THE HYDROFOIL HYPE

On a pleasant day last fall, although the water is still warm by Santa Cruz standards, I walk down to the beach in my thickest wetsuit with a hood and booties—a get-up I normally reserve for only the coldest days of the year. I’m not using the extra rubber for warmth: It’s a safety precaution.

I am about to try foil-boarding for the first time, and my theory is that if the board flips and the carbon-fiber blade cracks me in the head, the cut won’t go as deep. Two accomplished surfers accompany me: fellow rookie foiler Kyle Buthman, who is sponsored by Quiksilver and has been surfing since he was a toddler, and Santa Cruz Waves founder Tyler Fox, who makes it to the finals of the Mavericks competition most years and has ridden a foil on a number of occasions. 

The wave that we are about to surf breaks roughly 200-yards off of a popular beach on the Westside. The swells approach from deep water and hit a shallow reef, causing a wave to break momentarily. The reef then drops into deep water, the wave fizzles out, and all that remains is an un-breaking open-ocean swell. It is a horrible wave.

As the first meager wave hits the reef and crumbles, Buthman catches the whitewater and stands up—a simple task that he has performed thousands of times on a regular surfboard. Moments after he pops to his feet, however, the board levitates 2 feet out of the water, leaving only a small airplane-shaped wing in the water. It accelerates like a rocket down the face and launches Buthman onto his back.

Fox catches the next wave. As he stands and the board lifts, he crouches and centers his weight. The wave fades. Normally this is where a surfer’s ride ends, but Fox continues to accelerate to a velocity I have never seen reached on such a small wave.

When it’s my turn, I don’t even make it to my feet. As soon as the whitewater catches my back, the board abruptly lifts out of the water and, like a ship free-falling over the back of a wave, I come crashing down. The sharp wing tip narrowly misses me. For a fleeting moment as the board rises, though, I feel weightless. I’m hooked.

A Sport is Born

Picture yourself in an airplane waiting to take off. Seat belts are fastened and you’re still texting even though the flight attendant warned you to turn off your cell phone. When the pilot hits the accelerator, your head is forced to the back of your seat and you look out the window to see the airplane wing slice through air. What you do not see is that the foiled shape of the wing is deflecting the flow of air downward, creating more pressure on the bottom of the wing and less pressure on the top. At a certain velocity, this pressure difference becomes so great that it creates lift and the plane takes off... (READ MORE).