Wing Commander: Craig Tompkins

AK Durable Supply Co. Product Designer

Having joined the team almost four years ago, AK Durable Supply Co.’s Industrial Designer Craig Tompkins has been at the forefront of their technical product designs ever since. His meticulous eye for detail has produced some of their most celebrated products. We pitched Craig some questions to find out a little more about his background and day-to-day processes.


Hey Craig. First up, what’s your background in design? How did all that start out for you?

Product design is quite a unique area of expertise. It started for me at quite a young age. Not necessarily designing products with any specific purpose, but my childhood had always followed a very creative and explorative pathway. Growing up in a workshop surrounded by everyone building stuff, I was always interested in creating and fixing things. The openness to challenges and creative grounding catapulted me into design, where I completed my professional training in Industrial Design. My focus in design has been centered around technical product design; whether this is a complicated mechanical part in a spreader bar or a beautifully blended hydrofoil wing – the underlying design must be well tested and iterated through research and incremental development.

When did you join the team at AK, and how did that come about?

I joined the AK team at the start of 2020. I had become familiar with Clinton Filen and his work, and have always taken an interest in his design approach and the constant drive towards innovation. When I started working with the team, I knew I was in the right place – I can push myself and my capabilities with the freedom needed in a creative space while gathering test feedback essential for product development. 

What products are you in charge of at AK, and name us some personal favorites…

Currently, I am responsible for most of the AK products with the exception of the foilboards, which are designed by Clinton. As mentioned before, I thrive on technical product design, where the mechanical elements and function form the foundations of a beautifully ergonomic and aesthetic part. One of my favorite products is the complete hydrofoil series. The opportunity to design the foils from the ground up has given me immense satisfaction. From the new integrated blended front wing design with our High Modulus Carbon Plus mast to the rear fuselage connection and G-10 stabilizers, the foil program has been a great design challenge for me. From engineering and CFD, parametric design, performance optimization, and in house sampling and R&D processes – many hours of testing, redesign and development has been the thread for success in these products.

Talk to us about one of your most recent creations, the Tracer v3.

The Tracer v3 is our all-around foil for versatile performance and high-speed control. The main objective with the Tracer was to design a medium aspect ratio hydrofoil for ease of use and maneuverability. Not only does the Tracer carve with intuitive ease, but it does this effortlessly while maintaining speed and hold through the turns. The Tracer brings improved performance and features desirable for not only foiling progression, but high-performance riding across a range of disciplines. There was an opportunity to redesign parts of the foil from the ground up, pushing for the ultimate product in terms of compatibility, riding characteristics, and rigidity throughout each component's connection.

There are many subtleties that separate a good design from a great design. Each size in the Tracer series has been specifically optimized in shape and aspect ratio to ensure directional stability, incredibly low stall speeds, and optimized performance features for the most efficient pumping and gliding. Working with some of the most experienced riders, we have managed to develop a foil that can deliver snappy responsiveness and rail-to-rail riding ability needed in surf and high-performance wing disciplines. Should the rider prefer more stability, the Tracer can easily be set up with a longer 36.5cm rear fuselage for a more locked-in feel.

Talk us through the design process for you, from start to finish…

The design process is a continuous evolution with constant iteration and refinement, to get to a resolved design. Each design will build on the previous rendition to bring incremental improvement. The process starts off rough, with very broad ideas and concepts, through which the sketching and rough prototyping phase becomes foundational. During this early design phase, I like to gather clarity on what the product needs to do, where it will be positioned in the market, as well as the intended user group.

Once clarity in these areas has been reached, the designs can start to evolve freely within this framework. From these early design concepts, a proof of concept is usually the goal – this involves prototype development and usability testing where we can evaluate if the idea or design is feasible. After a few iterations and refinement, it is usually at this point where we bring the sales team in and get their input, after which we can start to engage with factories and begin developing our first samples.

For a technical product like a hydrofoil, we will go through a full in-house prototype and sampling phase where we are able to produce near production spec prototypes. These will be used to evaluate design and engineering decisions that will drive the design and performance direction. As the product evolves functionally, it also needs to evolve visually – this is where the graphic team excel and tie everything together with consideration to material, color, texture, and art.

What would your ideal pairing be with the Tracer v3?

The Tracer can be paired with the Phazer for surf foiling and freeride wing foiling, or the Compact for more freestyle-oriented wing performance. Since the Tracer offers balanced versatile performance, the setup will be governed by what sort of riding the user is aiming to achieve.

You’re based in Muizenberg, what are your key testing spots and what sort of conditions do you get?

Muizenberg is close to home for me – the place is always buzzing with surfers and people enjoying the beach. For kiting, I can walk just down the road from the office and pump up my kite on the beach. Being so close to a local kite spot is great! It allows me to quickly jump on some new prototype gear and test it out. Muizenberg also offers some perfect prone foil surf conditions with gentle 1-3ft waves, allowing us to get in the water most days.

Just a 30-minute drive from Muizenberg and you will end up in Table View, with access to some of the best flat water lake conditions for winging at Rietvlei. We have spent many hours foil testing at the vlei. With consistent 15-20 knot days – there is always an opportunity to go testing, comparing and tuning foil prototypes, wings and evaluating performance features.

Top Gun Tester, Victor Hays.

Disciplines seem to have delineated themselves more compared to the earlier days when foiling started getting popular. Do you think the design areas per discipline have become more complex?

While yes, the disciplines have become more defined, this doesn’t necessarily mean that customers are only looking for a product specifically designed for that purpose – this can be somewhat limiting.

This is where the Tracer v3 really excels. We have produced a product that manages to bring such versatile performance that the user can take this product from entry to mid-level riding with the idea to push their foiling to the next level, or the advanced rider looking for the ultimate technical performance. The Tracer was born and bred to cater to each rider across wing sizes and all the configuration options. The larger wing sizes are best suited for entry level winging and surf foil progression. The mid-sizes are ideal for high-performance surf and wing foiling, with an entry into downwind. The small to medium size foils are best for high performance wing, surf, and tow-in foiling.

However, it is clear that in order to reach certain performance features, other performance characteristics will likely need to be compromised slightly. For example, should we want to design a downwind dedicated foil with exceptional glide and pump, we may need to compromise on some of the snappy maneuverability and tune out how we want the turning to respond. Should a downwind foil be placed in demanding surf conditions, depending on the size, it will not perform in the same way as a foil designed to specifically handle these rail-to-rail surf characteristics. While yes, the designs have become more complex, we can now really define how we would like the foils to perform.

How close do you work with the brand manager, and other key players in the company?

I work very closely with the brand manager. For the brand to be correctly positioned, the product and our offering needs to align with what we stand for and who our user group is. Our brand manager defines this direction and creates the vision needed for me to execute correctly and effectively. Being responsible for product management, product design and R&D, it is critical for our success that our product department can work closely with our brand manager to ensure on time delivery and clarity.

I also work very closely with our art director to ensure I am staying within the parameters of our design styling, look, and feel. It is also critical to our product’s successful communication that I provide necessary detail for digital content, animation and visual presentation.

Describe your desert island foil to us…

As I am sure you can tell from everything above, I would say that the ideal desert island foil would be the Tracer v3 1030 – Carbon. With the 85cm Carbon Plus mast and mid length fuselage, this foil setup is an absolute go to. With the incredible stiffness of the Carbon Plus mast, you will find a very direct and locked-in feel to have you riding across disciplines. From surf to wing, you will be capable of connecting waves and carving 360s without skipping a beat.

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