The 4 Different Types of Windfoiling

When I started blogging about windfoiling in 2017, people were talking about windsurf foiling as one discipline and a curiosity within windsurfing.

Back then all the foils were pretty similar and there was no real discussion with the potential foil customer about what they wanted. Foils were pushed onto the market by leading windsurfing brands and the racing aspect of windfoiling was taking most of the attention: big boards, big sails. Low wind, and high speed. The goal was to give an effective alternative to Formula windsurfing.

Since then, other brands such as Horue, Naish, and Slingshot started to promote another type of foiling: Foiling which is more fun and accessible, with smaller sails, smaller boards with larger wings, and most importantly, at a lower cost with aluminum foils instead of carbon.

Today, we have at least 4 different niches within windfoiling emerge, each with their unique styles-

  • Freeride/Freerace foiling
  • Wave Wind Foiling (WWF)
  • Race foiling
  • Freestyle windfoiling or (foilstyling)

If you’re here trying to learn more about windfoiling and you’re wondering which style you gravitate towards, here’s an overview of each.

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StyleFoilSailBoardRiding Style
FreerideCarbon or aluminum, large surface area but not too wide.Light sail, higher aspect ratio, firm leech twist, more lower sail volumeWide and not too long, at least 130L of volumeMore upright and ergonomic riding stance than racing, bump and jump
WavesUsually aluminum with a large front wing for easy lift and low stall speedsSomething light and easy to handle, maybe a freeride sail.Short board with some volume and flat rockerUpright stance, pumping, less reliance on the sail and more on the swell
RaceCarbon, very long mast, long fuselage, high aspect ratio of wingsHigh aspect ratio sail with a large wind range and lots of powerVery wide boards at the tailUpwind/downwind speed
FreestyleUsually aluminum with a large front wing for easy lift and low stall speedsSmall freestyle sailStrong enough for impacts, reinforced fin boxFreeride, tricks, jumps

I would suggest most people start with approaching freeride as it’s the easiest to pick up and have fun with. It will give you a good base of skills, and then you can decide if you’d like to explore the other styles.

Foiling for the Masses

In just a few short years, windfoiling has evolved rapidly. Brands are regularly coming out with innovations and some foilers have pushed the limits of windfoiling to the extremes while manufacturers are working to capture the less hardcore water sports athlete that just wants to have fun on the water.

Foil equipment has been changing along with the tastes of the riders and we’re seeing more and more equipment specialized towards the different disciplines.

I interviewed experts of each foiling style to get them to describe their preferred type of foiling. At the end of each section, we’ll recap main aspects of each windfoil-style.


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Freeride Foiling

To present the freeride part of foiling, we have discussed with Tez Plavenieks, editor of Windsurfing UK Mag. He has experience as a windsurfer and has been foiling since 2017, testing some of the main freeride brands on the market.

Windfoil Zone: Tez, you are an experienced freeride foiler. Could you tell us what freeride foiling is about and what you enjoy the most about it?

Tez: For most people, freeride windfoiling will be about making use of light wind (sub-18 knots) and flying back and forth. Gybes will then be the move of choice I think. This is a good thing and definitely the main area industry manufacturers should be focusing on rather than pouring all energy into high-performance ends of the spectrum – foilstyle and racing.

There are two main reasons I like windfoiling. The first is being able to windsurf in conditions you could not without a foil.

Flying back and forth in 12 knots of wind, effortlessly, with the sun beating down and nobody else on the water is pretty much picture postcard perfect. This was my scene most days this summer with the UK experiencing Mediterranean like conditions. It was like this for about 7 weeks!

The other reason is I can be on much smaller sails than most others. If it’s 25-30 knots then great. But for everything below that threshold being able to use your small sails when all other riders are still on big rigs is just bliss. Why restle with anything bigger when you don’t need to?

WZ: What level do you need to be able to start freeride windfoiling?

Tez: I don’t think there’s a level that we can categorically say is when you should start foiling. In one of your previous articles about a light wind spot in Brazil, Marcello was explaining how he takes beginner windsurfers and transitions them to foiling as soon as they’ve cracked the sport’s fundamentals. And why not? After all, learning to foil is no harder than learning to plane using a harness and foot straps.

In fact, due to there being no real necessity to use footstraps and harnesses foiling for progressing riders could end up being easier. For most sailors looking at foiling they’ll already be planing comfortably.

Some may be going around corners whilst others will be aiming to crack that elusive carve gybe. This skill base demographic and up is who will most likely end up dabbling with foils. Some may stick while others could end up reverting – it’s not for everyone, after all.

I also think the first thing for riders is to get over the myth that windfoiling is ‘dangerous’. It isn’t, as long as you follow a couple of guidelines.

Rewind a few years and there were all manner of foreboding prophets predicting catastrophic accidents at the hands of foil wings/masts. Of course, anyone getting involved needs to be aware of the dangers. But let’s be honest you can nail yourself in standard windsurfing mode so it’s all relative.

WZ: What are the ideal weather conditions for freeride windfoiling?

Tez: Ideally flat water with as least gusty a breeze as you can find will yield the best results.

WZ: What kind of foil equipment would you recommend to someone who would like to start freeriding on a foil?

Tez: If you’re looking to get started with foiling then don’t pick the smallest sail you can thinking this is a safe option. Windfoiling needs some power and some wind. Foiling in sub-12 knots is actually technical with a specific set of criteria needed. Between 12-15 knots is ideal with sails ranging between 5m-6m depending on your weight.

In terms of boards, go for something wide with a wide tail. I also think something with slightly more volume is best. In 2017 we saw a bunch of boards around 122L come onto the market and while these work, brands are putting out boards that have around 20L more now.

A lower volume/less wide foil platform is certainly engaging due to it feeling lively. This isn’t always good for progression, however. What you want is something smooth and composed that allows confidence to be built and riders to push on with skills. If you feel awkward or uncomfortable, then you’re never going to feel like gybing on foil, let alone any other type of move.

Although it’s possible to learn on boards measuring less than 80cm in width (I did) that’ll make your life harder. There’s nothing wrong with retrofitting a foil to a non-foil ready board but I guarantee having quickly learned you’ll be looking to upgrade.

As more people get into foiling we’re hearing of more fin boxes being ripped out due to having a foil slotted in.

Although an initial outlay of cash, it may be better to just go straight for a foil ready sled that you can also windsurf. That way you won’t end up buying twice.

WZ: Any other thoughts?

Tez: Yes, something else I’ll add here, that’s come out of my extensive testing of various foils and foil ready/foil specific boards is: not all kits sync up efficiently.

It’s obvious when you think about it but brands who develop foils and boards (and some sails) have done so with compatibility in mind. You may purchase a foil from brand X to be matched with a board from brand Z.

With limited experience, you’ll be none the wiser but six months down the line you may get to try a fully optimized setup and realize why you seem to have been struggling.

Of course, you may end up with an idyllic experience from the off but ultimately footstrap positions, mast tracks, and fin/foil boxes don’t always align as well as you’d think. Even some sizes of boards from the same brand don’t work as well as other sizes. It’s worth demoing and trying as much as you can beforehand.

That may be tricky but retailers are pretty much trying to push windfoiling as they see it as a growth area. They’ll have access to a demo kit. If you’re serious about a purchase then there’s no reason why the shop in question shouldn’t allow you to have a few sessions prior to parting with readies.

2. Wave foiling

Wave windfoiling is a very niche type of foiling, but one which has some good growth potential. Surf-foiling (without sail) has become very popular in the past years, endorsed by Kai Lenny, and Wave windfoiling is a kind of hybrid between freeride windfoiling and surf-foiling. We have discussed with Casey Treichler who is at the forefront of what he calls WWF (Windsurf Wave Foiling) with his blog The Reef Warriors.

Windfoil Zone: Casey, could you please introduce yourselves and explain to us what WWF is about, and how it is different from other windfoiling types?

Casey: Hello Windfoil Zone! Great to talk to you, I really appreciate all the great info and content you have been posting about windfoiling. It is awesome stuff, keep it up!

Yeah I am a pro level waterman that Surfs/Wind/Sup/Kite/Sail, etc. on the Great Lakes and east coast of the US. I’m sort of like Kai Lenny, but I don’t live on an island and I have an everyday day job (mechanical engineer) like everyone else. Haha.

WWF has a lot of similarities to normal wave sailing except that you need a lot less wind and smaller waves for the same amount of excitement. The key to Windsurf Wave Foiling is using big (slower, but only by a little bit) surf wing foils and tiny sails, which allows you to glide through the lulls, along with the ability to carve and turn like crazy on a wave or rolling swell.

Plus, that combo gets you going in very little wind which translates to 10x more water time. The riding style of WWF is more of an upright stance with more front foot pressure that allows you to ride on top of the board and foil. Along with being strapless, this gives it a very similar feeling to riding a surfboard; move your weight a little forward and you gain more speed, shift weight back a little and get more turney just like you would ride a surfboard.

Surf foils are designed to gain speed on surf, swell and even large chop, making for some great down-winding moments where you don’t even need any sail power. Just flag the sail out and surf the wave, it’s all about surfy surfy.

As a bonus this type of setup is really fun and a favorite for just freeride wind foiling too because it’s so easy and effortless.

WZ: Waves can be intimidating. What level do you need to be able to surf the waves with a windfoil, and what are the ideal weather conditions to begin with?

Casey: I would say you can be at any level to get into WWF but with the understanding that you don’t go out in any conditions that you don’t feel comfortable with. The best conditions are really the easiest conditions.

You only need 8 to 15 knots of wind and some small rolling swell. You don’t need or want breaking waves really. It’s so much fun just to ride the rolling swell that seems like for miles sometimes. If you see any kind of bump in the water, you can ride it with a surf foil.

WZ: What kind of foil and board would you recommend for Wave Windfoiling?

Casey: Well I am a bit biased in the board department since I have spent the last 2 years designing and building the most advanced Wind/Sup foil board on the planet that I call “TopGun”. But if you can’t get your hands on one of those, the key elements to look for in a good WWF board is a shorter shape with Flat rocker, along with enough volume and width that you can uphaul easily.

Also, you want the foil mount location more forward on the board; anywhere from 12 -20 inches (30 to 50 cm) from the tail of the board.

As far as foils go, I recommend going with a Bigger “surf” specific model. I don’t see any Wind foil models from the major brands made for WWF yet. I bet that changes in the near future though.

Go Foil is the best I have tried so far, The Iwa/Maliko200 combo with the 29” mast is outstanding and works for everything. The things to look for in a good WWF surf foil are front wings that produce a good amount of lift. You need the higher lift surf foils to hold up the rig weight when surfing and gliding through the lulls.

WZ: A practical question to finish off: How do you manage to go out in the water with the foil while dealing with the shorebreak?

Casey: Ahh yes the infamous shore break. Well, the first thing to try to do is always avoid the shore break. But if you can’t, use the same rules that you use when you’re wave sailing.

In the shore break, I walk the gear in backward with the mast pointing towards the wave then I swim the gear past the shore break.

In a situation where you can walk out a ways and water start or uphaul, just pump the sail, get going on the foil and fly over the break. That’s the fun way!

3. Race foiling

As I said previously, the leading windsurfing brands have mostly focused on racing kits to promote windfoiling, thinking ahead with the Olympics in mind, and also supported by the windsurfing pro tour PWA organizing windfoil race events.

To better understand how racing differs from freeride foiling, 2 race experts have answered our questions: Sebastian Kornum, DEN-24 (JP/Neilpryde) and Gediminas Gresevicius LTU-76.

Windfoil Zone: Sebastian and Gediminas, as experienced race foilers could you describe how race-foiling equipment is different from freeride-foiling?

Sebastian: Let’s begin with the foils. Racing foils are designed to create minimum drag while offering maximum power going upwind and downwind. Reaching is a secondary priority, which is why racing foils are normally difficult on a reach especially in stronger winds.

This is achieved by making the mast as thinly profiled as possible. The construction of a thin profiled mast takes a lot of carbon and a good mold to get enough stiffness. Aluminum is not enough if you want to make these profiles.

Wings for racing are between 80-100cm, and fuselages vary from 100-120cm. All together for a lot of power but also sacrificing control.

Racing sails are designed to have a large wind range and most important offer a lot of power for light wind and early planing. The trend is high aspect A-class catamaran inspired sails which we will see a lot more of on the market going forward.

A racing board is actually rather user-friendly for freeriding also but is obviously not the ideal solution. These boards are very wide around the tail, which makes it more difficult to get in and out of the rear footstraps.

Gediminas: The difference between freeriding and racing foils is big and getting even bigger as equipment evolves.

Race foils are about giving more power with speed and control. It seems that optimum mast length so far is about 100-110 cm and to have good aluminum profile of this length is a hard task, or technically impossible. So all masts longer than 95cm are made of carbon.

Up to this length, you can get both carbon and aluminum masts and for freeriding, and aluminum can be a good choice.

2018 was the first time we saw foil-dedicated race and freeride boards. Race boards have a square-like shape, while freeride boards look more traditional, but still with a squared tail and not so wide.

The wings are the main difference. Freeride wings have a big surface area and are not so wide, they have an early lifting ability and but are not so fast. Race wings are made for speed and power. They have a high aspect ratio, but are still stable!

As for boards, we have seen a considerable evolution happening for windfoil sails. Foil race sails are moving towards longer masts and shorter booms with a high aspect ratio.

WZ: Other aspects which are different between races and “everyday”-foiling?

Sebastian: In general when you are racing, everything is based on performance and speed, like how much you can point into the wind etc. Whereas in freeriding it’s not necessarily about pushing the last degrees upwind, but more about cruising comfortably.

I think in racing we all use pretty short harness lines to go upwind, which is not really nice for freeriding for instance.

Gediminas: Sure there are a lot of differences between these two disciplines.

The main one is in the head! If you start to drag race with friends, you will quickly find that your body must be positioned outside the board.

An upright position and flat board is best for comfortable freeride runs. When you are racing, you need to power up your sail and turn this power into speed!

WZ: What are the ideal conditions for race foiling?

Sebastian: I won’t say there are any ideal conditions. Foiling has come a long way and we are now foiling in 5 to 30 knots more or less. Waves or flat water, it just depends on what one likes.

WZ: Can everybody be a race-foiler, or do you need a high windsurf/windfoil level to do it?

Sebastian: Everyone can learn it obviously, but it takes a certain skill to responsibly compete in a race. The bare minimum is to be in control so you can avoid potential collisions, and you need to have a fair overview of what racing is about.

Gediminas: Sure, everybody can foil race, and yes, you need some skills to race. That’s why so many top-level foil racers are former Formula racers – they have the skills to race in a course race.

They just need to learn to foil, and this only takes just a few weeks. But if you are new to both, you’d rather start at local events with your friends. You just need to start practicing and you will learn how to race if you want to!

WZ: What kind of foil and board would you recommend to someone who would like to start racing?

Sebastian: The question is really difficult as it depends on a lot of things such as your size and skill level.

If you are already foiling well on freeride foil equipment, it is not a big step to learn and get used to the racing foils and racing foil boards that are available on the market. Our F4 racing foil has a lot of control with its high quality and stiff construction, and I can really recommend this to everyone.

Also The JP Hydrofoil 150 board is super easy to handle and performs really well on the racing course in all conditions.

Gediminas: An old Formula board! Nothing has better value for money.

Just beware of the fin box if your foil does not have a bottom support. There are now some foil race boards on the market, but honestly, it’s difficult to say if they are better than formula boards which are 9cm wider. I still don’t know if I will buy a dedicated foil race board or stay with my old formula board for one more year. But things are changing so fast that you never know what next week will bring 🙂

4. Freestyle-foiling or “Foilstyling”

Finally, we have freestyle-foiling. Nobody knew this would become a legitimate foiling discipline until Balz Müller show the world at Engavind what you could do with a foil. Many have followed his path, and none other than his own brother Jakob, who was so kind to tell us more about “foilstyling”:

Windfoil Zone: Jakob, we have seen you pushing the limits of freestyle-foiling together with your brother Balz. Could you please tell us more about “foilstyling” as you call it, and what you enjoy the most about it?

Jakob Müller: Foilstyling feels so peaceful and quiet. It’s just an evolution of windsurf freestyling. The big difference between foil-freestyling and normal-freestyling is that you need much less wind to do tricks as you get a lot of pop from the foil. Strong freestyle winds are very rare here in Switzerland, but now I can have a good freestyle session once or twice a week with my foil.

At the moment I enjoy pushing the limits with Balz and some other friends. It’s especially fun to foil in winds that are so light that normal windsurfing would be impossible. It feels like a new dimension to me.

WZ: What level do you need to be able to start and learn freestyle windfoiling?

Jakob: I think you don’t need to be a professional freestyler to get into it. We have a lot of friends who are basic windsurf freestylers who started foil-freestyling recently and have a lot of fun playing around.

It’s necessary to have the freestyle basics (loops, flakas, spocks, etc.) on a normal board to try them with the foil. Once you land the basics properly, you can start trying it on a foil. Some tricks are even easier on a foil. For example the regular duck.

WZ: What are the ideal conditions?

Jakob: I think the water surface doesn’t really matter that much because you fly over the chop anyway. As long as there is not too much turbulence in the water you won’t feel that much. But for sure a good wave helps you to go higher.

The wind conditions I like the most is 12-15knts not too gusty with my 4.8 Sailloft Air.

WZ: What kind of foil and board would you recommend to someone who would like to start freeriding on a foil?

Jakob: At the moment most foil brands are too much race-oriented and the freeride sector is still too small. Most foilers I know just want to go easy freeride.

The best foil to get into freeriding I think is a bigger wing that is not too fast and stays stable during jibes. It should give you a safe feeling whilst trying out new jibes etc.

The board shouldn’t be too much slalom oriented. More like a bigger freeride/foilboard (ca.100-130ltrs) that gives you a safe feeling and stays stable during jibes. I also think that most boards are still too wide at the moment. They don’t need to be this wide to feel nice.

In the end, the most important thing is that you feel natural whilst flying on the foil.

For me the absolute top brand for foil freeride/freestyle is Slingshot Foils, which is also the reason I use their gear. They are really pushing the freeride/freestyle way of foiling and have some of the best boards and foils.

To everyone who’s starting to learn tricks and jibes I recommend one of the Wizard Foil boards and a bigger Gamma/Infinity Wing. That’s also the gear I’m currently using. There will also be a freestyle board soon.

2 thoughts on “The 4 Different Types of Windfoiling

  1. Juergen Wansch says:

    Hi guys,
    what type of foil board would you recommend for sailing in medium to high winds in flat water and bumpy conditions? For low winds i use a fanatic stingray 125 with a fanatic flow foil 1250. Thanks for your help! Juergen

  2. Fraser says:

    Very helpful for those of us looking to take up the Foil. Very high speed doesn’t really suit me anymore, I’m more into learning a new skill and enjoying the water with not too much stress. Windsurf Wave foiling seems like a really nice way to extend my rinding into those lower wind days and take advantage of the foils high efficiencies

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