Hydrofoiling, one of today’s most exciting extreme sports, allows riders to fly high over the water. Like wakeboarders and water-skiers, the hydrofoiler is towed by a boat. The rider is seated on, and strapped to, a seat which is mounted on a pole. The riders’ feet are held on a compression-molded ski-like board with side-by-side foot bindings. The entire tower is mounted on a foil that looks like underwater wings. The hydrofoil works on the same principal as an airplane wing. Lift is generated by a combination of speed and the angle of contact with air or water. This gives the rider great lift for awesome tricks, like flips and spins, as much as 20 to 25 feet above the water.
Of all the towed water sports, Hydrofoiling causes the least drag and pull on the body, therefore it is not as tiring. You don’t have to be strong or flexible, although if you are going for big air, strength is important. The optimal towing speed for a beginner to hydrofoil is 15 to18 miles an hour. A hydrofoiler can even jump at that speed, but may go anywhere from 22 to 30 mph to increase the amount of air. Unlike wakeboarding, you don’t need a smooth, glassy surface, any water conditions will do. This is because the foil rides underneath the water so it is not affected by surface conditions. It just cuts right through waves and wakes. Unlike other water sports, the same hydrofoil a small child would use will work just as well for adults. Any boat can pull a hydrofoil, even a pontoon boat.
How it Works
The rider needs to lean back as the boat begins to pull, to keep the tip of the board out of the water just like any other skier. When the board begins to plane, the rider needs to lean forward. This keeps the hydrofoil from leaving the water. Once you reach a speed high enough to provide lift from the foil, you can bring the board off the surface of the water. To bring the board off the water and fly, the rider leans back. This lift causes flying to begin, and the rider then needs to maintain balance during flight. The rider leans forward to bring the board down to the water. The rider steers the hydrofoil through the water by moving their knees in the direction they want to go.
There are two companies that make hydrofoils, Air Chair and Sky Ski. Air Chair (www.airchair.com) began making hydrofoils in 1988 after Mike Murphy and Bob Woolley designed the prototype. It is the original Hydrofoil Water-ski Company. They based their design on ideas they got from standup hydrofoil skis, which were developed and patented by Lucas Emmanual in the early 1960s. Pictured at right is an Air Chair Hydrofoil Waterski (Photo credit Doug Babcock). Mike Mack and Buck Buxton were instrumental in providing input and improving the design. The design has been modified quite a bit over the years, as new materials have become available and new aerodynamic principles have been explored. One of the newest innovations for the Air Chair is the concave blade shape of the foil. Air Chair says this new shape helps eliminate some of the jarring impact on the water after jumping.
Sky Ski (www.skyski.com) was started when Mike Murphy, who co-invented the sit-down hydrofoil, struck out on his own, making changes to improve the hydrofoil performance and comfort. Sky Ski markets its product as High Performance Hydrofoils. They added a shock absorbing feature to their tower to help prevent back injuries to riders. Both Sky Ski and Air Chair offer excellent training videos for beginners.
Hydrofoils are not an inexpensive water toy. An Air Chair or Sky Ski will cost between $1000 and $2500, depending on what options you select. While some would-be enthusiasts balk at the cost, others point out that the hydrofoil extends the amount of time they can spend on the water. Hydrofoils also hold their value very well. Used hydrofoils are often available on eBay. Even after a few years of use, people often sell them for almost the same amount they paid for them. Hydrofoilers can ride for long amounts of time because it is easy to ride, and they can use it in just about any type of water conditions. When you consider that a new wakeboard and bindings typically costs about $600, the cost of the hydrofoil doesn’t seem exorbitant.
Recently, we were very lucky to see some expert riders at our lake, as you can see from the pictures it was pretty amazing. To see some videos of riders at various locations, go to www.prohydrofoiltour.com, click on Videos and/or click on Pro Rider profiles (particularly Keith Honkala and Geno Yauchler). Brad Scott is the president of the U.S. Hydrofoiling Association (USHA), an affiliated sports discipline of USA Water Ski. He maintains this web site to highlight the pro riders. Brad tells us that the sport is great for people of all ages. “There are riders from 2 years old to 85. It is easy on the body if you just ride, and there is unlimited air for those willing to learn.” The official USHA web site is found at www.hydrofoil.org. You can find out more about the history of the development of the sit-down hydrofoil there, as well as the riders and upcoming events. There is a great engineering explanation of how the hydrofoil works and details on each component on the site as well.
The hydrofoil rider community is a very close-knit and active group. Many of the riders are very committed to spreading word about the sport, and helping to introduce others to it whenever possible. Several times a year “Fly-In” events are held at different lakes, where riders gather to learn and teach tips and tricks. There are e-mail discussion groups, and many web sites promoting the sport, a few are listed below to get you started. Videos of hydrofoil riding can be viewed on many of these sites.
www.foilfreaks.com -Videos & tutorials
www.airjunky.com/faq.htm – FAQs.
www.hydrofoil.org/ – The organization of the sport
www.prohydrofoiltour.com/ – Pro tour information and pictures
www.skyski.com/htmfiles/tips.htm – Tips & tricks and lots of good information.
www.airchair.com – History, what’s new www.ostaproductions.com/ Osta productions taped instruction
sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/Hydrofoil/ – The discussion list for riders anywhere in the world. Lots of pictures of equipment, gear, and riders, people to ride with, events to attend.