The Hydrofoiling Freshman

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Photo by Ian Erwood

For the past three years, The MVTimes has asked four recent Vineyard high school graduates to share their experiences during their first year after graduation. Raz Sayre is a freshman at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. This is his second dispatch.

Sports, like all things, evolve. Kobe Bryant doesn’t shoot into peach baskets, Kelly Slater doesn’t ride a wooden surfboard, and on Sundays, Tom Brady puts on shoulder pads and a helmet (thank God). Change has affected sailing immensely throughout history, and in the past three years, the sport has evolved to a whole new level.

Sailing took one of its biggest leaps with the America’s Cup held in San Francisco in the fall of 2013. It was there that the concept of “hydrofoiling” was brought to the sailing world’s biggest stage. Hydrofoiling occurs when you have a wing shape attached to your blades underwater. When your sails fill, and your boat gains speed and power, these wing shapes provide lift and proceed to raise the entire vessel out of the water as it rides on these foils beneath the water. The 35th America’s Cup, sailed in windy San Francisco, featured 72-foot catamarans that hovered above the water riding on these foils. These huge boats were suspended above an area smaller than a ping pong table and then pushed to the limits in windy conditions. It was an amazing technological feat.

From there, hydrofoils took off. Everyone from 10-foot dinghies to huge catamarans — even motorboats — wanted to be gliding above the water. There is even an Olympic-class boat that rises onto foils. Hydrofoils also took off within the sport of kiteboarding and are now at the pinnacle of kiteboard racing. Kite foils, as they are called, top practically all wind-powered racing vessels in terms of speed and course-racing efficiency.

So naturally, having a racing background and a growing love for kiteboarding, I was hooked. Something that really drove me toward kite foiling was the ability to fly in light wind conditions. Since you glide above the water, there is practically no resistance, and you can be going 25 mph in under-10-mph winds. No longer would I spend days sitting on the beach yearning to go out on the water due to a lack of wind.

Another attraction to kite foiling was this: It’s hard. Really hard. I luckily have a dad with similar interests in the sport, so I got my hands on a board quickly. When I was learning, I found that even going in a straight line demands that you focus on your balance on the board and that you pay attention to the chop conditions in front of you. One small slip-up sends you flying off the board before you even have time to holler, let alone correct your mistake. I’ve fallen so many times. It was worse when it was all new to me, but I still have some pretty epic wipeouts every time I go out.

Early one morning during my first semester at Eckerd, we had wind and headed out to the beach before class. I took a couple of big crashes, as usual, and by the time I got off the water, I was pretty waterlogged. I got back to school, dried off, and went to class. I sat down at my desk and was handed that morning’s quiz. A couple of minutes went by and the room had quieted down. I put my head down to write in one of the answers and all of a sudden, water that had been trapped in my nose poured out onto the paper (a phenomenon only watermen can relate to). I now had to ask ashamedly my professor for an extra copy of the quiz because mine was fully saturated, and my inked-in answers had transformed from a hopefully passing history grade to a rather lovely watercolor painting.

I have finally gotten comfortable kite foiling, and the feeling is incredibly satisfying. The sensation of hovering above the water is amazing. When you are riding up on the foil, it is practically silent, aside from a faint hissing, which only adds to the weightless sensation. It is in this moment that I find myself lucky to be a part of the future of sailing as I fly along in a breeze so gentle that normally I would be left sitting on the beach.