Alpine Dreams

Foiling Magazine’s Contributing Editor Kjell van Sice loves an adventure, so when the Fliteboard team insisted that some kind of epic trip into the Californian wilderness was a prerequisite for a lend of their Fliteboard Pro, Kjell didn’t spend too long mulling things over…

I’d be the first to admit that I’ve got thin skin. I grew up in the warm waters of Hawaii and Mauritius and my idea of freezing cold begins in a 3/2 wetsuit. In spite of my lack of coldwater resistance, seasonal change hasn’t stopped me from toeing the line with adventure. Last winter, I was struck by the harebrained notion of beach-starting in Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park during a 12-foot deep snowstorm. With air temperatures well below zero (F) and water hovering not tremendously far above that, I discovered an area of waterborne exploration that, for better or worse, piqued my interest. Needless to say, I attracted more attention from wide-eyed park rangers than I’d strictly wish for. With icicles forming on my beard and eyelashes, I found myself falling in love with inland foiling, entranced as I pumped along through the clear, iciness of winter. That’s the moment I knew I’d come back and chase inland foiling sooner or later…

The opportunity presented itself during my first encounter with Fliteboard’s e-foil, specifically the Pro model. During my midsummer afternoon test session with Fliteboard’s SoCal rep, Jimmy Trask, I found myself caught off guard by how close the Fliteboard Pro came to mimicking an unpowered foil. I see this as a positive, because the Pro’s responsiveness, small size, and tall mast made it an altogether higher performance ride than any other e-foil I’d been on before. Naturally, I had a strong desire to see if I might be able to spend more time with the Pro in inland waterways. Its design provided the perfect marriage of exploratory capability alongside addictive riding characteristics. After reaching out to Fliteboard’s team, they graciously agreed to lend me a Pro for an entire week, on the condition that I take it on a radical journey through our Californian wonderland. Can do! 

DAY 1 

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After Jimmy’s many instructions, warnings and repeat-after-me’s, followed closely by a game of foil-packing Tetris, I manage to get the Fliteboard Pro safely and snugly stowed way in my trunk for the short ride home. There’s still loads of prep work to be completed prior to my departure for the mountains the following morning. First in order, however, is a test ride to get shims and power settings dialed. Arriving at my local spot, I plan out a course to take me well out beyond our kelp beds — minefields for hydrofoils — and down the coast a ways, before returning with the option to surf some small waves peeling off a point. Unpacking and assembling the Fliteboard is initially less intimidating than expected, stamping into my mind the quality of design that goes into these machines. In the five-minute walk from my car to the beach, I feel like a kid scampering away from the candy shop with the biggest piece in the store – what a thrill to have such a piece of kit to myself. Wading into the chilly, early winter water, I can hardly wait to get up and flying. Gingerly navigating my way amidst the kelp forests, I look down to see their fantastically tall forms rising up from the deep blue below me. For just a moment, the Fliteboard Pro feels small above the depths, as do I, but up on foil, it’s so serene that I hardly care. Never have I experienced feeling so separated from the ocean’s chop, currents, and cold, yet so connected to my surroundings. I’m often asked what makes e-foils so special, and my answer is always the same: the lack of sound from board slap. That feeling of hovering effortlessly and silently is truly as good as it sounds. 

My meditative zen is shattered by the sound of a blowhole. Suddenly, I’m surrounded by a pod of dolphins cruising the offshore depths. Seabirds join in from above, and I become part of a nature show. From half a mile offshore, sounds from the coast have faded away, and I’m left with a surprising sense of first-time exploration. Who knew you didn’t have to go far from home to find adventure? 

DAY 2 

The drive to Lake Tahoe from Santa Barbara is a long one at nearly nine hours. Ironically, to arrive at one of California’s most serene, picturesque alpine lakes, the route cuts through some of the driest, warmest, and flattest parts of the state. It feels strange to see a Fliteboard in my rearview while the unfaltering blandness of Interstate 5 unfolds before me. After endless hours of solo road tripping well into nightfall, the lake finally comes into view, an eerie oasis nestled within the unending Sierra peaks. As an avid explorer of California’s Sierra Nevada range, I always bask in the moment of arrival in this incredibly special place. Now, instead of coming for sports afoot or on a mountain bike, I’ve come to break new ground in foiling this lake. After a well-deserved and rather copious dinner, I fall into bed to catch what sleep I can before tomorrow’s 4:30am start. 

DAY 3 

Rule #1 of mountain living is to never fully trust the weather forecast. In spite of the forecast calling for mild temperatures, I have the great pleasure of stepping outside into sub-freezing conditions. I’ve never been so glad to own 5mm gloves and booties. After a much-needed hot coffee run, I find myself bumping down a maze of unpaved access roads to the lake’s southwestern corner, and just in time for the first light of day to show. Glimpsing my first view of the lake in all its glassy perfection, I’m giddy with excitement; as with the weather, it can be difficult to gauge whether or not the lake will be windy, even within a matter of hours. Under tall pine trees and the bright illumination of my car’s headlights, I begin assembling the Fliteboard Pro, only to find that two layers of gloves don’t lend themselves to the dexterity required to handle M6 bolts. Assisted by a tirade of inappropriate language, I man up and go barehanded. Right about the same time I lose feeling in my hands, I notice a black bear to my left, celebrating Christmas a bit early in a trash container. I laugh to myself as I closely watch the four hundred pound animal; this is surely the first time a black bear has seen a Fliteboard! Clearly, the altitude and lack of sleep are getting to my sense of humor. I opt to wait until more daylight filters through the trees before heading down to the water; it might be a bit difficult to sell Fliteboard on the idea that I dropped their $12,000 piece of kit in the woods because I walked into a bear… 

Lake Tahoe’s water is as clear as it is cold. I step carefully from rock to rock, wading out until the 45°F water arrives at my chest. Looking down, I can see each and every detailed texture of my booties as well as if I were high and dry. From an angle, the golden sand mixes gently with the crisp, blue water further out. The Fliteboard floats alongside me as I take in the magnificence of the rising sun peeking out from behind the east side of the lake. Finally, I can take my dream full circle and surf the most beautiful parts of this alpine body from atop a Fliteboard, utterly independent of leg fatigue, burning lungs, and beach starts. Coming up to speed, the Pro is stable and easily controlled. Equipped with the slim Flyer wing, the Pro cruises at higher speeds effortlessly, and offers plenty of responsive carving opportunities as well. 

I head north towards Emerald Bay, Tahoe’s most legendary cove. On the way, I pass over the most pristine, clear water I’ve ever seen. Flying alongside the winding coastline of granite boulders and endless pine trees, I notice a fox, eagle, and deer. The quiet Fliteboard seems to hardly disturb them. The water glows, changing rapidly from inky blue to turquoise and back again. Underneath me, I spot the occasional sunken tree dozens of feet below, and house-sized boulders shaped by glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. With no wake, the Fliteboard platform provides a prime view of the lake’s geological history. Such water clarity, when combined with riding the foil, gives me vertigo. Before I know it, I’ve breached and am sent headlong into an icy bath. I make sure to keep my eyes on the horizon from then on. The two-mile journey rolls by in what seems like a split second. I look down to check on the board’s battery level and am impressed to see I’ve only used 7% of the total charge. It seems like the battery will last longer than I will! At the mouth of Emerald Bay, I’m hit by a stiff headwind, and opt to take the short route. 

Numb hands, feet, and face signal time for me to turn home. On the way back, I head for deep water to have some fun exploring the Fliteboard Pro’s carving capabilities. It’s a surreal experience to “surf” the lake with the backdrop of pine trees and snow-capped mountains, the crisp, fresh alpine air in my nose. Coming back to my launch spot, I hop off the Fliteboard and float belly up, enjoying the beauty of where I’m lucky to be in that moment. 

DAY 4 

In the middle of the night, I’m awoken by the sound of howling wind in the trees. My watch shows 4am, a bad sign for the upcoming day. By the time I make it down to the water, I already know the rest of my trip is blown — literally. With chest high whitecaps and the forecast calling for a rapid descent into the season’s first snowstorm, I’ve got limited time to form a plan. The subzero air is far from inviting. Yet, I can’t resist the temptation to pull out my Naish Wingsurfer and wing board to give it a go. Walking out my 5.3m wing, it’s obvious the 30-40 knot winds are significantly beyond my max, but I’d rather fail miserably than regret not giving it a go. Surprisingly, I manage to get up and going, but only for a brief moment before a gust sends me skyward. If ever there were a session for straps, this would be it! Within fifteen minutes, the wind has increased to over 50 knots, and the freezing air is more than I’m willing to take. After a final, massively overpowered run along the beach, I call it quits and head in to warm myself before breaking down gear. What an incredible change of weather within just 24 hours. Clearly, Lake Tahoe has unbelievable potential for all forms of foiling. I’ll be back come summer…

DAY 5 

Compared to Tahoe, the weather back home in Santa Barbara is balmy. The mountain wind event that whipped the lake into a frenzy hasn’t yet made its way south to the coast, and tonight’s sunset is shaping up to be all time. There could be no better contrast to the pure blue of Lake Tahoe than that of a golden, glassy evening along the coast over 6,000 feet lower in elevation. I reconfigure the Fliteboard with the Cruiser wing, making it easier to fly low and slow in the fading light. By also reconfiguring the throttle settings, I can adjust the set up so it takes on a more tame feel, ideal for cruising. Gliding out into the beautiful Santa Barbara Channel, the silhouettes of the iconic Channel Islands are visible, a true sight to behold. The silence of the e-foil makes the moment all the more vivid. Opposite the setting sun, the full moon rises, creating an incredible effect on the water as night overtakes day. I marvel that I’ve managed to foil in two paradigm opposite locations within just a day, and the Fliteboard Pro has served as the perfect platform to do so. It’s been efficient, easy to handle, and an incredibly fun, versatile platform for exploration. I’m grateful to Fliteboard for the opportunity to explore my vision of foiling inland waterways. After a surprise email from the Fliteboard team at the time of writing this piece, I’m equally excited to say I’ll have the chance to take out their latest Series 2 e-foils come later this year. I can’t wait to see what’s in store. 

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