The Best of AWSI 2022: End of an Era, Start of A New One
Our man on the ground at the recent AWSI event in Hood River gives his own unique take on who and what was best in show. We have more coverage of the AWSI and all the latest key developments in the industry over on our YouTube channel…
Words: Steve Sjuggerud, Contributing Editor
Photos: Jim Stringfellow/AWSI
“North Sails Advanced Technologies developed this incredible, new N-Weave material especially for us,” Mike Raper of North Foils explained to me at AWSI trade show in Hood River. “N-Weave is three times stiffer and forty percent lighter than standard Dacron, and it’s in our upcoming Mode line of wings…”
As Mike continued, I’m embarrassed to admit that my mind wandered a bit. Hearing about all this technology, this thought went through my head: “Today is the end of the “old” era in foiling, and the start of a new one.”
North, and the 2022 AWSI show in general, marked the end of an era to me…
Gone are the days of going into the garage and glassing a board or a stabilizer and “seeing how it goes”. We have moved on it seems… Computer-aided design, fancy materials, marketing departments… our little hobb /obsession has officially grown up.
This really hit home for me while standing at the North booth… because at that moment I got a WhatsApp message from my old friend Tiesda from Starboard, with a photo we’d taken the day before…
It brought back memories. Four years ago, I stood over a block of foam in Thailand at Starboard’s headquarters with these four guys (From right to left: Starboard’s founder Svein, product developer Ollie, shaper and foil guru Tiesda, my foil-frothing friend Kjell, and me. Missing in the photo is shaper Mike Nichols.)
At that time, the shape could have been anything… there were no rules. As we thought about how to shape this little block of foam into foiling perfection, we wondered aloud if this would even be a sport – or a business. At the time Starboard was already a world leader in windsurfing boards and standup paddleboards. It was hard to imagine foiling would be, well, much more than a novelty… hard to imagine it could be more than 1% of their business.
It’s just amazing what’s happened in those four years…
Kjell is now a ripping foiler and marketing guru at Armstrong Foils. I somehow ended up here with Foiling Magazine. Shaper Mike Nichols is still doing custom foilboards. And the Starboard guys are still as foil stoked as ever, putting out high-end products with new materials as always.
The thing is, the most optimistic foiler four years ago could not have predicted where we are today – with incredible quality gear across the board at AWSI in 2022.
So, without further ado, let’s get to what I saw at AWSI!
One quick thing before we do… A little disclaimer: I tried my best. I did interviews truly non-stop (a pile of video clips are coming soon). However, I did NOT manage talk with every brand… Unfortunately, Appletree, Ensis, Takoon, and others did not make it onto the interview schedule (my apologies). And some other leading brands were not there (GoFoil, Cabrinha, and others). So what I’ll share with you today is not a complete rundown of everything that’s new from everyone… It’s impossible to talk with everyone and to see everything that went down.
This is simply based on what I saw… In a completely made up “awards” format, and in no particular order…
THE BEST IN THE INDUSTRY, AS VOTED BY THE INDUSTRY
A big congrats to Duotone / Fanatic, for winning brand of the year by AWSI members. Also, congrats to MacKite, for winning best shop of the year (thank you Tucker, for all the product video clips). Also, Chris MacDonald (F-ONE) and Annie Reickert (KT, Lift) were deservedly voted male and female wingers of the year (votes were limited to American riders and shops).
RIPPING FOILER AT AWSI WITH THE MOST ALOHA
This is a tough category… You have to both shred AND spread the love… Zane Schweitzer (AK Durable Supply Co. and Starboard) seems to always have an “aloha halo” with a diameter of about 10 feet. Oskar Johannson (Armstrong and AXIS) had the exact same personality he has on video (“Oo hoo hoo!”) with even more foil froth in person, if that’s possible. However, I give this (totally made up) award to Nathan Van Vuuren (of Signature and Flysurfer), as he probably spent more time flying, smiling and spreading positivity than anyone!
BEST WING FABRIC INNOVATIONS
North has its new N-Weave… FreeWing has a new “Pro” race wing coming out with its Ho’okipa material and X-ply. But fabric company ALUULA Composites takes the award, with several brands now licensing the ALUULA technology and their new, ridiculously strong, super light fabrics (Graflyte and Aeris X) which are far along in development, and which will be appearing on Ocean Rodeo wings in 2023.
COOLEST MAST / FUSELAGE CONNECTION
The mast to fuselage connection is a point of failure… Bolts back out, masts bend, fuselages bend, helicoils tear out, etc. (ALL of those things have happened to me.) Delta Foils eliminated all of those joints, in a compact package, with an integrated carbon-mast-plus-front-of-fuselage design. It still allows you to have different fuselage lengths… and it’s still small enough to pack easily. Pretty cool! Delta gets the award here.
BEST SYSTEM TO GET YOUR FOIL OFF YOUR BOARD
Lots of competition in this category… North Foils lets you remove your whole foil with the track nuts still on the bolts by sliding it forward. Nice! Slingshot solved it in the other way… you can loosen the four bolts and slide your mast right off the tail of your board. These aren’t the only ones. However, I’m giving the award to SABfoil’s new Kraken mast foot… Unscrew one large hex screw in the side of the mast base and you can remove the mast. You can also buy two Kraken mast feet… and leave one on your wing board and one on your prone board. Then switching foils would be incredibly quick!
TALLEST FOILER AT THE SHOW
Usually in water sports, it’s little guys… My 6’4, 110kg frame often looks ridiculous next to pro riders. Somehow in foiling… size seems to matter less. Toby from UniFoil gave me a run for my money, but came up “short” at maybe 6’2, 100kgs. Matt from Lift has got to be 6’4. (Both of these guys ride TINY foils though! I need to size down).
Then the competition steps up where I am not even on the podium… Wyatt Miller from Slingshot is a SOLID 6’4. Stephen from CORE is probably 6’5. But the tallest guy in the wind industry award has to go to Julian at ION… who has to be pushing 6’7. Our tripod needed a booster seat to film him… Ha!
EVERYONE it seems has a new, stronger mast out! I only rode one new high-end mast, from Armstrong. In my opinion it was outstanding – rigid and “quiet” through the water. It’s quite an improvement from where the industry was two years ago. AXIS is extremely confident in its new high-modulus masts as well, saying they couldn’t have even developed their super wide pumping wings without this mast development. Everyone, it seems, is upping their carbon mast game. The only negative is these solid carbon masts aren’t as light as you might expect.
In this category, we as the consumer are the winner here, as so many companies upped their game so we can ride stiffer masts.
MOST USELESS, MOST EXPENSIVE INNOVATION (THAT WE ALL SECRETLY WANT!)
So many to choose from! The new one-click way to switch propellors on your Lift e-foil is pretty cool! It saves you about five minutes, and man it costs real money. It should win this category! But I give the award to the e-Tow from Takuma… This thing is crazy! It is a self-tow-in device, essentially. Think of it as an unmanned jetski… or an e-foil without the foil. No joke! It’s coming out soon.
COOLEST INDUSTRY LEGEND (to me!)
Man this one is really tough… Raphaël Salles of F-ONE and Svein from Starboard both have a great vibe about them… They don’t need to accomplish anything more, but they are still fascinated by continuous innovation. Adrian from AXIS could fit in the “biggest frother” category, relentlessly innovating in part for his own personal journey to find glide and fun – that we all benefit from! I had a nice talk with Keith Teboul of KT Boards as well, which got surprisingly deep, surprisingly quickly. All are legends to me, and I can’t pick just one. Legends all!
BEST RIGID HANDLES OR BOOM
Oh man, every brand has something to offer this year, if not both handles AND booms. I’m going to cut right to it… the boom on the new Slingshot Javelin looks pretty darn sweet and super comfortable. Very small diameter, with an oval shape. Looks comfy! You use push pins to put it on and take it off. Lots of competiton here, of course Duotone knows how to do booms and handles… and I would like to try the Ocean Rodeo boom. But the tiny diameter on Slingshot’s looked so user friendly! Maybe others have small diameter booms like Slingshot, I don’t know. But I’m giving the points to the Slingshot Javelin boom.
This one is tough, because everyone had something cool and new. It’s also tough because we can’t see inside them to see what makes them tick. I’m going to pass out three ribbons here…
1) The KT Ginxu. You know what it looks like, with the cutout in the back third of the board… and you know who is behind it. But in person, it’s still crazy!
2) Takuma’s Morning Sun prone board seems futuristic… with its prepreg carbon, waterproof foam, and rad shape.
3) The Armstrong WFT… a wake, foil, tow board that’s 9 liters, one-inch thick, crazy carbon, and looks amazing. I will never ride it. But it looks rad!
THE MOST INNOVATIVE COMPLETE FOIL OFFERING
I didn’t expect this… I showed up at UniFoil with no expectations… But Toby has a LOT going on in 2023, with an innovative way of selling next year. In short, UniFoil encourages experimentation… Each complete foil purchase comes with three(!) stabilizers and seven(!) rear shims. Nice! Erik Antonsen of the Progression Project helped design the new 2023 Progression model, which should be amazing for my home-based Florida surf. This stuff doesn’t come out ‘til 2023, but it is a cool way of encouraging experimentation.
MOST FREQUENT FLYER MILES
Man this event was an international affair! Who traveled the farthest? A number of Aussies were at AWSI, from UniFoil and Naish (yes, Naish). A number of New Zealanders, from North and Armstrong at the minimum. Starboard came in from Thailand. Looking east… Appletree, Takoon, Takuma, SABfoil, and Ensis came in from Europe, with a number of Germans as well from CORE, Flysurfer, Fanatic, and ION. I think the award for longest trip was likely from South Africa, from two groups… 1) Clinton and DK from Airush and AK Durable Supply Co., and 2) Ivan and Nathan Van Vuuren from Signature Foils and Flysurfer.
BIGGEST FOIL FROTHER
You’d think it would be one of the kids running around here, pumping around on the water all day. However, I’m giving this award to Merrick at Armstrong… He killed me with kindness and stoke. He “forced” me (with kindness) to demo the new carbon mast and new foils. He had the stoke of a 16-year-old… and he was in his 60s. I don’t know what he does for Armstrong. But thanks Merrick!
Ladies and gents, I could go on for ages with these made-up awards. Again, it’s not meant to be comprehensive… just a fun look at AWSI from a guy who was on the scene.
The big winners of AWSI are you and me, the customers. This AWSI marked the end of an era to me… Gone are the days of figuring it out in your garage. We are now in the era of precision, high-quality products across the board. For a deeper dive into AWSI, we will be releasing many of our interviews in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.