THE DEATH AND REBIRTH OF THE WCFC

An interview with Chris Sayer of Freedom Foilboards
By: Steve Sjuggerud, Contributing Editor

Before you had ever even thought about foil surfing, Jeff and Ryan Hurley were already genuinely ripping… Jeff, Ryan, and a couple friends truly pioneered legit foil surfing in California. And they documented it, in a punk-rock way, on their West Coast Foil Club Instagram page. The hashtag #LoyalToTheFoil started with them. They made their own super-progressive foil boards and sold them. And guys like Kai Lenny and John John Florence joined in the fun along the way. Then… they disappeared… 

With no Instagram posts for years, the West Coast Foil Club – the best source for progressive foil boards and foil clips years ago – was seemingly done. To early foilers, these guys are legends. But new foilers have never heard of them. That’s all about to change… thanks to Chris Sayer of Freedom Foilboards – and the re-birth of the West Coast Foil Club.


Steve: So Chris, there are two stories to tell here, right? The past and the future of the West Coast Foil Club. Tell me what the beginning of the West Coast Foil Club means to you…

Chris: It's so funny to me, because when I look at those guys and what they've done for me, they're like legends. But a lot of the new people have no idea who they are. I started making my own boards years ago, inspired by Jeff and Ryan’s progressive foil board designs. I had no idea at the time that making foil boards for myself would ultimately turn into the Freedom Foilboards brand today. But I never forgot about where I came from. And I always wanted to honor these guys that inspired me. It bothered me a bit that people today don’t know about them. Because to me, if there was a California Foil Surfing Hall of Fame, these guys would be some of the first inductees.

So about a year ago I reached out to Jeff and Ryan. I’d foiled with them for years. I told them what their West Coast Foil Club exploits and boards meant to me. I thought we might be able to do something together. It turns out my timing was good, as Jeff’s son Brady was getting deep into foiling. We hatched a plan… let’s relaunch the West Coast Foil Club! Same edgy attitude. Same progressive board designs. But updated to present… and adding Brady and his foiling energy to the mix. It’s happening, and it’s simply a respect play with Freedom Foilboards and West Coast Foil Club. I just appreciated what they did for me in getting into surf foiling and starting Freedom. I wanted to keep the name alive, because it inspired me so much.

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Steve: Let’s go back four or five years… When did you first see foiling? And when did you first see the Hurleys on the water?

Chris: I saw Chuck Patterson foiling at this outer reef in San Clemente about four years ago. Chuck came by me on the jet ski, saying, “Hey, do you mind if I tow in next on the foil?” And I was like, “oh, yeah, I've been wanting to see this. Let's do it.” I knew really quickly after watching that session I had to get into foiling. I was sitting on my surfboard thinking I was killing it, and then they just totally dominated me. I thought “I need to figure this sport out, and what's happening here, because they just had too much fun.” 

I had my shaping bay in the garage where I was shaping some surfboards for myself and friends. And I realized looking online that there weren’t a lot of foil boards on offer. I knew I could probably just shape a board and just do one for myself. So I did that. I kept seeing these West Coast Foil Club boards everywhere though. They were the boards that – if you're ripping – you’re out there on those boards. And so then I actually got to meet Jeff Hurley and Ryan Hurley a bit while foiling out at the Dogpatch at San Onofre. I kind of chatted with them a little bit about foiling. And I was just fascinated with what they were doing.

There weren’t many of us out there then. It was like this renaissance period of “wow, what, what is this?”. It wasn't like we had Kai Lenny and Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama who were influencing the scene for years and people got little glimpses. It was pretty new… it was brand new. And so the Hurleys were totally welcoming to the tiny foil “club” and they were super cool.

Steve: But they’re the Hurleys – as in the famous surf clothing brand Hurley…

Chris: Yes. Everywhere they go, they are with people that are the “in” crowd. You know, hanging with John John Florence, hanging with Kai Lenny, and all the rest. They’re soft spoken. It could be interpreted if you don't know them very well as maybe standoffish a little bit. But that's just who they are. But what I thought was really unique about them back then is they just had this amazing Instagram presence… The vibe they had on Instagram was kind of like, it was kind of a little punk rock… it was a little bit like, “Hey, we're like the old skateboard crew from California, like, back in the day, the Dog Town crew.” It was edgy. They had that kind of vibe, like they knew a secret. And they were willing to share it, but they weren't going to go out and be bragging about it. Instead, they'd let all their like foiling do the talking. 

They just had this thing about them, where you could tell that foiling is all they cared about. And coming from the surf world that was pretty unique… that they would come from surfing and go, “We're gonna go to Tavarua and only bring our foil boards.” People thought “What? What in the world?” And that's what they did. They went to Tavarua, didn't even bring a single board. They brought their foil boards. All they did was foil. And they had the best trip of their lives.

Steve: What was it about the Hurley’s foiling that got your attention?

Chris: I think the people who foil and have the best style have a surf background. They surf in the waves, they understand the flow. Take Corey Colapinto, for example. He’s a really good longboarder. And when he foils he sees unique lines that other people maybe weren't drawing at the time. And you're thinking, “well, I didn't even think about going that deep into a bottom turn.” With Ryan and Jeff, I feel like it’s the same thing. Even though they had more like a pro surf background, they saw lines… they were able to do things that most people weren't able to because they were so comfortable on a board to begin with. They were just killing it. They're connecting three or four waves on those bigger low aspect surf foils, which is incredible. They carried speed out of those waves. They knew exactly what they were doing.

Steve: What was the San Onofre foiling scene like back then?

Chris: There were four or five, maybe six of us at first. But then it quickly started growing throughout that first year that I was foiling. Right as I was starting Freedom Foilboards, every time we'd show up in the water, there was someone new out there. By the time Freedom was going, in any given afternoon, there could be 15 or 20 of us out in the water foiling, which was a pretty good pack. If it was a fun day, if it was on, people knew about it and were willing to wait in an hour-long line at San Onofre to get down to Dog Patch to foil because it's special. You realized something special was happening.

Steve: What made the West Coast Foil Club guys stand out among all the other foilers?

Chris: Each and every one of them were ahead of everyone else. It was Jeff and Ryan Hurley, Punker Pat, and a few other guys that worked at Hurley who foiled with them a lot. I don't know their names but it was a crew of them and they started the West Coast Foil Club. And now when you're on Instagram, like if you see the word “club” behind something, that all started from West Coast Foil Club. You see all these different “foil clubs” out there. They were the first foil club to be a foil club. Their version is like the punker version. Ryan Hurley ran marketing for Hurley and so he's the genius behind like their Instagram and the stuff that he was doing. I don't think it'd be a stretch to say he started some of the first memes on foiling, like “Foiled Again” or something. They actually purchased the “Loyal to the Foil” trademark at one point. They're just creative geniuses, you know? And you combine that with an amazing talent and then also the draw that they had to the surrounding public, and all the surfers that were watching their accounts… 

In my opinion, what helped make foiling so popular was people seeing Hurley team riders like John John Florence and Kai Lenny latch on to foiling. Surfers thought “Whoa, these guys are legit surfers and they like to foil. This isn't like something else or some other weird niche sport.” I think a lot of younger surfers are influenced by that you know? They see these people they look up to, and they’re like “okay, well if they're adopting it maybe there's something to this because they love surfing, same as me.”

But the fact that that's the company that they keep, that's the story. They're surrounded by the very best when it comes to surfing and also foiling. When you look at the athletes that the kids respect and are awed by, it's that talent that the Hurleys are hanging with. I think that the Hurley's and the Kai’s and the John John's are the ones that are attracting those kids to the sport.

Steve: So Jeff and Ryan were all in… then the West Coast Foil Club Instagram stuff kind of stopped… What happened?

Chris: Talking to Jeff, they're either “all in” or “all out” on things. And then they realized they just had too much going on to create these West Coast Foil Club boards AND foil AND run the Hurley business AND have their family and kids and stuff. West Coast Foil Club was a passion project at the time, that started to become a full-time project. They realized they were getting a little carried away. And I think that all the time constraints caused an issue. They didn't abandon foiling for years. They just abandoned the idea of making boards and building a business around it, basically.

It all occurred to me one afternoon when we were in the water. As the Freedom brand grew, their brand kind of dissipated. I thought it would be really cool to kind of show a little bit of respect to the West Coast Foil Club, because they ignited my whole spark. And it would be cool for me just to show respect to them. If they were interested in keeping the West Coast Foil Club alive, I wanted to help find a cool way for them to do it, where it didn't steal a lot of their free time. So I called Jeff and I threw that pitch out to him and said, “Hey, I ran this by my team at Freedom Foilboards and they're all stoked on the idea of doing something. If you guys are interested in doing it, we would we'd be willing to do all the legwork and keep the West Coast Foil Club name alive… It’s my way to kind of show respect to you guys for everything that you did inspire me.”

Steve: So it’s happening… West Coast Foil Club foil boards are coming back! Will this be its own thing, or will it be under the Freedom Foilboard’s family?

Chris: It'll be within us. It'll be within our board range. It's basically a West Coast Freedom Board. Freedom's going to be retailing it and distributing it. And Jeff and Ryan and Brady will be promoting it on their West Coast Foil Club Instagram page and through our ads and stuff. So yeah, it'll be through us. But we're going to help them build some social media posts and put some money into helping like reignite the sleeping giant. The way I kind of look at it is they just you know, they just took a long nap.

Steve: You want to talk a little bit about Jeff’s son, Brady?

Chris: Sure. The Hurleys kind of passed the Olympic torch to him to run the lap, you know? Jeff and Ryan will always be there in the background… foiling when it's on, and they still rip. Jeff's really good still, it's so fun to watch. And Ryan is insanely talented and skilled when he's out there. So I think they'll always kind of be background noise. But definitely Brady's going to be the guy who carries the torch going forward. And he's a lot like his dad. He's really soft spoken, very humble, not wanting to brag about himself. I think they're the type of family who let their work do most of the talking. You know, they're not the people that kind of like, talk about themselves, and then try to back it up. They're the guys that talk very little, and then go out and just show everyone who's boss. And Brady's exactly the same way. He's very soft spoken. He's only 16. But he's very mature. He's a well-spoken kid and comes from a really good family. And they're very strong Christian believers, just good people.

He's ripping everything he touches, like how he learned to flatwater start on a SUP foil. He was on a tiny Lift foil. I'm like, “Has anyone ever flatwater SUP started on that Lift foil before that size?” And he's like, “I don't think so.” He’s good. And he's got high aspirations.  He’s going to be fun to watch as this thing grows.

Steve: Any final thoughts about the rebirth of the West Coast Foil Club?

Chris: I think the big takeaway for us is, this is just a big respect play with Freedom and West Coast. I just appreciate what they did for me, inspiring me to start Freedom. I’m excited to see where this goes. And I want to keep the name alive. Because again, to me it means a lot.   

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