Learning to Fly

The adrenaline rush of flying across the water takes sailing and windsurfing to dizzy new heights, and now thanks to the RYA it is open to anyone. Here is how you can get involved.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you will know that foiling is the coolest thing to have happened to sailing in years.

Where foiling was once the exclusive playground of professional sailors and racers, the kit, locations and even instructors are now in place to help a wider range of sailors and windsurfers take flight.

RYA Chief Instructor for Dinghy and Windsurfing Amanda Van Santen is at the forefront of this evolution, having spotted the need to bring foiling to mainstream sailing with three new pilot RYA courses: First Flights, Sustained Flights and Performance Flights.

She explained: “It was my aspiration to make foiling more accessible and through our RYA Training Centres delivering safe tuition, I believe we are now perfectly placed to do this. Our network of participating centres, who have invested in specific equipment, provide an easier and more accessable route through correctly set up kit and trained instructors in a safe environment. In as little as two hours you may have potentially experienced your first foiling take-off.”

The pilot courses are designed to teach the fundamentals of foiling with a clear pathway for those looking to learn, progress or enhance their skills.

What does foiling feel like?

Sommer Bailey is a sailing instructor in Greece. She describes her recent experience of learning to foil: “When you are flying along it feels like you are floating in the air. Then when you first take off, your head is all over the place and it does not feel real – it feels absolutely amazing.”

Is foiling for me? 

If you can sail a laser in a good breeze, perhaps the skill level of around RYA Level 2/3, you can learn to SailFoil.

Equally, if you can blast in the footstraps, you can learn to WindFoil. A good intermediate is someone who can plane, adjust stance to the conditions, make effective use of the footstraps and has all the key skills to replicate that on the foil.

What conditions do you need?

Depending on the chosen equipment, conditions and technique, some boards and boats can lift in wind as light as six to seven knots. However, with both sail and windsurf foiling, it is best to try your first flights in 10 knots or over, enabling you to get a feel of how much lift the foil gives and how best to encourage flight.

Tuition plays a crucial part in gaining and embedding the right skills and techniques early on. A combination of the correct coaching points, the right learning environment and good equipment set increase the frequency of success and development.

What will I learn on a course?

RYA First Flights is a taster session, aimed at introducing you to the concept of foiling, the equipment needed plus all the knowledge you need to take off. This is often the easy part, but in order to really enjoy your first foiling take offs, you will need to understand the subtle but critical techniques necessary to keep you in the air.

Once you have got those first few take-offs under your belt, and your understanding of how the kit reacts, your primary skills will start to come back to you and accelerate your foiling progression allowing you to build confidence, to steer and bring you Sustained Flights. Those looking to move beyond this can start unlocking skills such as foiling into tacks and foiling gybes on the Performance Flights course.

What kit do I need?

The beauty of learning to foil at an RYA Training Centre is that they provide the kit. This gives you an opportunity to test the water without having to shell out for loads of expensive kit.

Where can I learn?

Participating centres delivering the pilot RYA Foiling courses across the UK and Overseas include: Southampton Water Activity Centre, Waterpark – Coniston, Alton Water, Andrew Simpson – Weymouth and Reading, Mark Warner, Galloway Watersports, Rutland Watersports and Wildwind, with more being added all the time.

There are also more established and dedicated foiling centres such ASF – Lake Garda, ProVela and OTC, which can provide a wider range of equipment and more advanced tuition.



Two top trainers share their foiling tips:

RYA SailFoil Trainer Shaun Priestley:

  1. Always aim to take off on a reach to a close reach. Once the boat lifts out of the water and starts foiling, shift your concentration to the lift from the foils and maintain balance to assist you in sustained flight.
  2. Balance and mainsheet trim, as well as sailing to the apparent wind are key to foiling success. The skill of sailing with windward heel and effective use of the foils, are all techniques which come naturally after practice.
  3. If you have sailed asymmetric boats with the kite up you will know the feeling of increased speed and the importance of keeping the boat flat. Understanding how you sail to apparent wind and adopting the most effective sailing line will bring you the control needed.

RYA WindFoil Trainer Sam Ross:

  1. When you first launch, uphaul! This will help to avoid any unwanted contact with the foil. Always keep hold of the boom. This will ensure you stay well clear of the foil if you end up in the water.
  2. The further back your weight is on the board, the more lift you will get. In marginal conditions get in the back strap early to help pump the foil, in windier conditions keep the back foot in front of the back strap to reduce lift and increase control.
  3. When windsurf foiling you have two engines, you can pump the rig to generate speed, but also pump down into the board and foil to generate lift.
  4. Once foiling, keep the rig still and lock the back leg down to maintain a flat board in flight.