Foiling: SUP or prone?

I estimate that at least 80 % of the current prone foil lineups are made by surfer that are more comfortable prone surfing than SUP surfing. That is true also the other way around. That makes total sense and it’s the way it should be. In fact, here’s what Dave Kalama commented when I first posted this article on Facebook.

Foiling alone creates a high level of discomfort initially, when you can minimize that by putting yourself in a familiar body position, you have more confidence. Confidence is everything when it comes to maximizing performance potential. So, whichever version creates the highest level of comfort for you is best.

But there’s some surfers that are equally comfortable SUP and prone surfing, and that’s the ones who might benefit from reading this article. Or get confused by it.

In fact, my friend Jason Hall and I belong to this “equally comfortable” category and have completely different foiling preferences.

Dave Kalama obviously belongs to the “equally comfortable” category from the skill point of view, but I think his back likes SUP over prone better

Here’s my take.

The main reason why I like SUP foiling much better is pretty simple: you can catch so many more waves. That comes from the following sub-reasons:
– Visibility. Just like regular SUP surfing, you see the wave sooner because you’re standing.
– Mobility. Just like regular SUP surfing, you can move towards the peak or ideal take off spot sooner and faster.
– Paddle back out speed. This is massive, as the prone paddling speed when paddling back out after a wave is painfully slow, due to the drag induced by the foil. Obviously you feel a similar drag also on a SUP board, but thanks to the leverage of the paddle, you can still paddle back out at a decent speed. And don’t forget that foiling rides can be extraordinary long.

Those points are pretty objective and universally applicable. What follows next, is very personal instead.

I love using footstraps when foiling. I now also have them on my prone board, but I’m no Rush Randle so I can’t pop right into them (just yet). In other words, I waste a bit of the initial ride to set up. I’m also forced to wear a tank top with a foam padding on the chest, otherwise laying down on the front footstrap would be too uncomfortable.

On the SUP instead, sometimes I can be in the footstraps even before catching the wave, and that can actually help me catch it when it’s really soft, as I start pumping the board up and down and make it foil into the wave. In other words, with the right technique, a strapped foil SUPboard can catch smaller/softer waves than a prone foil board.

with his aggressive style, Junior is a master at catching small waves by pumping early into them

As far as the quality of the ride goes, there is no doubt that the smaller/lighter the board is, the better. I’d love to foil a wave on a tiny 5.0 prone board, but someone needs to tow me back to the take off spot after it! The big advantage of having a tiny board is, IMO and with my paddling skill/strengh, completely erased by the cost of the paddle back out. AND, as long as your SUP board is small/light enough, once foiling you don’t have the main disadvantage of regular SUP surfing: that huge tail/rail that is so hard to sink into the water compared to a regular surfboard.

A very last reason is that I like leaning on the paddle in the cutbacks. Even if the blade doesn’t physically touch the water every time, the fact that I know that it’s right there and that I can use it in case of an emergency balance adjustment, gives me much more confidence to lean into the turns.

Austin Kalama hitting a lip and leaning into a turn leveraging on the paddle touching the water.

This is Jason’s view instead:

I prefer foil surfing over SUP foiling (I don’t use the word “prone”) for many reasons. SUP foiling is physically restrictive when it comes to the natural movements of your upper body when turning and pumping (with the paddle in your hands). Carving a big turn requires you opening your shoulders and arms, if you’re holding a paddle you can’t do this.

Kane is free to place his arms wherever he wants without a paddle in his hands. As a result, he can look as casual as John John.

Another reason I prefer foil surfing over SUP is the size of the equipment. The size of the board you have to ride SUP foiling requires you to ride a bigger wing when foiling. Bigger wings are slower and less maneuverable. I usually fly the Kai wing from GoFoil, it’s their second smallest wing, and by far the most lively. Turning the Kai, it’s pretty hard to have the wing tip come out of the water, but on the bigger wings you have to limit your turns to keep the wing tips from breaching the surface and stalling the wing.

And last point, the board size. My current board is a 6’2 x 19.5″. The foil SUPs are coming down in length, but still 28″ wide. Again, the size of the equipment is restrictive when surfing. I’ve not seen anyone turn a SUP foilboard as hard as I’ve seen a foil surfboard turn. It’s physically impossible to lean the board over in a turn as far as a smaller board. The ONLY benefit (in my opinion) to riding a SUP foil is the paddle back out. Foiling allows you to ride a wave farther than anything I’ve done. Which means the paddle back out is longer. It’s easier to paddle long distances standing upright with a paddle in hand.



Jason Hall putting his board as much as “on the rail” as his relatively small Kai foil allows him to do. A wider foil would break the water before that. And even with the same Kai foil, the inside rail of a wider SUP board would touch the water before that

My conclusion is that, like everything else in life, there is no better or worse. It’s all about personal preferences, making the most of what you have and just “loving what is”.

Photo sources:
Tomoko Okazaki, Destination 360, Jason Hall.

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