Madmen Hollow & Death Slabs

How much you’re frothing after reading the following feature could determine how willing you are to risk it for a biscuit. One thing’s for certain – no prisoners were taken on the epic Unifoil team trip to Bali. Read on…

Words: Brian Finch
Photos: Matthew Power

I’ve been hunting waves around the globe for 30 years. I’m no stranger to a good, feral surf trip in pursuit of perfect rides. Given this context, there was something magical about our first Unifoil team trip to Bali. From the logistics, to the surf, to the crew, it was the best and most gratifying travel experience I’ve ever had. And it wasn’t just the waves, a large part I credit to my new teammates and their massive good vibes.

The only real hiccup I experienced were the flights from Florida to Bali. My first connection was canceled and it set off a chain reaction of flight rebookings that had me crisscrossing the globe, consuming two full days of travel and a delayed board bag. But from there on, everything went mint.

Even with the delays, I still managed to arrive a day ahead of my fellow team riders and catch a warmup session with the Unifoil General Manager, Toby Atkins. We previously only knew each other through Zoom, so what better way to get acquainted than a jet lagged session at Oka Point, Sanur, in well overhead waves. I instantly knew Toby and I would get along great when I watched him lay down a deep power turn on a 6ft wave, fueled by tree-trunk-legs, a Ragnar Lothbrok ponytail, and matching viking beard; his past life as a professional surfer was immediately apparent. Toby rips and was referred to as Lars The Viking throughout the rest of the trip.

The following day big wave Aussie legends and foil lords Josh Ku and Alex Hayes arrived to our home base at the Abian Harmony Hotel, alongside Dominic DiMaggio, Unifoil’s Global Sales Manager, and Paul Burnett, ex professional surfer from the early days and Unifoil’s talented graphic artist and designer. Also joining us was Ben Taylor, exceptional drone pilot, kind soul, and hilarious bloke. The same can be said for our photographer, Matt Power, another legend from England. The two could be brothers.

Our first session as a group was back to Oka Point, a slopey but tall right hander that comes out of the deep waters of the Badung Strait and collides into a long reef with various double up sections that run parallel to a ferry and fishing boat channel. The length of rides depend on the tide, as the inside will suck dry on a low and becomes unrideable on foil. The first thing I noted with this session was how different we all foil. Josh Ku has really precise wave positioning, gets low to his board on bottom turns and cutbacks, and has an incredibly unique style all his own. Somehow Josh is always going fast, not to mention, bro loves to charge. The bigger it gets, the more excited and harder he foils. Then we have Alex Hayes, who brings his unique surfing flair, mixed with reckless abandon, a total disregard for his own personal safety, and a penchant for going as hard as possible in the most critical parts of the wave. Strapless airs and vertical turns on six footers seemed like standard practice. Alex also pushes harder as the waves get bigger. Reflecting back on the first session during the boat ride back to shore it became quickly apparent that I had my work cut out for me to keep up with these madmen.

Day three, Paul Cooper arrived, and our team was now whole. Paul brings a specialized game to the team. Although versed in winging and prone, Paul’s strapped game is on another level. He has a very casual style in setting up his turns and connecting waves, until it’s time to smash the lip, whip the tail or take to the sky; that’s when things get aggressive! As the American and Australian counterparts had never met in person, day three was the perfect introduction for Paul’s strapped approach and the Aussie chargers. We found a small but punchy vacant crystal blue left hander that emptied into a narrow channel facing directly into a right hander. We could easily finish a wave and connect to the opposing peak, doubling the ride time. The dreamy lefts were an ideal showcase for high performance foiling and a team of all goofy footers. Strapped and strapless airs were going around as well as legit lippers, sprays, and tail blows. The skate park was open for business and the boys were going off.

For the majority of our sessions, we hired tow drivers from the Rip Curl Surf School as well as an independent captain, Lukas, from the island of Sumba. The tow boats were molded blue plastic shells, the size of a small Zodiac with Johnson 15 horse motors. These nimble vessels allowed us to maximize our wave count and quickly search out new breaks. We had a few main objectives while on Bali. One: capture high performance photo and video content of our newly assembled team for a feature length foil film. Two: R&D work for Unifoil’s future range of foils and foil boards, with the key ethos of creating the world’s best hydrofoil equipment.

Nearly every session was a score, but there were a handful of real standout sessions, the first being our trip over to Nusa Lembongan. We boarded a speed ferry on Bali and 25 minutes later arrived to Crystal Bay on Nusa Lembongan… It was anything but crystal however. The sky was gray, the seas were large, and the water choppy, thanks to a bit of cross wind and large tidal movement. Our crew disembarked the ferry and minutes later our main boat, called a Jukung, arrived with all the gear, and our two tow boats shortly after. We quickly assembled foils and boards and motored around the corner to Lacerations and Playgrounds. I hadn’t been to Lacerations in 15 years, but vividly remember having scored some epic backhand barrels and reef floggings alike. I was a bit skeptical on foiling there, but upon arrival, the left coupled with a high tide looked doable. The mad Hawaiian, and two mad Aussies were immediately in the water, loving all waves critical, and shined some light on the very fast and punchy left. I joined shortly after, all catching fun waves while the wind eased up a bit, and the sun slowly began to burn off the cloud layer. Eventually, surfers started to show up, the tide began to drop, and the waves began to go from fun foil peaks to hollow death slabs over what was turning into dry reef, with a rising swell. We knew it was time to call it, and went in search of a new break.

“The mad Hawaiian, and two mad Aussies were immediately in the water, loving all waves critical, and shined some light on the very fast and punchy left.”

We worked our way back past Crystal Bay, and that’s when the madness ensued… We found a solid rising ground swell mixing with the wind, and hugging a rugged cliff-lined stretch of coast and figured we could send a pseudo downwinder run. The light was nice at this point so we decided to get back to work. This side of the island was more exposed to the prevailing wind and had a strong opposing current, magnifying the fetch and swell a bit. To get our photographer Matt Power in position, the Jukung needed to push into the disoriented mix of wind swell, ground swell, and massive reverberation swells bouncing off the cliffs. To be honest, it was not an ideal scenario, and things went pear shaped quickly.

PB jumped into the water to film and was quickly swept out into the exposed channel in a matter of minutes. By the time one of the boats got to him, he was barely visible, and shaken up. Our Jukung captain was fighting to keep his vessel pointed into the main waves while the side swells poured into the boat. At one point, Matt was pouring water out of the rim of his lens. He was not stoked, to say the least. There were a handful of moderately exciting rides, but only Ben Taylor piloting the drone was able to document them. Then something special happened…

I managed to chip in off a massive whitewash exploding directly off the cliff face and back towards the open ocean. I was lucky enough to position on the edge of several feet of whitewash, spring to my feet, turn 90 degrees and point my board parallel to the cliffs. To my surprise, the swell was moving incredibly fast. My foil was tuned with a zero shim and Shiv tail (equal foot pressure) and I was barely hanging on. The amount of energy underneath me was shocking. I locked into my best power squat and ran the entire length of the cliff line, rounding the corner, connecting with a breaking wave and ending in a turquoise, calm bay. This was the turning point to an incredible novelty session. The sun magically appeared from behind thick clouds, the wind dropped off, Lukas scooped up PB, the Jukung turned around without capsizing, and the team grabbed the tow ropes and started aiming for the bay. We spent two hours whipping into the last portion of the two kilometer cliff run and rounding the corner. Right at the corner, a true breaking wave would form and create a massive explosion on the sets. We could connect this around the bend and shoot through a cool tree tunnel that overhung the water. It was by no means a good wave, but a really fun and unique riding experience and one of our funnest sessions of the trip. The peanut gallery on the boat were hooting after each wild ride and tree tunnel toob.

Another major standout session was a far more serious affair and took place on the Bukit Peninsula. Again, up against cliffs, but 5x the size and 10x the consequences. This day was glassy and pumping! Everyone grabbed a Vyper 90 and the 85cm Katana masts, knowing we were going to need the smallest wings for this energy. When scouting the break on the tow boats there were several sneaky lulls that lured us to the inside, only to be forced to scatter at the sight of double overhead sets. Having arrived to Bali directly from a two year stint in small Floridian surf, I had a bit of trepidation; was I ready for this session? I’ve never even ridden the Vyper 90! And other thoughts of doubt flooded in. But that was quickly washed away watching how amped Josh, Alex, and Paul were to get out there. They were foaming at the mouths with infectious desire that fired me up! Alex was first in as always, and quickly picked off a bomb, shaving right up next to the cliff and dropping into the pit at warp speed. Everyone on the boat exploded in cheers and we knew the session was going to be special. Some of the sets hugged the cliff while others swung really wide and ran far down the coast for several minute rides. The in between waves were the easiest to ride and perhaps the most perfect, but you ran the risk of getting cleaned up by a wide set.

After a wipeout, there wasn’t much runway between deep enough water to paddle in and where the dry reef, cliffs and caves started. Josh and Alex started to pick off sets up and behind the corner of the cliff, coming in super deep at top speed. Some of the most impressive rides were Alex and Josh on party waves, filming with the GoPro. They were nearly mind readers, drawing lines that allowed room for both riders in very critical waves. Paul Cooper had a great eye for the longest bombs, once connecting so far down the coast that the tow boats started to panic, not being able to find him. I started to worry at one point, but Lukas found him about a kilometer away, cooly and patiently awaiting pickup somewhere towards Padang Padang. Toby the Viking, having broken some ribs several days earlier trying to keep up with Alex, still managed to grab a vest and the tow rope and pick off some beautiful bombs on his Progression prototype, kindly donated to him by Erik Antonson just for the trip. Personally, I had a handful of really fun waves and started to get the feel of the Vyper 90 and speeds and power that I hadn’t felt for quite a while. I was strapped that session and sent it into the air for some lofty hang time that certainly left me wanting more.

The heaviest situation happened late in the session. After snagging a few gems, PB snapped his leash and had his board get washed up into the first cave. He had to swim in on very jagged reef to fetch his board, but with the high tide, strong swell, and shallow bottom, it was impossibe to paddle or swim back out without being washed right back in. At one point PB nearly made it but was knocked back into the wave by a large surge of whitewater, rolling him back into the cave like a beachball in the shore break, keeping pieces of his flesh as souvenir. We were all watching from the boat, getting quite concerned; except Josh, who was trying to film an excerpt for one of his sponsors… we haven’t let him live that one down yet! The tow boats attempted to get close but it was far too risky. PB’s foil setup eventually washed up into the second cave where it was laid to rest forever. PB finally had to concede and swam out of the wave, leaving behind his beloved setup. At the end of the day, there were a few cuts, but nobody was seriously injured and the stoke meter was completely redlined. We motored away from the point exhilarated as much as exhausted. Everyone agreed that was the session of the trip, and I was so impressed by the level everyone was foiling at.

Our sport really has come a long way, and it’s great to see how foilers are now approaching waves of consequence with a high-performance surf mindset. Gone are the days of foilers going straight down waves in a survival stance, just trying to hold on! Now we are seeing full grab rail carves, airs, lip hits, foam bangs, even a few barrels! This really felt like an old school surf trip with everyone pushing each other to go harder and deeper. We all left with a sense of excitement for what the future of foiling holds. After witnessing some of the foiling done on this trip, I think the future of our sport is in good hands.

Now we are back to reality, and hard at work editing the hours upon hours of footage for our Unifoil full length movie due out mid-year. Stay tuned.

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