An interview with F-ONE Founder Raphael Salles

F-ONE has traditionally produced inflatables, where is this change (to foils) coming from?
For the past 3 years we have been working on the hydrofoil project which has proved to be a rather technical and difficult project. Hydrofoils have grown to become quite popular in France and the country has become a leader in performance hydrofoil brands. Therefore many of our riders who are regularly riding hydrofoils were interested in the development of more progressive foil kites.

My original goal was to start this season with the production of a beginner foil with enough potential to still be able to achieve high light-wind performances. To achieve this, we’ve invested all our R&D know-how and have drawn from our team riders’ experience.

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We’ve included Romain Castel in the team at the end of 2014 as our first “foil only” rider. For the 2015 season I wanted to develop a high performance hydrofoil for long distance courses and racing. The goal was to look for a top rider from the KiteFoil World Tour by the end of 2015.

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But by the end of 2014 we were able to sign Maxime Nocher, a World Cup champion who lives not far from the F-ONE office. I convinced him to join us by emphasizing fact that he could have all his equipment, from the hydrofoils to the kites, made by the same R&D team/brand.

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Beside these athlete additions, during the 2014 season, foil kites became the go-to for foil racing and light-wind conditions. We needed to focus on foils if we wanted to be on the podiums and be one of the top leading hydrofoil brands.

Only a few might remember but we actually started selling foil kites in 1998 and up until 2002! We had some experience with them and knew what we had to deal with.
 Robert Graham, our kite designer, is also a paragliding and a foil kite designer. Robert was also a paragliding world champion so he knows a lot about foil design. We talked about it early on and he fully understood what we had to do to make a high performance foil kite and in a short time!

The challenge was huge so he contacted his paragliding friends and to our surprise, one of the leading paragliding brands, Gin Gliders, was interested in working with us. Moreover, one of Robert’s neighbors, Hans Bollinger, is the Gin paragliding tester and distributor. By chance he’s also a kitesurfer and was super motivated by this project. Hans has also been paragliding world champion twice in the 90’s with Robert’s designs!

In the end, we were able to gather a team that you could only dream of if your aim was to make a high performance foil kite! Robert and Hans for the R&D with Gin dealing with the designs and production. We were short of time but the Gin Gliders team have been incredibly efficient in designing all the sizes in such a short time span. After some preliminary adjustments Maxime & Romain were able to test the new foils.  Their feedback was so positive that they were keen to use them straight away in La Ventana, for the 1st stage of the KiteFoil GoldCup at the end of March. Maxime ended up second after being tied for first place for most of the event!

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Why hasn’t F-ONE never been involved in racing until now?
For me it was always clear that racing couldn’t be a major discipline of our sport, mainly because I believe that everything in kitesurfing should bring you incredible feelings and freedom. The race boards that used to be the norm were so difficult to ride that I thought they would never be very fun.
However,  hydrofoils have changed everything because there is nothing more fun to ride when wind is blowing below 15 knots! Flying above the water in 10 knots of wind at 20 knots of speed with all that power and speed is just fantastic.

Light-wind has always been about performance and the hydrofoils are making the difference. All of our research and development to achieve top performances in competitions will provide us with the knowledge we need to design hydrofoils for the wide public. This sport is still so fresh and some major innovations will come from the racing circuit. If one day the average rider is able to cruise at 30 knots speed, it will be thanks to the R&D provided by the racing circuit.

Why should customers need a foil kite?
Of course foiling competitors won’t be the only ones to enjoy the benefits of foil kites. When we looked at the “ultra light” wind conditions,  below 10 knots, foil kites are a must. In those light conditions, foil kites are lighter than big inflatable sizes and have much better performance. They deliver more power but also have more speed. Therefore, on a hydrofoil you can make the most of the speed they provide to create apparent wind. You can use a smaller kite with great power, light-weight and high performances. Moreover, hydrofoils are actually going so fast that you need a fast kite to keep everything balanced. It’s quite a different thing from riding a twintip, which is much slower.

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What are the other advantages of foil kites?
It’s quite difficult to have such a high aspect ratio on inflatable kites because the leading edge becomes too long and hard to control. Beside the fact that foils are lighter they can be designed with a much higher aspect ratio: average inflatable kites are around 5.5 AR, while the foil kites go up to 7 AR. In ultra light wind, like 6-8 knots, an inflatable in larger sizes will also have relaunch problems. Thanks to their light weight and closed cells, the foil kites actually have a better chance of relaunching.

How is the depower of the foil kite? 
(You actually need some decent depower to keep control of the hydrofoil)
The foil kites have two ways of controlling the power. You can easily control the power because they are able to go so far towards the edge of the window, thanks to their aspect ratio. Secondly, because they have no inflated structure, foil kites are deformable to a certain point and are designed so that when you depower, it reduces the angle of attack (like with an inflatable) but it also changes the profile of the kite.

Why are foil kites are more expensive than the inflatable?
There is a lot workmanship involved in a foil kite with a lot of different pieces to sew together. A foil kite uses approximately 3 times more fabric than an inflatable because you have the top area, the bottom area and all the cells inside.

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What is the difference between the “old style” hydrofoils and the new generation of gear?
The first hydrofoils had quite poor performance. You could get up and fly but your speed was slow and you needed a lot of power to ride around, so the kite area you needed was about the same as on a twintip. The latest generation foils are able to go faster and are more efficient. Once you are up and flying they only need little traction to keep going. Since they go faster, they are also able to literally create wind for you. As soon as you know how to ride on a foil the balance can found at 10 knots = 10 m2 kite, which is a much smaller area than usual.

The new F-ONE foil kite is still under development.

You can visit https://www.f-onekites.com while you anxiously await its release.