Freestyle foiling is hardly something anyone would have thought could be possible only one year ago, but hardcore freestyler like Jakob and Balz Müller in Switzerland have shown that you can do much more than flying straight on a foil.
We have recently discussed the subject with Wyatt Miller, another US freestyler who is taking foiling-freestyle to the next level. Wyatt is also the brand manager at Slingshot foil, and he gives us his thoughts about freestyle windfoiling and how he believes the future of the sport will be. He even gives us some tips to jumps higher with the foil. Check it out!
Name: Wyatt Miller
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Home spot: The Gorge, Hood River, Oregon
Sponsors: Slingshot, Starboard, Severne, Dakine, Chinook, NoLimitz, Makani Fins
Windfoil Zone: Wyatt, thanks for answering our questions! Could you give us a little glimpse into your personal life?
Wyatt Miller: Personal life…Hmmm well they say I’m a bit of a ladies man, haahaha!
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I grew up sailing in San Francisco where it blows 5.0 almost every day from March until October, so I got a lot of sailing in as a kid.
My 3 best friends and I (Tyson Poor, Rob Warwick and Whit Poor) really pushed each other growing up and became the top freestylers in the US. Since then two of them got real jobs, but Tyson and I decided to open our own windsurf resort in La Ventana, Baja California Mexico. From November to April we stay at our resort windsurfing and riding dirt bikes all day.
We teach all our guests to foil and I am amazed at how quickly people learn. Most folks are getting 50m rides in their first few hours. When spring comes around we close the resort and head back up to Hood River, Oregon, which boasts epic windsurfing in super windy conditions on a large river that often has logo high swell. A lot of the North American windsurfing industry is based up here; it’s a ton of fun.
WZ: Tell us more about your professional path and your relation to Slingshot.
Wyatt: I got my first sponsors at the age of 20 when I was finishing up college in Santa Cruz, California. I would spend my summers living out of my van in the Gorge doing all the competitions and then head down to the Caribbean or Baja, MX to train freestyle all winter, working a bit of construction in between. I opened up the windsurfing resort in Baja, MX in 2009 and it has been growing ever since. We have over 40 boards and 40 rigged sails and get to host a ton of enthusiastic windsurfers.
My buddy Tyson Poor got a foil to bring down 4 years ago, and we through bolted it to an old delaminated freestyle board. The foil wasn’t really in the right spot and it was not easy. The next summer we would watch Slingshot Designer Tony Logosz ripping the foil at our home spot, foiling through jibes and making it look really fun. He started hooking me up with Slingshot gear and that’s when the whole foil thing took off for me. I started testing new boards and foils and it was just really fun working with Tony, not only did he rip on the windfoil but he had sooo much knowledge coming from the kite foil side.
The last couple of seasons we have had Slingshot foils in our Baja rental centre and have taught a lot of people to foil. Teaching windfoil really gave me a ton of insight into the gear, teaching styles, and how to market windfoiling to foil hesitant folks. Slingshot needed someone who was really in touch with the windsurf market and since I already had a great working relationship with Tony it was a great fit.
As Brand Manager, I am responsible for deciding the direction the brand is going. Testing products and deciding which products go to market, signing the international team, working on graphics and marketing, it’s all really fun…..except sitting through some kite meetings.
WZ: Some impressive videos of you sending huge loops at “the Gorge” (Hood River, Oregon) on relatively small ramps are getting viral on Instagram. Could you tell us more about these moves and do you actually get higher with the foil?
Wyatt: Jumping is my favorite aspect of “Classic” windsurfing, as soon as I got comfortable on the foil I went right at it. I got my first back loop at my Baja resort on a 150L Slingshot Wizard and the aluminium setup, It was maybe 5.6 conditions with less than a meter of chop. That’s when the lights really went off…like wait…You can backloop underpowered off of tiny ramps!!!….This foil thing could really be fun.
I was barely foiling through jibes when I started going for forward loops and Shuv-its. The Shuv-it was really natural, my first try I just went for one like I would on my normal gear and it totally worked. I was blown away by how completely similar it felt to a Shuv-it on my normal gear. When I got up to the Gorge this summer with the high winds and big swell, I started taking the foil out on bigger days to see how it worked.
The backloops I was getting were pretty high and people were going nuts on the beach which made me want to go even higher. I got some really big backs and with the super short nose on the Slingshot boards landing them was pretty soft and easy. It is really a lot easier to control the nose going into the water on a nose-first landing with the nose being so short, you can be about to land too flat and with a little mast base pressure, the nose goes right in last minute. On forwards where you are landing tail-first the foil breaking the water first, you can land a little flatter than usual without snapping the board.
You can definitely jump higher on a given day with the foil than you can on your normal stuff….Ok maybe not as high as Pozo when it’s blowing 50, but definitely higher than the classic board if you are in less than full epic conditions. I go out sailing with the top guys here in The Gorge when they are on 4.0 or 4.4 with pretty good swell and everyone agrees that we can go higher with our foil gear.
When the wind is marginal, there is no question that we can jump higher on the foil. With the classic windsurf board you really need a steep bowly ramp for a good jump. With the foil you don’t need that perfect steep ramp. You just have to make it over the swell in front of the ramp and then get as low as you can to the water in the trough before loading the back foot up all the way to the top of the ramp. The release of the foil from the water when you do it right is so clean. The other thing that helps you get so much higher is that you can travel almost straight upwind, straight into the ramp instead of having to make a 90 degree carve to hit the ramp. It’s actually kinda cheating haha.
The sketchy part is that people don’t hear you coming and you are traveling at a really strange angle. So far I haven’t samuraid anyone yet!
WZ: For our readers who feel for it, could you give us your best advice to jump higher with a foil?
Wyatt: The first thing is to just take a steep angle into the wind looking for ramps, it’s a million times easier than trying to stay balanced while making a hard upwind turn into the wind and the ramp.
The second part is to try to just barely clear the swell in front of the one you want so you can foil super low in the trough and use your whole mast length going into the ramp you want.
With boards that don’t have a single back strap you need to get a little weight over the leeward side of the board so that when you push super hard on the backfoot of your windward rail, you don’t turn to windward.
I really like a center back strap for jumping. I think we will see more 3 strap foil boards coming out. You really don’t need to be outboard. I think foiling just came from racers instead of freestylers and so they made 4 strap boards. Its soooooo much more fun for me on a 3 strap board that feels more like my classic freestyle board.
Also you definitely want a ramp. I can jump pretty good off of flat just by bringing the foil real low and loading up the backfoot. But when you do that same backfoot loading into a ramp you really feel the power in the water pushing back against your foil and launching you extra high. Most any ramp will do, even if it is not so steep.
WZ: Do you think jumping and freestyle with a foil will get more common going forward?
Wyatt: Freestyle foiling is already happening and it seems like all the moves are possible. I put Balz Müller’s brother Jakob Müller on the Slingshot Team and both those guys are pushing it hard. We send vids back and forth with new moves and crazy crashes.
For a lot of us, windsurfing in less than exciting conditions is getting old, but with the foil you don’t care what the wind is doing. And you get all the excitement of learning to windsurf all over again. Your first foiling jibe you scream your head off all the way to the beach, same thing happens after your first foil carve 360 or flaka or backloop. It’s all so new and exciting, and progressing is what makes any sport fun. Now you can progress in super light conditions.
WZ: And what about safety, it looks quite dangerous if you miss your jump!
Wyatt: Yeah, I was just on my classic freestyle board today and was remarking on how safe it felt. You can crash any which way, super hard, and not worry about much. I definitely like a wing and mast that is less sharp. I don’t really see why they have to be so sharp, especially the carbon stuff. I have been sanding my trailing edges down and I don’t feel any difference with efficiency.
So far I have not cut myself at all. Some moves are scarier than others for sure. The backloop you really keep the foil away from you the whole time. With a pushloop you are right on top of the foil for a second which makes it a lot scarier. I saw some pretty wild flaka crashes out of Jack Müller the other day, but now that the Müller brothers are doing flakas I gotta buck up and start tossing them. You can hurt yourself just walking down the stairs, I think the better we get at foiling and knowing how the crashes are going to go, it won’t be much more dangerous than classic freestyle.
We actually designed curved wingtips into all the 2019 Slingshot foils so they will not puncture you if you fall on the tip of a front wing or stabilizer, that makes a huge difference for my confidence.
WZ: We see that windfoiling is moving into different directions: Racing supported by the PWA, freeriding for most people, and wave/freestyle for just a selected few. How is Slingshot’s approach to foiling and how would you position the brand compared to others?
Wyatt: The number one reason I signed up to work for Slingshot is that they were the only company I saw pushing the fun, freeride, freestyle side of windfoiling. Most of the other brands were just trying to recreate formula racing, which I really couldn’t understand.
No one I knew wanted to race on a foil, beating super hard upwind. Everyone wanted to foil through jibes and jump and cruise around. I think that starting this whole foil craze off by pushing huge formula gear was a big mistake for most of the brands. People want to rediscover their excitement for windsurfing and they want that to be attainable. They don’t want to try to lug a 90cm wide board around, and a 90cm wide board is neither sexy nor exciting.
I have ridden the race gear from other brands and the feeling is all pressure on your back foot all the time, and super hard to foil through jibes and really twitchy.
The Slingshot gear is dialled with pressure on both front and back foot which makes it feel just like classic freesltye or wave gear. I really like our modular system, if you want to slap on one of our fast wings you can go 30kts no problem…but then what?
The trend that I see now is for bigger surf wings. Any day I am not jumping I prefer to use our huge Infinity 84cm wide (210cm2) surf wing, that comes on the SUP packages. It’s super easy to foil out of any move, jibes, carve 360’s, upwind 360’s…foiling helitacks.
The big wings are really playful and make everything easier. It’s kind of like cheating really. But why not make it easy.?? Also, the big wings are not sharp and intimidating, you can really pump swell and feel the energy in the water.
One of my favorite things to do is just go upwind and then pump the foil with my feet straight downwind while luffing the sail. Our biggest wing tops out at about 20kts, but when I am lit on my 4.4 and Freestyle board I am only going 24kts, so it’s not that much different. The surf style wing that comes on our windfoil packages and the surf packages (The Infinity 76) will do 26kts if you push it…plenty fast but still really big and surfy and easy to foil out of maneuvers.
WZ: Windfoiling is still very young. How do you see the future of windfoiling? Just a trend or a true revolution in modern windsurfing?
Wyatt: It’s not a trend that’s for sure, windfoiling is here to stay. It just makes windsurfing in less than exciting conditions, super fun again. That was the biggest problem with windsurfing, chasing a few extra KTS, driving 2 extra hours for the difference between fun and lame. Now with the foil, instead of going to the beach wondering if I am going to get a session, now I KNOW I am going to get a really fun session.
For me it’s the perfect complement to my normal freestyle or wave gear session and I don’t have to re-rig. I rig my 4.8 and take out the foil when it is light, when I get overpowered I just go in and switch to my freestyle board and keep the same sail. Or here in The Gorge when we are riding 4.0 with epic swell and then it gets flukey and lighter, I don’t re-rig, I just go grab the foil board and keep the 4.0. Its great!
WZ: Wyatt, thank you for answering our questions!