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How to Make a Backroll on a Hydrofoil


So you want to learn how to make a back roll on a hydrofoil. There are a few things you want to be aware of before you start and a few things that will make flipping easier and safer. Check it out below.  

  1. Wear your safety gear. Grab a well-fitting helmet (too big and you may be blinded when rotating - too small and you will have a headache), a coast guard approved life preserver, and if the water is cold, a wetsuit or drysuit. Another helpful item is knee protection. When you crash and the hydrofoil is sideways, many folks bang their knees together, causing bruising. If you get a simple foam knee pad and place it on the inside of one knee you will protect the insides of both knees on those bad sideways crashes. Trust me, this is a great idea. A thick wetsuit will also suffice if thick in the legs. 
  2. Ride a well-riding hydrofoil. Be sure whenever you ride to check your hardware and your board, t-bar, etc. If you do this, you may find an issue that prevents the hydrofoil from failing and possibly causing injury. After this inspection, make sure your foil is clean and polished. It is far easier to ride a shiny foil with no dings in the wings or t-bar. The model can also play a part in your abilities. Hydrofoils such as the original AirChair or the SkySki Hydroflight are good for beginners, but when you decide to get inverted, something above the low end is best. How do you know if you have the goods? Here are a few things that can tip you off: You spent more than $1800 for it. Not that price makes a foil ride good, but if you spend $5000 you will most likely be better off than if you buy a $1200 hydrofoil. The reason they are more costly is of the technology and materials. The pricier foils are made with aircraft aluminum, are tuned better, and have lighter features such as the seat tower.
  3. Use a low or non-stretch tow line of appropriate length. If you ride with polypropylene (the cheapest line) or with a multicolored slalom line, you will get recoil in the air which will cause slack in the line. A slackline will cause you to lose control over the hydrofoil, and give you a jerk once it comes tight. These are not good things. Get something equivalent to spectra line. The coated stuff from MasterLine is my favorite. The length greatly depends on your skill level and speed. The faster you go, the narrower the wake becomes. This makes it easier to clear the other side of the wake. Also, the harder the cut, the more likely you will clear the other side. Most riders use between a 60’ and 90’ line length. Be sure to ride at a speed you are comfortable with. Running faster does not necessarily equal more air. 
  4. Get a coach or an experienced hydrofoil flipper. Having someone who has been there in the boat is your best chance to succeed. If you are just out with your buddies who don’t foil, you can still make the invert, but it is so much better having a coach. 
  5. Use a tower for your tow point. Most boats come with a tower, but if yours doesn’t, consider getting one. The higher the tow point, the more air you will be able to achieve. Higher tow points also give you more hang time. 
  6. The last, and possibly most important part of hydrofoil inverts is the quick release. They come in two main types, manual and automatic. 
  1. A manual release is typically some type of hardware that attaches to the tower or pylon and has a line that a spotter will use to pull, and thus disconnect the line from the tow point. This is very important when you mess up and get wrapped up in the line. You do not want to land with the break strength of the tow ropes these days being between 1500-2000 lbs. This is how people get hurt. 
  2. An automatic release is something that has a predetermined breaking of releasing point. Some call this a weak link. They come in several brands such as CompTech (a SkySki product), CinchMax, and Bullet for example. Some of these are adjustable, which is what you want. If you are lighter or heavier, you will want to change the breaking point of the release to keep it safe. If you are 100 lbs., you certainly do not want to ride with a weak link that is good for a 200 lb. person. Test these out before counting on them. If you can get a release that has a combination of both, this is the best-case scenario as sometimes human error can keep you from being released when you most need it. Be sure to cover this very important point with your spotter - “If you suspect any problem with the line being caught or hooked on the rider or hydrofoil, PULL the release just before they hit the water.”

Now that we have all our ducks in a row, let’s dive into the riding. I recommend learning how to jump the hydrofoil off the wake and outside the wake, and do this on both sides. This will build a better well-rounded skill set. Assuming you have learned these jumps, the next thing to do is decide where to attempt your first backroll. The 4 main types of back rolls are left to right outside the wake, the same off the wake, and then the reverse (right to left outside and off the wake). Performing the backroll off the wake might be easier for some, and outside the wake might be your thing instead. My goal for all students is to learn them in all 4 of these locations, but where to start the first? I recommend doing the first invert where you feel most comfortable jumping the foil. 

Wake Back Roll

Hydrofoil tricks are all timing, so you may want to record these attempts and compare them to others who make back rolls.

Start with about 20-25 feet distance from the wake. Be sure to start slow at first, and cut into the wake at a comfortable pace. I always like new riders to warm up first and cut back and forth across the wakes a few times to get used to it. As you come into the wake you should be a few inches from all the way to the top on the wings. Start to dip down from this position roughly 10 feet from the wake, allowing the board to just skim the water. When that happens you then must start to incline with the perfect timing having the front wing exiting through the very crest of the wake. This gives you maximum altitude. You should have your handle pressed against your lap a few inches above your knees. Ride the jump up while continuing to lean the same amount away from the boat as you incline. Just before your wings pop out of the water, you want to throw your head at a 45-degree angle over your shoulder and behind you. This is away from the boat, so coming from left to right, throw your head to the right and back. Right to left, throw your head back and to the left. 

You should now be headed up and out of the water. Keep looking behind and back. At the same time of throwing your head, you want to push your handle in the same direction. These two motions will initiate the rotation. As you come around, spot the water. You have to keep your eyes open so you know where you are. When you feel like you are about to reenter the water, you should try to land on the rear wing. How far back you lean when you touch down depends on your hydrofoil. One with bigger and better-tuned wings should be landed a bit more flat. If you have an older foil you should hold your shoulders back a bit more, and on any foil push the handle down for the landing. So shoulders back, handle down, and focus on the horizon or just below that when you land. Allow the hydrofoil to sink completely so that your board is on the water. The moment the board touches, go back to your normal ride position. In other words, shoulders a bit forward and the handle in a neutral position. When your hydrofoil recovers and is flying again, continue to cut slightly away from the boat in the same direction. This will help in case you have any slack in the line. Always continue in the same direction throughout the entire invert. This is the best way to keep control and be safe. The worst thing you can do is create slack in the line while outside the wake and cut back in right after. This is very dangerous and another reason for the release. If you continue your angle in the same direction from start to finish you will have a much better experience. You do this by pointing your knees and leaning your shoulders towards the way you want to go. 

Outside the Wake, or Air BackRoll

There are very few differences between the wake and the air back roll. The main difference is there is no wake, so you are timing the down-up motion on the surface of the water. Dip down, barely touch the water with the board and come back up with your shoulders back and handle down on the upper part of your knees. Because you are outside the wake, your pull point is a bit different. This is where it is very important to continue your cut away from the boat from start to finish. 

I hope you have learned as much as needed from this article to make your first back roll. Should you have questions, feel free to send an email to geno@floridawateranalysis.com and when I get a moment between things I will do my best to reply. You can also book lessons on the main page. Have fun, and be safe!