Foiling masterclass - Top tips for taking your first flights

Fast, fun but mysteriously unachievable? Think again…

Where foiling was once an exclusive playground for professional sailors and racers, the equipment, locations and even instructors are now in place to help a wider range of sailors take flight.

“There’s no doubt foiling has taken the industry by storm,” explains Amanda Van Santen, Chief Instructor of the RYA’s Dinghy, Windsurfing and new Wingsurfing training schemes.

“But for many it can still seem out of reach and daunting, especially when watching the incredible craft sailed at the America’s Cup, Sail GP or the foiling Moth fleet in action.

“In reality it’s never been more accessible. The advances in foiling equipment and adaptations in recent years are truly incredible – placing the opportunity of taking flight into the hands of many recreational sailors, windsurfers and opportunists. You only need to go down to your local beach or stretch of water to see the plethora of equipment flying!”

Interested? Read on to find out more about this once-niche concept and how to give it a go.

How does foiling work?

Foiling is when a boat or board lifts above the water on specially fitted hydrofoils. In layman’s terms, the foils work like an aeroplane wing under the water, creating lift that brings the hull or board out of the water reducing drag and increasing efficiency and speed, especially in lighter conditions.


What conditions do you need? 

Depending on the chosen equipment, conditions and technique, some foils lift boards or boats in wind as light as 6-7 knots. However, it’s best to try your first foiling attempts in 10 knots or over, enabling you to get a feel of how much lift the foil gives and how best to encourage flight. 

Tuition plays a crucial part in gaining and embedding the right skills and techniques, as well as safety considerations, early on. A combination of the correct coaching points, the right learning environment and good equipment set up, increase the likelihood of success and development. 

Is foiling for me? 

If you can blast in the footstraps windsurfing, have good wing control and can maintain ground upwind wingsurfing, or sail a single-handed dinghy comfortably you can learn to foil. A good intermediate windsurfer, or Level 2 sailor who can adjust their stance to the conditions and make effective use of their equipment has all the key skills to be able to adapt.

Foiling is fast and exciting, and one of the most frequently heard enjoyments about sail foiling is the ability to go for a blast. Often compared to the exhilaration felt by planing windsurfers, it puts the focus on recreational sailing over racing.

Foiling also widens the conditions we can get afloat and not just pootle, but sail with exhilaration. With the foil producing lift and drive in much less wind than you’d normally need, this opens up lower wind speeds to enjoy sailing, windsurfing and wingsurfing in.

Best of all it’s also more achievable than you might think, with most people surprised at how quickly they can get up on the foils. Although it obviously takes a few more sessions to be relaxed and confident in flight.

RYA wingsurfing and wingfoiling courses

That flying feeling

Quantifying a sensation is always difficult, but feedback from those taking their first flights have the same recurring themes, with most likening the feelings as similar to their first planing experience in a boat or board. With the overriding response being exhilaration.

The other, surprising sensation is silence as you glide freely above the water. Without the feedback from the water surface everything is much quieter and more tranquil.

Windsurfer and RYA Foiling Instructor Dave Horan explains: “One of the best bits of foiling is that moment when you first take off and it’s silent. The quietness makes it different from normal windsurfing, it’s so much more peaceful and calm.”

Sommer Bailey is a sailing instructor in Greece. She describes her recent experience of learning to foil: “When you are flying along it feels like you are floating in the air. Then when you first take off, your head’s all over the place and it doesn’t feel real - it feels absolutely amazing.”

Tips for take off

Three of our top trainers share their foiling tips: 

RYA SailFoil Trainer, Shaun Priestley: 

  1. Always aim to take off on a reach to a close reach. Once the boat lifts out of the water and starts foiling, shift your concentration to the lift from the foils and maintain balance to assist you in sustained flight.
  2. Balance and mainsheet trim, as well as sailing to the apparent wind are key to foiling success. The skill of sailing with windward heel and effective use of the foils, are all techniques which come naturally after practice.
  3. If you have sailed asymmetric boats with the kite up you will know the feeling of increased speed and the importance of keeping the boat flat. Understanding how you sail to apparent wind and adopting the most effective sailing line will bring you the control needed. 

RYA WindFoil Trainer, Sam Ross: 

  1. When you first launch, uphaul! This will help to avoid any unwanted contact with the foil. Always keep hold of the boom! This will ensure you stay well clear of the foil if you end up in the water.
  2. The further back your weight is on the board, the more lift you’ll get. In marginal conditions get in the back strap early to help pump the foil, in windier conditions keep the back foot in front of the back strap to reduce lift and increase control.
  3. When windsurf foiling you have two engines, you can pump the rig to generate speed, but also pump down into the board and foil to generate lift.
  4. Once foiling, keep the rig still and lock the back leg down to maintain a flat board in flight.

RYA WingFoil Trainer, Dan Hallam:

  1. Adopt a wide stance. Having your feet just over shoulder width apart will allow you to move your weight easier and this will help control your take off.
  2. Try to keep the board flat as the board speed increases. This allows the foil to do the work of creating lift and it will mean the board rises slower and with more control.
  3. Keep your head up. Looking where you are going will help keep a good stance with hips forward and shoulders back. It will also aid your direction of flight.
  4. Relax and enjoy your first flight.

RYA wingsurfing and wingfoiling courses. Foiling.

Find a course

Foiling was introduced to the RYA’s National Sailing and Windsurfing training schemes in 2019. More recently we have also introduced wingfoiling courses as part of the new WINGsurfing training scheme – adding another exciting element for watersports enthusiasts to enjoy.

The progressive courses are all about getting on the water, with an instructor that’s specifically trained to give you just the right amount of background theory for each stage of your progression.

For more information about RYA foiling courses and to find a training centre near you visit

Recommended reading 

The RYA Foiling (G110) book outlines the key skills required for both windfoiling and sailfoiling. The official supporting text to the RYA foiling courses, the book outlines all the key skills required to take flight, covering everything from equipment and set up, to launching and landing. There’s also some incredibly useful information to help finesse tacking and gybing.

Get your copy by visiting

Did you know... 

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