Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions About SUP Downwind Foiling

Downwind SUP foiling in Hood River - Big Winds


1. The biggest question I field has to be…”How hard is it?” My response is typically, “it’s not easy,” but with the proper equipment, the time put into practice, and learning proper technique, success can be achieved within 20 hrs. or so.

2. Do I have to have prior downwind skills to learn downwind foiling? Yes, having done downwinders on a 12’6 or 14’ SUP is a prerequisite. Foiling requires reading the water, and following the same energy that connecting bumps on a longer board requires. If you haven’t taking the time to downwind SUP, do it! It’s an amazing way to take advantage of the windy days.

3. What size foil do I need to be successful? The easy answer is the bigger the better. There aren’t many manufacturers making big wings at the moment, and by big, I’m talking 2000 sq. cm and bigger. The Go Foil Maliko 200 and 280 fit this requirement, and have been tested against many other wings of the equivalent size. The lift of the Go Foil and stiffness the all carbon set up offers is the best on the market for downwinding at the moment. Worth every penny, to get the combo M200/M280.

4. What size board should I use? The boards have come a long way in the past two years, and we are finding the 6’ to 7’ length to hit the sweet spot. Depending on your size, and skill level, the board width and volume also play a big role. We recommend starting big to begin with, but as you progress, you will likely want to go shorter rather quickly (a short board is easier to pump).

5. How strong does the wind need to be? The wind is only part of the equation for successful downwind foiling…the other part is the bumps. In order to have bumps you need wind, but once the bumps are established, the consistent wind isn’t as important. Gusty conditions are some of the most fun because you’ll have the water all to yourself as the kiters and windsurfers are in the parking lot trying to figure out what size kite/sail to rig.

6. What type of paddle do I use? The paddle needs to be powerful, durable, and light weight. Powerful, as in, use a surf blade that has strong power in the catch. Getting up on foil is the hardest part in downwind foiling, and it requires 3-4 powerful strokes to get up onto foil…just like catching a wave in the ocean. The paddle needs to be durable too, as we have broken a few blades in the early stages of learning, smacking the blade on the foil’s front wing. Don’t start off using your $400+ carbon race paddle, as it may take a beating while learning proper technique. Most importantly, the paddle needs to be light, as once you are on foil, you will be pumping the board more than paddling. The paddle ends up becoming a piece of equipment you are holding onto, so light is key!

7. What length paddle should I use? We’ve experimented with everything from under head height to 10” over head height. An adjustable paddle is great to start with to find your sweet spot, but I’ve personally come to 1-3” over head height to be my favorite length. Again, getting up onto foil is the tricky part, and a shorter paddle allows for the lower hand to get closer to the blade, for more effective leverage. Once up on foil, you can still scratch at the water, as the paddle stroke typically happens at the bottom of the pump (when your board is nearest the water).

8. What mast length should I begin with? There are a number of foils out there offering mast length’s of varying sizes. To start on a short mast makes getting up on foil easier, but it increases your chance of over foiling as well (when the front wing breaches the water, and cavitates). The longer mast requires more still to get up onto foil, but allows for better pumping range and overall clearance for crossing bumps. So where’s the sweet spot? I started on the Go Foil 24.5” mast, which was great to get me going. Soon I added 3” to it with a plate adapter, and then moved onto the 29.5” mast, soon having added the 3” plate adapter to it. The beauty of modular foil systems is the ability to purchase longer masts as you progress. Starting with 55cm, moving to 70cm, and jumping up to 80cm when your skill level allows for it.

9. What other equipment do I need to get started? Outside of board and foil, it’s important to consider the following pieces of equipment. Leash: Yes, you want to be attached to your board, and there are a number of leash options including ankle/calf coil, ankle or calf straight, or my favorite, waist coil. If the leash is too long it drags in the water, and gets annoying when it smacks the board when pumping. Go with a Starboard Race Coil leash that extends 6’ if you are wearing it around your ankle, or the new FCS Freedom leash that is a 6’ straight leash, but low profile w/ minimal drag. I like using the same waist leash I use when whitewater SUP’in..the ION waist leash with quick release offered in an 8’ or 10’ coil. PFD’s are required here on the Columbia River, so you will need to wear an over the shoulder PFD or CO2 waist belt. A helmet is highly recommended, as is some sort of foot protection (booties or water shoes).

10. Do you offer lessons? At the moment no, Big Winds doesn’t offer lessons, but we do rent our foil boards w/ foil at $99 a day in the case you have a friend with a jet ski or boat willing to tow you. Some of the local kite schools are starting to provide this service, check with Oregon Kiteboarding on the no wind days for tow service.

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