WSW assistant editor, Kyle Cabano, recounts his last three years aiming to stay high for longer
WORDS ALL PHOTOS: Kyle Cabano (unless stated otherwise)
Main image: Zane Schweitzer
Kyle's first steed, the AK 1300 surf foil V1, a medium aspect front wing well suited for beginner to intermediates
MY BACKGROUND My first exposure to surf foiling was in March 2018 when I started working in the Airush marketing team at their HQ in Muizenberg, Cape Town. Clinton Filen had already been working on design concepts for the first dedicated AK surf foils and I arrived just around the time he was having his first successful flights. At this point I had not tried foiling at all, but I was instantly intrigued, although not quite convinced as the board looked heavy and the foils, sharp! I have been surfing and kiting for many years, but the foil movement echoed through to South Africa slowly. My first time kite foiling wasn't until late in the summer season of 2018. The gliding sensation was instantly addictive and I knew I wanted more!
The first surf foil shoot mission I went on was with Clinton, James Taylor and Jacques Theron in the winter of 2018. They were testing while I took photos from the water. From my view point at water level as they were whipped into unbroken waves by the jetski, it still looked to be quite challenging as the guys wobbled and swayed, occasionally having a run of glory. It also seemed that the guys were riding much smaller wings back then which were obviously not as stable as the more current designs. I got my turn at being pulled into one or two, but felt very off tune without the handle or kite bar in hand. I was still not convinced.
James Taylor, on a sunrise session above, and below on the Mini Monster Convertible
I was fortunately in an environment where there are plenty of other board riding options but, as summer rolled around again in November 2018, I got my first foil setup on loan from Clinton. I started riding regularly. Although the sessions were quite short lived and my success scattered between the sketchy wipeouts, I started gaining experience and the progression started to accelerate. The board I started on was a 5'6'' Airush Mini Monster Convert which is a hybrid shape suitable for surfing, kiting or foiling. At 35 litres in volume, it was around ten litres larger than my standard surfing short board. I was riding medium aspect AK 1300 Surf Wing set-up with a moustache shaped rear wing and a 70cm mast. The board's traditional surf shape felt quite familiar and I enjoyed a lot of early progression. I rode that for the whole summer season before first trying a modern prone board shape later on.
The medium aspect ratio profile of the AK Surf combines a great blend of manoeuvrability, pump speed and ease of use
During our winter in June 2019, I had the privilege to go on an AK surf foil trip with Hawaiian waterman, Zane Schwietzer, and South African surf pro, Dale Staples. We headed up the east coast to the famous Jeffrey's Bay, stopping off to foil all of the local gems on the way.
It was super motivating to see a rider like Zane perform on the surf foil. He brought with him a futuristic style that originates in Maui and his lifestyle is inspiring.
inZane, grabbed back flip
I also had my first tries on the modern stubby shaped foil boards on this trip. It was a 5'2'' prototype Clinton had built for the trip and had around 46 litres of volume. I used the same AK 1300 wing that I'd got used to. The board carried a lot of volume but in a more purpose built shape, aimed at getting you into the wave early, then being as compact as possible so you can go about shredding. Unfortunately these boards take a bit of getting used to when paddling as they have the tendency to flip you off if you don't paddle a straight line. At that point, around one year after I first tried riding the foil alone without an additional source, I was very fluent at jumping up onto the board and nailing the take-off, but try as I might, I was unable to pump around from wave to wave. This is probably the aspect of surf foiling that I am most psyched on as it is totally unique, being that you can propel yourself on the board without any wind or tow rope.
The trip. Edit by Kyle
Morning glory for Jacques Theron on the opening glide of the morning
When first learning to surf foil your initial goal is to control the board on a take-off and ride the wave, getting used to the hyper sensitive footwork that controls the roll and pitch. It takes some getting used to because, unlike a surfboard, when the foil is on a plane it doesn't displace the water, therefore the feedback from your feet to your brain needs to recalibrate and adjust.
As for anything, control is always key. Once comfortable riding the wave and have successfully managed to disembark safely from the foil a few times, your next goal will be to travel laterally, across the swell and onto a neighbouring swell. This would be your first taste of the endless glide sensation, but certainly not the end of the journey. Similarly to kiting or windsurfing, it is one thing to sail the vessel and another to sail it back to the same upwind point. As you gain experience the efficiency in your movements will improve and you'll learn to keep your momentum moving forwards. Your balance will adjust to the sensitivity of the foil and, instead of using your weight to balance the left and right sway that the foil might induce, you will be using your weight to throw yourself, and the foil, forward. The foil is a very energy efficient system so just simply adding your body weight to gain momentum will keep you going.
Kyle, getting it! Zipping down the line on the 5'6'' Mini Monster
Balance is a very fundamental attribute to the success of surf foiling and, personally, I found that only hours in the water can get you this experience. For me it just suddenly clicked one day down at the my local break riding the same board I had been riding before. My balance somehow reached a milestone of efficiency where I was no longer wasting momentum with side to side swaying.
Without being able to place my finger on what exactly changed in my technique, I attributed this success purely to time on the water. All of a sudden I had success pumping around the backline, moving from wave to wave and getting around two minutes of riding time per wave caught.
As a surfer, this was a dream come true! It took me three years to reach this level of riding, although there were many moments where it seemed to be out of reach and a sport reserved for ex-professional board riders.
Kyle on the 4'8'' Phazer at home in Strand, where he first learnt to bodyboard 15 years ago Photo: Jj Boshoff
Kyle, now scoring two minute rides per wave with improved pumping efficiency and know-how Photo: Jj Boshoff
Kyle, cruising in South Africa
Foiling in the surf, just like with a kite or perhaps windsurfer, all exist as super low energy riding solutions. A kite can get you up and riding in as little wind as seven knots. Foiling in surf you could be enjoying your own 'wave of the year' on a one foot day at home. This is a major attraction to the surf foil for me because, although we are blessed with year-round surf in South Africa, my schedule often does not allow me much time to venture too far. The surf is only as good as you are prepared to travel to! Once you are able to ride fluently you can then spend as much time on the glide as your legs can handle. In contrast to surfing, which is quite arm-intensive from all of the paddling, foiling is incredibly tiring on the legs. This is one of my favorite aspects of the sport as it seems like great cross-training for the windy summer season and big air kitesurfing antics in Cape Town. The reality of these surf sessions though is that I often only last 30-minutes to an hour before I come crawling in; my legs literally seizing up from all the lactic acid pumping up the muscles.
Above: Clinton Filen, mowing the foam and fine tuning a surfboard rail
So if you, like me, are short on time, surf foiling is an incredible way to get your fix in a smaller window of opportunity so that you can return to work or other duties. Since the milestone day in late summer 2020 where foiling clicked for me, I have downsized my board from the 5'2'' 46 litre down to a 4'8'' 36 litre design which has also been great. Once gliding the smaller board is more manoeuvrable, allowing me to turn more sharply without the board touching the water. The reduced volume is also useful when duck diving in bigger surf. I am now riding the second version of the AK 1300 Surf Wing set-up, which has some design differences but remains a medium aspect ratio front wing as the size specs have not changed.
Kyle, pondering the foil game while shooting it for the first time three years ago