Earlier this year at the Catalunya Costa Brava PWA World Cup the first Foil Slalom races were experimented with on the world tour. The initial tries looked extremely successful with the racing looking extremely dynamic and the sailors themselves getting the same kick or better as when racing in Slalom. Foiling seems to the natural evolution of sailing, surfing and windsurfing, depending on the conditions, and given the way it looks like the sport could go we interviewed several of the world’s top pro’s to ask their thoughts on the topic:
Reigning World Champion - Gonzalo Costa Hoevel (Starboard / Severne / Chopper Fins / Starboard Foil): “I think it’s great. When we tried it in Costa Brava I think everyone was impressed with just how well it was working. Personally I loved it even though I’m one of the guys that did well racing last year with the up and downwind format, but I think this is probably the way forwards for events.
In Costa Brava we had it where we have to cancel a race in the up/downwind format because everyone was underpowered, but with Foil Slalom we can race. I think it would be a great addition to Slalom events. We’ve had a few complaints from some of the lighter guys about not racing in lighter winds in the upwind/downwind, so if we can develop that class also to be a separate discipline then people can choose if they want to compete in those separate events.
A lot of people have expressed concerns about the potential dangers of Foil Slalom - what do you think?
“Yeah, the concept in my head was that it was going to be extremely dangerous, but actually we raced with 16-man heats and I think there was only one crash. At the moment everyone is very cautious, so that probably decreases the number of crashes, but I was expecting to see a lot more problems than what we did. In fact I think we saw less crashes than in normal slalom.”
Julien Bontemps (JP / NeilPryde), who finished second: “I think it’s really nice. I was speaking with Antoine [Albeau] a few months or even a year ago about how much I like and enjoy Foil Slalom. I’ve just been doing it for fun up to now, so it’s great that we experimented with it in Costa Brava. The only thing is that at the moment we were still racing on big foils, which isn’t perfect for Foil Slalom, but I think now a lot of people have seen the potential for it.”
25-time world champion - Antoine Albeau (JP / NeilPryde): “My opinion is the same as what I’ve always been saying… that Foil Slalom is much better for the lighter winds because we don’t get stuck at the first gybe. We’ve seen it many times in normal Slalom now that when we are trying to complete semifinals and finals to gain a result that we really need at least 12 knots, whereas in Costa Brava the wind was extremely light and I was on a 10m but we were able to race with not one person getting stuck at the marks and it seems like as soon as we are able to fly on the Foil we can race the Slalom course. I love it, really enjoy it and for me I see Foil Slalom replacing the Leith wind normal Slalom.”
Matteo Iachino (Starboard / Severne / Starboard Foil), who is the current Foil World Tour leader: “It felt amazing on the water and it was sooo good to compete in Foil Slalom. It was really fun and I think that the level of racing we saw in such light winds was incredible. The emotions you can get out of it is quite unbelievable because normally in those kind of conditions we would just be sat on the beach waiting for the wind to improve. It seems like the natural evolution of the Slalom discipline to me - for light winds obviously! As soon as it’s 7.8 full power slalom weather for sure that is still better, but I loved it!"
Thomas Goyard (FMX Racing / Phantom Sails / Phantom Foil), who won the 2019 Catalunya Costa Brava PWA World Cup: “I like it and enjoy it. It’s super fun to race like this, but I would prefer that they do only Slalom [Foil] or upwind, not the two combined, but once you are racing it’s great.”
Vice-world champion - Sebastian Kördel (Starboard / GA Sails / Starboard Foil): “I think it’s sick! I mean I did well so that always makes you a bit biased haha, but in terms of being able to put on a show I think this is what we have to do. We can deliver the same excitement and interest that we’ve developed in the Slalom over the years with Foiling now in very light winds. In Costa Brava we were fully adrenaline fuelled racing and then when you cross the finish line you realise there were only 7 knots! So it opens up a lot of possibilities.
I think we have to be a bit careful though as although we need to put on the best show in the world we also need to make sure that we are still bringing young people into the sport and that for me is through the upwind/downwind format. With the upwind/downwind you just need to buy one board, one foil, one sail and you are done, so it’s much more accessible and cheaper. I also think that we are either competing in upwind/downwind or Foil Slalom, but I don’t think the two should be mixed as they require such different setups. Overall you could see everyone on the water was smiling and happy while we were racing and I think for the future we need to have Foil Slalom for the lighter winds and then switch to normal Slalom for strong winds.”
Pierre Mortefon (Fanatic / Duotone / LOKEFOIL), who has expressed his concerns about the dangers of Foil Slalom: “I’m still not fully confident, but for sure it worked well in Costa Brava. I think Costa Brava was the ideal place to experiment with it and I think we were able to find some good points for Slalom Foil, but I think now everyone needs to work on the equipment. For the moment I think it was cool because I think everyone was a little bit afraid so they weren’t pushing too much in the gybes, but the thing that worries me slightly is that in regular Slalom everyone knows how to safely push super hard, but also really importantly how to stop. In Foiling it’s not so simple. I think it was good to mix the two formats. I enjoyed both, but for sure if your equipment is working better in one than the other you are obviously going to have a preference for that one. Let’s see what happens in the future.”
Double Olympic Champion - Dorian van Rijsselberghe (Future Fly): “It depends on how much breeze there is for me. But I think it’s definitely a great attribute for you guys (PWA). I think it’s almost necessary so you guys don’t have to wait sitting on the beach. I think it suits the boys really well to do semi light wind slalom with the foils."
We also asked Dorian if he would be attending more events in the future… “No, I don’t think so. It was a good experiment, but to be super honest I think we (RSX Sailors) were a little bit disappointed that we sat on the beach as much as we did. Obviously it was an experimental competition, but we thought we would foil a lot more than we did. I think we could’ve raced it lighter conditions than we did.”
Amado Vrieswijk (JP / Severne / Starboard Foil), who is currently ranked join second with Pierre Mortefon: “I think Foil Slalom is the best. It’s by far the most fun I’ve had on the foil for a long time. For me I think we should do one half fleet up/downwind race and then one Foil Slalom because you see such a difference in the results and then I think you really find the best overall sailor.”
Ross Williams (Tabou / GA Sails): “I love it, it’s sick! I personally think the course is too long and I’d like to see more gybes because otherwise for me I think it kind of becomes a bit of a precession. The gybes are the bit of the race where people are over taking and there’s more interesting things happening, which is what people want to see. The length of the course in Costa Brava was okay if we put like 10 turns in.”
Mateus Isaac (JP / NeilPryde): “I like it, but I was not really tuned for it in CB. I think it’s fun and I can see it easily being implemented into the normal slalom for light wind conditions.”
Maciek Rutkowski (FMX Racing / Challenger Sails): “I think it was good, exciting, not as dangerous as expected. It was super exciting to race with just a little bit of wind and I think that it’s the natural progression for the sport. I think everyone racing liked it and I think it’s also good to watch, which is important. I found it surprisingly good to race. I thought it would be out of control but actually it was fine. It was like Slalom on steroids.”
Kiran Badloe (Starboard / Severne / Starboard Foil), who was one of the sailors to lose out the most after the switch to Foil Slalom in Costa Brava - dropping from 4th to 13th: “I don’t think I can blame the switch to Slalom for it. I just made too many mistakes. Overall I liked it though. For me it’s totally new so I would need some time to get used to it. It’s definitely an exciting format, but I do like a more tactical short course, which I think there are a couple of options for. So in the future I would like to see some experimenting with shorter downwind courses.”
Let us know what your thoughts are about Foil Slalom in the comments.