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Pro Tips: How to Start Foil-Boarding with Jeff McKee

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

Adventure IO President Jeff McKee is not only a card-carrying member of the #loyaltothefoil masses, but he’s also one of its pioneers. We sat Jeff down for a couple of minutes to get his tips on foil-boarding for beginners, rookie mistakes, the art of flying over water and how to make the big leap into surf foiling.

Adventure IO: Take us through the initial talk you have with a rookie when you’re showing them how to foil for the first time.

Jeff McKee: A long line and a short mast are the biggest keys to success. You can learn behind pretty much anything - boat, PWC, sailboat, winch, jet ski - as long as you can reach a speed of around 10 to 12 miles per hour. Most important is that the driver eases into the speed. Start SLOW - just enough speed to get the rider standing on the board on the surface of the water, and then slowly applying more as the rider requests, with a max speed around 10mph for the first session. Speed equals lift, so the faster you go, the more sensitive the foil becomes. As a rider, you want to stand tall and with more weight on your front foot than if you were surfing or wakeboarding. Your front foot is the brake, putting more weight on it will disengage the lift and bring you back down to the water, which makes the board easy to control. Back foot pressure makes the foil wing pitch up, and you go up with it. Slow movements are key, fast actions get fast reactions, which most often lead to crashes.

A few "students" getting prepped for their first party wave ; )

AIO: What are the big mistakes most beginners make?

JM: A few of them - standing too far back on the board, putting too much pressure on the back foot, the boat going too fast, and the rider trying to move around too quickly. The foil is slow and graceful, like surfing a paddleboard or dancing on stilts. Fast and aggressive movements will be rejected, and being rejected on a foil is not fun. ; )

5 waves back behind the boat enjoying the silence of flight

AIO: Once you learn the basics, what’s the key to start riding a foil without a rope?

JM: Riding a full-length wakeboard rope and getting steady/balanced is crucial before considering going hands-free. I actually did that for like the first year before I even realized I could just ride the wake of the boat. When you feel like you’re ready for it, run the boat as if you were riding a wakesurf board, but instead of riding the first wave closest to the boat, position yourself in front of the second roller, which is smoother and less turbulent. Depending on the boat, usually, somewhere between 60 and 80 feet of rope will put you in the perfect spot. Start with the board low to the water, as the push from the wave will create speed and lift. Stay tall, don’t bend at your waist, and see if you can find the power zone that leads to slack in the line!

Once you learn to foil-board without a rope, you’ll never see your lake the same way again.

AIO: What size and shape of board and foil should people look to use at first?

JM: I’m biased, of course, because I have ridden for Slingshot for so long, but they have really paved the way for foiling behind the boat and built the perfect package for people that are just getting into it. Their FWake Hover Glide Package comes with a front foot hook to make deepwater starts easy, the soft-top board is comfortable and allows riders to stand wherever their weight requires (lighter weight riders stand farther forward and heavier riders stand farther back). Their foil system is also totally modular so it can be upgraded over time without having to start from scratch. This is an awesome feature considering the higher price of foils.

Jeff and AIO fellow guide Dylan Miller teaming up for a session around the cypress trees of Clermont, FL

AIO: How about foiling in the surf; what’s the best way to learn that?

JM: LEARN BEHIND A BOAT FIRST! Haha. I can’t stress this one enough. Foiling is really nothing like surfing even though they look similar. The foil treats everyone the same - from first-timers to world champion surfers - everyone is a beginner when it comes to hydrofoil surfing. After getting plenty of practice behind a boat, towing in to surf is the easiest approach, and the hardest is prone paddling on your stomach to catch the wave and then pop to your feet. This is the ultimate achievement for foilers if you ask me. Starting out in slow, mushy waves is the best, kind of like learning to surf a little bit. But just make sure there’s enough tide, so you don’t run the foil into the beach!


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