Are you foiled by foiling?

Don’t worry. Sam Ross came to the rescue at the National Watersports Festival 2017 with a superb clinic explaining the Whys and Wherefores of foiling – along with the Who, What, Where’s and How’s!


“What hooked you to windsurfing?” Sam asked. We all agreed. What hooks us irretrievably is, of course, planing.

Seems like a good enough reason to me!


The Anatomy of a Foil

Foils can be used on a wide variety of craft – windsurfers, kiteboards, round the world yachts… and, new to the market, there are even some windSUPs suitable for foiling. But what is a foil? It comprises of the following parts;

  1. The Mast
    1. Foiling it seems is designed to foil you. The long piece that looks like a big fin is called The Mast.
    2. A short mast would be 65-75cm; a long mast 95-100cm. Kitesurfers use particularly long masts, up to 130cm.
    3. The benefits of a short mast is that when you rise on the foil, you are not as high out of the water, so it is useful when you are new to foiling.
    4. A long mast is more suitable for chop.
    5. Sam’s advice if you are buying your own foil, however, was that you will very quickly move past the need for a short mast.
  2. The Fuselage or Strut
    1. This is the cross piece on which the front and back ‘wings’ are affixed.
    2. A longer fuselage gives more stability (not lift) and having the wings further apart makes it easier to point upwind.
    3. 75cm would be a short fuselage.
  3. Wings
    1. Front Wing – also known as the ‘Lift’ wing. The wings have curved ends and the curve should be upwards on the front wing. A large wing is for low wind, a small wing for high wind. On a large wing, you could be able to plane in 8kts of wind with a 7.8m sail. There are those in the PWA who claim that they can plane in 4kts!
    2. Back Wing – also known as the ‘Stability’ wing. The curves should point downwards on the back wing. A large back wing gives stability, especially downwind, while a small back wing will give more speed. It is also possible to alter the angle of attack of the back wing.
    3. Wing Curvature – The curves are for control. A straighter wing will be more unstable and have more of a tendency to pop out.

What Board?

  1. The foil drives very hard into the fin box, so the recommendation is for a board with a deep tuttle box.
  2. You can get away with a normal fin box but the preference would be to reinforce it somehow.
  3. Sam uses his Starboard iSonic 117 and has not had problems, however he has heard some rather unnerving cracking sounds and did used to tie a leash to the back of the board in case it came adrift with the foil…!
  4. He also uses a 2004 Hypersonic and an old Formula board for foiling.

What Sail?

  1. Cammed sails work well; sails with cams under the boom are excellent as they keep the power low down.
  2. Fully battened wave sails also work well.
  3. A shorter boom is better.

THE KEY – Matching Board Width to Rig Size

  1. THE KEY is matching the width of the board to the rig size.
    1. 70 – 80 cm – Up to 6m
    2. >90cm – bigger rigs
  2. A narrower board is OK with a small rig, while a wide board pins down the foil.
  3. The width of the board near to the foil is important, so a pintail board is not recommended.
  4. Formula boards are particularly suited to foiling.

The Setup – Forget Everything You Know!

  1. Mast Foot
    1. 110cm from the back of the board.
    2. Too far forward will cause the board to rise up and down on the foil.
  2. Footstraps
    1. Think ‘STARFISH’! Front strap far forward and back strap far back.
    2. Straps should be OUTBOARD as far as possible to give leverage against the foil.
    3. Footstraps should be TINY! Especially the front strap, to enable you to keep control.
  3. Harness Lines
    1. Short and Forward!
    2. The foiling stance is more upright and it is important to keep the rig quite still.
    3. Sam windsurfs with 32” lines but uses 22-26” for foiling. The lines should also be further forward.
    4. Sam switched back to a seat harness while learning foiling, but has reverted back to his waist harness.



Foiling uses largely the same skills as windsurfing – but the other way round!

  1. The Stance – Push your belly button back slightly and engage your core (the muscles that you use to stop peeing!). Lock the hips in that position and don’t move your body. This is a very counter intuitive stance for a windsurfer – when foiling, your body will be getting the same information – but you need to do different things.
  2. The GripUnderhand grip helps to keep the rig still.
  3. Helmet? – Wearing a helmet is worthwhile as this will help with confidence.

Beginner Setup

Windsurfers aim to lock everything down to the water, so Sam’s first attempts at foiling were glorious failure! But failure is learning… Sam’s suggestion is that when you first go out on a foil;

  1. Take a sail 2 sizes down from what you would normally choose for the conditions.
  2. Use a small to medium wing.
  3. Set sails a bit fuller on a wide board as the danger is over-sheeting.


  • RULE 1 – Don’t let go of the boom! That way, if you do crash, you will fall away from the foil and the sail will act as a sea anchor to stop the board. This is a great advantage over kite foiling, where the kite will tend to just carry on without you!
  • RULE 2 – Getting Going – Start slightly upwind with your front foot in the strap. The foil adds buoyancy to the back of the board, so a few pumps will help. Position your back foot in front of the back strap and start unhooked.

3 Steps to Foiling Heaven

  • Step 1. “We were made to soar, then crash to earth, then soar again.” So said Alfred Wainwright and he could have been talking about foiling. This is how you will start – getting the board up on the foil, crashing, then getting back up again, just to get the feel of it.
  • Step 2. Flying Fish – Get your front foot in, back foot in front of the back strap. Get into your stance. Keep the rig still.
    • The key to going UP is FRONT HAND BACK
    • The key to going DOWN is FRONT HAND FORWARD
  • Step 3. Sustained Flight
    • High Wind – weight on the FRONT FOOT
    • Low Wind – weight on the BACK FOOT


  • The Foil Gybe – Drop off is easy as the foil is effectively a big fin. In the spirit of counter-intuition, sheet out and change your feet at the end!
  • The Foil Tack – Not even Ben Ainslie…

The Learning Curve

  • Within a few hours, you can expect to be rising up and down.
  • In a couple of days WOO HOO!





Make sure that you choose somewhere that is;

  1. Deep enough…!
  2. Has plenty of space.
  3. Is easy to get back from when (not if) you end up upwind.
  4. Has flat water.
  5. Weymouth (Portland) is an excellent venue.


You will need a little bit of wind or a reasonable sized sail.


£1500 to £2000 will buy you a carbon foil. Well, we hope that with this information, you won’t get foiled again!


  1. If you would like to learn more or have a go at foiling, we plan to have foiling clinics at this year’s NWF.
  2. Sam Ross will also be running his own foiling clinics. Please see Sam’s website for further information.


Jackie Lambert

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