Hydrofoiling: Like riding a flying carpet on top of water
Special to the Tribune
Several years ago, Waterman’s Landing owner Jay Wild saw something totally new and different going on at the annual Paddle Imua Maliko Gulch paddling race held in Maui, Hawaii, celebrity waterman Kai Lenny flying above the water on a hydrofoil at lightning speed. Considered one of the early pioneers of foiling, he was whipping across the waves and his fellow paddlers quickly took notice and were impressed at how fast he could go.
The term “hydrofoiling” has been around for centuries, but recently gained popularity amongst water sport enthusiasts when a few professional paddle boarders and surfers discovered that if you attach a wing-shaped underwater fin to a surf or paddle board and are able to lift that out of the water at a certain speed, then it in turn reduces drag and causes you to go faster over the water. People have since figured out how to reach that minimum speed by being pulled behind a boat or jet ski to get the foil to engage or use a kite or the force of the waves to lift it above the water.
“Being immersed in the standup paddleboard racing scene, I saw some of the big names in surfing and paddleboarding start to switch over to foiling,” Wild said.
After seeing Kai Lenny in action on a hydrofoil, he tried to figure out how he could get into the emerging sport.
About four years ago Wild reached out to his friend and fellow professional water athlete Chuck Patterson, asking him to come to the North Shore of Lake Tahoe and teach him and local paddleboard racer Trent Carter how to hydrofoil. Patterson obliged, and after learning the basics of foiling, both watermen were quickly hooked.
“I whipped Trent into the first downwind run on a hydrofoil here on Lake Tahoe; it was freezing cold,” he recalls.
Wild and Carter began hydrofoiling on Lake Tahoe in the summer of 2017 and are arguably the first people to do it on the lake via a standup paddleboard or being pulled behind a boat. However, Wild credits Tahoe’s Dirk Warner kitefoiling in Kings Beach a few months before he picked it up.
“Dirk makes his own foils, and he could’ve been the first one doing it on the lake. When I was doing downwind runs on my canoe into Kings Beach, I’d see him hydrofoiling using his kite,” Wild says.
Now when asked how often he foils, Wild replies with a smile, “I don’t do it often enough. I know it’s cliché and what everyone always says but it’s true, you feel like you’re flying. It’s like snowboarding on a super deep powder day, but with more of a chance of error (on a hydrofoil). You can make minor infractions and correct it on a snowboard, but a foil is less forgiving. If you make a mistake, you’re likely just going to fall in the water.”
Wild started giving hydrofoiling lessons out of Waterman’s Landing in Carnelian Bay three years ago and has given about a dozen of them thus far. However, he believes that e-foiling is more popular, and that wing foiling will become the new next craze (using a wing to harness the power of the wind to provide enough power to pull the foil out of the water).
“It’s the fastest I’ve ever gone on the lake (wing foiling), combining the wind and the pump,” he says.
Meanwhile, he noticed that Carter stopped doing all other watersports, focusing his attention solely on hydrofoiling.
“When I got into it, hydrofoiling was just introduced to the public. I went out with Chuck Patterson behind Jay’s jet ski four years ago and immediately got hooked. I felt like standup paddleboarding was becoming less competitive and then hydrofoiling came on the scene and changed the game. It’s fun, exciting, and fast,” Carter says.
“Imagine you’re on a flying carpet. It operates like an airplane, with the front wing, back wing, and mast, plus the fuselage that holds it all together. It feels like skiing powder, you can get an amazing run of water without being cold,” he laughs.
Carter believes that experienced watersports athletes including surfers, wakeboarders, and paddle boarders can pick up hydrofoiling quickly and then it’s all about improving your balance and figuring out how to gain speed and create an endless ride.
On Lake Tahoe, Carter mostly sticks to wake foiling (using a boat or the wake of a jet ski wake to create sustained motion) and down foiling (using a standup paddleboard and natural waves on a windy day to gain momentum).
We talk about what an adrenaline rush downwinding on a SUP is, but Carter says that downwinding on a hydrofoil takes it to an entirely new level.
“You go twice as fast, don’t feel the bumps, and it propels you forward,” he says. “I’m constantly learning something new, pick up a little trick or two to make it more fun. Like skiing and surfing, you’re always learning.”
“I try to foil as much as I can. It’s a great way to experience the water; it can be windy and terrible but still fun. You can mount a foil to a SUP and fly across the lake. You can be having the time of your life out there, whereas with anything else I question, ‘What am I doing here?'” he chuckles, his mind always on the foil.
And even though he’s currently going to school in Cabo San Lucas through a University of California, Santa Cruz extended program, he still finds time to foil in the ocean and looks forward to his summer break to come home and hydrofoil on Lake Tahoe.
“School is my number one priority, but if there’s wind or small waves then I will go hydrofoiling,” he says.
And Carter reaffirms that Lake Tahoe is the perfect place to do it.
“You can have a ton of boat traffic, but you don’t need a big $300,000 boat to do it, just a small wave and it doesn’t matter what conditions are like around you.”
For information about how to take a hydrofoiling lesson with Jay Wild, visit https://watermanslanding.com/.
Editor’s note: This story appears in the 2021 summer edition of Tahoe Magazine.
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