Council Foils Trend-Setting Surfers’ PlansIf you’ve been watching the surf along the Eastern Beaches lately, you may have noticed some people riding strange boards that appear to somehow fly above the surface of the water.
For those not associated with the surfing subculture, these magic boards are called hydrofoils, and the practice of surfing them is called hydrofoiling, or just ‘foiling’.
If you haven’t seen these contraptions on our beaches yet, chances are you never will, as Waverley Council recently ruled against their safety.
Instead of having regular surfboard fins, these boards have one giant fin with ‘wings’ affixed, called a hydrofoil. Similar to a sailing boat (remember Ben Lexcen’s winged keel?), when the board accelerates the hydrofoil lifts the board clear of the water, into what is known as the ‘plane’.
The idea of these foils is to mitigate chop on the water surface and allow the rider to pick up swells they would never be able to catch on a regular board.
The world was first introduced to this contraption nearly 15 years ago through renowned waterman Laird Hamilton. More recently, another all-round waterman, Kai Lenny, has been leading the hydrofoil resurgence.
The Hawaiian has been show- casing what the hydrofoil is capable of under the right feet, and his Instagram is brimming with the extraordinary footage. It is perhaps this exhilarating footage, coupled with greater consumer availability, that has caused these boards to appear in our local line-ups.
But not everyone is happy to see them.
While some have boldly declared foiling to be the future of water sports, others have failed to understand the excitement. There are also many who consider the boards a hazard.
Waverley Council has decided it agrees with the latter of these opinions. Mayor John Wakefield told The Beast that Council now classifies foil-boards as a dangerous craft. As a result, hydrofoils will now be treated in a similar manner to kiteboards, which are not permitted in crowded areas in the municipality.
“Foil surfboards have only begun to appear at our beaches this winter, and are quite rare,” Cr Wakefield told The Beast.
“Due to their high speed compared to a surfboard, and the metal-like keel that raises it out of the water, and with the interests of beachgoer’s safety paramount, life- guards have determined it was too dangerous to allow these boards in crowded beach areas.”
Regular surfboards have also been responsible for many horrible injuries on our local beaches over the years. What is it, then, that makes foil-boards even more dangerous?
Local surfer and professional risk advisor Paul Chivers told The Beast it’s all about the size of the fin, which is made from a blend of steel, aluminium and carbon fibre.
“A surfboard has a small fin, and these have an extraordinarily large fin,” he said.
“The surface area of the fin and the potential for cutting is obvi- ously increased dramatically over a normal surfing fin.”
Mr Chivers said the boards themselves are not inherently dangerous, rather the risk of harm depends on the context of how they are used. He told The Beast that when the boards are in open water, with no people around, they wouldn’t be considered dangerous. However, put a hydrofoil in a crowded area and it suddenly becomes “the highest risk surf craft that you could have”.
“It’s just not a good environment for something that could occupy a less densely populated water area,” Mr Chivers said.