In November 2019 the World Sailing Council approved the iQFoil as the equipment for windsurfing events at the 2024 Olympic games in France, replacing the RS:X, which was the chosen Olympic equipment since Beijing in 2008. It was a massive coup for Starboard and Severne and the result of years of hard work, innovation and dedication from the team behind the scenes. John Carter caught up with some of the key players to learn more about the process of winning the bid and designing the gear, and we also learn about how you can get a hold of the kit in the UK and get racing on it!
Words Tiesda You, Remi Villa, Svein Rasmussen, Gonzalo Costa Hoevel, Ben Severne, Paul Simmons & Sam Ross. Photos John Carter & Georgia Schofield
TIESDA YOU – Starboard’s head of brand and design.
Windsurfing foils have been around a long time. There were the garage-built foils from the earliest days. Then there were the custom foils made in limited quantities by some of the earliest pioneering local brands such as Horue, F4 and Loke.
Our first foray into foils started in 2003 when Starboard collaborated with legendary Hawaiian waterman Rush Randle on a solid aluminium foil. In 2012, inspired by the sheer performance of America’s Cup boats on foils, I started work on several foil concepts under the Starboard Foils division. In August 2016 came the breakthrough, an innovative racing foil with a new geometry bringing a fresh level of performance. With a foil that had stability, wind range, upwind performance and the ability to take-off in the lightest winds, foil racing was ready to take the next step.
I remember it like it was yesterday. The Starboard team was on the beach with Gonzalo and I working on the Race foil and Remi working on a new Formula board with Wojtek Brozozowski and Michal Polanowski. The Formula team were going backwards and forwards adjusting the shape of the Formula board in millimetre increments and gaining small performance steps with each change. I set Gonzalo up on our final racing foil geometry and with some of us watching from the beach, it happened right there before our very eyes: Gonzalo pulled away from the Formula racers, bearing higher upwind and overtaking them. When Gonzalo returned to the beach, we looked at each other smiling. Without exchanging any words, we both knew it, this was the beginning of a new era. We had just witnessed the end of Formula and the birth of foil racing. The Race foil went into production and became a big hit. Weekend racers were the first to enjoy the wind range and the ability to fly in the lightest winds. Winds are quite light in Thailand where we are based, so it was a big change for us too. It used to be hit and miss with planing boards, but with the race foil, we could fly and get our adrenaline fix almost every time we went to the beach. PWA racers quickly got into it and the PWA started introducing exhibition races, then official events. At the time nearly the entire fleet was on the Starboard Racing foil and we won virtually every race, winning the PWA Foil title two years back to back. Then came the Formula racers and eventually the word got out to the RS:X community.
On January 13th 2018, I received an email from Dutch racer Casper Bouman introducing me to Aaron McIntosh, head coach of the Dutch RS:X team. Casper was flying on his foil and he thought it would be great to set up the Dutch Olympic team with these Race foils. Aaron is an inspirational figure (Editor’s note – Aaron won a bronze medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the windsurfing class). I visited him in New Zealand, really just to have fun and go foiling together. We ended up making plans to bring foils to the Olympics. I was pretty burnt out by then since we’d made two or three unsuccessful Olympic bids in the past. Each one drained so much resources and led nowhere. But Aaron’s energy was infectious, and he made me feel it was worth one last shot because the game had totally changed with this Race foil. From that trip, we set the wheels in motion. We put together what we called the Windsurfing Foil Olympics working party, which comprised of Remi Vila, Aaron McIntosh, Antonio Cozzolino, Dorian van Rijsselberghe, Kiran Badloe, Nick Dempsey, Svein Rasmussen and myself as the founding team. Remi put together an ambassador team of men and women RS:X riders to showcase our foiling kit to. I put together an RS:X program for the foils and Aaron’s team lead the charge within the community. The word quickly spread and before you knew it, the RS:X community was buzzing. People were grabbing Formula boards, putting in the Race foil and all everyone could talk about was foil racing.
Strangely, I had faith that the Olympics and World Sailing would have sports, sailing and youth’s best interests at heart. So with what the Starboard Race foil had to offer, I somehow felt that it was inevitable. From the beginning of the Starboard Race foil development, I’ve seen weekend racers transform when and how they could race. There was such a massive wind range, increased performance and the possibility to fly in very light winds. Then came the PWA racers, then came the Formula racers, and here we are today with the Olympic community joining in. I somehow felt that it was inevitable.
The iQFoil package includes the latest Starboard Race foil, known as the Race Plus, and a second shorter fuselage for long-distance marathon races and reaching courses. It still uses the same racing geometry as the breakthrough design from August 2016, but with some evolutions. The front wing position has moved forwards to improve early take-off and upwind performance, while the tail wing angle is now adjustable to improve wind range and top end speed. The fuselage is thicker for more stiffness and control and the mast is also stiffer.
At the very least, iQFoil will make Olympic windsurfing much more exciting, more relevant and inspiring to the average windsurfer. What is exciting is that we have an opportunity to go much further. Because foil racing is not just for the Olympian, but also for the weekend windsurfer. The iQFoil has the potential to become the one class that unites all windsurfers: the Olympic community, the PWA, Formula racers and the weekend racer. I look back to where it all started to where we are at today. It’s been an amazing journey, yet the best is yet to come. I get goosebumps thinking of where windsurfing can be if it all goes to plan. We’re only halfway there.
REMI VILLA – Starboard R&D manager.
The name will be the Starboard iQFoil, which stands for ‘Innovation Quality Foil’. This is the Starboard trademark. The story must start from the beginning when I was 12 years old, that is not a joke. I had a friend Jean Pierre Deltato who participated in the design of the ‘Windglider’, which became the 1984 Olympic board. He helped teach me how to windsurf and how to shape. This guy showed me so much in the early days and I remember saying to him, “If you designed an Olympic board then so will I!”
I had a big opportunity in the year 2000 when Starboard first brought me on board. Since then my focus was all about the Olympics. In 2002 we really started to focus on it. We came in with the Z class for the first time at Hayling Island. The board was not that bad, but the Mistral Prodigy was the winner and the RS:X was third, I think. For some reason RS:X became the Olympic class. Then in 2008 we came back with Formula windsurfing. I don’t think the Olympics were ready for that at all. Fast forward to 2011 and there was another possibility where there was a new trial. We did a lot of development, but in the end they decided to stay with RS:X. A lot of this development went into the bin, but some of it was very useful for the Phantom race board. This board was very successful, so it was all good.
In 2019 we finally had the possibility of the Olympics with foil. We worked for more than two years on it. We tried every possibility to make the very best board, sail, foil and every tiny detail. The hardest part was to make a package which would be affordable. Foils themselves are quite expensive. We decided to go for one sail, one board and one foil, but with two fuselages. This was the best option because with two fuselages you can reduce the power of the foil and handle the sail in way more wind. On top of that we have the option to have one fin just in case of very windy and wavy conditions, so we still have the option to race. Whatever the conditions are with this setup you go race and you do not stay on the beach; from 5 knots onwards we can race. The Olympics will be in France in Marseille in July 2024. In July it can be light, but it can be Mistral also, so we must be ready for strong winds. Gusts with fifty knots are possible, so it will be very interesting to see.
We had the trials for the Olympics in Lake Garda and every proposal was there. At the end of the trial the World Sailing committee was in charge of making the selection. They were the ones to decide if foil would win. The last decision was from a vote in Bermuda where they voted clearly in favour of the iQFoil! From that moment we could celebrate that we finally did it and my dream had come true. I took a big bottle of rum from Martinique and enjoyed it with my friends. It was very, very nice.
We have two prices, first the price direct to federations and clubs, which will be 6829 euro without VAT, and then a price that anybody can buy from a shop which is 7999 euro without VAT. We will see in the future what this will mean for Starboard and Severne. In my view this is the biggest breakthrough in the history of Starboard. It’s the first time for us being the Olympic board and I think it is an awesome achievement. Now the bigger challenge is to make everybody satisfied and to keep moving forward in the best possible way.
The factory is really busy. Normally we have one mould for a board in Cobra, but this time we have made eight moulds! Boards, foils, booms, masts and of course sails, they are all being made flat out.
BEHIND THE SCENES
There were many people involved in this project – Tiesda You who designed the foil, which of course was very important; then we also had Gonzalo Costa Hoevel, who helped with the development of the foil and boards. There was also other riders like Matteo Iachino and Tristan Algret who both were very involved with the board. Svein Rasmussen also helped us in the development. The boom and sail we must thank Ben Severne for, as well as Gonzalo and myself who were involved. Jean-Jacques Deboichet was also involved with designing the fin; I hope I did not forget anybody!
Today when I want to have fun on the water, I don’t think about a board with a fin anymore. Foiling is just flying over the sea with whatever wind there is, it is just amazing. It is an incredible sensation. Also, I am 51 and I start to feel a bit older (laughs). When you do slalom, you sail for two hours and you have pain everywhere. You have to go full on in choppy water and that can be hard. But foiling I can go all day. I have no pain and I don’t need a massage after a session. I can do long distance no problem. Foiling is pure enjoyment.
SVEIN RASMUSSEN – Starboard founder and chief innovator.
The Olympics hold such a legendary and historic status in sports, that to be able to participate in the tender was super exciting. Our Starboard / Severne team delivered a perfect storm of equipment together with iQFoil founders like Antonio Cozzolino, Gonzalo Costa Hoevel and Aaron McIntosh; it was great work. The IWA’s Ceri Williams and Bruno De Wannemaker’s important involvement was also worthy of note. The support from Sarah Kelly and Dina Kowalyshyn at World sailing was passionate and that’s the same passion that I felt the day the decision was made. Being an Olympian and a racer at heart, I felt like finally it is going to be fun to race towards the French Olympics in 2024.
If we at Starboard and the iQFoil class are doing our job properly, we will be able to engage hundreds of sailing clubs around the world that may not have windsurfing programs. We will be aiming to build up an emerging nations program and hope Olympic funding matched with an exciting pathway into racing can escalate windsurfing’s popularity.
The amazing part of the iQFoil gear offering is that a minimal set of gear has a huge wind range, this is largely down to the 2 fuselages. In light winds the long 115 cm fuselage and ultra-trimmable 9.0-metre rig makes it possible for heavier riders to be competitive. In light winds the class will focus on slalom, which again lets heavier riders be competitive. On the other hand, we will no longer need people to gain weight by 10-20 kg to be competitive as we have seen in the PWA. During my10 years on tour, I never once was racing without a weight jacket and it is satisfying to see that one can finally be competitive with a more normal build, which makes it attractive to more people to take part in competition. There are many questions ahead, loads of work and there will no doubt be mistakes, but the Tiki spirit burns as bright as ever. We will work super hard to meet our commitments. When we succeed and see the sport of windsurfing grow again as result of making the most out of this opportunity, we can say it was a coup for the sport.
And if we make it into a financial success, we will hugely increase our environmental activities. Each iQFoil board is 100 x climate positive and my hope is that Starboard by 2024 will have 1 million Mangrove trees in the ground in our climate park. Today we already have 500,000 trees planted, so we just need to double up. With 1 million trees in the ground we absorb 50,000 ton of CO2 annually, making for example 10,000 French sailors climate positive each year. As a watersports company we are able to motivate change in our planet’s general mindless race towards nowhere, but first we need to change ourselves.
I love foiling, anything from windsurf foiling to SUP foiling and more recently, wing foiling. It has made me as addicted as I ever was! In my heydays I used to windsurf ten hours a day! Yes, I am not the most social person, I prefer the ocean, sorry!
I was sailing the RS:X quite a bit during our board testing for previous Olympic tenders and realized that when it was selected for the Olympics it was the best board for its described purpose of a hybrid, besides the design Bruce Wylie presented. After testing the board and switching rigs around, we found that the board was quite ok, whereas the rig held its performance back. RS:X served its purpose and foiling was ready just in time to bring Olympic windsurfing to the level it deserves to be at. For the first time ever, we now have Olympic gear that is current and in line with the very best gear used on the PWA circuit.
It would be so awesome to see top PWA riders going for gold in France, finally creating total recognition of the Olympic windsurfing discipline. Right now, the future is bright, and one of our tasks will be to see how we can do our best to get the PWA and the iQFoil class working together as meaningfully as possible. We are in very good dialogue with Jimmy Diaz at the PWA, and will do our utmost to support the PWA, expecting the same in return.
GONZALO COSTA HOEVEL – Starboard / Severne tester and racer.
We invested a lot of hours of testing on foil boards over the last couple of years. We had gone through a lot of different ideas and designs and I can say the iQFoil 95 has all our most important features and “discoveries” in it. We started with the formula board as a base as it was our best planing board. We really needed to offer a board that could plane in the lightest winds possible. The “problem” with the formula board was that when you go reaching or if it gets windy it could be a bit technical. So we started to add some features on it that we had discovered on our specific foil boards. We played with the nose area, thickness and rail shapes. We managed to get a very good planing board that also had very good control in strong winds; and it could be used with a fin too in very strong wind and wave conditions. That is basically our iQFoil 100.
But then came the news that we needed to make a board that would fit easier through scanners at airports, so we worked on the shape to get it to a width of 95 cm. During this time we incorporated some other key features that we had on our 2020 Formula 177 board – the double outline and deep side cutouts. We had been exploring design ideas with higher volume boards that could allow us to have a round outline on the bottom wetted area, but still have a very straight outline on the deck area where you put your feet, resulting in a very fast planing board with a super comfortable stance. So we decided to include these ideas on our new 95 cm wide board. So with some small modifications to the nose and rail shape and a slightly different volume distribution, the iQFoil 95 was born.
The board planes very quick, so heavy sailors can definitely plane as quick as the lighter guys. And in strong winds the board is super easy and settled, so the light guys will have very good performance too. The whole setup is very easy to use and caters for a big range of rider weights, much bigger than the RS:X. For the guys we think that it can go from 65 to 85 kg and with the right tuning of all the equipment offered you can be very competitive. We offer two fuselages and the back wing adaptor that give a lot of possibilities to all different weights of people.
We made an evolution of our foil design sail and we came up with the HGO (HyperGlide GO). We took all the good features of the current Severne HyperGlide 2 and we changed some important things to make it more user friendly. The main changes were that we reduced the luff curve, we reworked the shape distribution and we made a shorter bottom gap, so the sail can be used with a fin whenever it gets windy and wavy. We use the XL cams to have a better rotation and smoother loading on the mast too. We are using the Severne Apex mast that is our 90 % carbon design and the boom we use is the new design of Severne Enigma boom. It is very reinforced on the head and features a very strong and light tail end. We have been using this one the last two seasons on the PWA. For the women we offer the 8.0 HGO and for the men the HGO 9.0; youths will use the 8.0 HGO with an alloy boom.
The foil is based on our very successful Race foil. We have updated our 95-carbon mast with a different layup that gives you a stiffer and easier feel. We offer two fuselages: the 115+ and the 95+, both fuselages come with 6 tail wing adapters that allow you to change the back wing angle every 0.5 of a degree. When you are sailing in extreme light winds you will use the 115+ with a lot of angle in the back wing to generate more power. And when it starts getting windier you can start decreasing the back angle to get more control and less power. The 95+ will be used a lot on high wind long distance races, on GPS speed runs and in slalom racing formats. As well lighter sailors can jump on it in the strong winds and go very good on it. The front wing will be the 900 and the back wing will be the 255 for everyone. If it’s nuclear conditions, sailors can put a fin in the board and go sailing like they used to do in RS:X or Formula Windsurfing.
BEHIND THE SCENES
There was a lot of preparation that is for sure. We had been working on everything for a couple of years at least. In July 2019 I stopped my PWA tour season and joined the group that was working full power on it (Remi, Tiesda & Svein) to help get everything as best as we could for the sea trials in Lake Garda. I focussed on upgrading the sails and rigs and to double check and triple check every detail we could. We wanted to come there and to make a good presentation and it was intense, a lot of hours on the water assisting and a lot of debriefing and expressing what we thought the future should be and what we could provide. The experts of World Sailing had a comprehensive sea trial event and after all the detailed reports from all the testers, our tender was suggested to be the next Olympic equipment. Already that felt like a great success at the time. But after a couple of days we regrouped, and we knew a bigger mission was to get it through the World Sailing Meeting on November where all the nations would vote. So we got prepared for that and off I went to Bermuda for 10 days full of meetings and lobbying; it was definitely not a holiday!
A MIXED FLEET
At the moment I am not sure what I will do. I am working every day to get this going. But I am sure that a lot of PWA sailors will have a chance to go to the Olympics. I think that we will see a mix of sailors from RS:X and PWA that will fight for the 2024 Olympic medals. I would really enjoy watching first-time Olympians like Matteo, Steve Allen, Pierre, Nico, Jordy, Maciej, Amado and Alex battling it out with experienced Olympians like Dorian, Kiran, Nick, Pont, Thomas, Pierre, Byron and many others. That would be something great.
FUTURE OF FOIL
I think it will probably become one of the most attractive Olympic sailing classes of all time. The PWA has led the way for the last three years including foiling and giving it the right racing format. They did a great job getting windsurf foil racing in the spotlight. So I think we need to give them a big thanks. Now they have merged foiling into slalom too, so you can go on fin or foil. I think that next year if you try to compete on fin against the guys on foil under 15 knots you won’t have a chance. And that advantage threshold will get higher and higher through time. So foiling will get even more followers. On the Olympic scene I think we will have huge events and it will be very attractive for everybody. As I said before I can see that there will be a mix of top and very experienced PWA and Formula sailors as well as a lot of the young RS:X and Techno Class sailors all competing together. And these young sailors as well will try to compete in the PWA! So yes, I think foiling is great for our sport!
BEN SEVERNE – Severne sails founder
The starting point for the HGO sail was our HyperGlide 2 foil racing sail. Then we had a few performance upgrades we could implement after a year of racing on the HyperGlide 2, so that was probably the easy part. There’s an option to race on fins instead of foils if the wind is strong, so the design had to be adjusted and tested for that scenario. For the Olympics, reliability and consistency are critical. There was a lot of work on functional reinforcement and then on the assembly processes. The systems we have in place for this project are by far the most advanced used in windsurfing, so it was lots of work. A foil sail is pretty much the opposite of a slalom sail. Actually, if I took a luff curve from a normal sail and turned it upside down it’d be close to what we use on the foiling sails. The geometry is completely different, the sails are much more upright and have much higher clew positions. It’s all about increasing leverage and rotational stability.
As a brand being the Olympic sail is a huge boost for sure! We’re 100% focussed on windsurfing, and to me that means ‘ALL’ windsurfing. We have our gear powering a lot of the best windsurfers, Philip Köster in the waves, Matteo Iachino in racing and Amado on the freestyle stuff. Having the Olympic guys now using our rigs is more affirmation of our product. I’m sure it’ll be pretty epic, especially once we see a whole fleet of red sails flying around in France in 2024!
Paul Simmons – Starboard & Severne UK
& Ireland brand manager.
To purchase iQFoil equipment in the UK and Ireland, the dealers are listed on our dedicated iQFoil website, www.iqfoil.co.uk, which also has prices for all the main components and packages. Once supply is on stream, iQFoil products (including spares) will be available to order from the stockist retailers and directly from this website.
Regarding sponsorship, with the iQFoil packages there is simply one price, so it’s a level playing field for all participants wherever it is purchased from. When the more affordable youth packages come on stream we will offer packages for clubs and centres. Starboard and Severne have booked out plenty of factory production capacity for iQFoil products, but for the initial months of production this was limited. Therefore early supply will unfortunately be low, with stock arrivals increasing each month. The key to ensuring the fastest supply is to place your order ASAP either with us or one of the listed stockists. Until all back-orders have been fulfilled there won’t be any demo or display equipment, but by early summer some of the retailers will have stock and the first racers will have equipment to see at events.
Initially within the seven event UKWA Cup series there will be three foil fleets: iQFoil Fleet – National level for equipment fitting within the iQFoil rules. Formula Foil – Same course as iQFoil fleet for all other foil equipment not fitting iQFoil specifications.
Foil Freeride – Entry-level foil racing with one less upwind leg than the other fleets and no equipment restrictions.
More info at www.ukwindsurfing.com.
We’re also hearing of clubs planning local foil racing and we’ll post details of these on www.iqfoil.co.uk when dates are confirmed.
Sam Ross – British Sailing Team and British Youth Sailing Team iQFoil Coach
To become part of the British Sailing Team, an athlete would need to start training on the iQFoil and compete at domestic and international competitions. A top performance at designated international events in 2021, usually the European and world championships, would get an invite onto the British Sailing Team. However to qualify to represent team GB at the Olympics an aspiring athlete would need to win the selection series leading up to the games. This is usually a combination of performances at key international regattas within the last year of the Olympic cycle.
The BST training group is a group of athletes aiming for 2024, made up of those currently on the British Sailing Team as well as previous members and those aiming to campaign for the 2024 Olympics. Depending on age you can get involved with the group through the youth route and then train with senior sailors when school allows. If already at senior level, then come racing in the UK at UKWA events and RYA National Rankers in the autumn. Performance at these events will then progress you towards the senior training group. The most successful iQFoil windsurfers will still be those with the best windsurfing skills and also racing skills, who can then transfer these onto the foil. Developing great core windsurfing skills and also racing skills at junior level will still be the key to success at foil racing at youth and senior level. Once you’re in the footstraps and blasting comfortably though, why not start developing those foiling core skills as well.
The UK iQFoil association run foil race training for anyone U21 at a sustained flights level in the UK. This training takes place all year-round, looking to support sailors at both domestic UKWA and international competition with the aim of transitioning towards racing at a senior level.
For more info. see www.iqfoil.co.uk or follow the UK iQFoil Class Association on Facebook.