In terms of self-help we’ve reached the Golden Age. The answers to our biggest questions are just a Google search away. With almost an infinite amount of shortcuts, DIY and step-by-step instructions, there’s almost nothing that we can’t learn online. Watch all the videos you want, but up until now, even with all the tips, tricks, how-tos on foiling, the physical learning process has been brutal: take the beatings, bear the frustration and wear those stitches with pride. With no baby steps or bit-by-bit buildup, the curve has been steep; those who have taken the plunge and dealt with the difficulties know, but it’s not until you’re up and riding that you can wear that badge with honor. It’s become common knowledge that this curve is one of the most challenging aspects of our sport, until recently when Slingshot released Flight School, a newfangled approach to foilboarding…
This winter in La Ventana, I decided to give Slingshot’s Foiling Flight School a go. I’ve foiled before, so as a novice, I had a bit of a head start. However, because I’m fresh to the frustrations of foiling, I wanted to give Flight School a try to see how it really speeds up the learning curve.
A unique concept designed by Slingshot, Flight School is meant to be a do-it-yourself learning tool consisting of three separate masts of incremental lengths: 15”, 24” and 30”– (the fourth mast shown is Slingshot’s 35.5-inch mast that come stock with Slingshot’s Hover Glide foil). Like learning to kite all over again, learning to foil can be incredibly frustrating. Worded appropriately by Slingshot, “You wouldn’t learn your first kite skills with a full size kite, so why learn the basics of foiling with a full size mast?” The Flight School Program breaks it down and makes learning to foil faster and easier because you don’t have to jump straight in to a full sized mast. Slingshot’s three mast size make stage-by-stage learning as easy as 1, 2, 3.
The Taxi Stage
Start off with the 15” mast. Smaller, safer and more manageable, a few days with this mast and you’ll have mastered the basics: how to carry your foil, how to swim and body drag with your foil, how to position the foil on your feet, how to waterstart, how to get the foil moving through the water and how to start foiling up. Once you’re able to ride for short distances with your foil out of the water, you’ll be ready for mast #2.
The Touch & Go Stage
You’ll find that the Touch & Go 24” mast is the perfect size once you’ve got the basics down. With this mast, you can practice foiling up and down (touching and going) without the fear of foiling up to the explosive crash inspiring height that regular sized masts will offer. You’ll also learn to practice riding for longer distances in between foil ups and downs. This is a good mast size to get your bearings, learn control and practice your balance, all while handling the kite.
The Solo Stage
When you get to the big boy, you’ll be stoked that you’ve graduated Flight School, and although you won’t get an official diploma, the size of your mast says it for you. While many of the skills you develop on the big mast can be practiced on the smaller sizes, with the 30” mast you can get more aggressive with carving upwind, cruising downwind, maintaining balance, riding for longer and getting used to feeling higher out of the water.
Flight School is designed to work exclusively with Slingshot’s Hoverglide NF2 foil which is a durable aluminum and composite construction combined for a mast + fuselage height of 93cm (36.6″) total weight: 5.2kg (11.46 lbs.) The separate fuselage and wing components allowed for a super easy setup and breakdown, so long as you bring a tool kit that includes both screwdrivers and multiple sized allen keys.
I rode the mast and foil with Slingshot’s 2015 5’4″ Dwarf Craft. This lightweight little nub of a board is user-friendly for all sorts of foiling conditions. Constructed with an EPS core with inlaid stringers and a fiberglass wrap, the Dwarf Craft is sturdy and reliable. Its full length deck pad was grippy and cushy and its multiple footstrap inserts allowed for a customizable option. Because weight distribution is so important when learning to foil, the insert options were a major perk. It allowed me to use a single front footstrap while leaving my backfoot strapless and free to reposition accordingly, allowing me to mess around and figure out where my weight needed to be on the board. The sliding track mounting system is also an important option that provides customization for foiling in a variety of conditions and can be moved forward or backward depending on rider preferences and skill level.
While the incremental mast sizes will speed up your learning curve immensely, below are some extra tips that helped me get going:
- Don’t learn underpowered. Once you’ve got some experience under your belt, this will be your go to lightwind tool. But for now, you’ll want a medium powered kite to get you up and going with reliable pull. You’ll want to be able to focus on the board and not on keeping your kite in the air.
- Take it for a swim. Before you even put a kite in the air, take the board out into the water and just swim around with it. You’ll gain a better understanding of how the board moves in the water, how it pivots and how to maneuver it.
- Don’t use both footstraps. I learned with one front footstrap. This will help you keep the foil on and under your feet while allowing you to shift the placement of your backfoot and play around with your foot placement and weight distribution along the board.
- Keep it flat. For your entire first session, try keeping the board plastered to the surface of the water and riding it flat, and avoid trying to edge. This will add to your understanding of how the board moves and turns in the water. You’ll quickly learn that it doesn’t edge like a normal board.
- Control is key. When you start to initiate enough speed to get you foiling, take a moment to pay attention to your kite control: Are you death gripping the bar? Over-sheeting or flying the kite too aggressively? Foil boarding is like rubbing your head and your belly in opposite directions and you have to do both moderately well to stay in control.
- If anything goes wrong… get away from the foil.
While learning to foil, you’ll learn that every little movement, no matter how subtle, makes a difference. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t and have fun! While you may quickly outgrow the mast sizes, they are always going to be beneficial for someone who’s never been on a foil before. The height gained on a full sized foil can be incredibly intimidating to the beginner foiler, so starting off closer to the water is where it’s at. What’s nice about this setup is that once you’ve graduated to the 30” mast, the fun doesn’t stop; you can keep riding and progressing on this size and then regress back through the smaller sizes when you want to mess around, learn something new or teach a friend.