One of the biggest advantages of windfoiling is to be able to plane with much less wind than with a classic windsurf board. This gives you more fun days on the water when you normally would have been sitting on the beach, waiting for the wind to pick up.
However, when you first start windfoiling, you quickly realize that some wind is actually needed to get going. Claims of foiling on social media in “no wind” aren’t exactly honest!
The general guideline for light wind foiling is that 10-12 knots ideal, and that matches my own experience. It becomes much more technical to fly with less than 10 knots unless you use a giant sail.
To see how others felt, I recently made a Facebook survey within our windfoiling community asking how much wind they need to have fun with a foil on the water.
The results were a bit surprising to me. About half of the 200 respondents answered “less than 10 knots” and the other half “at least 10 knots”.
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Learning to Windfoil in Light Wind
Windfoiling in 10 knots or less certainly is possible, but it will take more skill to achieve this the lower the wind is. You should ideally know how to windfoil before trying to windfoil in lower wind conditions. Starting out in low wind will only make things more difficult and frustrating.
There are several factors that have an influence on how quickly you will get flying in light wind conditions. I asked some of the leading experts in the sport to share their tips on how to windfoil in light winds. Here’s what they had to say –
Tips from Eric Collard of Gliss Attitude
Here are my three tips in order of importance :
1. You need to have a very dynamic mast, ideally with 100% carbon and well adapted to your sail. It’s absolutely necessary to pump the sail optimally.
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If you have a limited budget, I would recommend investing in a good carbon mast and sail. Save money by choosing an aluminium foil rather than carbon instead. Some aluminum foils are flying very early, like Alpinefoil or Taaroa foil.
The shape of the foil is actually more important than the material used for light wind foiling (10 knots). However, the carbon tension will make a difference in very light winds (7-8 knots) but only if you really are already comfortable in 10 knots.
2. You need to find the right sail size for your body weight. I’m 78kg and my optimal size is around 7.5m. If the sail is too small you won’t get enough momentum, and if it’s too big, the pumping movement will not or may not be powerful enough.
3. Depending on your equipment, you need to find the right pumping technique: In general, the most efficient pumping technique with a dynamic mast is to do small and short movements with the rig.
If you don’t have a very dynamic mast and rig, you may prefer larger and slower movements. In any case, you will start with the rig to create inertia and aerodynamic support. Only after will you transfer the power from your upper body towards your feet and push on the foil to accelerate.
Depending on your board, you will point in different directions. With a narrow board, you will sail across the wind. If you have a larger board, you will also start sailing on a beam reach when pumping the rig, but then going downwind when pumping with your feet.
As soon as the foil takes off, you need to ride upwind again to get wind in your sail.
Tips from Benjamin Tillier
To fly in light wind you must already know how to windfoil in steady wind!
Everything lies in the transition between generating power from pumping to achieving the minimum take-off speed, which includes balancing on the foil and staying light on your feet immediately after takeoff.
Here are the main steps to do so:
1. Pump simultaneously with the rig and on the foil: you need to both pull with your arms and push with your feet to be more efficient.
2. As soon as you are in the air, don’t move a muscle!
When you are flying at a very low speed, you need to keep everything as stable as possible to accelerate without disturbing the airflow. If you don’t manage to stay in the air, start again with the pumping part.
3. Once you are stable in the air with a good speed, you need to keep your body upright and not have too much weight on your harness lines. The rig will then also get more wind and propulsive power.
Here are some extra tips to get the ideal light wind position:
- Short harness lines to keep your body upright.
- Boom slightly higher, for the same reason.
- Move the mast foot slightly forward on the board to be able to lean back more easily during pumping.
- I sometimes take the back foot out of the footstrap to put it in a more forward position on the board. This is a small trick to help your body stay in an upright position on the board.
- Hold on to the uphaul rope instead of the boom when you are in the air. This will also help to move the rig in an upright position.
These tips are shown in the video below:
Tips from Damien Le Guen of Exocet
There are several factors to take into consideration when windfoiling with light wind:
1. The equipment:
I prefer to have a board with lots of volume. It helps to get inertia and accelerate and I can choose a smaller sail. I use the Exocet RF91, and with a 7.8m I manage to plane with 10 knots (I weight 100 kg).
It’s better to use a sail with cambers, as it helps to keep a wing profile which is more efficient when pumping.
A freerace sail is also preferable, as they are generally more powerful than race sails.
For the foil, there are many differences – in particular for the wings. A thick and wide wing will take off more easily.
2. The technique:
The goal is to make the board accelerate as quickly as possible. Use large pumping movements to get maximum power from the sail and to release some weight from the board which helps the foil to get in action.
You should also take a step backward and put your front foot in the strap before you start pumping. This will help you to stabilize the board and avoid parasitic movements during the manoeuver.
The back foot will enter the footstrap later or you can also place it just in front of the strap in very light wind conditions, this will release some weight off the back of the board (WZ comment: same advice as Benjamin Tillier earlier).
3. Your weight:
Your body weight has real importance. A light person will fly much quicker, especially if he/she has the right technique. The weight impact on the performance is even more obvious in windfoiling than in classic windsurfing.
Tips from Bastien Ramery
Here are Bastien’s best pieces of advice:
1. Use very dynamic pumping:
You need to have both power and quick frequency in your movement, and do so with the largest sail you can.
Racerboarders are used to this kind of pumping. Freeriders and waveriders may have to learn this technique as they usually only pump the sail and not really transmit the power to the fin or the foil.
A sail with cambers will obviously generate more power than without cambers.
2. Sailing downwind
3. Transmit the power generated by the pumping to the board:
The new generation of freeride foils (like the Neilpryde Glide) have rounded front wings which enables you to also pump with your feet, as surfers or SUPers do.
Tips from Benjamin Longy
I usually start foiling when the anemometer shows 10 knots on average, so sometimes it can be less. My 3 best pieces of advice to plane early are:
1. Choose the right equipment:
With winds under 10 knots you really need to pump hard and it’s better if you have a 7.0m sail at least. When I started I had only one sail, a 7.8m which was both versatile and light. Now I manage to fly in 8-knot winds on average, thanks to my Severne Hyperglide 9.0m. It’s just magic!
For the foil, I use the Select Profoil windfoil and it’s really a light wind machine. The Select Profoil is a powerful race foil, which is ideal to point higher and fly earlier, but there are other foil brands like Naish or Slingshot which fly very early even with very small sails. Other foils like the Neilpryde F4 carbon are better to ride faster and with stronger winds.
2. Another important factor in how early you start planing is how the water surface is. Flat water will make it easier to start flying, while it gets more difficult to fly early in choppy waters.
3. The last tip is to ride upwind. As you sail faster than the wind, you will want to sail close to the wind in order to get more wind and power in your sail.
Tips from Jason Clarke
Here are my top 3 tips to fly in light wind:
1. Kit selection:
If you want to fly in low wind you still require an amount of forward speed to generate lift from the foil.
A larger sail of 8.6-10m for less than 10knots.
A wider board is better as well for same principle as regular windsurfing: it gives earlier planning, so a formula board works best here but narrow towards 90cm would be good also.
2. The pumping technique:
Most foils have a zero angle of attack when under your board. During pumping, you want to get back into the front footstrap as early as possible to lift the nose and angle the foil upwards creating more angle on the wings profile.
This would encourage more lift. Driving through your legs to pump the foil at the same time as the foil will get you flying early.
3. Tuning your foil for the conditions:
Lighter winds mean you can run a larger front wing if you have the option. Bug foil offers 1100cm2 wing and so do some other brands such as Horue or Lokefoil.
This means lower speed for take off. Then you can also adjust the rear wing angle of attack to allow earlier lift but this has an effect of increasing drag so you won’t be as fast.
Tips from Tez Plavenieks, Windsurfing UK Magazine.
When you begin to windsurf foiling there are a whole host of skills to learn and re-learn. What you think you know from windsurfing doesn’t always apply here. There are heaps of vids and pics of riders flying in stupidly low wind strengths, and it’s this aspect that mainly appeals with regards to windsurf hydrofoiling.
It’s not that simple, however, to start with. Plugging a 7m sail into a large volume board with a big dangly thing protruding from the tail and hoping for the best won’t necessarily yield the results you’re after. Here are a few tips to (hopefully) help you on your way.
Assuming you’ve got to grips with the basics of taking flight, controlling the board/foil and touching down without too many crashes (in moderate wind strengths) the next step is to take your foiling to lighter airs and make use of wind strengths around ten knots. You can go less but the lighter the breeze the trickier foiling can be, with a whole host of factors coming into play. For this article we’ll be sticking with 10 knots.
First thing is to make sure your sail is set correctly.
Many riders tend to crank on the down and outhaul, which unfortunately means your rig will be spilling power, when it’s power you need (initially). A flatter profile to your sail, with tighter leach, will ensure plenty of bottom end early flying grunt. Obviously there’s a sweet spot based on the conditions to hand. You may need to come in and tune your rig accordingly after a few runs.
Next up is positioning your mast foot.
For lower wind strengths shifting it back towards the tail will help with early takeoffs. Again, you may need to tweak settings as not all foils perform the same. Winds can also be fluky. Many miss that foiling really works best if you have consistency between gusts and flatter water, without too much chop, that can hinder forward momentum off the plane.
Lack of momentum = less speed = less chance of rising up onto your foil early.
Once comfortable with your settings it’s time to fly!
Starting off your feet will be across the centre line of the board. As you spot a gust approaching hook in and adopt a dynamic stance, slightly moving your feet outboard as you do so. Hands shouldn’t be too wide apart otherwise you’ll over sheet the sail and choke off any power.
Next is to begin pumping your sail.
Efficient pumping is a technique that should be nailed down well in advance of your light wind hydrofoiling practice. If you’re too heavy handed (or footed) you’ll unsettle the board and foil which will result in loss of speed and power. Foils work by slicing through the water efficiently. The smoother your pumping technique the better.
As you open and close the sail drive that downforce into your boom, through the mast, and into the board (this is a windsurfing 101 skill that you should’ve learned when getting to grips with planing).
Having a straight front leg, slightly bent back leg with arms and harness pulling down should ensure you’re generating efficient thrust.
In the sequence below, you can see all the subtleties of what’s being described above going on.
At the point you start to semi plane (or half foil) slip your leading foot into the front strap and continue pumping your rig. Your back leg should also be driving down into the foil.
The better you get the quicker you can utilise the front strap, which will give you more leverage and allow you to push against the foil. With increasing speed you can slot your back foot in and push harder through the tail to tease the foil up onto the plane.
If you work in harmony with your rig you’ll feel the board lift and begin to fly.
Once in the air you’ll need to level off the board, by keeping weight forward, as you don’t want to over foil and crash. As your speed increases the foil should now be performing at its optimum and keeping you flying. A steady rig will also help. Keep looking upwind for gusts and react accordingly. Finally, claim it, you’re flying in wind speeds that keep many sailors on the beach!
Ultimately it’s all about practice, as we all know what practice makes…
Key Takeaways from our Experts
The experts have talked and given us their best tips to fly in light wind. If you’ve read the whole list you see a lot of similar tips, but also some that are opposites. Pumping technique is where opinions differ the most which is to be expected and you should try multiple styles until you find what’s comfortable.
It’s now your turn to put it into practice. Try it out and come back to this article until you finally nail light wind flying. It will reward you with new amazing sensations and may double or triple your riding time on the water.
Here is a summary of the best tips from our light wind experts:
- Learn to fly in stronger winds before you try to windfoil in light wind!
- A spot on flat water is preferable
- Choose the right equipment: Large sail preferably with cambers (but not too large), a dynamic mast (high percentage of carbon), a board with enough volume, and a foil with a large front wing.
- Practice your pumping skills: Accelerate by going downwind and pump with large but quick movements with the front foot in the strap, and transfer the generated power to the foil through your legs.
- The moment that you start flying, you need to accelerate by heading upwind again and not move too much in order to keep the gear as stable as possible.
- Keep the sail and your body as upright as possible.
Have a good flight!