Windsurfing has always been about speed and pushing the limits. With the introduction of the hydrofoil, speed demons have a new tool in their arsenal to play with and new world records to break.
The current world record for top max speed on a windsurf foil is 36.44 knots, held by Nicolas Goyard (set in 2020).
While that’s plenty fast, it’s far away from the world record windsurf (without foil) record set by Antoine Albeau’s record of ~53 knots.
Can hydrofoils one day challenge and overtake records set by windsurfers without a foil?
That’s of course what everybody hopes, but there are reasons to be skeptical. While a hydrofoil helps to get planning earlier and higher speeds in light wind, the weight and the drag of the foil in the water may limit the top speed.
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To get more clarity on this question, we have asked some questions to both a specialist and a bunch of foiling experts.
Ask a Designer: Can foils get faster?
Rajko Zuzek (specialized in composite materials and head of R&D of Bug Fins & Foils):
WFZ: Hydrofoil drag increases with speed. What more can you say about this assumption?
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There are 2 different types of drag with a foil: “Induced drag” (drag due to lift) decreases with speed, while “profile drag” (basically the drag due to water friction) increases with speed. At high foiling speeds, profile drag dominates and increases with the square of speed.
Of course, foil’s max speed is limited and not every rider will be able to get there. For all others, it is important that we can fly with a comfortable speed, which is allowing a self-alignment of the foil’s angle of attack.
For an efficient take-off, a certain angle of attack (aka AOA) is needed, but once in the air with a certain speed, the foil will execute the alignment (board nose down) in order to fly with zero AOA. This way, drag is optimized and flight is comfortable.
WFZ: That’s bad news. It sounds like hydrofoils will never be able to achieve high speeds… Are there other factors influencing the drag of the hydrofoil, which may be improved?
RZ: Each foil component (mast, wings, and fuselage) should be shaped with hydrodynamic efficiency in mind. The wings’ surface and profile shape are designed to create needed thrust (lift), in accordance with the fuselage length. There are many factors that can be modified in order to create a balanced and efficient foil.
For example, it’s possible to play with the stabiliser’s shape and it’s angle of attack. The stabiliser’s job is to create the needed down force to stabilise the whole. There are two possible approaches: Symmetrical stabs and asymmetrical stabs
Symmetrical stabilisers are creating down force simply with their angle of attack. Higher angle = higher downward force – but higher drag as well (lower speed). Working with asymmetrical stabilisers is a better way, as they generate down force with zero AOA and the needed down force is created with minimal drag. The result is higher speed due to less drag.
The hydrodynamic (surface friction) of the foil is another factor contributing to increased speed: A smooth varnished finish helps reduce profile drag so can improve top speed. But as always, there are many details…
I have a wide experience with surface preparation from my carbon fins:
We use shiny foil wings for low wind setups. The surface is super smooth and buffed to shine.
For higher speeds, wings can still be shiny, but the surface is brushed with lower grit sanding paper. This may be counterintuitive, but it creates micro cavities where water molecules are trapped, forming a buffer between the wings and flowing water which reduces the drag. The result is minimized surface friction and higher speed.
WFZ: In your opinion, what can be done to improve current hydrofoil shape, to increase the speed?
RZ: We are working on and testing new features all the time, and we will definitely come up with some innovations in the future, so stay tuned! But in general, hydrofoil performance can be pushed with sharp trailing edges on wings and masts.
Rigidity is also a key factor. Only rigid – stiff and torsional resistant foil will perform well, otherwise you cannot speed it up without having perfect control.
Ask the Pros: What is your personal speed record and how do you see the top speed in the future?
I asked all the pros below about their personal speed records so you could get a feel for how fast some of the best in the world are going.
Speeds are given in either top speed or V500 (average speed over 500 meters).
My top speed is 31.6 knots, but I prefer to talk about V500, which is more representative of the potential of windfoiling: I do 28.2 knots on average in 20 knots of wind.
In the near future, many will reach 30 knots, even on V500 and probably in even less wind than 20 knots, which shows the great potential of windfoiling!
Already today we have some incredible top speeds in only 8-10 knots of wind.
The normal evolution of windfoils will follow the kitefoils which are incredibly performant today. The foils will need to be even stiffer. Titanium will be introduced and will improve the quality of the fuselage for example. The wings profiles will continue to evolve and will be more stiff, stable and powerful.
When it comes to sails, there is a lot of improvement to do to gain in lightness and stability. The same evolution happened in kitefoiling with the introduction of open cell foil kites.
Boards will also evolve in different directions as in regular windsurfing, optimised for racing, speed or freestyle.
Let’s not forget that the protective gear of the windfoilers will also evolve as we are reaching a higher speed: helmets, impact vests, and impact wetsuits.
To summarize, we are only at the beginning!
Antoine Albeau: F-192
I think my top speed is 31 knots, but I don’t remember exactly!
In the future, I hope that we can soon reach 50 knots or more, but the foils will probably be different from the ones we use today.
Nicolas Goyard – F465 (fastest foiler on the planet!)
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My speed record is 36.44 knots in top speed (Vmax) and 33.2 knots on V500. I have not heard about anybody going faster than that but I may be wrong! Maybe Sebastian (Kornum) is going faster?
I think we will go even faster in the future. I think the limit could be 36-38 knots, but we may go even faster!
It will also be interesting to see if we can increase the average speed by 2-3 knots because then the regular slalom boards will have problems following us!
Sebastian Kornum – DEN 24
I usually don’t use GPS so I am not really aware of my top speed at all. Hopefully more than 30 knots, but I can’t prove it!
Fred Morin – NC5
My top speed in windfoiling is 28.2 knots.
I think the windfoil equipment will continue to evolve and that speed will increase rapidly. Some top riders are already at 32-33 knots while it was completely unbelievable just a few months ago. So I think windfoiling has not finished surprising us!
I don’t always record it but just taking a quick look, I’m at about 27 knots at the moment.
I think there is no reason why we won’t see people break 40 knots in the next year or so. And after that, who knows?
World champion and Olympic medalist
Facebook: Julien Bontemps
I’m at a little bit more than 31 knots in Vmax. I think it will be possible to go much faster, it’s only the beginning. The brand’s R&D is more focused on offering light wind foils at the moment and those hydrofoils are not the fastest ones.
But this can change quickly, and some may focus on top speed instead in the future.
Philippe Caneri – Horue:
My top speed is 27 knots, but I’m not particularly good at speed surfing and have never trained in slalom windsurfing.
William Huppert – FRA 330
I have 33.15 knots in top speed with the Lokefoil LK1 wing 600.
The top speed is increasing all the time, so I think we will reach 40 knots within a few years. To do so, foils will need to have even better profiles, stability, and the riders need to progress as well!
Renaud Barbier – Mantafoils
My top speeds are 26kts with the Mantafoil Mono aluminum and 28kts with the carbon foil, but other riders should be able to reach 32-34kts with this foil.
Gonzalo Costa Hoevel – ARG3
My highest speed is 30.5 knots, and I think that pretty soon we will be able to hit 35 knots.
What’s the Fastest You Can Go on a Hydrofoil?
The key takeaway from our experts is that we’re just at the beginning of what’s possible with windfoils. The max speeds people are hitting today is in the 33-36 knots range, but that will likely steadily increase every year.
The focus of most companies right now is to grow their business and grow the sport. This means building foils that are fun for people of all skill levels.
As more focus can be played on building the highest performing foils for top speed, I think it’s safe to say 40 knots can be broken and no one currently knows where the ceiling is.