400 Hours On Foil: A summer on narrow boards and the search for a perfect surf experience

Hi Everyone! I originally posted this in a facebook group a few months ago but I’ve been asked to repost it in forums, which I prefer as well. It’s so much easier to have conversations and keep track of things here. Please enjoy and let me know if you have questions!

*this is a long post.

Before I dive in I want to qualify a few things:

  1. I am not claiming to be an expert. I’ve put in a lot of hours, and I’m sharing my experience. I’m really excited about the progression of our sport and I’m giving back to the community with the data I’ve acquired. Hopefully you can use this info to have more fun, progress faster, and save money.

  2. One of the biggest flaws I see in people looking for new gear is they ask “who makes the best…. fill in the blank (foil, wing, board)?” While I also desire to have the best, this is a flawed question. Look at any post asking that and you’ll discover that whatever brand they ride, rep, sell is “second to none!” Instead, I want to encourage people to ask themselves “What is the most important trait in any given piece of gear to me?” or, “What is my preferred style of foiling, and what traits enhance that?” Then, research what makes those traits work so you can qualify peoples answers and hunt for the right gear.

  3. Narrow boards should not be restricted to down winding or light wind riding.
    In the spirit of #2 I’ll tell you what the absolute most important traits to me are:
    Board: Fast on the water, surfs well.
    Foil: Roll, glide, stall speed.
    Wing: Flagging stability, small.
    These traits are important to me because all I want to do is surf. I’m not here to jump, mow the lawn, downwind, or do fancy wing tricks and maneuvers. Nothing against anyone who does those things, I’ve tried them too, I’m just here to surf. So, all of my research is aimed at perfecting my experience wing surfing the Columbia River. As such, you may see things from a different perspective than I do. That’s cool too, this isn’t dogma.
    The gear I learned on:
    5’10” x 29” 123l Kalama e3 15.5lbs
    Kujira 1500 foil.
    Progressed to:
    4’8” x 26” 83l Kalama e3 13lbs
    Kujira 1210 foil.
    Rider and gear details for 2023:
    85kg rider - I don’t have any legendary skills but I think I can do some pretty fun zig zags on the waves.
    3rd season winging. First season dedicated to winging.
    Foils: Cloud IX Surf Foils 550 square cm-1780 square cm
    Wings: Cloud IX 2.8m, 3.5m, 4.2m Strike v3 2m and 3m
    Boards:
    Kalama Barracuda 8’x21” 111.68l 13.5lbs
    Kalama e3 DW/SUP/Prone 5’3”x22” 83l 11.5lbs
    Sunova Carver 5’10”x20” 85l (on order)

Board Takeoff:
The very first thing you will notice with a narrow board is the speed and glide that you can generate while on the water and off of foil. This is undeniable and all you have to do to verify this is to look at downwind paddlers of various disciplines and you’ll notice that nobody is out there trying to make their gear wide and short. It doesn’t matter if they are on a downwind SUP, SUPfoil, surfski, outrigger canoe, etc. As such, let’s just agree that every other sport has gotten that right. So, how does that actually apply to winging? Speed is what you need to get on foil. It doesn’t matter if you have a low aspect, high aspect, thin, or thick foil. You need a certain amount of forward speed to get them all activated. A narrow hull is going to cut through the water and generate speed with less effort than is needed with a wider hull. This allows you to consistently use smaller wings to generate the same amount of speed to activate the lift you need with your foil. The next thing to consider is glide. You may or may not notice that when you are trying to get on foil, if you stop pumping your wing and flag out while on the water your board comes to a stop really quickly. With a narrow hull that is not the case. Once you have generated speed, you lose it far less quickly than a wide hull. So, when you are pumping your foil and you are cycling through the period of generating speed, to recovering the wing, you aren’t losing the same amount of hull speed during that recovery period. As such, fewer pumps for a shorter duration are necessary to get you up on foil. I have plenty of footage of me slogging with my 4’8” x 26” 83l Kalama e3 and struggling to get up on foil with my kujira 1500 and 4.5m wing in light winds. Yet, my Kalama e3 DW/SUP/Prone 5’3”x22” 83l has gotten me up in winds as light as 8 knots with my Cloud IX fs1150 and 4.2m wing. Same liters. Different shapes. Smaller wing and foil.

Swing Weight:
Ah yes, the question/statement that most jump to “yeah but the swing weight is terrible.” We are all used to the idea that longer, wider boards, are not as fun to ride as shorter, wider boards. This is true. My 5’10”x29” e3 was an absolute dump truck to ride while my 4’8”x26” e3 was way more fun in the air. However, in my opinion, the wider boards are relying on the yaw axis far too much to turn. If you look at the way a surfer turns, they don’t yaw side to side to initiate turns and move like a car. They roll the board rail to rail to crank turns. That’s why you see surfers on narrow boards with their feet in fixed positions, while SUP surfers have to move their feet rail to rail to be able to roll the board through turns. This can be applied to narrow boards vs wide boards in winging. Narrow boards are more capable of initiating a roll as well as moving through it faster. (the foil setup below also matters, to be discussed later). In my experience, a board that rolls well produces a superior surfing experience to a board that doesn’t. As such, my original, beginner 5’10”x29” e3 was terrible to swing, but my 8’x21” Barracuda is a blast to ride. It rolls into the turn fast and then relies on the fuse length to crank the turn. Look at the footage of all the badass downwind supfoilers we have in the gorge. They are cranking turns and throwing the tips out on their foils. You don’t see anyone doing that with boards of equal volume that are short and wide. Last, is a 96" Barracuda actually 96" of swing weight!? The answer is a simple no. Due to the fact that your foil track boxes sit farther forward I have found that while my 96" Barracuda is 32" longer than my 63" e3, my mast is so far forward on the Barracuda that the nose of the board is actually only sticking out 17" further, not 33". ROUGHLY I’m expecting that the narrow boards that are slightly longer only gain 6" of swing length for every 12" of board length that are added to them.

For what it’s worth, after my first time riding my 8’x21” Barracuda with my surf foils, I sold my 4’8”x26” e3 and have never wished I had it back.

“Yeah, but even if you can swing it you’ll be clipping the nose on waves and would never be able to tack it unless you had a mast over 90cm.”
Well, I had never even tried a tack before someone said this to me and am never one to shy away from a challenge I grabbed the 8’ barracuda and my 66cm mast and went out to the river to learn tacks. I got my first toeside tacks after about 10 attempts. So yes, you can tack these boards. What about clipping the nose though? Sure, if you are in the bottom of a small period swell trough you can catch the nose. However, I typically ride a 66-76cm mast and it didn’t take much for me to adapt to this. On larger swell it’s a non-issue. When I use my 86cm mast, I don’t have an issue either.

Aren’t these boards too tippy?
This is what the shop told me when I wanted to buy one. I disagree. Your foil is a massive stabilizer for side to side issues and the length of the board increases stability as well. Plus, when you are on this board it’s hard to be in the wrong position. There’s 7-9” less of side to side space to incorrectly position yourself on. The instant your wing is in the air these boards rocket forward and stabilize 100%. If you can learn to foil, you can learn to balance on these boards. That being said, some boards have rounded hulls which I personally found to be less stable than boards like the barracuda that have sharper angles on the hull.

Gear Selection:
In my experience the takeoff is far better, and the swing weight is mitigated by the enhanced roll. This leads us to performance gains in other departments. A higher level of speed is generated and maintained by glide when using smaller wings. Most of us would agree, smaller wings are a joy to use. Most people know the feeling of needing a bigger wing to get on foil, but wishing you had a smaller wing once you were in flight. Many resort to using a harness or grunting through the wrist, elbow, and shoulder pain caused by being overpowered. In years past I dealt with all the elbow issues and self PT to try and keep my body fine. I wouldn’t even play tug of war with my dog during the summer since my elbows would be too fragile. This year, with more winging than ever before I have had ZERO need for any PT and I still get to play with my dog. Being able to get on foil with the same size wing you need once up is a delight.
The added speed also allows you to activate much smaller foils. As a novice rider who was pushed to “lower your liters!” and “get a shorter board!” I was severely hamstrung with big wings and big foils. Honestly, two years in, I felt like winging sucked. This year in fact I intended to only kite and supfoil but I broke my ribs at the start of the season and had to give up kiting (harness pain). Fortunately I had bought the Barracuda to supfoil on and had no clue how big of an impact it was going to have on me. I had never ridden a foil smaller than the Kujira 1210 when I got it, but within two weeks I was capable of riding the Cloud IX fs700. I think most would argue that is a shocking change in equipment over such a short period of time. Things get even more interesting at this point. If we compare the swing weight experience of a small, high performance board we still see it beat the performance of a Barracuda if both use large foils. However, as soon as the wind reaches 25 knots the Barracudas hull speed allowed me to use foils down to the size of the fs550 with a 2.8m wing this summer. I do not believe we see many foilers in the gorge riding gear that small. I could be wrong, but I just haven’t met many using gear of that size. The shocking reduction in foil size also dramatically increases the performance of a board like the Barracuda, further eliminating the “swing weight” argument because the performance of a small foil dramatically speeds up the 8’ board.

What happens when you go short and narrow? How does that affect performance?
I’m exploring this right now and am trying to do it as scientifically as possible. My shortboard comparisons:
Kalama e3 wing/sup 4’8”x26” 83l 13lbs
Kalama e3 DW/SUP/Prone 5’3”x22” 83l 11.5lbs
Sunova Carver 5’10”x20” 85l (on order)

You’ll notice that I am keeping the liters the exact same across each board. In the spirit of getting the best possible data and comparisons I decided to order a Carver in the same liters (as close as possible), but with a longer, narrower shape. (I really dislike the question of “how many liters is your board?” let’s talk shape before we grind on liters). Takeoff between the 4’8” and 5’3” e3 is incomparable. The fact that I’ve ridden my fs700 with a 3.5m wing on my 5’3” e3 is inconceivable to think of when I was struggling with my 1210 and the 4’8” last year. However, how does the 5’3”x22” e3 compare to the 8’x21” Barracuda? This is a bit of an interesting conundrum. When I ride my Barracuda I am able to rip full 180 degree cutbacks with the foil tips breached and the nose going from straight downwind to straight upwind. It’s a blast and the thing that stands out to me is that I, personally, have the skill level to PUSH the Barracuda extremely hard. However, what happens when I try to do the same with the e3? Well, interestingly, I have to perform differently. First, I have more time/experience on the Barracuda, probably 75 sessions. I rode that board for months and I have about 30 sessions of experience on the e3 so it’s an unfair comparison at the moment. I may get there but here’s what I’ve found. Just like short and wide is more responsive than long and wide, short and narrow is more responsive than long and narrow. More than a few times I have gone to crank turns on the 5’3”x22” e3 and the board has flat out gotten away from me! This never happened on my Barracuda and I don’t remember it happening on my 4’8”x26” e3 either. So, what’s happening here and why is it remarkable? In my opinion, the faster roll of the narrow board has allowed me to enhance performance with smaller foils. The faster roll of the narrow board is amplifying the effect of the foil below. As such, I have begun to look at the entire foil to board system in a completely different light. Since I bought a complete line of foils, stabilizers, and masts, I am able to mix, match, tune, test, and play with every little detail in my kit and I now look at every single piece of gear and ask myself how it will dampen, or amplify, the performance of the rest of my kit. I don’t think of them individually any longer.
Mast length: Shorter masts amplify performance. Longer masts dampen performance.
Stabilizers: Smaller stabilizers amplify performance. Larger stabilizers dampen performance. (I’m wildly interested in stabilizers now that I am trying to figure out how to dampen performance).
Foil: Smaller foils amplify performance. Larger foils dampen performance.
Board: Short and narrow amplifies performance. Long and narrow dampens performance.
These amplification vs dampening characteristics are getting into the realm of extreme details for the average rider so the best way I can simplify it is like this: I mentioned above that I can PUSH the Barracuda as hard as my skill level will allow and it always performed. However, I am trying to KEEP UP with the same kit on the 5’3”x22” e3. Since I cannot PUSH the e3 my performance suffers. I am now becoming highly selective about which mast and stabilizer to match with each foil in order to actually dampen the e3. For this reason, I went LONGER with my Carver board. I want to have faster/easier takeoffs with smaller wings in lighter winds (not that the e3 is bad) and I want the slightly longer board to dampen the foils below. However, the carver will be 20” wide, made in vapor construction with no footstrap inserts, and could end up significantly lighter than the Kalama boards, so, perhaps, the dampening effect will not be as apparent? Time will tell on that one.

Progression!
I went from being bored with winging to being head over heels in love with it. Why? Because I’m never afraid to fall with a narrow board, the relaunch is so easy that it inspires me to try those turns and tip breaches I never thought were possible. My body never hurts. I can put in 4-6 hours a day without needing therapy since my wing doesn’t destroy my body. I don’t ever have to fly a wing bigger than 3.5m unless I specifically am testing ultralight capabilities of unique setups. As soon as the wind reaches 20 knots, I can use a 2.8m or smaller wing. Having a smaller wing allows me to use the wing to slash bigger, more powerful turns without getting thrown off balance. Most days I’m trying to see how many tips out frontside/backside turns I can link in a row before I lose it.

Safety: Progression is often unlocked in relation to how safe I feel and when I’m pushing the limits. it’s nice to know that the narrow boards paddle back to shore really well. It could be light winds or broken gear in heavy winds, it’s much easier to paddle a narrow shape back and it inspires me to go for it.

With my necessity to actually slow the new e3 down, I have room for more progression on an absolute speedster of a board if my body can develop the movement to keep up.

The perfect kit:
For me, the perfect kit is going to be an evolving target. Right now, figuring out the exact board size that unlocks riding a 3.5m wing and my fs850 (personal favorite) in winds down to 12 knots is the goal. I also want to feel like I am in control and able to push my gear, not chase it (I’m close to this now, recent stabilizer testing has been great). I’m dreaming of getting my wing quiver down to 3.5m for 10-19 knots and 2.5m wing with 700 or 550 foils for 20 knots and above. I’m hopeful that the new cutting edge fabrics matched with the narrow hulls will allow this to happen. I also greatly appreciate saving my wing money and putting it into my foils. Wings are more expensive than foils, don’t last as long, and I, personally, would much rather ride slightly different sized foils that I can amplify performance on with mast/stabilizer combinations than use a larger wing.

Additional testing needed:
While I am currently testing all of these boards at close to neutral buoyancy I need to collect additional data on how positive, and negative buoyancy impacts takeoff and wing size. Once I have my custom and the feedback from it I will be more capable of evaluating if I should pursue positive, vs negative buoyancy first. My current data is pointing to +5 to +10 L/kg will be nice for shorter/narrow boards in the lightest wind. I think neutral buoyancy will be easy for boards that are closer to 6’. Negative 10 l/kg buoyancy should be easy for moderate winds (20 knots and above) and short/narrow boards.
I also need additional data on how narrow becomes too narrow. I went with 20” on my Carver for two reasons. 1. Because it’s different than my other two boards (22” e3 and 21” Cuda). 2. Because in scouring the internet for data on something that is very new I came across commentary from James Casey (he’s better at foiling than me) who said that he feels a 20” board is more fun to turn than an 18” board. He didn’t expand on why, but I am making the assumption that the 18” board over amplifies the roll, and the 20” board dampens it to an enjoyable state. I will admit that I can feel the width difference from 21”-22” and I expect the 20” board will be noticeable as well.
Last, I’m interested in understanding what happens when the board becomes lighter vs heavier. Unfortunately, I think this will be the hardest data to come by since I can’t really afford to buy/own a huge quiver of wing boards.

Where to get boards!?
The industry is shifting as we speak to accommodate for this update in board design. Amos Shapes makes a Sultan Wing board that is 4 months out right now. Great reviews on that one. Kalama has terminated his e3 line and I’ve been told they don’t expect to bring it back. Omen makes narrowish boards but doesn’t have the best size range for all riders. Armstrong has released a narrowish line but they, like Omen, didn’t quite get as narrow as I had hoped. Right now my top choice is Sunova (no affiliation) who is partnered with James Casey and has released a “Carver” wing board to his pro line. I love the way these boards look and the dims are top notch IMO. Plus, with Sunova, you can customize EVERYTHING on your board since they don’t do production runs on these. Yes, you have to wait 2 months to get your board. But you can tweak the dims, remove the footstrap inserts (save a pound) change colors, they told me basically anything is possible (added price). I highly recommend ordering a Sunova board through a shop you like/want to support. It will be shipped from overseas straight to your home so there’s nothing holding you back from picking any shop around the world to order from. I ordered mine from the folks at Poseidon Paddle and Surf in Santa Monica. Top notch customer service, Christian helped me out with ensuring my slight alterations would be included.

In Closing:
I know this was a huge write up but hopefully it gets us all thinking about the future of boards, foils, wings. If you have any questions about narrow boards and surf experiences please let me know. If there is any way I can help you out with your pursuit of more epic days at the river with your friends, reach out and we can have a chat, or even better, go for a ride!

Thanks for taking the time!

FAQ:
Since initially sharing this a few additional questions have been asked.

Don’t long boards get caught in the wind really badly?
Yes, walking to the water with an 8’ board in 40 knots sucks and is dangerous. On the water, I have had zero issues and have heard zero reports of others complaining about this. If you actually do the rough math, there’s more surface area for the wind to grab on my 4’8”x26” 83l board than on my 5’3”x22” 83l board.

I think these boards are all hype from the DW industry to sell more product. How can it outperform my 45l sinker?
If you are a hyper advanced rider who can actually fully rip on a tiny board then no, it wont compare. Congrats! You’ve reached an extreme niche and that’s something to be proud of. For everyone else, from beginners, to intermediates, to advanced surfers, to lightwind riders, these boards are awesome and have a lot to offer. You’ve got to stop comparing an 8’ cuda to a sinker. However, a 5’3”x22” narrow board has an insane number of benefits both on the water and on foil that can’t be refuted.

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Thanks for posting. I your post on another forum and got a 5’2.5"x 21" 60L Omen Flux. Previously had been riding a Kalama 5’4”x 27” 104L.

Despite being a semi-sinker at my 78KG, the smaller board takes quite a bit less power to get going. I haven’t intentionally sized down on wings, but when the wind drops I’ve been surprised how little wind is needed to get going.

The biggest difference I’ve noticed is the amount of board speed the narrow board can build with wing pumping even in light wind. Getting the board out of the water feels like the bottleneck and reason to go with a large foil. Once on foil, a smaller foil is all advantages even in light wind: more glide, momentum, speed, efficiency, apparent wind etc.

Used to use a PNG 1300 and 400P for light wind. I’ve been out in 6/7M wind on the narrow board with a Spitfire 900 Skinny 50 and perfectly happy with the low end getting out of the water. The 900 requires less power making pumping through lulls easier than the 1300. Also finding the same with the Art Pro 1001 which takes more board speed to get on foil, but just as easy to keep on foil in lulls.

Really happy riding a 60L board with smaller foils.

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Bryan,

Thanks for posting. I’m watching this closely and have been looking for a similar wing board. I’m on my second season and riding a Jazz 62.5 liter board which is great but I want a second board for lighter conditions and quicker/easier starts that is sized just at or above my 78kg.

I’m also thinking 21-22" x 5’2" up to 5’6". The Sunova Carver does seem closest in dims.

I don’t see much discussion about board thickness and it’s affect on responsiveness/direct feel. Seems to me that going really narrow, say like the Sultan gives a much thicker board. Is board thickness less of an issue with super narrow boards?

Great information!

Good question about thickness!

IMO thickness absolutely matters. I’ve been trying to unpack why James Casey says “Turning a 20” board is more fun than turning an 18" board." Maybe I should just shoot him an e-mail on his website and ask haha.

What I’ve settled on is that the thicker the board, the farther you are from your foil. If you have the privilege of being able to ride multiple mast lengths frequently you’ll realize that a 66cm mast is WAY more responsive than an 86cm mast. It really changes your riding style. So, I think of board thickness as mast extensions. The thicker the board, the farther from the foil, the slower the roll from side to side when carving.

However, if I had to pick short, fat, thin board vs narrow, longer, thicker, I would still go narrow. However, I think the extreme dims of things like the Sultan are a bit unnecessary. I even considered asking for my carver to be 21" wide, instead of 20", just to thin it out a bit more, but that’s a $200 alteration that I didn’t think I could justify until after having ridden it. All my other narrow boards are at least 5" thick, and the 85l Carver will be just a touch thinner than them.

Even my current Kalama at 22" wide is exceptional for takeoff vs a 25-26" wide board. It’s shortish at 5’3" though, and ends up pretty thick. I think 22" at 5’6" or 5’9" Would be really fun to try.

I just need to start making boards so I can test all these theories.

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As purely a wing board you are absolutely correct. There’s a point of diminishing returns regarding width and 20-21" is it at around 5’6. Probably better expressed as aspect ratio. I think there’s more to thickness as well than just the board as a mast extension but can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s related to a subtle concave. The bathtub style deck doesn’t work at all for me but if you have small feet you get a pretty thin board over the mast.

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Glad to hear someone else is thinking the same thing here. I’ve been working on a few equations that take board aspect ratio into consideration and I’m yet to put an exact number on it, but even an aspect ratio of 2.86 on the board feels phenomenally beneficial. I’m not sure where the point of diminishing returns begins though, I would assume 4 and over is way more than necessary. I tried a 3.75 AR and it was a rocketship. My carver will be 3.5

Probably width needs to be relative to foot size, body weight and also stand?

I assume maybe wrongly that the wider the board, the more input you can provide to the foil if you are riding offset stand? The downside of a wider board is it adding swing weight side to side when carving(roll and bank)

Now, at 18 to 20…if you are not a centerline rider…smaller feet can offset more on a narrow board vs “big foot”?

Yes, you can give more input to the foil on wider boards, but quite honestly you don’t need to and it’s overcomplicating the foil, at least IMO. If you feel like you are having to step side to side to turn the foil, then I’d grab a smaller span! The hypernarrow gear does start to see peoples feet struggling to get on them but I have a feeling we will see the wingboards land in 20-22" ranges which is quite doable. One of the biggest unspoken plus’s for me is the ability to just sit on my board comfortably, cowboy style haha. It’s nice to just park it in the water and take it all in from time to time without feeling like I’m stretching my groin over a 30" wide board :rofl:

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With the narrower boards it’s helpful to have a flat deck. And with the front foot you can cheat a bit and point the toes more in the forward direction - this increases the leverage you have over the foil.

Nice shot Taavi :+1:

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That’s wild, I just slap my feet in the middle and go for it!

Thickness only an issue with a soft board structure - provided the board is stiffened up sufficiently to compensate then thickness should not be an issue.

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Brian,
What specs did you go with on your Carver?

5’10" x 20" x 5-1/8" at 85l. I also went with no footstrap inserts and vapor construction since I was told I might save up to 1.5kg in weight by doing so.

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I also ordered this size (about +10L for me)

So many time the wind drop suddenly to less than 5kts. Positive volume help a lot when I need to slouch back. And I have experience from my DW board (18" 103L) that narrow board like this is a lot harder to slouch compare to wider board with the same volume.

My customization is only for the look. I want it to be the my prettiest wing board ever. ^^