Learning to prone foil without lesson or tow?

Context: I live on Cape Hatteras, NC in the United States. I have been surfing for regularly for around 3 years and currently surf 3-4 times a week on average, anytime it’s working and not more than 1-2ft overhead.

I have started to seriously investigate foiling in recent months with the goal of getting more days in the water. Digging into the Progression Project podcast backlog, reading this forum, and watching a lot of how to videos. At this point I’m primarily interested in prone foil surfing, with a longer term goal of being able to do shore runners. At my local, we almost always have at least a little swell in the water, but are plagued by cross or onshore wind more days than not. I’ve been analyzing prone foiling conditions a lot and between surfing the more hollow days, and foiling the others, I think I could get time in the water most days of the year outside major storm events. The island I live on is small so I live close enough to the beach it’s doable to get at least a few mins in the water on most days.

Question: I am looking at budgeting out for a beginner prone foil setup next year with the goal of getting a setup in the ~$1000 range (used of course). Locally, foil lessons are around $400 or more for two hours. I don’t begrudge anyone for making money with a valuable skill. But it is hard for me to justify 40% of my budget for a for a foil, and then have to wait longer to purchase said equipment, for a two hour lesson. Also, I don’t know anyone who has a boat or ski I can tow behind to get time on foil that way. Which I’ve heard can help with the initial learning steps.

How much pain will I endure in the learning curve for prone foiling if I purchase the foil and just power through the learning phase with time being towed or a lesson? If I do it regularly and really commit, how long before it starts to be less of a battle and is actually enjoyable? Could I be close to doing shore runners in a year—or is that to lofty of a goal?


Consider other self sufficient ways to get on foil.

  • Two used hand wings and used wing board (more liters than prone) and some flat water to start would buy you tons of foiling time. Eventually can transition to winging waves if you want. It’s possible to build pumping skills winging even on flat water.
  • Dock starting would let you concentrate on building pumping skill without the effort of repeatably paddling into the takeoff zone.
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We have the Pamlico Sound on one side of the island, which is a big destination location for flat water wind sports. I go and watch at some of the main spots on high wind days, but have never strongly considered trying it. I really just want to ride waves. But I will put some thought into it as a learning tool.

Dock starting spots are more difficult to come by though locally.

The advice is appreciated.

I don’t prone yet, and am coming from the reverse direction. Learning to prone with no prone surfing experience but lots of time on foil. The local surfers who don’t do any wind sport or tow have struggled on the extreme end for learning to foil. The use of a wing will give you a ton of knowledge/experience on foil and I’d hope/expect that you would transition to prone quite smoothly from there.

The only thing I’d encourage you to consider is when it’s too small to surf, is the water deep enough to foil? Around here my biggest struggle has been finding reliable mushy breaks that aren’t in shallow shore pound. My shortest mast is 66cm and it still requires me to catch and kick out the back right away. As such, I’m trying to focus on dock start pump training over the winter while the conditions are poor so I will have better opportunities to chip in when the small stuff returns.

You can do it for sure. I am two months or so into prone and while it’s tough I’m starting to get more and more time on foil each session.

I did wingfoil for about 12 sessions or so prior to starting prone when I was inland on flat water for the summer. Honestly, when I started prone and got on foil, I felt like I might as well not have winged at all, it was so different and so much harder to balance without the wing to hold me up.

Conversely, I’ve now gone winging once since proning and I was easily gliding through jibes that would have given me trouble prior.

All that said, winging is awesome and if you are in a place where it makes sense you might as well explore all of the aspects of the foil. Also if you wing long enough it would for sure transfer to prone, I just am a beginner and so was hanging off the wing rather than standing on the foil.

In summary, foiling is awesome, definitely start! I’d say just get gear and start proning, you’ll love it so much you’ll be frothing and will have a wing before you know it.

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I spent the money and went to Real for lessons. I don’t think I would have been able to do it without a foil lesson and a ski lesson. By the end of the day I was getting on foil in the ocean. It’s worth the extra cash because just learning without any idea of how to get on foil is really hard. You gotta learn how to fly it before you start paddling into waves. Not only that but learning how to ditch the foil is super important and having a certified instructor with you is a comforting feeling. I would spend the extra money and get into foiling on a positive experience then trying to learn and getting frustrated. Because no matter how you look at it and I think anyone can vouch when I say this. Foiling is NOTHING like what you have ever done in your life. I have 30 years of surfing and the only thing that helped was knowing how to paddle into waves. If you want I did a whole YouTube thing. But it can at least show you how good of an experience it was.


My first foil sport was prone, and I did it without lessons or a tow boat. With a surfing background you should be fine. Get a decent helmet, and get out there and embrace the suck!

I’m now learning DW with no SUP experience and it totally sucks - the only thing keeping me going is the memories of prone and how hopeless it felt in the beginning, compared with where how natural it feels now :grin:


I will add one other thing - if you really want to get good at it quickly, make the commitment to only foil. Put away the surfboard.

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I think learning to foil in the surf is just dangerous. I have been prone foiling for 6 years and have seen a few really good injuries to life long surfers that gave up foiling after the mishap and seeing it has also turned a few others off from trying it. In my area I am the only prone foiler because of this. The injuries all occurred in the first 15 or so sessions when getting on foil first time.

You’re still a relative beginner in the traditional surf world so time on foil behind a boat or ski might save you a serious injury but will definitely save you 4 months or more in the learning curve. Even for wing foiling I would suggest a few hours on foil first behind a boat or ski as those have done that I have helped learn.

Even an efoil session might save you.


Yes, it’s totally doable. Plenty of us did it 5 years ago when there was no clear way to easily learn. If you can find a wave that is appropriate will be the hardest part.

Is there a break where you would never consider surfing because the wave is so flat and mushy with no power? Are there a minimum of 3 surf schools there? That is the type of wave you want to learn on. Ideally it crumbles very far from shore and then goes into a deep spot and is just a swell line rolling to shore. If you can find that type of wave you will learn in no time. The type of wave parents confidently push 8 year olds into. That’s the wave you’re looking for.

I like to tell people it’s 10 sessions of falling. You’re learning how to fall safely. You’re learning how to control the foil. How quickly you get through those 10 sessions is kind of up to you. The more you do it back to back, the shorter the learning curve will be. Having the ideal learning conditions is the most important part though. Towing behind something keeps you in flat water which is the ideal learning conditions is all. Once the curve of the wave is introduced it’s harder.

Keep the foil a bit too far back in the tracks when learning. Keep the board on the water when you take off. When you’re angling down the line, let the board lift off for a second, put the board back on the water. Repeat. Your new mantra is “more front foot”.

That budget is totally doable too. Just saw a good used setup sell for that out here in Los Angeles last week. Ask questions. I’m happy to give beginner advice. Most other foilers are too.


Gosh, there are so many detailed and helpful replies here. Out of pocket for the time being but going to post some follow ups when Im back at a proper keyboard.

Thanks, everyone. I will say that one thing I appreciate about the foil community is they all seem so hyped compared to the agro nature of surfers.


I don’t think towing is that helpful for prone.

The hardest part about towing is that water start. The hardest part about prone is the pop up. And they are completely different skills.


Most importantly buy a foil that was released within the past year or so. The newer the gear, the easier it is to learn on for the most part. In the beginning you could just buy progression. Now most of the companies are competitive and they all work.

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The only thing hard about the jump up is controlling the foil in the wave face and made particularly hard when your feet aren’t going to land on the perfect spot ever.

Just two hours on foil behind a ski will at least have the user understanding how to control the foil without a taco and if you can’t do it in flat water how on earth are you to do it in the surf. If you can’t get up behind a ski and control the foil you definitely shouldn’t be in the surf to learn.

I have taught a few people to prone and after just a few hours on foil behind a ski an accomplished surfer can foil their first wave to the shore in the right surf on the right foil.

For those that learnt to foil without a tow in flat water or prior foil experience how about you detail the experience compared to first wave to the shore otherwise it’s pretty irresponsible advice.

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Not sure what’s irresponsible about the advice we’re giving… the poster asked if it’s possible to learn how to prone foil without a tow or lesson. We’ve said it’s possible - just to go out in suitable conditions and be prepared to fail a bunch.

Sure if you had access to towing or lessons of course that’s optimal.

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You’ll get takeoffs, single links etc within 1-4 months I would think (roughly what I see with decent surfers who surf daily). Shoreruns are probably more location/condition dependent, and tricky to get right; howling cross onshore looks right, but usually too much energy in the water.

Winging gear expensive and the crossover is minimal to prone. Dockstart similar issue with massive foils.

Scrounge a few sessions behind a boat to supplement the slog of learning in the surf, aiming to get over the can’t-pump-hump as that is the real hurdle.

This is basically all that matters at the beginning, and it helps to learn from other people in your local who have figured the nuance of your spots. Be careful running aground in shallow water or rocks, that is the likely overlooked risk

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I learned from combo of paddling out at a local shoal, and getting scooped by buddies for some tows at that same spot. All in the ocean. Most of the time they wouldn’t offer tows to anyone who didn’t give prone some commitment first. I found benefit in both methods. What I liked about the prone intro was the controlled takeoff speed in the right conditions. I would take my time on the pop up if the wave would let me, and try to keep the board in the water once I got up. Felt easier to learn how to kick the board away. The challenges with towing in the ocean were getting pulled up with swell around, getting over that swell for a tow out, and learning to escape the wake at an opportune time (face it frontside.) I’ve surfed quite a few spots down your way, and there’s one particular pier with some softer outside sections on the south side that could work great for you on a smaller day if it’s breaking out there. Good luck!


I think the best way to learn is first on an Efoil.
Efoil teaches you how to control a foil and the bizarre flying sensation. It’s also relatively safe and very repeatable (ie no driver picking you up a thousand times)
Then just lots (30+) of sessions in tiny waves near your house. Or you could just do lots of sessions without an efoil to start…that’s what I did but it’s not efficient.

$1000 is not much for a good whole setup (board and foil) but if you keep your eyes out you may find one.

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Bought a foil and board in 2018, never had seen another Foiler in person. I flew down the line a few times my first session. I also fell a million times. I did not taco. I did not hit the foil. I learned how to fall safely two feet from the board. I learned to eject not correct.

It took me several sessions to understand what a soft wave was. The waves I thought were soft were still too steep for foiling.

When I taught my brother it was two years later and I knew what waves to teach him in. He had an easier time. I’ve taken qs level surfers out who do cutbacks on their first session in the correct waves.


Hdip has good thoughts here. You don’t need lessons.
A couple things not mentioned: never forget there’s a foil below the board so don’t kick it while swimming next to it, don’t hesitate to boogie foil - stay on your stomach lean back feel the foil lift move your body weight side to side and front to back see how the foil responds.
Couple to emphasize: start with the mast all the way back, wear a leash