The waves turn to a blur as I pick up speed. Hovering two feet above the water, I’m travelling at 20 mph, navigating the current below and that of the air through my fingers. Do you believe you can fly? I know I can.
A huge, stupid, grin on my face, I’ve never felt so exhilarated. I’m invincible. Nothing can stop me. Well, almost.
As I lean to the left to execute a graceful arc, I find myself tumbling into the depths below, my new-found water wings disappearing in an instant.
Yet, spitting out salt water, now I’ve had a taste of flying I’m determined to do so again. So I haul myself back onto the contraption that has made this possible.
The waves turn to a blur as I pick up speed. Hovering two feet above the water, I’m travelling at 20 mph, navigating the current below and that of the air through my fingers. Do you believe you can fly? I know I can
Aladdin may have had a flying carpet, but I’ve got a flying surfboard. Confused? Let me backtrack a little.
Earlier this month, father-and-son duo Rob and Morgan Wylie achieved a world-first when they crossed the English Channel — a non-stop 23-mile journey peppered with big boats, threatening jellyfish and entangling seaweed — on electric hydrofoil boards.
Known as ‘e-foils’, these motorised surfboards are the new must-have toy for the rich and famous. Activated by speed, an underwater ‘wing’ creates lift and eliminates friction, propelling the rider to glide up to 3 ft above the water at a top speed of 35 mph.
Fans of the gadget include Richard Branson, F1 ace Lewis Hamilton, TV adventurer Bear Grylls and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, who all own e-foils, while actor Orlando Bloom was seen trying one on holiday.
Sales of one popular brand, Fliteboard, more than doubled this summer, with more than 3,500 of them shipped to 76 countries.
Known as ‘e-foils’, these motorised surfboards are the new must-have toy for the rich and famous. Activated by speed, an underwater ‘wing’ creates lift and eliminates friction, propelling the rider to glide up to 3 ft above the water at a top speed of 35 mph
‘It used to be a jet ski but now everyone wants an e-foil and, let’s face it, they’re cooler,’ explains watersports-mad Rob, 51, a retired business man from Dorset.
Cool, certainly, but not cheap. E-foils, which are powered by lithium-ion batteries and weigh about 25 kg, cost nearly £9,000.
Yet for ‘foiling’ fans, it’s worth paying. Disciples are evangelical about it. ‘It feels like you’re flying,’ says Rob. ‘There’s nothing like it.’
But before splashing out, you’ll want to give one a spin — and there are locations in the UK offering lessons.
One place is Foil Surfing UK in Mumbles, Swansea, run by Matt Barker-Smith, who charges £190 for an hour.
Which is how I find myself soaring over the waves in front of an open-mouthed crowd.
But just as you need to walk before you can run, a lot of work goes into flying. And, unfortunately for me — belly-flopping onto a board in Swansea Bay as I try to follow Matt to deeper waters — it’s not as graceful as the end result.
On land he’d explained the basics. ‘It’s not like surfing,’ he says. ‘You want to adopt a more upright position, with your feet in line with each other but hips turned forward and a bend in your knees. Then, you want to stick your chest forward and have your arms out, wide but bent.’
It’s a power-pose; one that says, I’m here, aren’t I fantastic? No wonder billionaire CEOs like it.
E-foils are controlled by bluetooth joysticks, which I grip fearfully in my right hand. On it is a trigger for power and a dial you use to go faster. There’s also a ‘boost’ button for a burst of acceleration.
E-foils, which are powered by lithium-ion batteries and weigh about 25 kg, cost nearly £9,000
I’m alarmed and intrigued. ‘There’s quite a bit to concentrate on,’ admits Matt. ‘Some people’s synapses fire quicker than others but once you link your brain with your hand you’ll be all right.’ I pause for a second, trying to figure out how fast my synapses fire.
There’s a three-step process to getting on your feet. You begin on your belly, upping your speed, then onto your knees where you can get a feel for the balance before hopping to your feet where, increasing your speed, you can begin to ‘take off’. Well, in theory.
‘You can swim, right?’ Matt asks as we descend into the water with our boards. I can swim, but I’ve never been surfing or even put on a wetsuit before. This information seems to alarm him momentarily.
Once in the water, and with Matt disappearing into the distance, I realise I don’t know how to steer.
Panic sets in as I bob about, wrestling with the joystick and cursing my synapses, before Matt e-foils to my rescue, looking like a water-borne messiah, and explains I must lean to direct my board.
Pitiful though my debut was, it made my success all the more sweet. Soon I’m whizzing about on my knees at 15 mph, starting to lift off a good foot from the sea and ‘fly’. ‘That’s it!’ says, Matt, his relief at my sudden competence a little too palpable. ‘You’re flying.’
It’s addictive, fun and requires a huge amount of concentration. I feel like my entire body is engaged and my senses heightened.
Buoyed by my capability, I try standing. Realising that if I hesitate I’ll fall, I hop to my feet in a faux-gutsy motion. I’m exhilarated and, against my better judgment, follow instructions to ‘press boost’. I do so and am propelled forward, the board lifting into the air.
I’m conscious of crashing into the sea, or worse, a boat, but after ‘flying’ a few times, my face is plastered with an immovable grin.
I’m hovering 50 cm above the water on what is essentially a flying surfboard. I’m a superhero, speeding over the waves, wind in my hair. Nothing can stop meeeeee-argh . . .
Splash! Yes, misjudge your balance for a millisecond and you plunge into the sea — which I end up doing several times.
Even for Rob and son Morgan, 19, this was a frequent occurrence as they crossed the Channel.
‘We fell off a few times,’ he says. ‘That was one of the main challenges. E-foils are like electric cars, the faster you go, the more battery you use. We had to make it the whole way without charging which meant riding relatively slowly.’
He could see the battery ebbing away with only 4 per cent left when he neared the British coast. ‘I was stressing like hell when I saw it going down,’ he adds.
The duo completed the challenge in one hour and 44 minutes, beginning in Cap Gris-Nez in France and arriving in Folkestone in Kent. They encountered a few obstacles along the way.
‘It was like running across the M25 with your eyes shut — we didn’t know what traffic we’d encounter and came across an Evergreen container ship.’
Upon touchdown in Kent he says he began ‘hitting the water, screaming’ from elation. ‘People were looking at me strangely,’ he says. ‘They hadn’t realised I’d come from France. I think they thought maybe I’d escaped from a mental asylum.’
Rob, who’s surfed for decades, hasn’t touched his surfboard since buying an e-foil two years ago. He adds that while surfing is weather dependent, e-foiling can be done more often. ‘Once you’re above the water it doesn’t matter how choppy it is because you slice through it.’
Should I journey to France, I’ll stick to actual flying. But if you want to feel like an aqua-superhero, then e-foiling is for you. And though hurtling above the water doesn’t sound like a meditative experience, its all-consuming nature makes it an incredibly mindful activity.
Forget yoga; don your wetsuit and go ‘flying’ instead.