Photo: Christopher Ison / Alamy

What is foiling?

Although foiling or hydrofoiling feels like a recent revolution to take the world of watersports by storm, it is actually much older than many appreciate.

In terms of motorised waterborne craft, the first foiler was a motorboat designed and built by Italian inventor Enrico Forlanini in 1906.

It did, however, take quite a bit of time before foiling boats with sails took to the water, but even then many people might be surprised to learn that even in the 1970’s the foiling trimaran, Williwaw, covered over 20,000 sea miles in and around the South Pacific all on its foils.

It turns out the history of hyrofoiling goes back further than many think.

It was not until the early-2000s that foiling really started to take hold, with a  development dinghy class, the International Moth, leading the way.

Foiling boats

With huge amounts of interest in the 11ft Moth dinghy, foiling began to spread throughout the sport of sailing. And it was not long until hydrofoiling boats of all different shapes and sizes were taking the water.

Over time, some traditional classes converted to foiling – the A-Class and C-Class catamarans being examples. But more new boats were also designed specifically with hydrofoiling in mind.

In 2013 Emirates Team New Zealand built their 72ft America’s Cup catamaran to be a foiler, forcing their competition for the Cup, Oracle Team USA to convert their AC72 into a foiler to stay competitive – ultimately Oracle Team USA won the Cup in one of the biggest sporting comebacks of all time.

To date the America’s Cup has not looked back with the competition taking place in smaller hydrofoiling AC50 catamarans in 2017 and the newly conceived monohull foilers, the AC75s, in 2021.

In 2021 the Olympics Games introduced the first ever foiling catamaran in the Nacra 17.

Foiling yachts

Offhsore, 90ft Ultime multihulls on their foils are competing to be the fastest to race around the globe and design houses across the globe are racing to create foiling yachts for the masses which could dramatically reduce cruising times from one destination to the other.

There are also many classes of yacht that are taking some of the lessons from fully foiling craft and putting them to use in a semi-foiling manner.

Here the biggest technical innovation is in the IMOCA60 class, which is famously used for the single handed non-stop round the world race, the Vendée Globe.

The latest couple of generations of IMOCA 60s have been build with huge, technologically complex foils to generate lift. These are powerful enough to lif the boats fully out of the water, but as yet the class rules do not allow for rudder foils which would stabilise flight and allow for full foiling.

Where sailing boats and yachts have, arguably led the way in the history of foiling over the past decade or so this has filtered down into a plethora of other watersports craft.

Although in the early days foiling was typically the preserve of elite sailors and watersports professionals, increasingly we have seen boats and boards designed to foil in the hands of the average sailor, surfer or windsurfer.

This race to bring the fun of foiling to beginners is continuing apace with beginner foiling boats, windsurfers, surfers etc. coming to the market every year.

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