The Dangers of Foil Surfing

For some time now, there has been a new trend in the surfer community, but one that is as alluring as it is dangerous - hydrofoil surfing. Unlike standard surfing with a regular surfboard, hydrofoil surfing offers a new dynamic, a new set of moves, and a shorter, easier learning curve, which makes it far more tempting to new surfers.

However, it also brings a new set of precautions and dangers. Foil surfing adds a lower board component made of aluminum and carbon fiber, which is submerged below the water's surface. That component can prove very dangerous if surfers aren’t extremely careful or if the sea currents swiftly change.

Hydrofoil surfing is a polarizing sport, and both sides have strong arguments for their causes. Its popularity, even among celebrities, has slowly become troubled as more and more youth flock to this activity, disregarding dangers for them and for others in the sea. Let’s read a bit more about hydrofoil in surfing before delving deep into the dangers of this new thrill-seeking sport.

Hydrofoil creation

Even though there were military achievements on hydrofoil in the mid-20th century, hydrofoil in surfing came to everyday light in 1995 when a Swiss sailor, Laurent Bourgnon, used it to break a speed record in sailing. A few years later, Australian Bill Stewart, an avid surfer and capable inventor, created the first hydrofoil surfboard. That invention allowed surfers to stay in the sea longer and ride faster. 305kitesurf.com writes about these historical events in a bit more detail.

But it took a decade or two until hydrofoils in surfing really caught fire. Hawaii Efoil Experience website notes that it was Kai Lenny, a watersport maverick from Hawaii, who made sure hydrofoils in surfing became popular, and stayed so. But, stonker.com.au mentions two others who should be credited for its rise - another Hawaiian, Dave Kalama, was the first to ever foil surf, while it was the Californian Laird Hamilton who made foil surfing truly public by starring in a documentary Step Into Liquid (2003). Stonker does, however, credit Kai Lenny’s hydrofoil SUP creation in 2016 with making the sport a new global phenomenon.

However, there are more and more disconcerting opponents of hydrofoil surfing. Surfer enthusiasts on r/surfing write about foil surfers “whizzing around” in swimming areas full of people and generally disregarding safety rules. The Guardian covered news that city councils of Randwick and Waverley in Sydney are planning to ban this kind of surfing in public beach areas, while Stab Magazine and CarveMag both shared a Facebook post of popular surfer Jaime Mitchell in which he voiced his frustration with this new sport. To give credence to their discontent, let’s dive deeper into the recent accidents in hydrofoil and foil surfing, which keep mounting.

Dangers of hydrofoil surfing

Hydrofoil surfing has become more of a danger than a discovery. Without stricter regulations and a bigger focus on educating and training future hydrofoil surfers, both surfers and beachgoers will continue to face these dangerous consequences:

  • Sharp foil wings that can injure, cut, or kill falling surfers
  • Unexpected trajectory of a falling hydrofoil surfboard that can injure non-surfers, too
  • Uneducated hydrofoil enthusiasts who surf on public beaches endangering swimmers of all age
  • Rising popularity of careless daredevil hydrofoil surfing
  • New electronic hydrofoil surfboards can malfunction in unexpected ways

Terrible hydrofoil experiences

The dangers of hydrofoil surfing aren’t just plaguing the news channels and online forums, they can be seen on videos, too. There are numerous posts on YouTube about foil accidents - “epic” fails while foil surfing, people crashing into a boat under a bridge while hydrofoil surfing, accidents happening while launching the hydrofoil board of a moving boat; and there is even one video actually titled Dangerous Foil Surfing Stunt. To top it all, one video shows a hydrofoil surfer getting knocked off the board by a breaching whale!

But, those don’t measure up with major accidents that almost had deadly consequences. The Inertia website writes in detail about a foil surfing incident on a public beach where big wave Jeff Clark endangered multiple swimmers and standard board surfers by approaching too close with a hydrofoil surfboard. The video, shot by a California beachgoer, went viral, and Jeff attracted a lot of hate and blame online. Soon afterward, though, he apologized.

DJ Khaled, rapper, producer, and internet celebrity, suffered injuries after falling off his hydrofoil surfboard, which even had electric propulsion. Thus making it even more dangerous in case of accidents. He suffered injured ribs and a bit of a dink in popularity as that video also went viral, and people accused him of being both unskilled for hydrofoil surfing and careless about hydrofoil dangers.

Something far worse happened to a Hawaiian firefighter who went tow-in foil surfing. Tow-in foil surfing stands for surfing on a hydrofoil board while getting artificial assistance from a helicopter, boat, or another vehicle pulling you on. The foil wing cut his neck and damaged his trachea.

He was quickly taken to the beach by his friends and saved by a Hail Mary because there just happened to be a medic with supplies on that very beach. He was rushed to the hospital for an emergency surgery and thankfully went home to start his recovery process. A GoFundMe campaign for him and his family is still open for donations.

This next accident is unlike those previously mentioned because the victim was a 10-year-old boy. His family is now suing the makers of that electronic hydrofoil surfing board, saying that the board malfunctioned and its propeller severed the boy’s thumb when he fell. In addition, the Hawaiian family advocates for recalling WeFoil boards and all similar ones and also advocates that the government should impose bans and regulations on all hydrofoil manufacturers, sellers, and surfers. To make the accident more bizarre, the boy was a skilled surfer and an NSSA West Coast Regional champion!

James Davis

Written by James Davis

I'm a true California local, and I've spent my life riding the waves along our stunning coastline. Surfing has always been my greatest love, and in my writing, I try to capture its genuine essence. My words aim to transport you into the heart of the surf culture, where the ocean and surfers come together in perfect harmony.

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