The Dockstart Diaries: Beginnings

03/10/2023

Welcome to the Dockstart Diaries! Through a series of articles I will take a deep dive into my learning journey. 

It's been a lot tougher than I imagined - but also very rewarding - and I hope these tips will help others on their own dockstart journey. 

Why do I want to dockstart?

It's a question I've asked myself many times as I've struggled through the sessions! But the core reasons stay the same: being able to get time on foil regardless of the water and wind state, and theoretically anywhere. Being able to fly over the water. Getting those crisp dawn and dusk sessions.  Perfecting the pumping technique for eventually getting into waves. Getting a workout. Looking cool? :)

My setup, and was/is it the right one?

With foiling being such an expensive sport, I wanted to get into this sport with a minimum of cost. I first built myself a "custom" board during the COVID pandemic, but those early attempts on that board and my Sabfoil gear were half-hearted (video below) and I eventually sold that equipment. 

Earlier this year I switched to the North Sonar setup for wingfoiling, and used this as my platform for building a pumpfoil setup. Having seen @foilishgames on Instagram pumpfoiling on North gear, and contacting him for advice, I went for a HA1450 (v1) and kept my existing stab (s270). I bought a 72 alu mast, mainly because I didn't want to damage my 85 cm carbon mast, but also because most dockstarting youtubers recommended a mast length of about 70cm.

I already knew that the HA1450 (v1) was a small front wing to start on. But at the time the larger wings available from North were the R-series, which didn't appeal to me. And I had evidence from @foilishgames that the 1450 could work. Was it a good decision? Most people recommend starting on big foils around the 1800-2000cm2 range, so I am sure the choice of my wing has slowed my progression. But not enough to give up, thankfully!

For board choice, I still have my home-made wooden board but realised to have the best chance of success I wanted a proper board. I went for the Sabfoil b08 which at 8 litres is ultralight and stiff. While it surely excels for pumping it lacks any glide in the water making it a pain to swim back to the dock with. I reckon it’s bottom shape is also not as forgiving on touchdowns than higher volume boards like the Indiana 'Le Doigt'.

Finding the right dock - an unexpected challenge!

Finding the right dock here in Arendal (Norway) was surprisingly hard. There isn't a tradition of having floating platforms for people to swim out to, so I had to look for suitable docks from land. Most docks are designed for boats to moor to, and have metal fixtures running along the side, and chains on each corner making it impossible to run a foil underneath. In the salt water you also have to worry about  jellyfish. I first settled on a long dock in the brackish lake Hølen and then after two sessions switched to a boat jetty arm. This last one isn´ t perfect, it shakes around a lot, but I can run the foil underneath and I have an uninterupted area around. And no jellyfish!

First attempts

My first real attempts were from the long dock taking off from the side. I came to realise this type of dock isn’t suitable for beginners as you have to have the skills to veer away from the dock when launching. I dented my board during those sessions. Still, I managed to get a second or two of flight, which I thought was encouraging at the time even if looking at it now looks pretty bad! A friend of mine even said, "I think you've got this unlocked!" 

After that I spent a few weeks away, trying my luck on a swimming platform on Lake Geneva. The views were great, and I felt I got good practise running off the platform, but progress was pitifully slow. At some point I was starting to wonder whether this foil could even generate lift and glide. I think I managed only a few times to get some glide, but no successful pumping. 

Seeking advice, and progression

Returning to Arendal, I found another, better dock - in fact it's a boat mooring "arm", about the right height for me and where I can run the foil underneath without it catching on anything. 

I started filming myself, and sent some footage to @foilishgames. Getting some guidance from someone more experienced is immensely useful - they can see faults that you simply don't know about or understand yourself. It is well worth filming yourself. There is tons of youtube content out there to learn from too. 

From that point on I started focussing on a few things: Keeping the board straight and level (pitch and yaw), maintaining good speed and getting a good run-up (it took a lot of practise to work out exactly how much speed was needed), keeping the mast around knee height, landing on the board with back foot first, and correct foot placement. 

Probably the two best pieces of advice were 1) to keep the hands connected to the board, and placed where you want your feet to go, right until you jump onto the board, and 2) to focus on getting glide in a straight line before even trying to pump. 

By far the hardest thing to do (and still is) has been to get the correct foot placement and balance over the board. 

In the two videos below you can see progress over the space of a few sessions. In the first video, at around 400 attempts, I am getting some glide from the foil and trying a few (unsuccessful) pumps. At this point I got some more advice to focus on the arms to create momentum for the pump. The second video, at around 500 attempts, is where I felt there was some real progress happening, although you can see the arms still need more coordination, and my feet are too far apart from each other. 

Practise.. and more practise... and more practise

Finally in some of the latest sessions I'm starting to get a feel for how the pumping works. I can (just about) generate speed beyond the initial momentum of the dock launch. I even managed to reach the 10-pump milestone which was amazing. 10 pumps sounds like nothing, but when you've worked so hard for them.....!

When Gwen le Tutour @plantpositivefilms talks about "feeling the foil" that is exactly it: you need to be in tune to your foil and how it likes to be pumped.  

I'm not going to lie - the progress especially in the first 10-15 sessions was frustratingly slow. But the exhiliaration when you finally get a few pumps is amazing! It's a long time since I've done something so hard and it's especially rewarding when you do see progress. 

I hope you've enjoyed the article and stay tuned for the next update where I hope to reach 20, 30 and even 50 pumps, or maybe even the minute mark!