Hardcore surfers are an incredibly jaded crowd. We tend to guard our surf spots with jealousy and view surfers riding different sorts of boards with a kind of dismissive suspicion. Why? Nobody really knows, but I suspect it has something to do with fearing other surfers might be having more fun than we are. Hydrofoiling is the latest thing to rankle many in the surf world, but it’s gaining traction.
Years ago, when it first started making the rounds in the surf world, under the feet of try-anything big-wave hero Laird Hamilton, foiling proponents touted them as a unique tool for accessing different parts of waves. As it is now, boards that plane on a wave’s surface require that wave to be breaking and the force of gravity, to a degree, to plane fast enough to be ridden.
Hydrofoils, however, harness the wave energy that’s below the surface. A little wing shaped like an airplane flies below the water propelled by that energy, with the rider surfing an attached board that rises a few feet above the surface. The setup almost entirely eliminates drag that would normally slow a surfboard; it also takes chop and surface messiness almost completely out of the picture.
It’s such an efficient form of waveriding that unbroken swells can be caught and ridden. This is what the early adherents celebrated. You could tow behind a Jet Ski into giant swells, great rolling mountains of water long before they break on offshore reefs or sandbars, and swoop around at terrific speeds.
An entirely new form of waveriding.
Hydrofoiling is catching on along coastlines around the world. Kitesurfers are riding foils. Stand-up paddleboarders are attaching them to their boards. There’s clearly something captivating there, whether or not the cool crowds of high-performance traditional surfers agree.
The footage below of Hamilton and a small crew of foilers surfing giant waves off the coast of Portugal is some of the most beautifully filmed surfing like this we’ve seen. Nazaré, the name of both the seaside fishing village and the world-famous big wave that breaks nearby, is a wonderful testing ground for foiling. The surf there rises so fast and so violently in such deep water, it generates huge, shifting peaks that, because the water is so deep, don’t break with the finality of surf exhausting itself on shallow sand bars or reefs. It creates a huge playing field of massive lumps of water for a foil to fly over.
The possibilities are immediately apparent. Surfers could, in theory, ride unbroken swells across huge areas of the sea. Big-wave surfer Kai Lenny has tried this already between Hawaiian islands.
Is this the future of big-wave surfing? Probably not for everyone, but it sure is beautiful to watch.