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Foil Drive Gen2

Imagine that lazy lump of a reef break you’ve watched for years that walls up for eternity and never really does anything… That frustratingly useless but tempting bit of ocean energy you’ve paddled the lonely 600m over to, gaining nothing but dissatisfaction on more than one occasion. You couldn’t even get into it on your DW SUP foil rig. There’s now a product, I daresay an optional appendage, that will let you draw lines all over it like a fresh powder day in Utah.

At first I was at a psychological stalemate with a foil-assist system not being pure. It was cheating. You didn’t earn the wave, you don’t deserve to ride it. Then I had the realization that if I’d had the same attitude to kites, foiling and subsequently wingfoiling in the first place, I’d potentially be an eternally dissatisfied middle-aged man that surfs a mid-length four times a year and whinges about it. Even as an open-minded early adopter to most alt water sports, this contraption had me on the fence for a while. After being given the opportunity to test it however, I’ve now not only jumped clean over the fence, but I’ve also defecated in the ornamental carp pond and then proceeded to knock over the bird bath for good measure. Is this an eFoil, I hear you ask? No, although it will perform that function admirably, it’s got a completely different and more exciting application for the more seasoned foiler to use their existing equipment in ways not previously possible.

Foil Drive has been lurking in the background for a couple of years in its previous top-mounted lunchbox form, with enthusiasts lauding its virtues for some time. The new Gen2 design is mast top-mounted form factor, and vastly improved weight distribution has brought it flying into the mainstream, with a new level of viability. Squeezing the additional kilos between the board and the mast is a genius move, and provides the opportunity for modularity across pretty much any foil system you can conceive. At the time of going to press there’s currently well over 100 3D printed mast adapters to choose from. The list reads like a veritable who’s who of foil brands and integrated masts are already at market from major brands, like AXIS for example.

Two main variants are available in the form of the Assist Slim and the Assist MAX, with the MAX being slightly thicker form factor, carrying a larger battery, gleaning more thrust from the motor and longer runtimes. Various battery options are available which all balance weight and runtime; I won’t dwell on the specs but recommend a look at Foil Drive’s comprehensive information on their website and YouTube. You need to choose for your intended usage, weight and disciplines, and for me, as a 90kg chimpanzee in the upper end of its weight spectrum, the Assist MAX was what was primarily tested with both the Max Power and smaller Max Sport battery.

Initial assembly requires a modicum of dexterity with threaded fixings, and a practical mindset. I’d assign around 20 minutes for the first setup, and ideally, I’d recommend a dry run in the garage or van rather than anywhere sandy. To start, you need to clamp your unit between the mast and board – we found the most practical way to do this was to load the mast as normal, to set the provided locking track nuts at the correct position in the foil box, and then lock off with the blue M3 hex screwdriver. The next job is to load the board’s foil tracks with the provided grey foam. This helps transmit the signal of the controller through the board which is particularly necessary if it’s carbon or has carbon tracks. Next choose from the M6 or M8 long bolts to clamp the mast on top of the unit, securing the whole rig to the board. The motor is the next job, where essentially four little M3 bolts sandwich the two pieces of the 3D-printed mast adapter to the front and rear of the motor pod at your desired height. Various cable length options are available which dictate the motor’s position on the mast. These range between 15 and 70cm with the shorter lengths aimed at surf and the longer aimed at eFoil use.

Next up, another three of these tiny fixings attach the motor, with the cable running down the back of the mast to the rear of the unit. Another three dome-head fixings make the connection here, with a blue replaceable O-Ring keeping the water out. A rubber strip sits on the trailing edge of the mast to help guide the cable. The finale is a smooth covering between the base of the mast to the motor pod with 50mm electrical tape. The tidier and wrinkle free you keep this the less drag you will create. The battery slides in the front of the unit and is immediately live. Grease is employed to protect the terminals, and a plastic nose cone with another O-Ring and two sturdy clips keeps everything in place and watertight.

The pre-paired controller will be immediately familiar to anyone that’s owned an electric skateboard. It charges wirelessly with the USB pad provided and has the capability to show various detailed data such as throttle percentage, voltages and battery life, which you can scroll through with the indented circular button on the side. A constricting floating lanyard keeps it firmly attached to your wrist. It’s simple – you turn it on, squeeze the trigger and the motor spins up. The top button can be tapped three times to initiate cruise-control mode, which is great for trolling out at paddling speed without burning too much battery. A slick mobile app allows you to tune your power requirements to task, so you can throttle down thrust and boost for a lighter rider for instance, or in my case turn it all up to 11, Spinal Tap style.

A good start to your Foil Drive career is to take it out in some nice quiet flat water away from prying eyes, and treat yourself to some volume. At 90kg, I kicked off on an 80L wing board and 1200cm2 foil; I’d recommend choosing a foil you’re well dialed into that has early lift. Board choice is important, you’re looking for something with a sleek design that doesn’t push water. Clean, narrower shapes which retain a bit of volume are the most efficient and will allow you to use smaller foils. There are assist-specific boards in the pipeline from various manufacturers.

The board-start technique requires you to keep your bodyweight forward, holding the nose of the board as you throttle up without sinking the nose, until you gain momentum and start to plane, then slide to your knees and stand up in surf stance as you feel foiling speed initiate. The most common mistake is to pop up a little too early and bog the motor. Once you are up and foiling, my top tip is to back right off on the throttle to maybe 30-40% and concentrate on your pitch control to keep the motor in the water. It will let you know if it’s not by making a slightly irritating buzzing sound. Taking the Foil Drive out in a controlled environment also lets you get used to the safety side and learn how to dive off the board and gain confidence in the motor cutting out.

The next progression is to get high on the mast and turn the motor off and start to pump. This prepares you for transitioning into waves. The common mistake here is having your weight too far forward and as you throttle back the board will nosedive, but you quickly learn to compensate. Skipping between a few different foil brands here, we found a foil that has front foot bias seems to transition between prop and pump a little more smoothly, so that’s worth bearing in mind and perhaps shimming your tail setup will help with this.

Even as a competent foiler across other disciplines, don’t expect to get this immediately, and make sure you’re confident popping up in flat water before you take it in the waves or anywhere remotely near other humans. A few hours (or a couple of batteries) spent here is time well utilized.

Once you’ve mastered it, pick a small, clean and quiet spot to get into some swells, and concentrate on the transition from prop power to wave energy. Before you know it you’ve turned the drive unit off and are carving around silently on a wave you’d have never been able to get into, and for me this was where the penny dropped on the Gen2’s utter brilliance. As your ability increases, you’ll drop down volumes and foil sizes, and as confidence and trust in the system builds you would be surprised at the conditions you can tackle.

There’s a far wider application for your Foil Drive than just riding waves prone. An adapter for the controller allows attachment to a SUP paddle which is ideal for super weak flat-faced swells or downwind training. For ultra-lightwind winging, that frustrating moment where you can’t quite pump and gain speed onto foil is now solved, and will allow you to access extremely marginal conditions. We found the Slim particularly effective for this application, where its light weight and compact form factor felt negligible and ghost-like on a positive buoyancy wing board, which inevitably has some swing weight. As a pump foil training tool on flat water, you can dispense with the necessity to dock start or bungee. It’s a perfect way to dial in and test a new foil in a controlled scenario, and one we’ll definitely be employing for magazine tests going forward.

Whilst the Foil Drive is designed and developed proudly in Australia, in a warm water environment, we tested in the bleakest of UK Januarys, which is a harsh environment by any standard. We’re pleased to report the quoted battery times held up even in 8-degree water. Reliability in my experience has been exemplary; even after some decent tumblings in head-high waves, you simply get back on the board and off it goes.

Etiquette will be a sensitive topic when it comes to a propelled craft, albeit a fairly quiet one, but the long and short of it is you’ll be running rings around other water users and most likely irritating them with your massive advantage. With power comes responsibility, as the old adage goes, and we’d advocate extremely sensitive and responsible usage. There’s certainly no need to compete for waves on a Foil Drive, that’s completely missing the point. This is the tool you need to keep you well away from any sort of surf line-up and ride the wonky weak rubbish or in my case, more remote spots that no-one else is remotely interested in.

There is a plethora of technical information, maintenance and eloquently explained hints and tips on the Foil Drive YouTube channel, so we recommend an hour or two watching it, best enjoyed with a beverage.

The Foil Drive Gen2 is an extremely accomplished and flexible product which expands the horizon of any progressive foiler; it’s already filling gaps in my skillset with regards to prone and downwind training and is perhaps the ultimate foiling accessory. A new discipline in its own right, cast any preconceptions aside and open your mind to a world of possibility, and I have a strong feeling we’ve only just scratched the surface.

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