and most importantly the innate stability of a foil strapped underneath, tacking is in fact a very straightforward affair for anyone that is capable of stepping round on a large wave board.
Talking of the RRD, its inclusion in this test raises another very current discussion topic – that of strapless / harness-less foiling. Foils are crossing over between surf sports, and many WindSUPs on the market have been given a new dimension by evolving to offer foil use as well, so it was only a matter of time before convention was challenged once more. After all, it makes perfect sense when the sail’s forces are that much lighter and more manageable. Why force the issue? If this is your own personal point of interest … wait one more month as our WindSUP test is just around the corner. With the progress made in just one season, all of a sudden the notion of a novice windsurfer learning to windfoil before they’ve even considered learning footstrap and harness work doesn’t seem so far fetched, does it? And why not? Let’s face it – any route into the sport can only be a good thing for the industry’s growth and sustainability. You may look at some of the latest developments and scoff at their very existence (and I haven’t even mentioned wing-foiling yet), but people will naturally gravitate towards the style of foiling that mirrors the style of windsurfing they are already into. Pick the foil and platform that is going to provide the most enjoyment for you … and my advice is not to knock the others until you’ve had first-hand experience. You never know, you might be surprised!
Before we continue to the summary, here are some key tips to remember:
• Firstly, stiffness in a foil is paramount. If there is any play or movement at any joint or fixing in the foil, its influence will be felt ten-times over in flight. When you come back in from your first session, check and re-check the tension in all the screws. If you’re using a Foil box / Tuttle box head, make extra sure the back bolt is tight and secure – this one will stop the foil jack-knifing into the hull of your board! If there has been any movement during your first outing, the front screw will be loose, so tighten it up!
• Aluminium and carbon don’t mix at the best of times, but add the electrolyte of salt water into the mix and you have the perfect recipe for your expensive new purchase to seize and become one piece! Take time to maintain your foil. Many of the brands are good enough to supply a marine grade lubricant … but if it’s not supplied, buy some. Tef-Gel, that is the one we use in the centre – a small 5oz pot costs around £20.00. A high price for a small quantity, but it really is a lifesaver. Before fixing your screws into place, dip the head of the screw into the pot … but then wash your hands because the stuff is incredibly sticky and heaven forbid you get some on your boom!
• The last point is that setup between foil, board and rig is absolutely crucial. A good foil can feel terrible in a good foil board if the setup isn’t fine-tuned. Be prepared to experiment – some foils come with shims or washers to adjust wing angles; others can be adjusted by simply adjusting some screws. Get the flight right and you are onto a winner, making your session fun and easy whilst others seem to be struggling.
There are some very diverse products on review here, appealing to a true cross-section of the foiling audience. Let’s start with entry-level foiling and the Fanatic Flow Foil / Stingray setup will take some beating. Their 2019 foil programme is poles apart from last year’s offering, with stability and progressive ease at its core, the Stringray providing the platform to compliment, with its extended waterline for familiarity in take off. And as you progress you can change the front wing to unlock more performance. Starboard have taken a new direction in their SuperCruiser foil. Low aspect and with masses of range and control, it was capable of partnering a real cross section of board widths and sizes, venturing confidently into all conditions. The Foil 111 was a favourite amongst the team. Again, incredibly versatile, it could be used for manoeuvre-oriented free-sailing, or loaded with a high aspect foil for some high octane freerace foiling, its width in the tail providing comfort and tangible reference to conventional sailing. Talking of performance, the Tabou Air Ride has been a long time coming, but it has certainly been worth the wait. Packing in 145 litres, it is easy and stable for first flights, with a plethora of back footstrap options to suit all foiling abilities. Learn, progress and enjoy … the Air Ride has definite straight-line freerace potential, capable of partnering long masts and high aspect foils without issue. The JP Hydrofoil 120 is of a similar ilk, with width and dome in the tail to cope with loading 95 cm masts easily. It is however much more compact, verging on no-nose in outline, so response and general alertness whilst sailing is much higher. The Neil Pryde Wind Glide foil takes the manoeuvre-oriented path much further. Supplied with a Powerbox, there are caveats to its use … but its whole premise is to unlock the excitement of foiling to a much wider audience, capable of being used with the board many windsurfers already have in their quiver. If you’ve had your taste of foiling and you’re ‘all in’ so to speak, then the Slingshot setup could be for you. The brand is so committed to the discipline that they even have their own online academy for guidance and tips from their experienced crew. The FWind foil package reflects this knowledge and expertise, and together with the Wizard board was such a fun and playful pairing, having the whole team coming back for more. That leaves the RRD Pocket Rocket and much improved foil. Small tweaks to its makeup have transformed the WH Flight 85 into something that now has both performance and range. There are lots of accessories available too for customising it with different wings or fuselages for different wind conditions or skills. But the attention grabber of the test has to be the Pocket Rocket.
Whilst capable of being used in a conventional (harness and footstrap) manner, it asks entirely new questions of where wind foiling progression can go and the doors it could open. It won’t be for everyone … but our advice is not to dismiss it before you’ve tried it for yourself.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
I’ve included our glossary of terms printed in last year’s foil test below, just to reconfirm some explanations and make sure we don’t lose you when we discuss the nuances between the foils by using unclear terminology.
Early Lift – How early the foil will kick into action and elevate the board clear of the water. Another really important consideration is where the lift comes from – whether it is back-footed, front-footed or balanced between both feet.
Directional Stability – A foil is in effect a big fin initially, but when in flight, how directionally stable does it feel?
Response – Whilst in flight, you’ll want to control your height through gusts and lulls, on different sea states and during transitions. Response considers your sense of control fore and aft.
Flight Predictability – This is a biggie for everyone, from the novice to the pro. How solid and comfortable the foil feels underfoot largely determines how committed you can be and how much you can load it with power.
Which leads neatly onto…
Speed – Does what it says on the tin, a pretty clear cut test parameter.
Reaching Comfort – Most recreational sailors blast across the wind, from A to B, and wish to do it for hours on end without a struggle. In powered to overpowered conditions, it is actually one of the tougher points of sail, so how do these foils fair?
Pointing Ability – Just as we’re seeing in PWA foil racing, the beauty with foiling is the ability to point, both upwind and off the wind. So what is the non-reaching potential of each of these foils?
Twitch – This term will be a new one for many and describes the potential ‘play’ in the foil. It deals with any unexplained bounce, jolt or hiccup in the flight – an experience that momentarily rocks your confidence in control. It could be down to a myriad of reasons, but ultimately is likely to boil down to foil stiffness.
Manoeuvrability – Different to response, manoeuvrability deals with just how playful and throw around you feel the foil is. Does it encourage you to enter transitions in quick succession, or dread them?
Ease of Assembly – Most of these foils come fully dismantled. Just how easy is it to put them together and also how easy is it to locate them securely to the bottom of a board?
THE LINE UP