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Wind foiling has rebooted coastal exploration and long-distance sailing in light winds. John Carter, Timo Mullen and Sam Ross report back on a foil mission to one of the most famous landmarks on England’s south coast, the incredible chalk formations of “Old Harry Rocks”! 

WORDS – John Carter, Timo Mullen and Sam Ross  // PHOTOS – John Carter 

John Carter – “Foiling has proven to be a game changer for many windsurfers and helped them rediscover having fun in light winds with the exhilarating feeling of flying on a foil. A few years ago, a forecast promising a leisurely breeze would have been pretty much a no go zone for windsurfing unless you had a huge sail, but the advent of foiling has given an edge to summer sailing and its traditionally lighter winds. Anything over 8 knots of wind and foiling is possible, and 15 knots plus is a full-on session!  

After lockdown, most windsurfers were out to make the most of any breath of wind possible, so foiling has been really taking off along the south coast. In Poole there are a large group of foilers who meet up for regular sessions in the harbour, while many would be Olympians are already gearing up for a crack at the 2024 games in France on the new iQFoil equipment. Coastal cruising has had a reboot too, with foils opening the doors for exciting coast runs and exploring landmarks in lighter winds, which obviously as a photographer opens up lots of options also!


Having previously completed a gnarly mission to the Needles on the Isle of Wight, I was keen to capture windsurfing with more dramatic chalk landscapes around the south coast. I have ventured out to Old Harry several times in the past, but the concept this time round was to do it on foils in lighter winds. Olympic foil coach Sam Ross was our last-minute recruit for the Old Harry mission! Sam has been at the forefront of UK foiling since the outset, and was keen to join us for this relaxed mission in Timo’s boat for a fun afternoon on the water.    

For once I was checking forecasts for light winds rather than full power gales that normally spark up the Motley Crew ‘red phone’. Finally the right day came along with a 10-16 knot northwesterly predicted. We headed out of Poole Harbour in Timo’s boat, jealously passing a multi-million pound gin palace moored up in the harbour. The wind was looking dubiously light as we passed through Poole Harbour, perhaps three or four knots at best. I had tried to pick a light breezy day, but this was maybe going too far. Timo and Sam didn’t look too phased, so we ploughed on out to Old Harry despite the lack of wind. For once I felt no pressure at all on this day out! We were not chasing a massive swell or sheltering from storm force winds, instead it was a pleasant summer’s day, with calm water and the lightest of breezes. We even had lunch and a few icy cold beers onboard, so there really wasn’t too much that could go wrong! Timo Mullen, who is normally a devout wave sailor, has embraced foiling as his summer backup to help him make the most of light winds and was super keen to get the mission started!


Timo Mullen – “I started foiling around four years ago. I am pretty addicted to windsurfing, so the prospect of learning a new discipline that made it possible to windsurf in less wind was a no-brainer! I started out on my old Starboard iSonic 121, then just before lockdown last year I received a prototype of the new Severne 125 Alien dedicated foil board. That board has been a ‘game changer’ as it is so ridiculously easy to use!  

Having this foil gear has saved my last three summers! I reckon I can windsurf nearly every day now, and as foiling is a lot more physically and mentally tiring than normal windsurfing, my sessions are a lot shorter, so it is socially acceptable as far as my wife is concerned! To be fair, I am usually content after one-hour of foiling as I am happy just to cruise and enjoy the sensation of foiling rather than aspiring to be the next Balz Müller. 

We have a pretty decent crew in Poole who all foil. Windsurfing wise we are all at different levels, but foiling is a real leveller, which is really cool as we are all hitting the same milestones at the same time!

Wind wise I reckon I can get going with my 7.0 Severne Foil Glide sail in anything from 8 knots plus, but once I am up on the foil the wind can drop to as low as 6 knots and I can keep flying as you can pump the foil through the lulls pretty easily!” 


John Carter – “The rocks are made from chalk dating back 65 million years and mark the start of the famous Jurassic Coast world heritage site. It is hard to fathom that these huge chalk cliffs are formed by algae and the shells and skeletal remains of tiny plankton! The ridge of chalk at Old Harry originally joined up with the Needles off the Isle of Wight, but rising sea levels combined with erosion created the Solent and formed these spectacular rocks in the process.  

The majestic cliffs and chalk stacks out at Old Harry loomed towards us as we motored out of Poole. Wind or no wind it was going to be a pleasurable experience heading out in a boat and viewing Old Harry from the water. 

Once rigged it was still only about 5 knots, so Timo gave the nod to Sam Ross to have first dibs on the gear as Sam was mostly likely to have the skills, fitness and technique to be able to pump up onto the foil. I was really thinking that Sam would have no chance of flying in such light winds, but after some vigorous pumping he was up on the foil and flying around effortlessly. Fortunately, the wind started to pick up and it was not long before Sam was fully wound up on Timo’s gear, gliding past Old Harry silently as the foil sliced through the calm waters.”


Sam Ross – “I first picked foiling up just over 4 years ago. I popped into Boardwise while I was doing a bit of sales repping at the time. They were about to put a foil order in, so I chucked my name down for one. At the time it was so I could have a bit of my windsurfing that didn’t involve coaching, also it was something totally new to learn and a challenge. Now foiling has tripled my water time, made nice weather days exciting for windsurfing and also got me fully motivated to learn new things. 

When World Sailing made the decision in November to vote in the iQFoil, I began working with the British Sailing Team on their foil programme. Along with Leo McCallin we work with around 20-25 windsurfers looking forward to success in 2024. Many started from scratch and are now excited about racing internationally. We also work with the youth fleet and those transitioning from the junior fleet into foiling. When I’m not doing that, I’m coaching instructors (including foiling ones) recreational windsurfers and working with the BWA future pros as well as UK and overseas windsurfing clinics! 

It sounds crazy but the most popular mistake I see is guys going out in too little wind, or too small a sail. As with most things in windsurfing, having a bit more power helps you learn and then solve the problems quicker.  

For learning to foil, flat water is best and anything from around 10 knots plus is ideal. Now though I really enjoy over 15 knots with a bit of sea state, that way you can have a bit of a play on swell on the way downwind and also have enough power to go wherever you like! 

Heading out to Old Harry on a foil mission was great fun. It is such an iconic spot and that’s the closest I’ve ever windsurfed to it. It was also the nicest day I’ve been out there on windsurf kit. This is one of the best things about foiling. With the wind range of the kit and the upwind and downwind ability there are so many options. You’ve also got a lot of backup in terms of board volume. So even if it gets a bit patchy for foiling, you’ll be able to get yourself back home or into a safe spot.  

I’ve already used my foil setup loads to explore Poole harbour and do runs I’d never have done on normal kit. You also don’t have to wait for mega days to do it. Over the past few years the foil kit has moved on really fast. But within the last two seasons the kit has almost entirely been good. What worries me is people holding off buying for it to ‘settle down’. The kit will keep moving forward, but it already works, so now is the time to get onboard! Tuning, however, and compatibility is vital. Most phone calls and emails I receive about foiling problems are kit related. Usually something as simple as a footstrap or mastfoot position solves it. I shared Timo’s kit out at Old Harry! It was a nice set of kit. I have the same sail but it was my first time on that board. For our mission, as it was light I’d have moved the rear strap right to the back. Also, a narrower profile boom would have made it spot on as the narrower profile helps you gain leverage over the foil and be more upright over the foil. It also helps you use longer harness lines and bend at the waist so you can really put weight through the harness and have a lower boom. Some of the girls I coach use the boom at the bottom of the cutout and yet have 34 inch harness lines!” 


John Carter – “Finally, the wind picked up to over 10 knots and both Sam and Timo were able to share the kit and blast around in front of Old Harry! It was not the perfect day weather wise with a few lingering clouds, but the sun was poking through once in a while and it was pretty mellow in the boat so was no drama. When the wind kicked in and Timo took over on the kit, he headed down the coast and sailed in front of the renowned ‘The Pig on the Beach’ hotel in Studland Bay. It only took a matter of minutes on the foil to get down the coast and with the mission complete we headed back into Poole, celebrating of course with an icy cold beer. The advent of foiling certainly opens up new possibilities of checking out the stunning coastline the UK has to offer and I for one will be busy researching some new destinations that offer some choice photographic opportunities…watch this space!” 


Timo Mullen – “Old Harry is an iconic landmark and marks the most easterly point of the Jurassic Coast, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I wouldn’t say there is anything dangerous about sailing out to Old Harry other than it is a long way from the usual launch spots near Sandbanks in Poole, so it is still wise to take all the necessary safety precautions! I think the special part of windsurfing near Old Harry Rocks is the sheer beauty of the formations; they are like a mini White Cliffs of Dover and the Needles all rolled into one! We used my boat, a 5-metre sports fishing boat that is so handy to throw my gear into for these sorts of missions! We were pretty lucky with the wind on this mission as it was really light but that made the sea conditions super flat, so perfect for photos and allowed us to really take in and enjoy the spectacular views.” 




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