It’s rare that something grips you deeply, that a person or act grabs hold of your world and reshapes your reality. In 1993, during a family reunion in Myrtle Beach, SC, my cousin Joe asked me if I wanted to surf. He had been huffing paint the day before, so I was staying away from him, but I’d always wanted to surf. I tried, and it immediately changed my trajectory in life. Two years later I’d decide that baseball, which I had been my sport focus for my entire life, was boring and I quit to swim to be in better shape or surfing. I moved to the beach shortly after college and then to Costa Rica at 26, always on the search for better waves.
In 2013, after a bad wipeout in a heavy beach break, I started standup paddling for rehab. I caught a few waves and realized that it was actually fun to surf with a paddle, though the surf world didn’t agree. I put my head down and learned, a humbling but valuable process, and the bays and reefs near where I lived in Costa Rica opened up. Instead of surfing crowded beach breaks I was surfing empty points, it was like going back in time. Paddle surfing is an extension of surfing, a different take on the same game. It opened the landscape, but didn’t change the game.
Foiling changes the game. It doesn’t happen right away. I’d guess most folks’ first encounters on a foil are similar to mine. Years of ingrained surfing habits working against you. You get severely worked, if not injured, your humbled and questioning if it’s worth it. That was my first encounter when I borrowed Keahi’s setup on Oahu 2 years ago. Dave Kalama had sold me on foiling a few months before, so I thought I’d give it a chance. Keahi had been cruising all week and made it look easy. He makes everything look easy and he was cool enough to let me try without warning me of the danger I was putting myself in. I did everything wrong and almost took my head off. It was scary enough to put it away, out of mind, and side with the folks saying foiling was too dangerous and didn’t belong in the lineup. I still agree with the latter.
Life decided to deal our family a new hand and last year I found myself living in Connecticut, surfing Rhode Island points. A couple of days a month you’ll get good swell, but the adrenaline junky in me was satisfied only once on the East Coast. But I couldn’t help looking at the beautiful point breaks wishing for more swell. After a season of this, and the rise of foil videos on my insta feed, it seemed foiling was the answer and I was going to have to learn.
Chase Kosterlitz, who runs our Blue Zone SUP camp in Costa Rica, had been foiling for a couple months. He provided the last bit of needed motivation as we have a healthy competition underlying our surfing relationship and I couldn’t let him get too far ahead. In January I decided to dive in head first and after the second week I was hooked.
I now find myself currently in a parallel situation to 2013 in paddle surfing. I have the quest to learn everything I can about foiling, but the newness of the sport means there isn’t much depth in collective knowledge. For paddle surfing, I started the Paddlewoo Podcast to answer questions about the sport. I have that same desire right now to satisfy my thirst for information on foiling. I’m not committing to a dedicated podcast, but I am going to do a series on foiling on the Progression Project Podcast, which normally explores the learning process, deliberate practice, mastery, and flow.
I hope you enjoy coming along on my dive into foiling. My mind is freaking out by the experiences I’m having, and I’m not the only one. It’s 4D surfing – like surfing through a tunnel of danger on the float of powder. In my 30 years of being a flow-junky, foiling is the deepest sustained state I’ve experienced.
The hype is real, the question is if you can navigate the learning process without losing a limb. I hope to help you in that process.