Autonomous Adventures

Filming an Electrified Future- Paul Davies


As a pre-face, this whole article idea was spurred by recently listening to the Clay Island podcast regarding abundance and scarcity when it comes to waves and the differences of attitude / rivalries between surfers and anything wind or foil related, and it really got me thinking about why is slapping a motor on something any different?

I live in the wind capital of Australia – Perth and my FIFO (fly-in-fly-out) job in the resources sector gives me 2 week chunks of time of which I have spent the best part of the last 7 years chasing the wind all over the world to satisfy my obsession with kiteboarding in our off season

 But, like every single person in the world, the virus was the catalyst for change and with borders closing and my travel plans out the window with WA literally being a closed shop to the rest of the country, let alone the world I was at a loss of how to get my water sports fix

Not really knowing what to expect and having only previously dabbled in kitefoiling, I somewhat on a whim re-directed the 2020 travel budget to a Series 1 Fliteboard Pro, just figuring it would be the ideal way to capitalise any time on the water

And for the last year and a half I haven’t looked back. I’ve even ditched the kite (which to most people who know me would be blasphemy!) and here is my argument as to why you shouldn’t write off eFoiling as a kooky fad.

 

 LAND FIRST

Coming from a background of racing/shooting downhill skateboarding prior to getting into wind sports I initially felt the same way about the whole eSkate scene 5 years ago as most watermen do towards eFoils in 2021. Now after using several different PMDs (personal mobility devices) for those years and seeing the improvements along the way I am no longer a ’purist’. To me, anything motorised opens up a new world of places to explore and more opportunities to ride. I skate every damn day. Not just being limited to the demands of gravity and bombing hills anymore, now I’ve been scoping out places I wouldn’t ever have consider riding, including off-road!

With the battery tech rapidly getting better, sales are booming although with different demographic being attracted. It seems to be middle-aged men who have minimal skateboarding experience wearing full body armour, nerding out about motors and range specs, rather than stereotypical strapped-for-cash teenagers for whom dropping $2k on a skateboard is crazy money. If you can get past that image issue, let me assure you, there is fun to be had!

 

MAD MONEY

 And this kinda brings me to my point, I get why people don’t care for eFoils. Again due to the prohibitive costs involved the price is the main issue people have, just scaled up massively. In this case premium brands like Lift and Flite happen to now be targeting the yacht crowd (which I most definitely am not!)

I don’t blame watermen for the hate either because the demographic is not truly comparable, they mainly sell products in a different high-end market to conventional watersport brands and frankly the level of user generated content on social media in terms of real world riding ability is dominated by the everyman kook zipping around in flat water on a giant board, which demonstrates a low level of mastery and limited appeal.

The few clips that got me to pull the trigger in the first place were from the likes of Keahi de Aboitiz in Hawaii and Flite engineer Simon Axmann in Merimbula actually foiling in waves. Watching on repeat, and analysing how they were riding. That level of shreddery is what most people reading this magazine expect and it sold me on the future enough to put a significant dent in my pay-off-the-mortgage plan!

Now that post-virus foil fever is well and truly underway and being Perth based – a wind-sports hub in the Summer its been very interesting to hear a lot of opinions from other sub-sects of watersport enthusiast (foil / wing / kite etc) that I chat to on the beach and I know quite a few guys who foil in their given discipline at a pretty high level!

When they see me, by no means a guru showing that an eFoil can handle itself in 25 knot seabreeze, open ocean windswell while using only 10% of the power for 90 minutes, most people are pretty amazed! But unfortunately in my eyes there are not really too many people or videos to demonstrate this online

 

EYE IN THE SKY

In November last year I had a rotator cuff shoulder tear, which was a bit of a catalyst for me. Incidentally it was a kiting injury, and effectively torpedoed the remainder of my season for boosting and freestyle, although this is where my eFoil journey largely dovetails with another cool bit of kit – the self-flying drone from a relatively unknown US company called Skydio.

 What started out as a gamble pre-ordering an untested bit of tech soon became a revelation for shooting solo action sports. I may be biased in saying this, but some of the shots I’ve been able to pull off are pretty awesome!

 My injury gave me time off the water to relearn my videography workflow and get inspired to create new content. As a result, after healing, when the wind picks up I choose the eFoil over a kite since I have the stoke and arguably the skills to push some limitations with my riding and with the assistance of my pet robot drone I can get shots by myself that would be very difficult for a drone pilot to film

Combine that with the fact that WA has some of the most scenic coastlines in the country, my new focus became shooting novelty foil sessions in unique locations and entering the Red Bull Illume action sports photography competition

During the 5 month entry period even with a paltry social media following I managed to become a 2x semi-finalist in the ‘Best of Instagram’ Moving Image category which further cemented my desire to showcase this niche with-in a niche of a sport

This is a quick compilation of my best shots to date – https://vimeo.com/538206836

 

EVOLUTION AND COMPARISONS

Back in February I see a countdown to the Flite Series 2 announcement on Instagram. Come 4am on the 24th (I get up super early to hit the gym before work) I was immediately sold by the promo video and not at all wisely, pulled the trigger on the new 4’2” Ultra. Could have been too hyped up on endorphins and pre-workout to be fair, but I don’t regret it one bit!

Now this is a fair chunk of change to throw at another board not knowing how the second hand market would be for selling an eFoil in the first place, (turns out it was easy to sell) but I was fairly convinced that Flite had listened to it’s current user base who rides at a higher level and importantly had addressed most of the criticisms directed towards the Series 1. Namely the significant lack of wing options, a smaller board with less swing weight and the holy grail – unpowered foiling!

I’m writing this article now after a solid 5 months of riding on my Ultra and I can firmly tell you, once you downsize there is no going back to a bigger board! I’ve clocked up some 80+ hours and ~1200km distance all on the new higher aspect Flow wings (1300 / 1100 / 900 cm2) with a 245 stabiliser and the Sport Flitecell (smaller 20aH / 1.65kwH ~10kg battery)

There are several reoccurring daily questions I get asked all the time, but the most ironic to me is the classic – “Is it fun?” The answer is yes, obviously, why wouldn’t it be? Let me elaborate:

Fun is a relative term. The ability to ride regardless of the conditions to me is worth the pay to play price. Exploration is the new goal and the feeling of flying in areas previously inaccessible are worthwhile. Recently over Winter, 80% of the time I am the only person on the water. The added privacy of riding solo away from crowds has completely changed my perspective. I’ve done some crazy (borderline stupid) missions and downwinders covering over 30km in range and if you have some imagination the options keep opening up.

But let’s also crunch some relative numbers. An entry level wing foil setup is roughly 1/3 the price of an eFoil, and I’m just talking singular wing and foil sizes. Now I’d argue that you can only use it 1/3 the amount of time. The rapid foil arms race and innovations from the dozen or so mainstream brands plus the downsizing of board sizes due to up skill (and flipping involved) and additions to the quiver of wings and foils quickly adds up. Each to their own, I’m just highlighting the hidden costs involved that are not as immediately obvious as the eFoil sticker shock!

 

REALITY AND RESTRICTIONS

“Can you surf waves with it?” Is the second most common question that pops up. The answer is also yes, but to a more limited extent…

Limitations with battery technology are the factor determining the weight of these beasts. Even without a battery the boards are around 17kg bare. Add 10kg again for even the smallest capacity batteries and now you’re nudging 30kgs! This will reduce in time, but the additional mechanics involved with running electronics through the mast and the motor shaft in or above the fuselage are complex, as are the waterproofed battery compartments built into the board

As emerging brands on their 2nd/3rd product iterations, the technology is improving and thus the prices should in theory go down, but like any electronics manufacturing, the global supply issues for component costs and shipping demands still are a big hurdle in this current climate

The advancement in board sizes and continuous arrays of wing selection plus foldable / free spinning propellors is a move in the right direction from a performance perspective. I’ve only had the free spinning ‘True Glide’ propellor from Flite for a few weeks and have not really had much of a chance to break it in, but what you have to realise is that cutting the thrust from beneath a heavy board takes a big shift in weight distribution to compensate for and the physics involved is never going to fully replicate the nimble abilities of a prone or lighter foil board. It is doable in the right conditions, provided you set yourself up for success and have realistic expectations

 Unfortunately I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the negatives. First and foremost the ‘laws’ have not caught up to the current technology. In a lot of areas these boards are treated like vessels and have to be registered as such. With Australia being the nanny state that it is, some local councils technically will not even let you walk into the water with an eFoil as that is deemed launching a ‘boat’ and can only be done from a designated boat ramp. I shit you not!

There are marine speed limits that also technically apply even though you would be well in excess on any number of water sport apparatus that don’t have a motor. This is also largely the case with any other eSport. Skateboarding is illegal as are unrestricted eBikes. Madness prevails haha!

 

FUN FACTOR

If you want to extrapolate the fun factor, be on the water for 90 minutes sessions every single day regardless of the conditions and can stomach the price, electric is the future. Autonomous adventures and an abundance of options are my new reality

There are plenty of schools and the global network of dealers for both Lift / Flite and other brands entering the market is growing rapidly. With extended warranties and service centres you really do get what you pay for

It’s all about mindset and hopefully I’ve changed your outlook on kooky eFoils. Even if you just want a taste, I’d highly recommend booking a demo!

 

More daily eFoil drone shots on Instagram @paularity_

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