Which style of foil is best for downwinding?

(Ramblings from a self-confessed foil frother)

 

Downwinding is one of the most exhilarating disciplines within foiling – if you’re already doing it successfully you are undoubtedly nodding your head in agreement, if you are in the process of learning or about to learn, imagine being able to ride the ocean swell like an endless series waves, but I’m sure by now you’ve already watched a number of videos of foilers downwinding and have a good idea of what it’s all about.

Foiling has progressed to the point where downwinding can be done with a wind-wing or without, and when done without you also have the choice of doing it on a prone or a SUP foil board. Whatever your preferred method of downwinding it helps to have the best equipment to use, and the most important part of that equipment is the foil, as that’s the part that has by far the biggest impact on each downwind ride. Ok, the board is essential for getting you up onto the foil, but it’s the foil that you are almost entirely reliant on for the duration you are flying.

Having extensively used pretty much every foil that GoFoil has ever produced (and a few others from various different brands) has given me the opportunity to compare various different foil designs for downwind performance. This has led me to the following conclusion – speed is king!!!!! However that’s going straight to the end of the story, so let’s start at the beginning:

Yes, you can downwind with a low aspect foil – I started off my downwinding journey in very light wind conditions with the Maliko 280 (and 200) and a 7m wind wing, and I have to say it was a great platform to learn with – slow and forgiving, super stable, but most important of all it taught me how to read the ocean swell – learning how to stay in the power zone of the swell, knowing which direction to turn in order to keep on the swell, and knowing when to pump the foil to generate speed and when to bring the wind wing back into play. I then progressed to the GL range, using the GL240 in light wind conditions and the GL180 when the wind and swell picked up to a decent level. The GL’s are faster and much more maneuverable than the Maliko’s, and have MUCH better glide – a game changer for downwinding! The GL240 not only allowed me to downwind in conditions as light as the Maliko 280, but it allowed me to have so much more fun – for a big wing the GL240 can be thrown around so much more than the Maliko’s. When conditions were 15 knots and over the GL180 just blew me away. With its extra speed and glide, for the first time I could move forward to the next swell using it’s glide alone, or by pumping the foil while luffing the wing. I could also turn on the swell like surfing a wave, well almost! Then came the NL’s – the 190 is arguably the most versatile, but I went for the 220 and the 160 to extend the range of conditions I could foil in. It’s true that the NL’s have less initial lift than the GL’s, but only slightly, and that’s all part of their riding style – it’s all about speed, and with that speed comes insane levels of glide! When I first started using the NL’s I thought they were harder work than the GL’s. They have a much higher stall speed than the GL’s, and if you don’t keep their speed up they require lots of effort to keep them going, BUT, once you dial into the slightly different technique they need to get the best out of them, you can see why GoFoil chose to call them ‘Next Level’. Focus on keeping their speed going and you’ll unlock their potential – they don’t become effortless, no foil does, but they do allow you to glide faster and for longer than any other foil I’ve ever ridden, and for downwinding this is the key.

Whether I’m downwinding with a wind wing or on a prone board (having been towed up onto the foil behind a boat) the NL’s allow me to move from one bump to the next so much easier than any other foil, as well as allowing me to carve around to link different bumps. In tests I’ve done (all in 12-15 knots) using the GL240, GL180, P180, NL220, the Axis 1150 and the Lift 250, (all foils with great glide), the NL220 was the best by a mile. [When the wind picks up the NL160 is just insane, for the same reasons, but that wasn’t part of this test so no more on that for now.] In my opinion this is because of the superior glide and speed you get from the NL’s. When downwinding it’s so easy to keep their speed up with minimal pumping, it’s like they don’t want to slow down. Despite requiring more effort to pump in other disciplines (flat water pumping, wake foiling transitions, and when pumping to connect multiple waves), I found the NL’s are actually much easier to pump than ALL those other foils when downwinding. The other foils slow down too easily and seem to be affected by the inconsistent nature of the swell forming and reforming, but the NL’s are affected by this much less and as such they keep on gliding. My theory on why the NL’s do this so well is because when downwinding the foil is constantly given lots of little pushes as you connect from swell to swell, thus maintaining the speed that the NL’s need to keep within their optimum range of speed, whereas the other foils require a more consistent power delivery to keep going.

So there you have it, when it comes to downwind performance, speed is king. And glide. Ok, the perfect blend of the two, but you get my point – speed helps to keep you gliding to the next bump…and the next…and the next…

The video clip is me downwinding with the NL220 in 12 knots and very small swell – hopefully it demonstrates what I’ve been trying to explain:


 

I’d like to thank Matt Barker-Smith of ‘Foil Surfing UK’ for his support in sending endless quantities of foil equipment to me to test where I live in Oman – dealing with all the paperwork needed to ship the kit here took the patience of a saint – Thanks Matt. I can strongly recommend anyone checking out his website for a huge amount of foil related information and a big selection of equipment: https://foilsurfing.co.uk/