Time to mix it up the locations and head down to the usual stomping ground of Bantham. Grockle season has passed – the beach is empty. There’s a decent four foot swell running (more than I wanted / expected) with a few of the local surfers out in the light onshore on long boards at high tide. Due to the way the wind bends around the headland, it’s quite glassy.

Bantham is a lot shallower, and has various sandbars to avoid and this was a much more technical expedition.

Things I learned during my first Hydrofoil wave session:

  1. Don’t let your board get too far away from you, if a wave hits the foil it runs away from you faster than you could ever imagine!
  2. Be very conscious of other water users. A hydrofoil is probably the most dangerous thing you can use in the water, specially in surf.
  3. Seaweed is your enemy, the spaghetti type round the mast is particularly irritating. I had more crashes due to seaweed than anything else during this session.
  4. If a wave is coming and you are going to get washed, hold the board by the nose and body drag over it. Don’t just let it smash you. The surface area of the mast side on to the wave direction has a lot of drag.
  5. Riding over the wave whilst flying the board is pretty easy as it just slices through, you have to remember to dip the board again as you ride over the back of the wave to stop the wing popping out and the cavititaion crash.
  6. Riding over white water is fine, but it makes the board a little unstable. It’s a weird fizzy feeling through the wing.
  7. Widen up your stance to get as much fore and aft control as possible.

I hacked out the back once I got some confidence and towed into a four of five pretty big waves with speed, the feeling is pretty intense. You get a huge speed boost and lift from the wave and you have to get on your front foot hard! It would have been preferable to try it in smaller swell for my first session, it was pretty intimidating. I was pulling back out of the wave upwind before they were breaking so I didn’t get rumbled.

Jibing is still somewhat of a mystery. From my attempts so far it may be better to do it on the wing than with the board on the water, again i think speed will be my friend.


boat hydrofoil

Good friend and my boat co-owner Phil way (father of Harry Way who is a national level freestyle junior) took the plunge and bought a Dwarfcraft/NF2 combo, in the meantime the smaller masts have arrived and the wind forecast diminished to that of a dubious hangover fart. So with the calmest of calm seas, we decide to try towing the foil behind the boat with the smallest taxi mast (15”) and see what would happen.

Things we all learned:

  1. The constant pull from the boat is a great for learning and the water start is dead easy, easier than a wake board in fact. The board is quite buoyant and has a massive nose rocker, so pops out very quickly.
  2. The shortest taxi mast is very short and cavitates easily, resulting in some comedy porpoising action.
  3. You need a bit of speed with the boat, but not too much 12-15 knots is more than enough. Once you are up on the wing, there is no resistance and you find yourself overtaking the boat a bit, this de-stabilises you. A constant speed is important.

This proved to be a great way to practise your hydro board skills, eliminate the kite from the equation and I would go as far as saying it was pretty simple. The middle sized mast would have been better, we may well try it tomorrow. Everyone got up on the board, everyone had a big grin.

kite repairs

South Milton, Hydrofoil heaven

I return to local hot spot, South Milton, it’s 8-10 knots. I launch my 16m JN MrF3 mono strut, 27m lines. I am recovering from a virus, therefore a bit flappy for the first five minutes or so. Then, all of a sudden something clicked big time (I am not sure what) and off I went. I started to move my foot back a bit on the board which gives more control once you learn to apply the front foot pressure initially and want to fly the board, I also finally got riding switch a lot more confidently flying the wing. I could ascend and lower the board on the wing with control.

A major penny dropped finally, realising that your board speed as well as your board angle/foot pressure effects the amount of lift. More speed also seems to increase your stability to a point. What I noticed most about this session is how easy it is on your body once you are on the wing, it’s really effortless to travel large distances.

The upwind ability is genuinely incredible. A friend who rides in light wind a lot came down with a 15m and door and couldn’t even get off the beach. As long as the kite will hang in the air and climb reliably you can sail really close to the wind, in complete silence.

Not noticing at the time but I got a bit of that spaghetti style seaweed stuck around the wing which was a strange draggy sensation resulting in a pretty good crash at speed.

My switch tack is still a bit weaker than my regular, so this allows me to get downwind nicely.

I return to the shore a hero and beach-goers whooped at me. My grin is huge. I am not so battered and bruised and very eager for more. Next job is to learn to turn the blighter I guess.

Total water time now is about 4 hours.

Session 2

I return to South Milton again the next morning, it’s changeover day so it’s pretty quiet. The wind is super light, maybe 6-8 knots and dropping. I rig my trusty light wind machine, a 16m JN MRF3 mono strut on longer 27m lines. This is a very stable light wind kite with quite a flat profile and weighs about as much as an average 9m. Luckily it will fly in a gnat’s fart and the long lines make for a progressive, smooth power stroke.

I had been strongly warned not to attempt to foil in lighter wind to start with, as it would end in total misery, but for me this wasn’t the case at all. The slowness and steady pull of a big kite helped me get everything lined up and once I rocked up on the board (this took a little more effort) I was off like a rocket. It was all silky smooth as I didn’t have yesterday’s devil chop to deal with. It gave me a lot more time to find the balance point and start to get a bit more control over the amount of lift available.

I got three or four runs going left on my natural side all the way across the bay, and then managed a couple of better efforts riding switch with the board on the water. Upwind was cracked finally, and I didn’t have to walk the thing back, which is nice as it’s a lot like carrying your own crucifix, Monty Python style.

Everything felt a lot more controlled, there was no flapping about manipulating the board in the water like the day before. As luck would have it, the wind then dropped completely and the kite would barely hang in the sky, so I sacked it off.

The wind forecast now looks total pony for a while which is a shame as it may slow the progression. The shorter masts should turn up relatively soon. I am tempted to try a more medium sized one, as I have a feeling it’s going to be a hell of a lot more practical whilst I am learning. Time will tell. Total time clocked up now is 2 1/2 hours.


There’s no denying I am quite late to the hydrofoil party, with racers adopting it two or three years ago after the whole Olympic debacle and the discipline gradually working it’s way into the main stream with the kite manufacturers over the last year. I’ve purposefully held off getting one, as I had an ACL replacement and I wanted that to feel rock solid. I was also waiting for the prices to drop a bit and for something robust but not overly heavy to come along.

The beaches in close proximity to me are not overly foil friendly, with shallow water and surf at Bantham, and close chop, pointy reef and loads of weed at South Milton. After having a look at some of the carbon foils, I was confident I would probably destroy my £2k pride and joy fairly rapidly.

The Slingshot DwarfcraftHover Glide NF2 appealed as it’s on the more reasonably priced side, is quite robust being a mixture of composite parts for the wing and aluminium for the mast. It has different mast heights which could help in shallower water. The wing parts are all quite modular and easily replaced. The marketing claims a less steep learning curve, starting with the shorter masts and working up to the full size.

I actually had a go on a Carafino foil (for about an hour) about ten years ago. I seem to remember it being very cumbersome, and hard to manipulate in the water but I got some runs on it, got thrown off and wobble along for  while. I have done a lot of directional riding since then, so was fairly confident it wouldn’t be too hard. I ride a skim regularly in light wind which is quite front foot heavy and balance sensitive so wasn’t expecting it to be too much of a mission to get some runs on this green beast.

The foil arrived with the full sized mast initially (93cm) the smaller flight school masts will arrive within a week. I was far to excited to wait for them to turn up, so immediately built it up in the garage and cracked on. Building it is fairly simple, three M6 stainless bolts retain the front wing and tail section, and then two larger M8 pairs hold the mast to the wing and the board mount. They chuck in a couple of Allen keys, and it’s much easier to build than anything from Ikea, the instructions are quite concise. All the fittings on mine are very well finished. The casts and threads hooked together very easily with little of cross threading anything. The board itself is a EPS / glass affair and looks very snazzy with a concave deck and decent EVA pad. It’s lightish but could be more robust in my opinion, the age old trade off.

Session 1

Off I womble in the van to South Milton. It’s mid tourist season in the South Hams, the beaches are rammed. South Milton tends to be  a little quieter and has protected area of deep and flat water behind a reef I have scoping out for this exact adventure. Also no one I knew would be there to watch me flounder (this didn’t quite work out) Conditions are far from ideal – it’s blowing about 12/13 knots bolt onshore and the chop is quite dense and about a foot high. The tide is too high for the flat section to expose itself. I rig a 10m Slingshot Wave SST on 23m lines as I have heard mixed things about how much power to use. I thought I would go for medium to low grunt factor. As instructed I used a single (and quite loose) front strap with luxurious leopard print.

Things I learnt in that first hour and a half:

  • The most efficient way to body drag out to deeper water was to slide your chest onto the rear of the board and keep you weight on the windward corner to kick the leg out in front of you and keep the spiky bastard away from your body. I gripped the nose of the board as I was dealing with some grotty shore break and chop. I use a harness with a sliding spreader / rope setup so there’s no spreader bar or hook to bash into the board. This got me 40/50m out very quickly, enough for a couple of board start attempts with a decent level of grockle clearance. The upwind angle just body dragging is insane even with minimal power.
  • The board pivots easily from the back, so twist if from the kick pad when you need to change tacks. Keep your feet out of the way of the wing, it’s bleddy sharp.
  • Your next challenge is to roll the board towards you and get your feet in the straps. I did this by pushing the mast with one of my feet and them pulling the downwind rail towards me simultaneously to get the mast to the surface.
  • Once you have the front foot in the strap you have enough leverage with you heal to keep it on the surface. I sat there for a bit, got my bearings, had a word with myself and thought about my take off angle.
  • Dive the kite gently and keep your body compact, as soon as you pop up put your weight on your front foot and stand up. Don’t be tempted to try and edge, this will end in tears.
  • To help me keep my weight forward I adopted quite a narrow stance initially with my back foot quite far forward. The board has a handy stripe through the EVA to help mark this.
  • Don’t be afraid to abandon ship when things go pear shaped, fall off with good clearance of the board as it drifts pretty quick.
  • Try and slow things down, relax your body and keep a neutral body position, make small balance inputs and don’t flap about.
  • Park the kite and ignore it, concentrate on the board. I found diving the kite quite slowly to be beneficial.

By the end of this first session, I was making longer runs on the surface and starting to find the balance point on the wing for 10 – 20m. I was pretty tired from all the body dragging. When it does give you lift the feeling is effortless, silent and downright awesome. I left the beach exhausted, but very eager for more. It’s great to be humbled, and on the bottom of that learning curve again.