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Foils: The Future Or Just A Fad?

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  • Foils: The Future Or Just A Fad?

    Brendan Richards penned this piece for The Kiteboarder weighing the pros and cons of the kitefoiling movement. Brendan has been windsurfing and kiteboarding the Santa Cruz area for decades and is one of the primaries at The Kiteboarder

    At first glance the resurgence in foilboards might seem like just another kiting fad dusted off and rehashed by the current generation of riders. Judging from recent events in the broader world of sailing, foils are much more than just a fad after the USA Oracle team pulled off the greatest comeback ever seen in windsports while flying their carbon fiber catamaran above the water on state-of-the-art hydrofoils at wild speeds to clench the America’s Cup victory. However, this foil technology is not limited to multimillion-dollar boats

    Kiteboard foil design has itself undergone a major boom in development. Kiteboarder Bryan Lake drag raced the Oracle team on a custom foilboard built by Taaroa, a small foil builder from southern France. A month later Johnny Heineken, a multi-time world champion course racer, demonstrated flawless full-foiling duck tacks in a YouTube video that racked up 53,000 views in just under a month. That viral reach illustrates how the progression in foiling is turning heads. As the world’s top racing athletes and new manufacturers embrace the speed and intensity offered by foilboards it is clear that these long-shafted underwater wings will play a major role in the imminent future of racing while begging the broader question of whether foilboarding will be embraced by the general kiting population this time around.

    Mango Carafino, a prominent kite foiling pioneer, was living in Hawaii when he witnessed Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama riding massive unbroken swell with a foil on obscure outer reefs. Impressed by the foil’s ability to float over rough ocean waves with silent finesse, Carafino immediately borrowed the aluminum foil from an Air Chair, the only commercial application at the time. He bolted it to a Naish mutant kiteboard, added rigid snowboard boots, and began experimenting with the pull of kites. Carafino’s greatest contribution to kite foiling was when he discovered that the board could be ridden without the large bulky boots. For Carafino, being able to control a foil with straps was like “finding water on the moon.” With his innovative carbon fiber construction Carafino was poised to profit as the popularity of kite foilboarding exploded, except interest in foilboards simmered as Carafino remained the biggest cheerleader turned manufacturer of a seemingly niche and fringe form of kiting. In retrospect Carafino admits, “I never set my sights on designing a foil that would go fast because at the early stages of engineering I was just trying to create a complex product with tiny tolerances that was enjoyable.”

    Despite Carafino’s focus on creating user-friendly foils, the widespread popularity of foilboards never took off. While foiling seemed poised to earn a small yet novel footnote in kiting history, the discipline of competitive course racing flourished with dedicated athletes, sponsorships, and races staged all around the world. Although course racing directed most of its technological development towards refinement of a wide-body directional board with long vertical fins, racing’s obsession with speed encouraged small custom foil shops in Europe to build upon Carafino’s early achievements with the intent of pushing the envelope of speed and control.

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