There is a whole range of radical, recreational sports dependent upon excellent kite flying skills: kite buggying, snow kiting, hang gliding, and paragliding, to name just a few. One of the fastest growing water sports in the U.S. is foilboarding (also known as hydrofoil kiteboarding), an extreme segment of kiteboarding. In place of a flat kiteboard, picture a small surfboard with a carbon fiber wing attached one meter below it. At speed, the wing lifts the rider and the board a couple of feet above the water, creating a virtual “magic carpet” ride. The first foilboards were towed behind boats or jet skis (think surfer Laird Hamilton: www.youtube.com/watch?v=N01vrLwAWiM), but in recent years kiteboarders have adopted their use. Using kites in place of motorized watercraft, foilboarders are able to glide through the water with reduced friction, reach higher speeds, and kiteboard in lighter conditions than ever before.
Foilboards have taken this sport to a whole different level. The sport is gaining in popularity because it is so efficient, allowing riders to go fast with very little wind – perhaps twenty knots across the water in winds of only six or seven knots! But it also requires the rider to have very good and precise kite flying skills.
A local hero in the San Diego kiteboarding community, LaRoy Rutledge, is an inspiration to many younger riders and is generous with his help and advice to newbies. He’s ridden with the best in a whole host of sports from drag racing to surfing, and from snowboarding to kiteboarding. LaRoy is passionate about foilboarding, which he discovered two years ago. Though he has high level skills, he also has a common sense attitude and the ability to relate to the beginning foilboarder. He emphasizes how important it is to be able to fly instinctually and have mastery of safety systems for all kinds of situations because things can get dangerous quickly.
I recently sat down with LaRoy to get his take on kiting and the challenging sport of foilboarding.
LAROY, YOU’RE A LEGEND IN THE SAN DIEGO KITEBOARDING COMMUNITY. WHAT MAKES YOUR EXPERIENCE UNIQUE?
I’m driven. I will not give up. I can’t accept failure. Expertise with the wind is not as important as being obsessive.
HOW DID YOU GET TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
When I was a little kid, I stopped by a small town airport just to look around. A man tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I wanted to go for a ride in his plane. My mother would have had a fit if she had known! Not only did it change my life by introducing me to flying, but it gave me a whole new perspective. The telephone poles below looked like matchsticks! I realized that things aren’t always as they seem. At that point I realized when you’re learning something new like a sport, don’t take someone’s opinion as the answer. Explore the details and shape the approach that works best for you. I later went on to join the Army and became a helicopter pilot in the 101st Airborne Division. I love the Army’s motto, “Be all that you can be.”
TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES IN THE KITE WORLD.
I started flying kites in 2000. It was the most alien thing I had ever put my hands on. Now, however, a kite is like a machine and I know exactly where to put it. My first kite was an Airush two-line, 1.5 meter trainer kite. Then I flew a nine meter, ram air, four- line Quadrafoil before being sponsored by Peter Lynn through a local kite shop. I recognized Peter as a leader and visionary in the kite world. My first Peter Lynn kite was the S-ARC, followed by the F-ARC and the Venom.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR BEGINNING FOILBOARDERS?
Foilboarding is the most physics-related sport I’ve ever done. Take a lesson from someone who knows how to teach, and then focus on one thing at a time. You have to learn and perfect one thing at a time. It’s all about balance, leverage, and weight.
YOU ARE KNOWN FOR MAKING YOUR OWN FOILBOARDING EQUIPMENT. WHERE DO YOU FIND YOUR INSPIRATION?
My designs come from nature. Nature has all the answers. Look at the fastest fish. You can see the shape of it – that’s what you want to do. The new foil wings are shaped just like seagull wings.
WHAT HAS KITEBOARDING TAUGHT YOU ABOUT LIFE?
Kiteboarding is life for me. I love it, I feel it, I sense it. It’s where I belong. I’m precisely where I should be based on the decisions I’ve made in my life – from a skateboard, to a surfboard, to a snowboard, to a foilboard. That’s how I got here. I want to get the most out of it that I can. Not to be the best guy, but to be the best that I can be. I was once asked by someone, “How can I end up like you?” My response was, “You can do anything if you don’t accept failure.” ◆