Foil Boarding On Maui
Ryan Atkins stopped by the other day to tell me about his experience foil boarding Pe`ahi with Rush Randle, Dave Kalama and Laird Hamilton. I had heard about this futuristic ocean riding vehicle before, yet had no idea to the extremes that it was being tested. I caught up with island waterman Dave Kalama to find out how he and the Strap Team scientists are shaping the evolution of foil board riding on Maui.
The foil board is derived from what is called an ‘air chair’, which was created for recreational use for being towed behind a boat in flat water, similar to waterskiing. Utilizing a hydrofoil, it allows the chair to rise out of the water when being pulled. Over the years, people have experimented with the hydrofoil concept on boats and other various watercraft. Recently the Pe`ahi tow pioneers have come up with a board riding concept using the foil in a way that gives the rider a freedom to go places on a wave that could only be imagined before.
Dave Kalama has been on the forefront of big wave riding for a long time, and is very excited about the endless possibilities foil boarding offers. “We started playing around with the concept of attaching a board to the chair about six years ago. For the next couple of years it was Rush and Laird who were working on techniques and trying to figure it out. About two years ago Laird started experimenting on waves in California and soon after he began riding it in some real surf on Kaua`i.”
Flying like a bird is how Kalama tries to explain the feeling of riding a wave on a foil board. The board is similar in shape to a big snowboard with the same kind of binding attachment and release for your feet. The vertical segment below the board is made out of solid metal and is attached to a sharp-edged airplane wing-shaped foil. The whole thing weighs around sixty pounds and looks very bizarre. Dave feels that foil boarding will be a way to not only ride big waves but ride open ocean swell. “I see a period not too far away where we will be able to surf long distance, connecting the swells in the channels between islands.”
Dave is excited about the rest of the strap team’s enthusiasm for foil boarding, and has been spending a good part of this winter practicing with his friends and teammates. “It has the same feeling as when we first started towing into Pe`ahi, the infancy stage is a very exciting period. We call our selves the Pelican Surf Club, because you’re riding the air current above the water, flowing in the crest of the wave like a bird. The lines you can draw are much different from surfing, you can truly ride in the crest of the wave or you can drop down go way out in front and carve a big snowboard like turn. You can really get the momentum going through a flat section its amazing how fast you can go.”
Foil boarding is definitely an extension of yet another extreme water sport, opening up the entire ocean for board riding possibilities. “The concept of towing is basically the same, except you’re locked onto the board. You can let go of the rope a lot sooner and glide, gaining momentum allowing you to literally fly. The other day at Pe`ahi I towed into an outside swell. I rode the wave for a little while when I saw a little wind swell traveling through the wave I turned off on that and started riding the wind swell back out to sea. I kept connecting the swell for around three hundred yards down the coast, all I could think of after that ride is that anything is possible.”