How to Foil Kiteboarding (The Complete Guide)

When you kiteboard, you hit a point where you want to start trying new things. It can range from tricks to new techniques. 

Learning to foil in kiteboarding can be nerve-racking since you are going to be increasing your speed. The same skills apply, but you’re riding a hydrofoil lift board. Once you get the technique down, it will be one of your new favorite activities because it is so exhilarating.  

Learning new techniques in a sport you are already proficient in can be tricky; especially on the water. When foiling in kiteboarding, you glide across the surface of the water at a very quick rate of speed.

What is Foil Kiteboarding?

Foil kiteboarding is just like normal kiteboarding, but with an additional hydrofoil mounted under the board. This allows you to ride above the water instead of on the water.

Have a look at this video from CORE Kiteboarding, to see foil kiteboarding in action.

Getting Started with Kite Foiling

Learning to foil in kiteboarding may seem like a difficult feat, but after some practice and following this guide, you will feel much more confident on the water and soon get the technique down.

Making Sure you Have the Proper Conditions

Much like kite surfing, with kite foiling, there are certain conditions you want to look out for. Certain lakes and rivers will have posted notices that they do not allow that type of usage, so keep an eye out for signs to make sure you are allowed to use that body of water. 

You can practically foil in almost any waters, as long as it is permitted. What you want to look for is that the water is at LEAST 5 feet deep and that the wind is blowing at least 10 miles per hour. That leaves a LOT of areas for you to foil. Light winds are optimal as the faster winds can be quite dangerous. The optimal range you want for wind speed is 10 – 17 MPH.

When foiling in unfamiliar water, please keep your eyes peeled for any hazards. Some hazards include:

  • Large rocks
  • Trees
  • Other debris

Safety should be your main priority.  

Getting Your Gear Together

Your gear is just as essential as your technique. There are a lot of different items you will need when first starting. 

Some are optional, and others are essential.

Having the Right Board for the Sport

When selecting the board you want to use for foiling, you typically would want one that is different than you would use for regular kite surfing. Your board should be shorter for kite foiling since you will be above the surface and do not need the extra length. The extra length might be a hindrance since a long board just means more board you must control when trying to learn how to maneuver in the beginning.

Boards have been evolving over the past years – adapting to the ever-changing sport. 

They have become:

  • Smaller
  • Lighter
  • More aerodynamic

And with the way we are adapting and learning, they will continue to evolve as we gain more knowledge. Make sure that you select the right board for you and your budget.

What Type of Kite Should I Use?

There is no guideline for the right type of kit. It all boils down to personal preference. Because, in the beginning, you are going to be falling a lot, it is in your best interest to use a kite that is easy to relaunch. Other than that, there are no other guidelines. You can even use the same kite you used for surfing if you prefer. Although there is no guideline, most people prefer to use a smaller kite because a larger kite picks up more wind and makes it faster.

Selecting the Right Foil 

This is an obvious one. But there are different heights and widths. 

Experienced riders often say that it is easier to learn with a wider foil and then transition into a thinner one once you have the general technique down. This is a preference, though; some find it just as easy with foils of any thickness.  

Straps Can Be Helpful if Needed

Straps are optional. A lot of people do not like using straps, but when you are first starting, they will help you to get the proper footing for foiling. They will also keep you from sliding. Because your foot is so firmly in place, straps can help control your movements better.

Using a Wetsuit

This is optional. Some people do not like to use a wetsuit, and that is just their preference. Using a wetsuit is not just for protecting your body from the cold water and the wind chill when wet, but they also help to protect you from cuts and scrapes from falling, as the foil is quite sharp.

Should you Use a Leash?

This is entirely up to you. You are going to fall. There is no question about that. If you are worried about losing your board, then you want to use a leash. This piece of equipment is all about personal preference. 

If you do not mind swimming a few feet to grab your board, it is one less thing you need to buy and fewer cords to worry about. 

Use a Helmet

Use a helmet. Foils are pretty sharp and can cause significant injury if you were to hit your head or any body part on it. They glide through the water like butter, but they could also cut your skin that way!

Light Booties Could Help to Protect Your feet and Ankles

If you do not like to wear a full-body suit, light booties may help you avoid cuts and scrapes from the foils when you fall. Although it is not a guarantee that you would get cut, it is nice to have that extra protection and peace of mind. 

Again, some of those are optional. But some are essential. Do your research on different products and know your preferences before you make your purchase. Supplies are not inexpensive, so you want to make sure you are going to be happy with your gear. You will be using it for a long time!

Make Sure Your Equipment is Set Up Properly

This is so important. You will want to make sure that all your equipment is in the proper place, secure, and not worn out. Improper equipment can be extremely dangerous and can lead to injury.  

When placing the hydrofoil on the bottom side of your board, make sure that it is in the proper location and that it is installed properly and securely. If it is not placed correctly, it can be loose, and the board will wobble. This means that that you will wobble. Make sure that all bolts are tight and secure.  

If using straps, make sure they are secure on the top of your board. You will also want to make sure that the front strap is not too far forward. You want the front strap just behind the middle of the board. Make sure that all other gear you are wearing is on properly and snug; you do not want it too loose since it could slip off.  

Before Getting into the Water with your Foil

When you kitesurf, you need to keep your weight on the back of the board. This is the complete opposite when you foil. Keeping weight on the back of the board will raise your board out of the water. 

It is imperative that you keep your weight either centered or forward so that you do not end up with the kite out of the water.

A good way to get some practice before using the foil is to kitesurf with an actual surfboard. Due to the way a surfboard is built, you need to keep most of your weight forward. By practicing with a surfboard, you will learn better control and the form that you need in order to control your foil.  

Practicing will also help you:

  • Balance yourself – putting weight forward rather than back
  • Learning how the kite harness pull differently with the change in weight distribution
  • Learning how to distribute weight and how to maneuver turns and stay up on the board

The more you practice, the easier the motions will become. 

You will start to retrain your muscle memory, and your actions will become second nature. Remember, practice makes perfect!  

Getting into the Water with Your Foil

Once your board is set up and ready to go, your next step is to hit the water. Be prepared to fall a lot. Kite foiling is much different than regular kitesurfing. 

You will have to retrain your body and learn everything all over again. You will expel less energy. The wind is faster higher above the water, so the wind pushes you more than it would if you were surfing. 

Your footing is similar to regular kitesurfing. You will have a foot in the middle of the board and one on the rear. 

The more important part about your footing is your center of gravity and how you distribute your weight.  

Once you are ready to go, the best way to get started is to:

  • Get hooked up
  • Keep the board and foil on their side as well as yourself. You will basically be lying in the water on your side. 
  • When you start to go, you will rotate as you start to gain speed
  • As you steady, keep your feet firmly planted on the board and try to keep your center mass right on top of the foil.  

Remember, it is ok to fall.  

After Your First Take Off

Once you have successfully taken off and can launch and stand on the board, you want to make sure that your footing is correct so you do not fall, again. Once you are up, start to put more weight on your back foot. Do not change your footing, just shift the distribution of your weight. Slowly you are going to start to feel your board rise above the water – can be scary and exhilarating all at the same time.  

When putting the weight on the back, you are creating a lift-off and pulling yourself up above the water. Once you feel your board rise, start distributing your weight back on the front. Do this a few times, and it will help you to understand the feel and be able to control your height above the water.  

Remember, with more weight on the back; you will put the nose up and go higher. More weight on the front and you will level out, and the board will start to go back down closer to the water. 

Learning to Control the Foil

When it comes to foiling, you will learn quickly how different it is from kite surfing. 

Keeping Yourself Centered

Keeping centered is crucial. When surfing, you do not have to be as precise since the board is sitting on top of the water, but with foiling, because your board is above the surface, every movement counts.  

You need to do your best to stay balanced and centered as much as possible. If you place too much weight on one side, you will likely fall. Keep your speed low when beginning, and keep your board as level as possible.  

Learning to Turn is Much Like Riding a Bike

Because you have to stay so centered and moving off to the side can make you tip over, the first few times you try and turn, you will probably fall. But learning to turn on a foil is very similar to turning when you are on a bike. Things you want to do when turning:

  • Lean into the side you want to turn
  • Move your footing – angle and move your foot in the same direction that you lean
  • Your board will start to turn!
  • When you have reached the spot where you want to stop turning, move your foot back to the opposite direction and put a bit more weight on the foot 

That is it! 

Anytime you want to turn, just repeat the steps. Remember to do all of this gradually. Your center of gravity is important, so too much movement at once will make you fall!

Much like starting any other water sport, it takes time. It may even take you 7 or 8 sessions before you stop falling over. 

And that is ok. Learning is not easy, and it takes hard work. During a session, it will all just fall into place after all the hard work. All of a sudden, you will launch easy, you stop falling over, and you will be able to control your board.  

You Are Now Ready to Have Some Fun

This is all about having fun! Starting out, it is not competitive, it never has to be competitive if you do not want it to be. The point is, get out there and just enjoy yourself. Be prepared to fall. When you finally master getting up into the air, just keep your balance and be still, and everything should come as second nature.  

Because the foil raises you out of the water, remember, you are going to be going FAST. Once you are an avid foil-er you can get the board going up to 30 MPH. So, be safe and have fun. Once you get the hang of keeping steady and not falling, you may even want to try some tricks if you are up for it. Just remember that the foil is dangerous if you hit it, so be prepared if you fall and keep yourself safe.  

Transportation and Storage of Your Gear 

You pay a lot of money for your gear, and you want to make sure it lasts a long time. For that to happen, you need to make sure that you are caring for it properly. 

Once you are done for the day and starting to pack up, make sure that your gear is:

  • Clean
  • Dry
  • Not damaged
  • Put away in its proper cases (if applicable)

If you have space, you can leave the foil on your board for storage and transportation. If you do not have the space, you should remove the foil after each use and put all of your gear in protective cases, if applicable. Keeping up your gear is not only for your safety, but damaged gear means you need to replace it.

It is recommended to remove the foil during transportation as you do not want to damage it. It is imperative that the foil’s design not be damaged. It is designed mainly to glide through the water, and if a nick or chip is deep enough, it can cause friction.   

Conclusion

Foiling is a fun alternative to kite surfing, and once you get the hang of it, you will probably enjoy it more than kite surfing. It expels less energy, it is easy once you learn to control yourself, and you tend to go quicker! You are going to fall and fail a few times when you start. That is inevitable, but once you are experienced, you will want to share it with everyone. Be sure to care for your gear, and keep up the effort; it is well worth it. 

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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding, with wakeboards and kitesurfing the next challenges for my adult kids. Click the photo for a lot more.

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