Windsurf Foil Equipment Buyer's Guide- What to look for when buying a foil!

December 06, 2017

Wind-NC's Andy McKinney windsurf foiling Cape Hatteras, Fall 2016. Photo: Jay Crawford

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Windsurf Foil Buyer's Guide

The number of equipment choices one has in windsurf foiling is staggering. And just like all other aspects of windsurfing, you can drastically improve your overall enjoyment of the experience by purchasing equipment that matches your venue (water and wind conditions) and your goals (generally:  fast versus maneuverable).  This guide intends to describe some of the differences between the various shapes and sizes of foil available, as well as the boards and sails one can use, and finally, how to best match it all up to provide an exceptional experience!

 

Equipment- WINDSURF FOILS

Windsurfing foils can vary by a number of different general specs.  Here are some things to look at when purchasing a foil, as well as a giant table (at the bottom of this article. We will update as new equipment becomes available) to help you compare and contrast some of the foils, boards, and sails that we sell:

1) Mast height:  Very simply, if you have shallow water issues, make sure that your foil's mast is short enough to allow use in your water.  If the bulk of your water is only 30" deep, don't buy a foil with a 36" mast. Or maybe just look for a different venue with deeper water.

Otherwise, mast height can effect the ride a bit, especially for beginners. There are a few ways to think about mast height. First, long masts have a large sweet spot-  simply, there is more space for you to go up and down in flying height without touching the board down or having the wings breach the water's surface. Short masts have a smaller sweet spot and you might find that you have less reaction time between touch down and breach.

The flip side of that equation is that you will have less leverage over the foil with a short mast, so it's harder to change the trim abruptly (on purpose OR by mistake). Many users have found that short masts are easier to control due to this factor. They also note that if you do breach or fall abruptly, you're coming down from a lower height and therefore the crash isn't as bad.

Some foils have fixed masts heights, and some foils use a modular system where you can swap out the masts for shorter or longer versions, depending on your preferences.

2) Fuselage Length: Generally speaking, the longer the fuselage is, the more stable and locked in the foil will feel.  And vice versa, if the fuselage is very short, the foil will probably feel more responsive and maneuverable, at the expense of stability.  Think of this like the wheelbase of your car-  Sports cars tend to be pretty short for maximum maneuverability, while towncars, luxury sedans, and the like all have really long wheel bases to smooth out the ride and keep passengers comfortable.

3) Wing Size:  Generally, larger wings (area) will have more lift at slower speeds and smaller wings will require more speed before they can gain traction and provide lift.  So if you're heavy or looking to fly in super light winds, get a foil with a huge front wing.  If you are lighter or if you plan on going out in stronger winds, get a foil with smaller wings and you'll have more control at higher speeds.

4) Wing Shape: Just like regular windsurf fins come in all different shapes and sizes, foil wings come in lots of outlines and thicknesses, too.  Rounder outlines with a lower aspect and thicker layups will tend to be more "wavey" and maneuvarable/flowy with lots of low speed lift.  Straighter outlines with a higher aspect and thinner layups will tend to be more racey- locked and loaded, fast, and slippery feeling, especially at higher speeds.

5) Construction: Modular versus fixed components. Many of the aluminum foils are really easy to take apart, and they come with a variety of interchangeable wings, mast lengths, fuselages, board mounts, and more.  Many of the carbon foils are more "fixed" in their presentation, sometimes even having a one piece mast/fuselage unit that the wings are taken on and off of.  Most all foils have multiple wing options for different wind speeds and rider sizes.
The Modular foils are pretty sweet if you're trying different spots and different conditions and different boards all the time, because you can fine tune your kit by swapping out the bits and pieces.  The downside is that there is usually more routine maintenance involved, and it might take more time to get everything together before your session.
The Fixed mast foils are much simpler- it is what it is, so just stick the wings on and go, and forget about fine tuning.  They will usually require less maintenance, too, especially if they're carbon.

6) Materials:  Aluminum VS Carbon:  The lower cost alternative is to get an aluminum foil, which is usually made with carbon or fiberglass wings, and an aluminum mast and fuselage.  These foils tend to be "modular"-  meaning that the pieces all come apart and can be swapped out if you want to change the set up.  For example- the Slingshot HoverGlide aluminum mast and fuselage can be used with five different interchangeable front wings for different sports like windsurfing, kiteboarding, standup paddle boarding, surfing, etc etc, all on the same mast and fuselage.  You can also use different boards that have a "pedestal" type system or tuttle box, simply by changing out the mount at the top of the mast.  It is a low cost and effective way to get foiling on all sorts of different crafts, without amassing too much extra gear.
Full carbon foils tend to be more expensive, but come with their own set of benefits over the lower cost aluminum options.  First- they are potentially a stronger and longer lasting foil, since carbon doesn't break down in salt water or with lots of repeated flexing and use like aluminum might.  Also, if you're usually at a loss for spare time, there is less routine maintenance to perform on a carbon foil- no need to constantly be disassembling and rinsing off all of the parts in between sessions.  Performance wise, designers can fiddle with carbon more easily than aluminum, so if they want to put a specific amount of flex in a very precise spot, or make someplace else super stiff, it is pretty easy to make it happen with repeatable consistency.  Weight wise, the carbon foils are almost always appreciably lighter than the aluminum foils.  Lastly, carbon is...  CARBON!!  And windsurfers all LOVE CARBON!!  ;) 

 All of these specs combined can dramatically change how the foil feels on the water- whether it flies in super light wind with small sails, or if it needs bigger sails and higher board speeds to get flying...  Or if it is playful and fun in swell or waves, or just wants to blast along at top speed with maximum stability...  Or anywhere in between!  So the best bet is to have an honest look at your conditions (wind speeds and water state), and your goals (race versus freeride versus wave versus freestyler), and then try to match up your foil purchase with all of those factors. Here a few options:

Race/Fast Freeride:

 

 

Freeride:

 

 

Maneuverable/Wave:

 

 

Equipment- WINDSURF FOIL BOARDS

Once you've determined which foil will suit you best, you'll want to make sure that you have a board that will match up well and allow the foil to perform as designed.  The board isn't quite as important as the foil, since it's out of the water most of the time, but it can definitely have an effect on the foil's ability to fly in light winds, the overall balance and control of the foil while in flight, and the ability of the whole kit to match up well with your venue and goals.

Many people are using older tuttle and deep tuttle boards that they already own.  While this can be totally fine, there are a few things to consider: 

First, the fin box may not be strong enough to support the stresses involved with foiling.  This can show up as something small, like tiny stress fractures in the fin box or area around it, or it can be a total fin box blowout where the whole thing just rips right out of the board. Worst case scenario here is that the foil breaks out of the board, and sinks right down to the bottom of the lake and you never see it again. :( total bummer.

Second, the shape may not be the best match for your foil, so everything will be out of balance and harder to trim than necessary. If you're using an older board, look for shorter and wider shapes, like a formula board or somewhat modern slalom or freerace design.  Generally, something wider than 70cm is preferable, and the wider and thicker the tail is, the better it will be for early flying and control.  If the board is too narrow, you won't have any leverage over the foil and it will be REALLY hard to control and trim the ride, especially if you get a racier foil with higher aspect wings.

If you decide to go with a new board for windsurf foiling, the world is WIDE OPEN and there are a TON of options.  You can get boards that are dedicated to and purpose built for foiling and foiling only.  These will not be very fun to sail if you decide to stick a regular fin in it someday.  You can also get windsurf crossover boards which are designed to be really good windsurf boards but are built strong enough to allow windsurf foiling without fear of the fin box failing or the deck cracking.  Finally, there are also multi sport SUP, Windsurf, AND Foil Crossover boards available, which will shine in an ocean or wave environment when you want to have one board for all sports- Regular SUP or Foil SUP, and Regular Windsurf or Foil Windsurf.

For Foil Specific boards, you are generally going to see boards that are wider, thicker, and probably shorter than most regular windsurf boards.  They tend to also have really square, sharp rails in the tail, low nose rockers, and really soft rounded rails up front.  Dimensions are a bit weird with mast tracks pretty far back and really square, very wide, very thick tails.  Boards like this will maximize the foil's ability to fly in light winds, and will be easier to control if the wind comes up or if you start pushing the boundaries of speed and maneuverability while foiling. Here's a cool board from Slingshot:

 

 

For windsurf crossover boards, you are going to see a LOT of options.  Most all of the Pure Slalom Race boards for 2018 will be built strong enough for foiling.  These boards will be most similar to the purpose built foil boards with their wide, thick tails and sharp rails.  In regular windsurf mode, they will be crazy fast and will want to be sailed full power with big cambered race sails.

You will also find many freeride and free race boards available with Foil Boxes built in to them.  These boards might have narrower and thinner tails, with slightly more rounded rails.  They are really fun in regular windsurf mode, and as long as you get one that is large enough for your needs, will be quite suitable for fun foiling as well.  Most of these boards can be used with non-cam freeride sails rather than the full cam race sails, so may be more appealing to the bulk of sailors out there.  Look for boards in the 120-150 liter range, preferably with mid-widths greater than 70 cm and wider tails in the 45cm+ range if possible.  Here are some great options in this category:

 

 

For SUP/Crossover boards, you're generally going to find boards in the 7-8' long and 30" wide range, with volumes around 115-135 liters. They will tend to have more parallel outlines and wider tails, so they'll be great for driving speed through flat sections on mushy waves and fun free surfing in regular SUP mode.  Then you can stick the foil on them and try your hand at SUP Foiling, which is crazy fun in the worst imaginable wave conditions. Finally, if the wind comes up to just 5 or 10 knots, stick your sail on and off you go, with or without the foil.  These boards are a one board solution for most anything a coastal location can throw at you!  Check a few out:

 

Equipment- FOIL WINDSURF SAILS

Many people will use their existing windsurf sails on their foils and have a total blast.  Generally, you'll be rigging much smaller sails than normal for the conditions, so if you normally use a freeride 7.5 in 10-15 knots, you'll want to rig up a 5.0 to 6.0 for foiling.  Wave, freestyle, and freeride sails are all great for foiling, and if you have a really racy foil you can even use your cambered race sails and it'll feel balanced and fun.  Race sails will be closer to regular freeride size though, maybe a 7.0 in 10-15 knots.  We've even gone foiling on battenless beginner sails and had a blast, so what you're most likely looking for is LIGHT and POWERFUL rigs.

For rig tuning, you will want to maximize the pumpability of your sail, so you can usually under downhaul just a tiny bit, which will tension the leech and the head of the sail.  You will also want the sail to have a pretty deep belly so don't over tension the outhaul too much or you'll kill the power.

If you want to get a foil specific sail, you'll have a few very nice options for 2018.  The Naish Lift is incredibly light, made from mostly dacron and a thin x-ply.  It also only has two full battens and one tiny leech batten, so it is a very baggy and luffable sail that fills out with a deep deep belly with virtually no wind, and then it flattens out super easily, too, when you want to depower it.  Fun Stuff!!

Equipment- MATCHING UP YOUR KIT

So now that we've talked about all of the different options that are out there, lets talk about matching up your kit for the best compatibility with your goals and conditions:

Race Foils: High aspect race foils tend to want to be driven with wider, thicker tailed boards, and larger fully cambered race sails, especially in very light wind.  If the wind comes up to the mid teens, you can usually use smaller wave sails on these foils are still have a lot of fun.  Most of the race foils are VERY stable, so they're actually pretty good for beginners and intermediates since they aren't too twitchy and responsive.  You will want to sail these way out on the rail, and relatively sheeted in with decent sail power.

Freeride Foils: Medium aspect foils can be sailed with a really broad range of boards and sails.  They will tend to be well balanced, fast enough, and will fly at pretty low speeds.  Most any board will do as long as it's 70+ cm wide.

Wave Foils: Low aspect foils can be sailed with relatively narrow boards, inboard stances, and relatively small sails in extremely light wind.  They won't be very fast in a straight line (but they're fast enough to be fun).  They will offer a fun, responsive ride- great for playing around in small swell or adding some playfulness to a flat water location.  These can be sailed with small sails, very upright stances, and virtually zero sail power even hovering along completely sheeted out.

 

Summary:

Long story short, IT ALL WORKS QUITE WELL, and no matter you have, you'll figure out the balance points and fine tune the rigging to make it work in your conditions.  But if you go the extra mile and get stuff that is all compatible and designed for your conditions and goals, you'll fly sooner, hang on longer, feel more balanced, and have more fun!

Windsurf Foiling is SO MUCH FUN!  We sincerely hope that you give it a try sometime soon, because it will revolutionize your light wind days and keep you on the water with a huge smile, regardless of the conditions!

 

 

Foil Model Slingshot HoverGlide FWind1 Slingshot HoverGlide FWind2 Naish Thrust WS1 AFS-2 AFS-1 MFC One7 Freeride MFC One7 Race
Material Aluminum Mast+Fuselage.  Carbon Wings. Aluminum Mast+Fuselage.  Carbon Wings. Aluminum Mast+Fuselage.  Fiberglass Wings. All Solid Carbon All Solid Carbon All Carbon All Carbon
Construction Modular-  All pieces interchangeable Modular-  All pieces interchangeable Modular-  All pieces interchangeable One Piece Mast/Fuselage.  Wings are removable. One Piece Mast/Fuselage.  Wings are removable. Modular-  All pieces interchangeable Modular- All pieces interchangeable
Multiple Wings Available? Yes- Two+ Windsurf Specific Wings, SUP, Kite, Wake, and more... Yes- Two+ Windsurf Specific Wings, SUP, Kite, Wake, and more... Yes- Kite, SUP, and Windsurf Estimated 2018 availability of larger and smaller windsurf wings Yes, Windsurf Specific and SUP/Windsurf Crossover Wings Available Yes, Race and Freeride wings are interchangeable Yes, Race and Freeride wings are interchangeable

Wing Size

"H2" 68.6cm wingspan
"H5" 55.9cm wingspan
65cm wingspan,  1220 cm2 70cm wingspan 76cm Wingspan, XL Area 80cm wingspan, large area 78cm or 55cm wingspan
Wing Shape Moderate Low Aspect Moderate Low Aspect "Delta" Low Aspect High Aspect Low Aspect Medium Aspect High Aspect
Estimated Wind Range 8-18 knots 12-20 knots 8-18 knots 8-25  knots 6-18 knots 6-18 knots

6-18 knots w/ 78cm wing

18+ knots w/ 55cm wing

Mast Height

35.5" (93cm).

15" (38cm), 24" (61cm), 30" (76cm) masts available separately

35.5" (93cm).

15" (38cm), 24" (61cm), 30" (76cm) masts available separately

27.5" (70cm).

19.7" (50cm), 35.4" (90cm) masts available separately

36.4" (92.5cm)

Fixed Height

37.75" (96cm)

Fixed Height

37" (94cm)

Fixed Height

37" (94cm)

Fixed Height

Fuselage Length 36" (91.4cm) with variable mast positioning 36" (91.4cm) with variable mast positioning 25.25" (64.2cm) 33.5" (85cm) ? 36.2" (92cm) 36.2" (92cm)
Mount Type

Deep Tuttle.

"Pedestal" mount available separately

Deep Tuttle.

"Pedestal" mount available separately

"Pedestal" mount.

Tuttle and Deep Tuttle available separately

Deep Tuttle AFS-Box Deep Tuttle Deep Tuttle
Weight 13.5 lbs (6.1kg) 13.5 lbs (6.1kg) ? 7.25 lbs (3.3kg) 7.7 lbs (3.5kg) ? ?
"Feel" Early lift, stable Maneuverable, fast Early lift, stable Very fast, super stable Super early lift, maneuverable Early lift with a fast and stable feel Super fast with slippery feel and tons of stability


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