When Kai Concepts released this video for their latest invention, the JetFoiler, the staff at Tkb couldn’t wait to get our hands on one and test it out. The product is still under development, but we were stoked to get an invite up to Alameda, California, to meet Don Montague, legendary kite designer and inventor of the JetFoiler and assist with a day of R&D… well, let’s be honest, we mostly just got to goof off and play around on these awesome toys.
According to Kai Concepts, “This electric-powered surfboard represents the next logical step in hydrofoil technology, pairing the foil with an electric motor and can be used by board sports enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels.”
Brendan, Tkb’s editor, and I met up one grey, foggy morning (typical during the summer in San Fransisco) with Don Montague at his harbor-side home in Alameda. Ready to get the day rolling, we took the speedboat while Don and his team towed out the MegaDock and rode the Jetfoils out into the middle of the harbor — these guys have the setup rigged for an ultimate day on the water.
First thing’s first, Brendan’s forgotten his wetsuit. “Ah whatever, I’m not going to get wet,” he says as he refuses a borrowed one. “You’re probably going to fall,” says Betsy of Kai Concepts, whose watched tons of people learn to JetFoil. “I can pretty much do anything on a foil with a kite, how different can it be?” he thinks to himself. This morning in particular, Brendan’s ego is a bit more inflamed than usual; he’s got his competitive head on and is chomping at the bit, eager to give the JetFoiler a go. Who will foil up first? Who will fall first? Both wagers Brendan has tried to make with me before getting out on the water but I’m having none of it. Denying Brendan’s petty contests, I’m 100% aware that I’m probably going to get bucked off with the first turn of the throttle but I’m just as eager to test it out and see what riding a JetFoiler is all about.
Don explains the basics and somehow I get talked into going first. “It’s best to start on your knees,” explains Jason, Don’s engineer and right hand man. Sit here, weight here, they tell me. To start with, they want me to play around and figure out how the throttle works — how to gain speed smoothly without jolting myself off the board.
It’s not long before Jason casually cruises up to me and says “What’re you doing? Just stand up!” I’m a bit timid; the balance and size of the board seem strange to me as I’m not one for SUPing (it’s the same stance for surf SUPing, not race). The board is wide and feels a bit heavy and uncontrollable under my feet, but it’s not long until I get the hang of it. Speed up the throttle like you would a jetski, quad or snowmobile and you’ll feel yourself rising off the water and flying on your electric magic carpet. Next thing to be careful for is weight distribution; like learning to foil on a kite, not enough weight on your front foot and you’ll take off with a kerplunk. The board accelerates with mindblowing torque that throws you right off the back of the board and into the water before you can wrap your head around it. Slow down there, trigger happy. The engine cuts when the the magnet you wear tied to your ankle is pulled away from the power mechanism — similar to a kill switch key on a WaveRunner. Luckily, because the board/foil/motor are relatively heavy, you don’t face the same dangers of the foil flipping up at you like you would with a regular kitefoil.
I’ve finally got the hang of it but definitely lost Brendan’s ‘who will fall first’ contest that I didn’t agree to. I took a few wipeouts in the beginning but for me, the learning curve was relatively fast and by the end of the day, I was up and foiling turns around the boat.
I look behind me and Brendan’s already got it figured out, however, not as quickly and easily as he would have liked. Humbled in his attempts, learning the ins and outs of the Jetfoiler takes a bit of time and practice, but after a few wipeouts and slower learning curve than expected, Brendan was in his element, foiling with the same style he’s got on a kite.
As a seasoned kitefoiler, Brendan found learning and riding the JetFoiler to be quite different. Here’s his comparison: If you come from a kiteboarding background, you’re used to the pull being at your stomach where all the weight of your body gets pulled forwards and backwards and the board moves with you with no friction; it’s more floaty because the kite is holding you up and you maintain the same inertia. The equation gets flipped when you put the point of motion at the bottom of the foilboard like on the JetFoiler. Now all of the sudden, instead of being at your waist, the push/pull is all from the bottom and this changes the way you control and turn the foilboard on an axis (pitch: up/down, roll: side-to-side, Y: flat axis turning). When the engine is at the bottom of the board and the farthest away from you body it completely changes your pitch. It’s hard to carve and lay into turns if you’re not familiar with your power control; if you hit the throttle or lay off it too much, this also changes your pitch.
Brendan is right handed but he’s also regular footed so he was doing a weird cross handed thing where his throttle was in his right hand which is his back hand. He said this felt pretty awkward so he eventually switched and used the throttle left handed in his front hand which felt more like his regular surfing stance — left foot forward, left hand forward.
JetFoiling is really fun and new, and there’s a lot more too it than you’d think. It’s not just standing on a board, turning the throttle and cruising (well it is once you get good at it). There’s always something to be learned and some skills to be gained. This is version 1.0 and the possibilities are endless. Imagine when we first started kite foiling and what people are doing now. Is it possible that the JetFoiler could be your new form of transportation? Forget waiting in traffic on your morning commute over the Bay Bridge, take your JetFoiler like Don does and ride from Alameda to the city — just make sure not to fall in and get your suit wet. Currently, we can’t reveal much about what’s under the board — it’s top secret stuff, but we can tell you there’s a possibility of a spring time release for you to get your own and have a go.