Foil wing design evolution, a personal journey.

Foil wing design evolution a personal journey

Words: Tez Plavenieks

Pics: Oli Lane-Peirce, James Jagger, Mike Pringuer

Foil wing design has come a long way since I started. My elevated riding began with windfoiling and SUP foil. Four years ago foils were quite different, if still accessible. But loads has changed since then.

The AFS One foil and Sealion Wings foil board.

My first foil was the AFS One. It was a nifty bit of kit with both the front and tail wings secured by screw in nose cones. I often wonder why we’ve ended up with a bolt system. The screw nose/tail cone seemed much more efficient. Modular foils had yet to properly arrive.

Strapless windfoil crusing on the AFS One and Sealion Wings board.

The AFS One wasn’t a bad foil. Its full carbon design certainly got me into the art of flight. But compared to what’s available now it’s night and day.

The low aspect ‘shovel’ foil wing.

Pretty soon after I jumped on the AFS One I was handed a brand spanking new high aspect windfoil (another AFS – the AFS 2). This was a much higher aspect shape with an emphasis on speed. It certainly wasn’t applicable to SUP foiling. And if inflatable wings had been around it wouldn’t have suited that either (apart from when blowing dogs off chains maybe).

Morning windfoil cruising on the AFS 2 foil.

There’s no question my windfoiling went next level with the AFS 2. And I ended up focusing on this discipline more than any other for a while. Another brand that followed was Zeeko’s (now named) Bullet. Also high aspect in nature it was blisteringly quick. 

(This is available in Foilshop UK’s webshop as the Tahe Wind Foil foil. It’s essentially the same foil as the Zeeko but with an updated tail wing and Tahe graphics).

Windfoil boosters on the AFS 2 foil.

But I wanted something else. I wasn’t loving still needing relatively big windsurf sails to get the juice flowing. I wanted to be using 5.2m or less in sub-15 knots. This is what I was seeing elsewhere in the world and so I chased that.

Poppin’ one off with the Zeeko Bullet foil.

Some brands, with Slingshot being a case in point, had released their extended range of Hoverglide Infinity wings. These were proper low aspect, big chord, shovel esque wings. Designed for all foiling disciplines (not just windfoil) they delivered super early lift, planted and composed glides and uber amounts of stability. Using these foils opened up the whole small sail thing and reinvigorated my interest in SUP (and surf) foiling. Suddenly I was flying in 10-12knots, stomping windfoil moves I’d imagined in my mind and riding less than knee high waves on my SUP. I was hooked!

SUP foil wing design
SUP foiling on the SLingshot Infinity 99 foil wing.

The high aspect foil wing thing.

High aspect foil wings were definitely available whilst I was dabbling with the lows. But there seemed too much emphasis on achieving speed over real world accessibility. I wasn’t sold so continued on my chosen path. As it stands I’ve enjoyed countless hours using Slingshot’s Hoverglide Infinity range. And I still revisit them every so often. In fact, without the Infinity 99 I don’t think I’d have stuck with winging!

SUP foil wing design
Windfoiling on the Slingshot Hoverglide Infinity 76 foil wing.

I guess it was inevitable that high aspect foils would come back full force to my space. Everybody enjoys speed. And speed does aid certain areas of foiling. Although speed alone isn’t enough. Other elements need to be in there. Not least usability and accessibility for the masses. If your market (real world riders) can’t use your products then what’s the point?

My introduction to high aspect foils with additional USPs was via Axis. As soon as I jumped on the PNG 900 in windfoil mode I was sold. Speed, yes, but more importantly oodles of glide and low stall/take off speed. The two latter traits being more important to me than speed alone. 

Foil ducking gybing with the Axis 900 foil wing and foil.

With this set up I’m still able to use smaller sails in less wind but enjoy that efficient foil gliding effect. Backing off the power earlier, letting the foil carry momentum through moves and still have enough gas in the tank to exit on foil is joyous. And these performance elements straddle all other foil disciplines as well, not just windfoiling.

More high points.

My wing foil journey began with the Slingshot Infinity 99 low aspect foil. I can’t give praise enough to how well this worked (and helped me progress). It’s also served me well in SUP and surf foil modes as well. While already foiling, and playing with Axis high aspects (see above), winging is a whole different sport. However much synergy there is between disciplines.

Foil wing design evolution
Wing foiling on the Slingshot Hoverglide Infinity 84 foil wing.

Wingsurfing is its own beast. It has its own nuances and you need to train your wing muscle memory. I jumped on a set up and flew straight off. But that’s not enough in my book. Consistency is key. If you say you can do something then it needs to be consistent. Lifting for a few seconds of flight doesn’t mean anything’s completed.

Foil wing design
More SUP foiling with the Infinity 99 foil wing.

Having spent countless hours on the Slingshot Infinity 99, testing 100 plus inflatable wings in tandem, I finally got to a point where I began experimenting with foils (even more). As a windsurfer I was keen to scope out what different power sources had to offer (wings). Hence why so much time was spent investigating wings. Wing design, just as with foil design, is evolving quickly. But that’s a different topic. Suffice to say there are nuanced differences with all wings. Some will suit your style and preferences while others won’t. 

Foil wing design evolution
Axis Foils PNG 1150 in wing foil mode.

Flicking between a bunch of different foil set ups I eventually settled on the Axis 1150 PNG for wing foiling. And it was a revelation… Just as with wind foiling the additional speed, but most importantly glide, came to the fore. Gybes, tacks and wave rides became much smoother. Being able to run with the 1150’s glide, backing off the power early, is just bliss. I quickly started using the 1150 for small wave SUP foiling as well. Also enjoying super long glides. And let’s not forget the absolutely awesome pump capabilities of these designs – especially the 1150. Using this foil opened up the whole pump foil thing for me. And I’m now bang into this as well. Sometimes I stick it on for windfoiling I sub-10knts. And it works well here also.

You can see the Axis PNG 1150 in wing and bungee/pump foil mode in this video.

Windfoil, SUP foil, wing foil, pump foil (bungee foil) and everything else in between. Speed, glide and pumping round on high aspect foils is highly addictive!

Foiling tips & tricks levelling up.
Bungee foil pumping on the Axis PNG 1150 foil wing.

Moving forwards.

It’ll come as no surprise that many brands are going high aspect with their foil wings. Although the caveat to this should be that a lot are more medium aspect than full ratio high aspect creations.

Foil wing evolution
High aspect foils by Axis.

Pick a foil company and they probably have what they describe as high aspect foils in their catalogue. Wider wing span, shorter chord and thinner profiles determine what these look like. A good many also keep what they term low aspects in their line up as well. Although these too have gone narrower, thinner and wider (relative to overall measurements). Bottom line is there’s a shift away from shovel type foils.

Foil wing design evolution
eekoWing foiling on the F4 Foils Lightwind 2000cm2 – a modern incarnation of the low aspect foil wing,

As foil understanding improves designers input all this knowledge when shaping. Low aspect foils are now more like medium aspects of old (as I said above). With high aspects being more extreme in shape. The foil brands (mainly) leading the high aspect ratio foil push are Axis, Armstrong, Unifoil and a few other smaller companies. These guys are pushing what’s possible and still remain applicable to us real world riders.

Axis ART999 foil wing.

Armstrong’s HA series of high aspect foil wings have been well received. Looking very like sushi knives these wings will take your eye out! But there’s no denying their performance benefits. Riders love them. At least riders from an intermediate level and above. I haven’t used one yet but I know foilers who do and they swear by this gear.

Axis quietly dropped their AR999 range at the end of summer 2021. A high aspect design, but with much emphasis on usability, the ART range (standing for Axis Research Team) is a different beast to other high seemingly similar shapes.

The Axis ART999, Black Series fuselage and 400 Progressive tail wing.

The wing is chopped at the tips for a start. This ensures the whole wing has usable area. Rather than peter out as the tips become narrower. This has given Adrian Roper and co the opportunity to build in a relative amount of low end stall speed. Which makes it applicable to a wider audience. You do need more juice than the PNG 1150 but ART999’s doable.

The ART999 is also a pump and glide machine – no surprises there. It also turns well (which may surprise). And it’s great for SUP foiling. Why mention this? Such a high aspect foil design doesn’t look like it’d work with a high volume sled which you need for stand up paddling. But it does…And really well to boot.

When paired with the (also) new Axis Progressive tail wings the ride is futuristic. Fast, carvey, pumpable and with glides for miles. As you can tell I’m sold. 

Bottom line.

As the industry moves forward with evolved thinking these high aspect foils will no doubt continue to be popped out. And every other area of foil design will follow. We’re already starting to see this as well.

Swift Foiling’s latest foil board shape featuring sharp rails and a flat rear designed specifically for HA foils.

Foil boards are started to be shaped with sharper rails for quicker water release and faster planing speed to get flying with these styles of foil. Board hull cut outs are disappearing, instead ‘foam mowers’ favouring flatter shapes. In wing foiling wings are getting stiffer and more rigid. This efficiency is translating to faster through the air creations which requires foils of less drag. High aspect foils slip through the water better and allow wings to do the same through air. This means less strain on rider arms and joints for a start. Efficiency is the keyword.

Foil wing design evolution
SUP foil pumping on Axishigh aspect foils.

There are many other plus points to this equipment evolution. My advice is as soon as you think you’re ready get on the high aspect foil train and enjoy the benefits. 

A note on buying foils and foil wings.

I appreciate when in the market for a new foil all this talk of low and high aspect is confusing. This article may also suggest that high aspects are the only way to go. Low aspect foils still do a great job if they’re well design. A good example of this is F4’s Lightwind 2000cm2 and 2500cm2 foil. It works brilliantly for light breeze wing foil, beginners and/or heavier riders. And it’s also pretty good in SUP foil mode as well. From a reference point of view, and getting your head around what type of foil you need, it’s arguably easier to understand by looking at the F4’s surface area. As a guide 2000cm2 or 2500cm2 should give an idea of the foil’s lift properties. Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite work with high aspects.

If you understand hydrodynamic and aerodynamic theory then you may be able to decipher high aspect foil wing dimensions. The majority of us can’t though. So basing your buying decisions on numbers alone won’t work. Instead, you should be looking a reputable, quality brands. A foil company worth its salt will accurately describe what its products can do. You as the consumer need to interpret this correctly. So if you’re a beginner foiler you’ll need something that has a low take off or stall speed. You’re also looking for something with stability. Other factors may also come into the equation.

Wing foiling HA foil wings.

Seeking proper advice from trusted sources is another good route to go down. Here at Foilshop I’ve put countless hours into testing the products we sell across multiple scenarios. This means I can guide you correctly. Also, there are many other bits of equipment I’ve used for my other projects. Where possible I can help here.

There are other places you can go as well. Some of the foil groups on social media can be mines of info. Just be mindful of who’s dishing out the advice and why. Ultimately researching is key and the more you do this the more you’ll understand what you need.

If you have any questions about foils or other products get then get in touch with us at Foilshop UK.

Don’t forget to check out more foil knowledge articles here.