PICTURED: Riding an electric foil at Goleta Beach. Photo by Mindy Rainey

by Alex Wilson

Andy Skeath is an avid surfer, and the first time he saw someone gliding along on a surfboard several feet above the water, showing no signs of strenuous effort, he was not impressed.

“I’ll be honest, I was massively against it because I was like, ‘That’s cheating,’” he said.

Little did he know that his feelings about electric foils would change radically after he rode one himself.

A friend tried it, and told Skeath to take a spin on the device — also known as an eFoil or electric surfboard — because it’s completely unlike surfing, which requires great effort to paddle into position and catch a wave.

Peaceful ride on the electric foil. Photo by Mindy Rainey

“It’s super peaceful, it’s super quiet. It’s really smooth and you’re just, like, cruising. It’s literally like flying along in the air. It’s very different from anything I’ve ever experienced before,” he said.

Not only was riding an electric foil fun, but Skeath found that it also gave him a connection to the ocean environment he’d never felt before.

“It gets you away from everyone. You’re actually out in the ocean rather than paddling and battling for waves,” he explained.  “You’re cruising around and it’s so peaceful. It’s really nice.” Skeath suggested that it could be comparable to what it would feel like to ride the fictional hoverboard depicted in the <em>Back to the Future</em> movies.

New use for familiar tech

Skeath took a recent lesson from a company called iSurf, which offers surfing lessons and surf camps in both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and signed up for another session right after getting out of the water.

iSurf was founded in 2013 by Thomas Oretsky and his wife Alelia Parenteau in Santa Barbara. It started out as a surf school exclusively for women for the first three years, but the business has since expanded to serve people of all ages and backgrounds. iSurf now offers a range of camps, private lessons, after-school programs, and excursions to exotic surf spots like Costa Rica and New Zealand.  

A year ago, iSurf became the first surf school in the area to offer electric foil lessons.

Oretsky said that while people are often surprised to see an electric foil in action for the first time, vessels known as hydrofoils have long been used by militaries worldwide, as well as passenger vessels requiring greater speed than a conventional boat. 

“The technology of foiling itself has been around for decades if not longer, and basically it’s giving a vessel the ability to rise up out of the water and fly above the water itself. And so the eFoil is basically a modified surfboard that has a propeller underneath it that is fixed to a foil,” he said. “It’s basically an electric-powered surfboard that rises out of the water.”

All the eFoil lessons offered by iSurf take place at Goleta Beach, because it’s relatively sheltered from wind and waves and is also a scenic spot. In the future, iSurf plans to offer eFoil trips to other locations with calm water such as Lake Havasu or Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

So far, iSurf has five electric foils, allowing an instructor to take groups of up to four people. According to Oretsky, other devices that use foils, such as ones propelled by kites, boats or waves, are also exploding in popularity.   

“Right now foiling is just taking off, and eFoils are just one of those hot-ticket items that are within that broader range of foil products,” he said.

 “Total stoke”

He noted that people like the ease of riding electric foils and the feeling of silence, freedom and flight.

Electric foil carving. Photo by Mindy Rainey

And he loves the reaction he sees when people finish a ride.

“It’s just pure joy. It’s total stoke,” Oretsky affirms. “I’d say they’re happier than when I finish a surf lesson. It’s just a totally different experience than anyone could imagine, just flying above the water. And the ease in which they learn it, they’re always so impressed by. Quite often they say it’s the best thing they’ve ever done.”

Mindy Rainey has a daughter who takes surf lessons with iSurf and decided to give electric foiling a try after she saw pictures of it on the iSurf Instagram Page.

“It just looked super cool and different, not like anything I’d done before. I’m not a surfer but I love being on the water, so it seemed like a nice middle ground,” she said.

Rainey said she was surprised at how quickly she learned to control the electric foil.

“Thomas went over everything really, really well and he stayed right by me throughout the lesson, so that he could give me tips on how I could improve to make my ride better, and listened to my fears and insecurities, and really pumped me up and helped me feel like I could do it,” she said. “It’s such a cool way to experience the water.”

iSurf, 370 N. La Cumbre Road, Santa Barbara, 805-699-5371, www.isurfschool.com.