Slingshot Hydrofoils 2019 Preview

Brand: Slingshot                               

What do you reckon the potential of the hydrofoiling market is? Niche, overall boardsports users, mainstream?
Foiling is hard, so it will be respected. It does not replace any epic sessions you may find in a watersports category, it compliments them in new and different ways. Based on these attributes we think it will be recognised as a major part of watersports for a majority of users.

Where do you foresee the largest audience? Surfing, SUP, kiteboarding, windsurfing?
We think surfing will be number one. It already has the largest amount of users. It’s hard, so it seems to be respected (vs. SUP for example). In fact, it changes what you can do in areas that you don’t surf in. Take this for example: Your favourite break is firing; you go surf, it’s crowded so how may quality waves will you get? You get wet, a bit of a work out and get out of the water. You have to park 500 meters away from your buddies in the parking lot because its full. It’s not like the old days when you rallied and hung out with your friends and had heaps of fun. Now it’s just a strike mission because that’s the way it is.

Here is how foiling is different. You go back to the same spot, no one is there because it’s not “good”. Or you find new spots where you would never surf before. Paddle out (not very far) catch a small wave, get on foil and then pump out to catch your first real wave. After that, you start doing hot laps. The whole thing makes you look at everything differently. The lines you see change. Surfing on a foil is strategic, more cerebral. Water that used to look worthless now looks like a dynamic ever-changing water park. It’s like pumping around and finding lines in a skatepark! Epic days stay epic, (on your surfboard) and flat summers are now epic (on your hydrofoil). The other important thing about the surf foiling current situation is that everyone is pretty much a beginner right now. The sport has not revealed its full potential. There are three steps that people go through.

1. Stand up and foil while making little stiff turns.

2. Learn to pump.

3. Learn to carve with style and grace.

Most everything you see on the internet is people riding at stage 1 and 2. When the level of riding hits stage 3, it will lead to another level. The sport will be different. With most early adopters only being in stage 1 or 2 right now, there is a lot of pent up riding innovation ready to explode. It’s fun to watch.

Wakesurf foiling seems like it is ready to explode to another level.  It uses slow boat speeds, (saves fuel and offers slow impact crashes) you can use any boat and ride multiple wakes back with no rope. It’s a game changer. Worldwide, there are a ton of boat owners that it works with. Wakesurf foiling is the fastest growing category in foiling right now. And it is primarily coming from North America and Australia.

Kiting might be next. If you kite, you’re an enthusiast not a participant. Kiting with foil obliterates what is possible in light wind and efficiency. That opens up a big market.  When that happens, all indicators are showing green.

Windsurfing still has good participation and more people have quit windsurfing than SUP and Kite today. Foiling makes windsurfing work in windy spots where short boarding did not work. That can make windsurfing fun again, and it’s low impact on the body. As long as the consumer can see it as a cool way to freeride instead of just racing, it should do well.

SUP has huge participant numbers but only 2% of them ride waves, so we think it will be smallest.

Brands that developed the foil technology are now offering boards, and vice-versa, board brands are now proposing their own foil devices. Should we consider the product as a bundle (board+foil) or is there room for separate markets? (setup ready boards on the one hand, and foils)
There is a lot of innovation still to happen in foils and boards. Bundling makes sense right now. With that said, it’s important to do your homework and not just drink a brand’s cool aid. There is not one foil on the market that will do everything you want. With that said get a package to start, and then make sure you can grow with the foil, and adapt the foil and not outgrow it. It’s important to see through the hype. There are brands that have spent years developing the technology, and there are brands just jumping on the trend. It’s important to know the difference or your wallet will eventually start hurting. The best advice we can offer is to go with a brand that is a thought leader in foiling. Really look at how long they have been doing it. Who is the designer? If there is no designer for the product, stay away from the brand. There are plenty of good ones to choose from. Consumers and dealers really need to know why and how these products work. For example, if you go back and look at the first wave of marketing videos in windsurfing you will notice that nobody really completes a jibe (windsurf maneuver). There is a lot of hidden performance problems in those videos. That’s just hype that’s not good for anyone. Do your homework. It will save you a lot of pain later.

The use of premium materials (carbon and such) keeps prices in the most upper range. Are quality foils made of cheaper materials (PVC, plain fiberglass…) an option?
For sure, here is the reality. Aluminium construction does not automatically equal poor performance, and carbon does not automatically mean high performance. In fact, if you’re buying carbon, you should make sure you’re an expert, and it’s high performance. Don’t be fooled. Carbon might be lighter, but the product can still only offer beginner performance because of the design. People can spend a lot on carbon, and then outgrow it quickly. We offer both a hybrid aluminium carbon foil and full carbon models. Here is the cool part. Hybrid aluminium – carbon costs less money. You will learn faster and get better on it faster than going with a straight up high-performance carbon version. Carbon offers two advantages. One is weight. It’s easier to carry to the beach. It will be very stiff and responsive, which can be good if you’re an expert.  They cost more money. They are significantly harder to learn on unless it’s a Gofoil, which is a dedicated carbon beginner foil.

(Board design, surfing & SUP) Which is the most likely to succeed: hybrid boards which can be used with and without the foil, or specific foil boards?
We have been a market leader in foil board for over three years. We have success with hybrid boards in kite and wake. They are great for entry-level foilers. We have a board for kiting called the Converter; typically we see kiters who travel enjoy the Converter. It works on flat water, in light wind with a hydrofoil, or it works killer in the waves without the foil. Take one board, and you’re covered.  Wakesurf foiling doubles for foiling and wakesurfing really well. We have noticed windsurfing boards are rapidly going full on into hydrofoil designs. We don’t race, so we’re not focused on building a board to support a hybrid racing class. What we see is freeriders wanting short boards with no swing weight and wide tails to get on foil. They still want enough volume to uphaul. This all means you can ride super small sails on light wind.

SUP is going short and dedicated. Last is surfing. Surfboards are being designed for foiling. The boards are so different from regular surfboards that they would not surf. They are short, no rocker, and offer super chined (flat) rails. They are designed to catch a wave fast and get on foil. They monkey-pump great because there is no swing weight.  They carve without dragging a rail.

The future is now. We feel the next big thing in foils is the option to optimize your foil with new wings, mast or fuselages. High-performance foiling is about choices, not packages. The more you learn, the more you will know what you want out of your foil. You will want to make sure your foil is modular in design. This is cool because you won’t have to buy and spend more money on a new foil package every time your skill advances. Or say you want to do more than one sport. It’s way less expensive to buy another wing for your desired application. Plus that first wing still has plenty of use. Just swap wings onto your existing setup.

The safety factor could be a major impediment to the sport’s growth: how do handle the safety concerns?
Education: Action kills fear. Take action, learn the sport. Here are some tips. Shops and consumers should take time to understand the gear, how it works, and why good products have safety designed into them. Lastly where to use foils. For example, don’t take your surf foil to your favourite surf spot or line up!  Go to foil-academy.com to learn more.

Design. Consumers should buy a product to learn on that has safety designed into them. Safe design attributes include turned down wing tips vs sharp blade wing tips. Turned down tips may give you a bruise, but they are not going to cut you. Same goes for the leading-edge design of a front wing. Look for a model that offers a larger diameter leading edge. Do this and you’re starting off pretty safe.

Designs will get better. Personally, we have been designing windsurfing gear for 40 years and creating kiting gear for 20. When kiting started, it was 10X more dangerous than foiling. After about seven years of product and schooling innovation, the kite industry has made it pretty safe. Slingshot is into its 5th year of foil design and supply. We can assure you we are dedicated to making it safer.

Stupid is as stupid does. There is no hall pass for stupid. Don’t be that person. Follow rule number 1 (education).

Any piece of advice to retailers who would like to engage in the foiling business? 
There is a lot of advice we can offer. In today’s retail environment it’s so important to play to your strengths. The biggest one I can share that seems to work worldwide is to invest in USER EXPERIENCE. Offline that means your shop needs to be knowledgeable. You need to spread the stoke for these new sports to win the business. To ensure you provide the best user experience in your market try leveraging the fact that you a have bricks and mortar store. Build out a foil display and stock it deep. Use free tools that are available to you to build out your own program. For example, send customers through foil-academy.com and then charge them to learn in real life in your school.  Build a lesson program. To start, you don’t need wind or waves. You just need a way to pull people on the water. The trick is learning to foil behind a boat or ski, learning more is lesson 2.

Online, make sure you build out the categories on your website to have foiling stand alone. Don’t bury it in an existing category. Educate yourself on the product. Which includes performance, leadership, technology, durability, and reviews. Not all foils are the same and neither are big brand names. Make sure the brand you choose can deliver. Committing to get behind a new category takes energy. You need to make sure you’re going to profit from it. Make sure your employees are just as up to speed as the consumer! You can’t trick the internet.

Make sure to look past the brand’s product pages. If all they have to offer is a magazine ad, a product page on their website and a team rider in pretty blue water, that’s probably a red flag that they are following not leading. Instead look at how deep their content creation is. How are they doing on social? Do they post regularly? Do they have dedicated foil pages? Is their audience growing? Look at all their feeds. Brands should be educating you and consumers. Here are the free resources you can find from us.

Blog.slingshotsports.com  Here you will find over 200 articles and videos, written for 5 foiling sports.  These articles will help you understand things like Aluminum vs. Carbon foils which is better? How to eliminate foiling fear? The best conditions to learn to foil.

We offer “how to” success papers for dealers only. Ask your rep for our step by step guide “How to profit from foiling.”  We currently offer this in 4 different sports.

Offline we offer in-store interactive POP displays that explain our modular foil system. The wing rack also serves as a demo rack, where your consumers can learn about and demo wing for themselves.

Last is our website: Slingshotsports.com. Here you will find detailed product pages for over 100 dedicated foil product SKU’s in five different water sports.

We invite dealers worldwide contact us directly anytime.  [email protected]

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