BACK STORY: AFS

Known for their innovative, disruptive outlook, and a very passionate commitment to keeping their development and production in France, AFS are a brand with a rich history in water and wind sports, whose gear is often highly rated by our test team.


So firstly, where is AFS based, and how many staff are working for the brand now?

AFS is a French brand from the Foil and Co group, a company specialized in the manufacturing and sale of equipment for wingfoil, surf foil, SUP foil, and windfoil. We are experts in the design and manufacture of products made from composite materials. Through our AFS brand we produce 100% carbon foils, made from A to Z in our factory in Pencran, in Finistère, France. Our factory is surrounded by beautiful spots where we test our products throughout the year. We are part of a region that we call in France the “sailing valley” – our region is a recognized innovation hub for the maritime world, and we are proud to be a part of it.

We are now 44 people who’ve worked together for several years, covering all bases: R&D, foil production, logistics, and marketing. A small part of the team is now also located in different countries, such as the US, to ensure our international development. But we are currently growing our team to support our company growth.

When was AFS formed, and what was its key focus at the beginning?

For some, the brand AFS may seem like the new brand on the block, however its origins, experience and people are very much deep rooted. AFS can be linked way back to the iconic windsurf brand AHD, which was founded in Australia in 1987. AHD marked the arrival of the first production sandwich boards, with flagship models such as the dominant Eliminator, winning the world title in 1991 and European title in 1992. In the late 90s and early 2000s, Laird Hamilton, and Dave Kalama, influential big wave surfers and watermen, began experimenting with attaching hydrofoils to surfboards, with the aim of achieving faster speeds and smoother rides on large waves, however design and construction all still requiring towing to gain flight.

In 2007 the highly competitive windsurfer and waterman Bruno André joined Tridenn (which originally owned the AHD and Nahskwell brands) and AHD as a product developer. His philosophy at the time was to reclaim the 0-15 knot range. The existing foils were made of aluminum and worked more for tow-in. The question Bruno asked himself was: how can we create a tool that is autonomous in light wind? It was this intention that drove the development of the first carbon foil named the “AFS One” carbon foil.

They initially developed several types of products that could meet this need, such as the Sealion boards, the Tactique sailboards, and then, in 2009, the AFS-1 board and foil was presented to the nautical show. This combo was dedicated to foiling and focused on light wind, low-speed conditions, which broadly opened the doors to the practice.

Then in 2016, the President and Director of AFS, Tanguy Le Bihan, decided to create a company named Foil and Co. The purpose was to create carbon foils for motorboats. Thierry Pen joined him and became a partner while still at the head of Tridenn. They began to manufacture foil parts together, including the AFS 2, which was a windfoil foil and was one of the most significant product developments in windfoiling at the time. In 2018, Tridenn and Foil and Co merged to become the Foil and Co group, which brought together the AHD, Sealion, Nahskwell brands, and it was at this time that the AFS brand entity was born.

Who was the driving force behind the brand, and who’s in that seat today?

Many individuals and minds have shaped the AFS history and contributed to making the brand what it is today. They are global pioneers in carbon foil development and played a significant role in launching AFS in this field.

Tanguy Le Bihan, the current founding president of Foil and Co and the AFS brand, later joined the AFS story. Today, behind AFS, we find Tanguy Le Bihan, a naval architect passionate enough to bring an entire team on board for the crazy challenge of developing the highest-performing foils on the market while keeping accessibility for all practitioners at the forefront. Everything is made in France in our own factory.

At what point did contemporary foiling really take off for you?

What created the excitement and skyrocketed the popularity of foiling were undoubtedly the images of Kai Lenny in 2016. We saw him surf foiling in Fiji, connecting two waves for the first time. This made the surfing world realize the potential that foiling offered. Even though foiling had already existed under the feet of the greatest riders, it wasn't a widespread practice. It took a waterman with the aura of Kai Lenny to prove that it could really work. His first downwind images also greatly contributed to demonstrating that foiling offered the ability to ride infinitely on the swell, which was incredible. This is when people's imaginations opened up spectacularly, and the enthusiasm for foiling truly exploded on a large scale. Then the challenge that quickly arose was: how to make this equipment and the sensations it offers accessible to everyone? And that's when this exciting race for product development began.

Among the significant moments in foiling history is the post-COVID period, when foils began to rival fins at the major surf spots. This marked a real turning point. Then Nicolas Goyard's victory in the first PWA World Cup races in Israel in 2021 in windy conditions against fins, at a time when everyone thought foiling was only for light winds, was a magical moment.

So then when winging appeared, was this something you jumped straight onto, or did you watch it unfold for a time?

When the popularity of wingfoiling started to grow, we initially took an observational approach during the first year. We were pioneers in 100% carbon foils, starting with windfoiling and then moving on to wings. We also had extensive experience and expertise in the field of boards.

Inflatable wings were a new area for us, and we were focused on setting up our foil factory at that time. So, we took the time to analyze and identify exactly what we wanted to develop. It's important to remember that when wingfoiling first emerged, no one really believed in it.

After extensive testing and research, we decided to embark on the wingfoiling adventure. We tested wings and realized that the first wings on the market were not efficient enough, so we wanted to delve into R&D to develop our own wings. After a year of R&D and the creation of the first Foil and Co production factory in France, at a time when only aluminum foils were being made, we caught up with and fully embraced wingfoiling. This is how we released our first wing: the WILF. Since this was a new area for us, we partnered up with external specialists.

We’ve briefly covered this in your Inbound slot this issue too, but you’re a proudly French brand, and your production is based within the country. What benefits does that offer you as a brand?

The ability to produce “Made in France” products in our own factory has a profound impact on our product development. Foils are highly complex structures that require a great deal of flexibility to test, adjust, modify, re-test, and ultimately innovate continuously.

We are specialists in composite materials and French foil producers. Without this expertise, it would be more difficult to be agile in product innovation for foils. And then you also need passionate people like Tanguy Le Bihan to be crazy enough to push disruptive product developments that shock people and in turn help push continuous progress. That's why we created a branch of AFS focused on cutting-edge products: AFS Advanced. Everything that comes out under this branch (board and foil) has been produced in the factory with the very latest materials.

Today, thanks to the innovation laboratory that Foil and Co has become, we are able to develop cutting-edge tools in small quantities, constantly develop foil designs, and test them until we find the one that will push the boundaries. But it also gives us the ability to offer a multitude of products adapted to all levels, and to meet the demands and needs of the market. The biggest advantage as a brand is being able to control the quality of our materials and to quickly bring innovative products to market. We push, and we are never limited in innovation because we are passionate foil producers.

You’re also a brand that’s very aware of its environmental responsibilities. What efforts are you making there to be a more environmentally conscious brand?

Sustainable development is one of the founding pillars of Foil and Co. Our ambition was to succeed in reindustrializing in France by bringing together and mastering our production from A to Z, from the design office to production and shipping. This has allowed us to limit our environmental impact by creating short circuits, and to be in constant improvement on the performance of our products, all while using sustainable materials.

We prioritize the use of a durable material like carbon that is resistant to external aggressions and can be reworked and repaired to maximize the lifespan of our foils. We have established our workshops in France to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of our products and continuously control their quality and performance. Our activity takes place in an eco-designed building, allowing us to be 90% energy self-sufficient. At Foil & Co, there is no waste of raw materials. All carbon scraps are reused and reintegrated into the production cycle. We manufacture some of our own production machines as well. Then starting earlier this year, we have been offering a buyback, reconditioning, and resale service for our foils. The creation and control of a second-hand equipment pool allows us to significantly extend the lifespan of our foils.

So tell us what’s been the biggest highlight in the brand’s history?

AFS' history is filled with remarkable milestones, but if we had to choose a few…

First, there was Julien Quentel's victory in Sylt, becoming world champion with our third product development underfoot – the AFS 105 R foil – that's when we knew we were really onto something.

Then, one of the most significant periods was the COVID-19 pandemic: It was during this time that we realized we had made the right choice to focus on “Made in France” production. In the eyes of the public, we went from crazy to visionary. It was then that we knew we were definitely on the right track.

Finally, if we had to talk about a specific product, it's hard to pick just one. However, a turning point in innovation for us was the development of the PURE range and the introduction of aircraft construction. 

And what would you say is the key focus of the brand today?

AFS is committed to pushing innovation to its limits while making it accessible to all. The company aims to cater to a wide range of users and excel in all foil disciplines. Additionally, AFS is focused on expanding its distribution network, structuring its operations, and growing internationally.

Finally, give us a little overview of the latest gear coming out of AFS HQ… 

We have already released part of our 2024 range, which has been designed to be fun, accessible, and innovative in terms of performance. For now, the EVO range, which was released in March, is the game-changer of the year. It is an ultra-evolving range that allows you to create ultra-accessible as well as super-performing foil combos. Here, we have aimed to bring maximum glide even at low speeds, and from the initial feedback, it's a success. Then we can also talk about the PURE V2s, of course, the 700 and 900, which are little technological gems developed with our team riders, Alan Fedit and Axel Gérard. For boards, there is the FIRE V2, which is our new nugget board for wingfoiling, and the Whitebird, an accessible, lightweight, and high-performing board. Your ally for SUP foil surf, downwind and light wind wingfoiling sessions. And in terms of wings, the D-Lite has allowed us to go to the next level, offering a superb winging experience

We can't really say much more, just that there are still some great toys to come for this exciting year 2024. We are a full carbon foil producer and we intend to make a difference. We want to continue pushing the boundaries of sensation and performance on the water. After our pioneering use of UHM, one-piece foils, the development of bump foils, and high-aspect-ratio foils, we are always looking to push the limits in both accessories and performance, and we have no intention of stopping. What's coming is going to open up new niches and push the boundaries and performance levels in all disciplines. 

“For some, the brand AFS may seem like the new brand on the block, however its origins, experience and people are very much deep rooted.”

Visit the AFS website here.

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