Torque Isn’t Cheap

Pro kitesurfer, Patagonia ambassador, and now avid tow foiler Reo Stevens weighs up the pros and cons of getting yourself towed behind a boat… and why it’s found its place as yet another fun-filled niche within our sport.

Words: Reo Stevens
Photos: Chuck Harlan


“Welcome to the heliboarding of the foiling world! You’re welcome to tag along once, but remember, only the first hit is free”

Tow foiling is an addictive feeling that’s causing the tow surfers around the North Shore to dust off their old jets skis and sending everyone else scrambling to get hold of a new one. 

Myself and my good friend Keahi de Aboitiz have been using a ski to escape the crowded line ups of the North Shore of Oahu for some time now. Coming from a kitesurfing background, we were no strangers to the idea of chasing and riding swells before they break so the concept was nothing new to us. I’m not sure exactly when or how we started or whose idea it was, but there weren’t too many others out doing it when we did start. 

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The North Shore of Oahu is famous for its quality and variety of waves of all sizes. The way the reefs are formed allow a handful of waves to hold size by moving further offshore as the swells get bigger. By breaking further out on Oahu’s outer reefs, the result is some of the biggest rideable waves in the world. However, when the waves are smaller, the open ocean swells don’t turn into breaking waves until the shallow inside. What does happen is that these outer reefs cause the ocean swells to stand up steeper than they would be in the open ocean while still moving at a fast pace. This allows a foiler to ride smaller front wings than they would ride while doing a downwinder, resulting in higher performance riding at an extremely fast pace. Because these open ocean swells never actually break, it would be extremely hard (if not impossible) to ever catch them, so using the ski to get the rider up and on foil allows the foiler to ride these steep and fast-moving humps that would otherwise go unridden. 

Tow foiling might also quite possibly be the best way to improve your foiling in the shortest amount of time. The amount of time on the board that you get with the assurance that falling doesn’t result in a long paddle back out to catch another wave gives the rider the confidence to try more maneuvers while improving their technique.

So that’s the list of positives that come along with tow foiling, but let’s also talk about the negatives…

The #1 negative for me – FALLING HURTS! When you make a mistake, you will feel it and won’t forget it. The high speeds that you obtain (20-25mph+) on a medium sized swell combined with the raised-up height from the foil creates a slingshot effect into the water that will leave you feeling a bit of whiplash. That, along with the natural reaction to raise your front arm when you fall can result in a few sore shoulders, if not a dislocated one. 

Personally, this is the main reason why I’m hesitant to ride the big stuff on a foil. I’m really not that old, but I’m old enough to have gone through enough injuries that I’ve started to make risk/reward decisions in life and pushing the speed boundaries of foils in large breaking waves isn’t something I’m rushing into for just that reason. High speed crashes and the potential to fall on a large breaking wave while riding a guillotine isn’t something I’m frothing to try. However, I’m apt to suffer from severe cases of FOMO, so I’m sure I’ll change my tune eventually – I’m just hesitant to do it.

#2: You need a jet ski/to pay for fuel each time you go. Much like heliboarding, the cost of entry and cost per use will keep a few people away from this. Not to mention, it’s not very “carbon neutral”, unlike how prone foiling or wingfoiling would be.

#3: You need someone to go with, someone needs to drive the ski – It takes a bit of organization and free schedules to go when it’s good.

I was lucky enough to grow up and watch the sport of kitesurfing begin, grow, and develop into different disciplines and now I’m again lucky enough to watch foiling do the same. It’s following a lot of the same paths as kitesurfing did, but the core similarity is the fact that it is based on having fun and the people involved are so willing to take that form of fun and adapt it to the conditions that they have. If it’s small and there’s no wind – prone foiling. Flat and windy – kite or freestyle wingfoiling. Windy and waves – surf wingfoiling. Glassy and no waves or wind – wake foiling… the list continues, and I have no doubt in my mind that it will continue to grow (honestly, who saw wingfoiling coming?!).

So, get out there and have some fun!

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