From the Pass in Byron Bay, Australia to Velzyland here on Oahu’s North Shore, you can’t go to a beach without seeing a couple people hovering above the water like magic on foilboards. We caught up with esteemed surfer, stand-up paddler, and shaper Robin Johnston at his shaping bay (where he was working on the newest shape in his collection, a foil he named “The Pill”) to get a breakdown on foil construction and what it’s like to learn to fly.
So what inspired you to get into foiling and shaping foils?
I really look up to John Amundson, so I watched him and his riders ripping on them and realized it was more progressive than i thought. Then my sponsor transitioned over to foils, Cloud Nine
Surf Foils — they’re the reason I’m flying.
What’s it like learning how to foil?
It’s super humbling! Blaine Chambers has really helped me a lot in the stand-up foil world, going behind a jet ski is ideal. I took three days of lickings because it’s really a tricky learn. When you get past that it becomes magical. Weight forward is the absolute must, so it’s a re-learning for any surfer who’s used to pushing on their back foot for control. The second you forget that, you’re reminded quickly because the board starts to take flight and goes airborne, it ejects you into the air. Small, soft waves are key, those are ideal even when you get better.
What are the different variations in foil shapes?
There’s a large and a small. A heavier rider would probably use a bigger foil once they get better — everyone usually learns on a smaller foil. In bigger waves, you need a smaller foil because you don’t need as much lift because you’re moving so quickly. Bigger foils are good when the waves are tiny because there’s not as much power in the wave. There’s plusses to both a prone and a stand-up foil: on a stand-up board you can catch an unbroken wave and you can take off on bigger waves because the paddle allows you to get a burst of speed that lets you take flight and lift up sooner than you would on the prone board. The advantages with the prone board is that the boards can be so small you can pump with greater efficiency and create speed when there is no wave — you can kick out of a finished wave and pump back out to sea if your level is there. That’s really neat, to be self-propelled. Everybody’s riding pretty tiny boards: I’d say both boards are going to be a foot shorter typically than what you’d normally ride, maybe a foot and a half shorter on a stand-up in length. But the volume is maintained from what you’d normally ride, or increased because you thicken these boards and they’re sometimes wider because you’ve shrunk the board down so much shorter to maintain a control of the foil. The mast may vary a couple inches but it’s usually pretty consistent, about 27 inches.
Why do you think foiling has gotten so popular, and where do you see the sport going?
When the board starts to rise up and the water is no longer touching the board you accelerate
rapidly, I’m guessing triple the speed of surfing. So the sensation of all that speed and the ability to have tremendous, exciting, exhilarating adrenaline fun in little to no surf makes it a really good option for a lot of junker condition days. I see it growing and the capability and the maneuvers definitely evolving. I’ve seen some crazy stuff from Austin Kalama on Maui, he’s doing flips and aerials with control. If you wanna see the future, that guy is probably it. And Kai Lenny, of course.