The development of hydrofoils
In recent years, there has been an evolutionary development of the kitesurfing hydrofoil technology. Firms like Levitaz KITEFOILS are developing new concepts every year and the technology is progressing rapidly. I myself however was a bit reserved to learn how to foil. The cost of a 100% carbon fibre set-up are significant and the wings are very, very fragile, plus, what is the point with all that hightech, can’t we just go kiteboarding?
Why hydrofoiling on a kite?
Well, long story short, I tried it, I loved it, I bought it and ever since I am obsessed with it. 🙂 When you have been kiting for the last 15 years of your life, and all the sudden you are crashing and falling because you don’t know what the heck is going on, that can be a lot of fun … at least when you start to make progress and get better! It is like relearning the whole concept of kiteboarding. But once you’ve got it figured out, once you are sailing a meter above the surface and everything is calm, butter smooth and you have virtually no drag of your board in the water, then you will want more of it, guaranteed! When you need a 15m kite with a regular board, you are now riding your 9m kite, fully powered. With your travel speed you basically make your own wind and accelerate twice, three times the speed of the wind, at ease.
What can you do with a hydrofoil that you cannot do with a regular kiteboard?
Considering all the advantages of kiting with a hydrofoil you start to think about what you can do with it. You can jump and do tricks, but for that I believe a regular kiteboard is still much better, since you do not need to be afraid of hitting a 1 meter long mast with razor-sharp wings attached. Also, you can race, in fact, the hydrofoil racing scene has been growing rapidly in the last years. Of most interest to me is however a side of the sport, that in my opinion has been “reborn” through the recent development of modern foils – long-distance! When “surfing” over the water with a regular board, you are constantly hitting choppy waves, which is very tiring for your legs, especially when you sail long legs on the same course. With the hydrofoil however, the ride becomes butter-smooth, no slamming of the board over chop. Also you go fast, very fast, and you need very little wind compared to normal kitesurfing. So it was just natural for me to grab a backpack and start sailing in one direction.
An ambitious plan!
A few weeks back, my friends Jannis Maus, Marian Hund and I sat together and talked about what long-distance missions we could take on. Soon, the idea was born, to follow the route I sailed many times as a kid. We wanted to be fully self sustained, i.e. no support along the route and no support boat. The route starts in Flensburg, leads all the way up into the so-called “Danish South Sea”, towards Fredericia and then back to Flensburg – quite an ambitious plan (see map below). Luckily enough Ortlieb Waterproof did like our project and supported us with the gear we needed for carrying all our stuff to be self sustained. 🙂
Day 1 – Lesson 1: Do not bring more gear than you can carry!
I had ambitious plans of taking a lot of luggage with me including a cosy tent for the night on the beach. Jannis and Marian were a bit more cautious and didn’t even bring a sleeping pad. My idea was to use two straps to tie the Ortlieb Waterproof duffle to the board between the footstraps. Unfortunately time did not allow for a practice-run, so day 1 told me that kiting on a hydrofoil board with a heavy bag between your feet is no easy task. After sailing the first 10 kilometres or so, we had to stop. Conditions were not easy with strong winds and cross swell. With a heavy heart I dropped the duffle (and all the comfort of the tent) at my parents place, near the beach of Langballig and we sailed on with only the backpacks on our shoulders, however much faster than before and it was a lot easier to balance the cross swell.
Day 1 – Lesson 2: Do not cross stretches of open sea, when you are not 100% sure conditions are stable!!!
Sailing for a long distance with a kite hydrofoil is super exciting. As you ride along with an average speed above 30 kilometres per hour, you soon realise that the wind varies a lot spatially. You start in stable 20 knots of breeze and half an hour later you are overpowered because the wind around a land tongue accelerates due to the cape effect. Then you continue over an open stretch of sea and all the sudden the smaller kite you took is not large enough anymore. That is exactly what happened to us and it was a very nasty situation we got ourselves into.
After dropping off the duffle in Langballig we did continue to tack against the easterly breeze towards the tip of the Alsen peninsula. The wind got very, very strong and we were struggling with our large kites. Because of this and the difficult start we had, we decided to take a break at Kegnaes and switch to smaller kites. I picked a 9 meter Flysurfer Sonic2, Jannis a 9 meter Sonic Race and Marian did hold on to his 12m foil with long lines. We realised the wind was getting less and less, but we did feel safe, as we thought it would not die completely from one moment to the other and we could easily cross the 12 kilometre long stretch over open sea from the Alsen peninsula to the island of Aero. We should be wrong, very wrong …
It was as if someone flipped the switch- almost no wind from one moment to another. My small kite on short lines fell out of the sky first, Jannis was struggling but kept his kite in the air whilst Marian had less trouble with his 12 metre kite on long lines. After a while I decided to pack down my kite and wait. There was nothing else we could do at this stage. No boats nearby and we were in the middle of the so called Little Belt, a stretch of open water between the Alsen peninsula and the island of Aero with at least a knot or two of current pushing us north. Sitting on your board in the middle of the sea with no wind and no land nearby is really the worst feeling ever. Personally I have never experienced wind changing so quick, but as said, when you are travelling for such long distances, these things happen and you have to consider so much more than if you would just go out for a quick session at your homespot.
It felt like hours, but after around 30 – 40 minutes, a sailboat that, by coincidence, was going to Mommark came closer because the people on board were wondering why the heck some guys were flying kites in the middle of the sea without moving anywhere. They picked us up and funny enough, 10 minutes after that the wind was back on. But since that was the only boat by far and wide, we sailed on to Mommark, where we did spend the night. We were really grateful for the nice people and in the end they even cooked us dinner on their boat. 🙂
Full GPS track of day 1 on Garmin Connect.
Garmin Relive video of that track:
Day 2: Back home
Unfortunately Marian and Jannis could only spare 3 days for the whole project and the conditions on day 2 were really, really unstable. There was a bit of breeze in the morning, then the wind turned and dropped out again. Later that day, there was a small window of around 3 hours of wind forecasted. With a heavy heart we made the decision, that we would not have much more time to sit around and wait for better wind but instead use the little wind window to ride back home. After waiting on the beach for an hour or so, the wind finally kicked in and we had a smooth ride all the way back home.
Full GPS track of day 2 on Garmin Connect.
Garmin Relive video of that track:
The first real attempt to self-sustained long-distance hydrofoil kiting was a challenge. After a difficult start with too much luggage, we had a lot of luck when the sailors did pick us up. We have definitely learned A LOT during this trip that we can use for future long-distance trips. First of all, we will only cross stretches of open sea (without a support boat), if we are absolutely sure, that the conditions are and remain stable with at least some time buffer to allow for unforeseen events during the crossing.
We are very much looking forward to our next big trip! Marian has just left Germany to train in Brazil, Jannis is competing race after race but it looks as if we will join forces again in fall. With temperatures dropping things will become even more interesting and swimming around in Little Belt will definitely be no option! 🙂