Perspectives from the parallel

Jesse Faen probably needs little introduction, especially if you’ve come to foiling from a surfing background. From pro surfer to editor of both Waves and Surfing Magazine, he then spent many years on tour with the Association of Surfing Professionals (the ASP, now the WSL). It’s given him a unique insight into the liberating benefits of foiling and to its tractor-beam-like attraction to many high-profile surfers… not least his friend and WQS contender, Manuel Selman (seen here). With a shared love of Manuel’s home country of Chile, an opportunity to bring other members of the Ride Engine team down for some water time on its dusty edges wasn’t gonna be missed…

Photos: Eric Duran

Jesse, you’ve got plenty of previous experience of Chile before this trip. How long have you been returning there? What were your first impressions and what memories stand out?

I first went down to Chile in 2000. 22 years of traveling down there. My first impressions were definitely like I was going back in time, just seeing beautiful countryside and miles and miles of pristine coastline with relatively few populated areas and no surfers whatsoever. Just that sense of having so much to explore. I really remember feeling that this is just such a vast place. Every time I seemed to go over a headland, I'd find another set up that I just couldn't wait to paddle out in. The beautiful thing about that time I first went there was that there was just no information or any people there that surfed. It was completely fresh and new to me, and it really heightened my experiences as a result of that. 

It's mainly the solo sessions that stand out as memories to me, whether it's surfing or, later on, foiling and kitesurfing, stand-up paddling, and just exploring line-ups with no one around and just really getting to be there in the moment, feeling like I had won the lottery. That feeling that somehow my life had brought me to these experiences where I was able to just appreciate the journey and the moment that I was in. That's really a profound memory of my time going to Chile over the years, and then getting to share it with other people, especially later. But those times completely alone – that to me is really one of the essences of the surfing experience being out there in nature and getting to soak it all in.

And how did this particular trip to Chile come about?

This particular trip had been in discussion for years with Gary Siskar, Ride Engine’s Brand Manager. Gary is a dear friend, and the man responsible for getting me into kitesurfing, which then got me into foiling. Years before that we had been talking about Chile, just because he was very familiar with Peru and spends a lot of time there, and likewise with me and Chile. When he got involved with Ride Engine, it just became this dream that maybe we'd get to go down to Chile with a bunch of the guys and girls and make a trip out of it. After Covid, he was able to pull the pin and we all jumped through the hoops that we had to go through to get into Chile. It was such a special opportunity to bring a whole bunch of people that I really respect down to my house and share a really special part of the world with them. 

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The beauty of this trip was that everybody brought a lot of the toys and we all surf, foil, wing and kitesurf, and Brian (Metcalf-Perez) windsurfs, so there was just no shortage of inspiring things to go and do to have fun, and it really was just a matter of checking things each day and deciding what was going to be the best use of those conditions. I mean, we wanted to do it all, and we got to do it all, so it was just obviously timing of tides and winds and the size of the swell.

This trip you took your foil setup as part of the quiver. With access to so many ways to ride no matter the conditions or crowds, how did it influence your perspective of the place? 

Interestingly, when I first started going down to Chile, I was just a dedicated surfer in the sense of riding traditional surfboards, so the quiver that I brought down reflected that. Over the years, it's expanded, and obviously now with foiling and winging, I've got a lot more toys in the quiver. Initially, I used to only want to be in Chile in the middle of their winter because of the big ground swells, no wind, and I really avoided ever being there in the spring or the summer because it's super windy and I just did not enjoy being in those sorts of conditions. Plus, there's just more people around. Our trip ended up being at the end of spring, so we got a bit of both. We got some great swell and we also got good wind and you can always foil. So, the perspective now is just realizing there's no bad time of the year to go pretty much anywhere. It's just what toys do you have to play with to utilize the conditions that are on offer. This trip was absolutely the epitome of making the most of whatever conditions are available every day, and to me that is being like a surfer in the truest sense – not sitting around waiting, just getting out there and getting after it, always, and realizing it can always be perfect.

As a multisport athlete, how does your variety of skill sets enhance/compliment foiling and your approach to the other sports?

I think being multi-disciplined obviously increases the amount of time I'm in the ocean, so that's great, from just a cross training point of view, but it's really all about having fun and playing. The more I'm playing, the happier I am, and that kind of lends itself to being better at the things you're doing just by being out there more often. Sometimes I notice it if I'm foiling a lot when I get back on a regular surfboard, that feels odd for a few waves, but I love that humbling reminder that you've always got to be trying to let the ocean and the conditions dictate what you're out there to do, not just trying to force the same sort of mindset on two different conditions. 

Foiling and kitefoiling have definitely lent themselves to help me get in to winging, but it's interesting because you get asked all the time by people who don't foil how to do it, and what helps to learn, but I think you just got to begin! Just like riding a bike, it seems really counterintuitive initially, but once you're doing it, you get used to the balance and then it's just this amazing feeling of getting to ride the energy of the ocean in new ways and feeling able to connect dots. Rather than having these really short experiences, you start having these longer continual experiences from one swell to the next. With a wing that can just go on for hours, and it's meditative and fun and yet challenging. I'm so grateful that I got into foiling. It just made the playground so much bigger; it made the conditions so much more perfect. Whenever I travel now, I think of bringing a foil board ahead of a surfboard and kites, because I know, no matter where I go, you can always go foiling.

This trip you were also joined by your friend, Chilean pro surfer and WQS contender Manuel Selman. Have you known each other long?

Yeah, Manuel and his family are really dear to my heart. I met Manuel about 10 years ago in Lombok, in Indo, and he's a great guy. He was born in Chile, but he lives in the Dominican Republic now and is an amazing surfer, kiter, foiler and winger, and just the exact kind of person I love to be on a trip with because he's just frothing to always go do something fun and push the limits. He was an absolutely essential part of this trip. He's just such an open-minded and positive person, and to me, that is being a surfer, just wanting to be out there in the ocean and always appreciating that opportunity. I was super glad he was there.

Also, my Spanish is pretty horrible, which is an embarrassing thing to admit after having been in Chile for so many years. So having someone who was born there, a guy who is a Spanish-speaking Chilean representative at the Olympics, that was just such a benefit. People were so stoked to see Manuel, and that helps when you're in a bit of a crew showing up anywhere, just to have people who are super respected. I mean, we were all very respectful everywhere we went, but it's nice to just have people stoked to see us show up, as opposed to what can be the opposite when you show up with a crew anywhere in the world.

Were you both able to learn things from each other on this trip?

I do learn a lot from Manuel, but then I learn a lot from everyone really. I'm always trying to observe and listen and just see how people are approaching their session and whatever craft there on, and hopefully that works both ways. To me, there's no such thing as a bad board or the wrong craft, it's just how well do you utilize them in the conditions that you're out on and letting those things dictate your approach, not just forcing something but trying to let the board or the foil, or the kite or the wing do what it wants to do in those moments sometimes, and back and forth between what you want and what it wants is a fun way of just making the most out of a session.

The pro surfers we’ve interviewed previously for this magazine have had pretty much the same philosophy on foiling, which is essentially that it’s nothing but a good thing because it simply increases your time on the water, with all the benefits that provides. Does this reflect your own feelings towards foiling? And can you speak for Manuel’s too?

No matter where I've gone, foiling has just opened up the possibilities. How far can I ride a swell, how many waves can I connect here, and what can I do on this… It's just so challenging and never-ending. It's hard not to be enthusiastic when you have a foil board in your quiver. Also the cool thing for me in all my travels since I got into foiling was getting to open up other people's minds. When you go into these remote places, there's not a lot of foils in those spots, and the local people that get to see it, it blows their minds. It's like they get those experiences we all did when we first saw people like Kai Lenny, Laird and the others foiling. So for them to see it up close and personal is passing along that stoke to others, and that's a really big part of foiling for me.

I know Manuel travels with a foil most places he goes, and we were talking about how cool it is that even when they’re all competing in events, there are several surfers on the tour who also have them in the quiver. I mean, I spent a decade traveling around the world on the ASP tour before it was the WSL and, man, I wish I was into foiling then. I went to all the dream spots around the world, but at most events there are down days because the waves are small, but that would have still been amazing. So yeah, Manuel is pretty much living my dream, as far as getting to travel and have all those things open to him everywhere, and he knows it. It's kind of amazing that more people aren't doing it yet, just to better utilize the days wherever they are.

To be in this place at this time, the first generation to have almost no limitations to getting on the water, no matter the conditions… How does that feel?

You know, it's a privilege, and that's not lost on me. Like I said earlier, I've been very fortunate to travel a lot in my life. I went to El Salvador and brought foiling down there, and Nicaragua, parts of Australia, and obviously Chile. When you're bringing new technology like foils and wings, and letting people see it with their own eyes and grasp the fun that they can have in their backyard… that's a really special thing that I don't take for granted. When you're in places where there are significant financial challenges, or they just don't have the resources at their disposal, it's definitely a reminder of just how lucky we are, those of us that get to do these things. I just try to be mindful of that and share what I can and pass along old equipment to people when I'm able.

As far as time in the water, man, foiling and winging has exponentially expanded my time in the water, that's for sure. I used to hate the wind. I would just avoid being outside or at the beach if it was windy, and now that's like the main element that I'm checking apps for, to see when it's going to be windy and where to go and what equipment to bring for that. Like I said, whenever I travel, the first thing I know I'm putting in a bag, somehow, is my prone foil set up, because anywhere I go, I can go have a great time on a foil board.

And in hindsight, does the past now feel like it was at all limited, now that there are so many options for riding on previously unrideable days?

I think everything is in evolution. I have that mindset where I can bring my past experience into what I'm doing today. I definitely wish I had been able to travel as much as I used to with the quiver that I currently have. I've always been the surfer with the mindset that I want to try all different types of boards, constantly. I want to try different fin setups, different lengths, different designs… And that's just lent itself perfectly to getting into both kiting and foiling especially. Now winging just keeps expanding my enthusiasm to be out there learning more and playing more. I also love the community that is involved in winging and foiling too. They’re just so much more inclusive, they’re not stuck in this mindset where they've got their one board, that's all they use and they're kind of just pissed off. It's like everybody's got more variety of equipment and they're all wanting to learn from each other and talk about it and share, and I love that. 

Through your career you’ve been witness to the continued exponential growth in surfing, and it’s only in these more remote geographical locations that we tend to find the last true outposts of uncrowded wave riding. But foiling is changing that, and now we can have solo adventures again in our own backyards too. Would you say foiling is the antidote to the crowded line-up pressure cooker?

Yeah, I've definitely seen the exponential growth in surfing, especially the last few years, thanks to Covid and the expansion of softboards. Surfing is so popular everywhere, but the irony is, often you just need to go around the corner and there'll always be a place less crowded. I mean, people still seem to be pretty much gravitating to other people as opposed to constantly looking for their own little slice of paradise. If you have the right equipment, like a foil board, you can make anything super fun. One thing I'll say is, I've always been a surfer who tried not to let the conditions dictate my happiness. Meaning on the windiest, smallest, most marginal conditions, I can still have the best moment or wave because I go out there with that mindset. And with that mindset, foiling is endless, and winging is the same… when you've got a foil board and a wing, you cannot find a moment in a session anywhere to not just have the most fun. So with traveling, it's just opening those possibilities exponentially because there's a big ocean out there and a lot of wind. Utilizing those two things, crowds become less of an issue.

With foiling now in the repertoire, and in a place like Chile that holds so much promise with plenty of uncrowded line-ups and above-par conditions, does the term ‘skunked’ even exist anymore?!

No, it doesn't exist. I cannot imagine going on a trip anywhere and not being able to foil. I mean if it was absolutely flat, like a lake somewhere, I would find a way to get towed by a boat, a car, a horse, or a jet ski, or something, and foil behind that. Never in my experience of traveling have I seen oceans that didn't have something breaking for the whole time of a trip to at least foil, or get wind to do something with a wing, or a kite, and/or get to surf. So yeah, you can't get skunked anymore. You might not get to do everything the way you want, but in a place like Chile or any stretch of coastline which has options available, no matter what wind direction, no matter what size swell, if you've got a quiver of different sized boards that allow you to foil and surf and kite, you can always score something challenging or fun. So that to me is the whole point of a quiver, it’s there to allow you to utilize whatever is on offer, every single day.   

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