Oceans of Blank Space

Josh Ku has too, been bitten by the downwind bug. This new craze has taken the foiling world over and has everyone challenging themselves to go further along swells in open seas.

When Sydney charger and UniFoil team rider Josh Ku – having been bitten by the downwind bug – headed West and slid into my DMs asking for some follow footage – well it would have been rude to say no!

Now downwind foiling is particularly hard to film as I dont feel a GoPro strapped to a paddle really does any justice to the size of the wind generated bumps and bombs due to the flattening affect of the wide angle lens. And because of the vast distances covered while being by definition offshore' in high winds its also very technical to pilot a drone to document.

Its only because of the autonomous antics with my Fliteboard / Skydio solo-shooting combo over the last 2-and-a-bit years that I’m confident in a) the tech and b) the logistics for it to be possible to capture, and to borrow a term from downhill skating, a ‘raw run’ of what downwind foiling is all about. So, with a decent forecast looming after a 5 hour drive back to Perth feeling rather dusty from my sisters wedding the night before, Josh and I met for the first time.

After nutting out a concept I had successfully attempted a few times at the tail end of last season with local AXIS team rider Nathan Susan FoilChandler, we managed to nail this one-and-done, 8 minute single take tracking shot! This clip demonstrates the standard 25 kilometres of Perth metro downwind bliss we get over here that definitely makes up for the lack of decent waves.

Depending who you ask, WA stands for either windy alwaysor ‘wait awhile” and after two consecutive average seasons while being locked in the state (to keep us all safe) this one is shaping up to be a cracker! When the prevailing sea breeze named the Freo Doctor shows up in the form of a 20 knot southerly most afternoons, those in the know are shuffling cars from finish to start and assembling their wind weapons.

But, it’s what you cant see in this video that is another side of the story…

The Skydio 2+ I use is an autonomous drone from a US company that, if it wasn’t for the negative Terminator connotations attached, probably should have named themselves SkyNet instead. And while the ‘Robot’ lacks the range of other consumer DJI drones, it makes up for this by having quite the brains and processing power, enabling for self flying up-close-and-personal tracking and some crazy obstacle avoidance capabilities. Josh covered over four kilometres in this single flight and due to the wind speed and other factors, as soon as the drone is airborne I have 20 minutes on the clock to do my thing – and thats cutting it nail bitingly close to draining the battery. Without the ability to communicate there’s a lot of moving parts!

The glare of the setting sun is so intense that I literally can only see a little figure 500m out to sea with a tiny dot tailing and that is after wasting precious time finding and locking on to Josh, framing the shot and then waiting for him to paddle up and get on foil. You might be wondering, I said poor range, so how did it manage to follow for 4km?!

Well, this particular stretch of coastline has a handy scenic shared bike and pedestrian path running along the cusp of the beaches. So, to get this all to work and stay within range of my drone involves me pacing him down said path at 25kph, while simultaneously dodging pedestrians on my Evolve Hadean electric skateboard plus avoiding my own obstabcles like getting taken out by a rogue skittish Border Collie on a long leash! Luckily from a few hundred hours of flight experience this shot is largely set and forget. Theres not much input I can have anyways while skating with a controller in each hands, except if and when I need to pump the brakes, abort the shot and commandeer the drone to safety. Generally, I just rely that the robot does what it says on the box and that some random kiter doesn’t tack over to say G’Day and consequently take my drone and his kite lines out!

Both of us were pretty stoked with the result and I think Josh can attest that he scored on his brief trip out west and it’s going to be the first of many. With the booming foil revolution well underway it's now pretty common of an afternoon to see a spread out fleet of tiny silhouettes embarking on voyages be it by SUP or wing dings and flying past all the local beaches.

For the average punter you cant really conceptualise what is going on, but if you could hear them, I can guarantee in between the consistent singing of those knives under water there is the frequent ‘yewwww!' of stoke getting yelled to no-one in particular.

The new breed of high aspect wings and board designs from the likes of Perth based Sunova board shaper Marcus Tardew make it possible for more and more adventurous water people to get in on the action of harnessing that open ocean raw energy and turn it into a blank space to explore.

Josh Ku riding a Sunova 66 Elite downwind SUP board with UniFoil 190 Hyper 2 wing, medium fuse, 14” Shiv stab and the 75cm Katana mast

Filmed on the Skydio 2+ drone in 4k60p – 1/120th shutter speed with an ND16 filter

Words and filming by Paul Davies 

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