Hydrofoiling vs Kiteboarding: What’s the Difference?

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iteboarding, wing foiling, foil boarding and kite foiling are all top of mind for our watersports addicted guests at Numero Uno. While kiteboarding has long been a passion in Puerto Rico, hydrofoil and wing foil have grown in popularity and enthused long-time kiteboarders and newcomers alike. 

The first commercially available hydrofoil surfboard was produced out of Puerto Rico in 2018 by a small company named Lift Foils. The board is usually equipped with a propeller, electric motor, with a carbon fiber foil and mast on the underside, and is controlled by a handheld remote that has a trigger to use for acceleration. 

What’s the difference between kite foiling (hydrofoiling), wing foiling and kiteboarding?

“Is there a difference between hydrofoil kiteboarding and kiteboarding?” This is a common question, and yes, kite foiling is a similar but different experience. Kiteboarding is conducted on regular one-directional or twin-tip board, while hydrofoil kiting is done on a hydrofoil board that features a modified keel.

This sport is very versatile and can be enjoyed in several different ways. However, the high-tech board and gear are costly, averaging around $12,000. So, we recommend that you start out by renting a hydrofoil (they are included in both beginner and advanced lessons at Numero Uno’s Kite Puerto Rico), and taking an introductory lesson to test the waters. 

Wing foiling ditches the kite in favor of a hand-held wing sail. The wing is more responsive than a kite, allowing for tighter maneuvering, particularly in high wind conditions.

A quick glossary note: hydrofoil kiteboarding is also known as kite foiling. Using a hydrofoil board with or without a kite can be referred to as hydrofoiling, foiling, and foil boarding, while wing foiling — aka winging — refers to a different equipment configuration that we will discuss later in this article.

Hydrofoil Boards

Hydrofoil boards are designed with the hydrofoil piece extending like a fin from the bottom of the board. This fin allows the board to hydroplane and hover above the water’s surface (picture Marty McFly on his hoverboard in Back to the Future Part II). The hydrofoil allows the rider to glide a few feet in the air as the hydrofoil utilizes the underwater swell or force to move about while minimizing the impact of choppy water through the swell of each wave.

A hydrofoil board shown on the beach, with hydrofoil visible

Even keel conditions

The part of the hydrofoil board that extends below the surface to provide the lift is called a keel. Similar to other traditional keels, like ones found on sailboats, the wing-shaped keel is both what keeps the board balanced on the water while generating lift as the board is powered forward by the wind, waves, or the board’s engine. 

When there is light wind or flat water, the hydrofoil can still gain speed and lift when the rider uses the “pumping” method. This literally allows foil boarders to surf in completely still, windless and flat water conditions. Those using a hydrofoil board can pump their foil boards by putting pressure on the front foot, then shifting the pressure to the back foot while keeping the board as flat as possible. This action is repeated until the board picks up the desired speed. Essentially, no matter how still or choppy the water is, a hydrofoil board can obtain additional speed and catch waves faster than a traditional board in the same conditions.

Are hydrofoil boards better than traditional kiting and surfing boards?

Whether using a sail (wing foiling) or kite, the rider can reach even higher speeds. Hydrofoil boards are very efficient because the keel helps reduce drag. While hydrofoil kiteboarding, you can gain high speeds, even in choppy water conditions, because the keel acts to create less resistance. 

The board produces kinetic energy as it lifts out of the water while gaining speed. The keel of the hydrofoil is angled slightly upward, creating lift to propel the board up several feet out of the water. One crucial factor to keep in mind is that the board isn’t automatically lifted off the water’s surface until you reach a minimum speed.

A wingfoiler on a hydro board

Learning to use a hydrofoil board – whether wing foiling or kite foiling.

Foiling has a steep learning curve, and some even advise that you already have basic surfing skills under your belt before hopping onto a hydrofoil board. However, even professional surfers have reported difficulty getting used to the board, the elevation, and the mechanics. So, when starting out, be patient with yourself and learn the basics in gentler waves away from crowds for everyone’s safety. 

Taking an introductory lesson, renting the equipment, and always wearing a helmet provide a foundation for your journey to mastery. Every skill takes time to master, and to get the basics down and efoil with ease, it will most likely take several sessions to get the basics down. Since there is a level of risk to this sport, teaching yourself how to efoil is not advised unless you have experience kiteboarding or surfing.

Advantages of Hydrofoil Kiteboarding.

  • Riders using a hydrofoil generally enjoy more consistent handling and a smoother ride because the hydroplane effect elevates the border through choppy waves. With reduced drag, foil boards can reach 6 knots of wind and need a minimum speed of 4-8 miles per hour to get up to the top speed of 28 miles per hour.
  • The keel pushes the water down and the board up, providing a different sense of balance and a more dynamic ride for those experienced with conventional kiteboarding.
  • It feels like you’re flying. Who doesn’t want to feel like they can fly?
  • You don’t need as much wind to get a hydrofoil board up to speed. At the same time, borders may find the foil easier to handle in rough waters, high wind, and other conditions that negatively impact those kiting or surfing on regular boards.
  • Foil borders may exert less physical effort than normally needed with traditional boards, extending their day and increasing the amount of surf they can enjoy in a trip.
guy with kiteboard

Where to try hydrofoil kiteboarding and winging in Puerto Rico.

Numero Uno, in partnership with Kite Puerto Rico, offers expert instruction and top notch equipment. Book a lesson with one of our certified instructors and learn the basics to get you feeling comfortable out on those waves.

Kite Puerto Rico offers lessons and experiences for advanced borders in the following water sports:

  • Kiteboarding/kitesurfing,
  • Hydrofoil kiteboarding (kite foiling),
  • Wing hydrofoil (winging or wing foiling),
  • Tow-in surf practice and water start practice for kiteboarders,
  • Down-winding kite experiences,
  • E-foil or electric hydrofoil experiences.

If you’re visiting for a quick trip, or staying on the island for a while, Kite Puerto Rico has everything you need all in one place, and most lessons can be booked online in varying time increments.