A key step forward
Surf foil pumping is in a way a key step in the learning curve of many foilers. This is the ONE technique that will allow you to enjoy the foil to its full potential and make you improve even faster afterwards. Many of us have in mind Kai Lenny ’s video in Fiji back in 2016, connecting 2 waves, then surfing on an infinite and almost non-existent lagoon wave to the beach. These first media coverage of surf foil represented a trigger and a goal to reach for many of us.
You are new to foil and are probably already flying or maybe you are just planning to learn more about the practice. Foil has already evolved and the pumping technique is becoming more and more accessible thanks to the evolution of the material. We therefore wanted to share with you some tips on how to learn pumping and develop your technique.
How it works
First of all, here’s a quick reminder. A hydrofoil works exactly like an airplane and needs speed to create lift. The pumping technique actually allows you to create this energy and produce it “artificially” (or rather mechanically) using your own movements. We invite you to read our explanatory article on how foils work if you are interested in the subject. Just like for an aircraft, maintaining a good speed will therefore be essential to the success of your pumping. But the aim is also to use the least energy possible and this is where an appropriate technique takes its full importance.
Pumping in surf foil : The technique step-by-step
This first phase consists in coming out of the wave at the right time. When you are beginning, it will be easier to go out when the wave is as flat as possible. As you progress, you’ll manage to kick out when the wave breaks or even get over the foam of the wave you’re on. The more you go out into a critical area of the wave, the greater are the turbulence and movement of the water. These movements are complicated to approach in foil and cause many imbalances.
Trajectory and initial speed.
This initial phase is one of the most important or even THE most important when learning to how to pump. The challenge here is to maintain a maximum speed and start pumping at the right time. A turn that is too tight will cause you to lose speed and you will have to an even bigger efforts to restore inertia to your foil. You will therefore lose energy and risk falling because the balance is always harder to maintain at low speed. Pumping is also more technical at low speed because it requires a larger and more precise movement to restart it.
This is why it is better to lengthen your curve. To do so, you can get out of the wave by riding alongside it instead of trying to aim for the peaks straight away. Aim for the channel first so you draw a larger curve. This will also allow you to enjoy the energy of the wave a little longer. You can then start pumping and gradually turn towards the peak. This long curve will allow you to maintain a good initial speed and start your pumping in the best possible conditions. Another element that will help you to start your relaunch is to be as high as possible on your mast before starting the pumping phase. In other words, try to position the wing of your foil as close to the surface as possible. It is indeed in this position that your foil has the least drag.
Now let’s talk about the pumping technique. It is important to know that the more speed you have, the easier the movement will be and the less you will get tired. Pumping is not just a sequence of curl and extensions of the leg muscles. You need to crate momentum forward in order to “create” speed with your foil. Pumping is in fact a combination of two movements: a succession of relief and pressure of the body combined with a sequence of delayed curl and extension of the front and back leg.
The diagram below shows the movement of the foil and its orientation underwater. When they start pumping, many people tend to be uncoordinated and therefore fail to generate the speed essential for efficient pumping. A simple movement of simultaneous pressure/ relief of your front and back leg will strongly slowing you down without moving you forward.
Giving a slight imbalance forward will allow you to accelerate more easily and give your foil that particular momentum. This imbalance is important, it is what will give you speed and forward inertia.
The key to pumping lies in the coordination between the movement of your lower limbs and the mass transfer. Your front and back legs will alternately flex and extend. When the back leg stretches (steps 1 and 2 in the picture below) your front leg will bend slightly to allow your foil to rise. This is the thrust phase. You will then press down on the front leg, while trying to weigh yourself down and use your weight to create more speed and steer your foil down (steps 3 and 4). You can see from these two steps that the foiler uses its whole body to create this downward and forward inertia. The thrust on your legs should be gradual during the thrust phase and should be at its maximum when your foil is at its lowest in order to give you bounce for the ascent phase (step 5). It is thanks to this last pressure that you will be able to lighten up and let your foil go up. In stage number 5, the legs are almost fully extended and the rider tries to expand to create the lighter weight of stage number 6 and bring the foil up again. Steps 1 and 6 are basically the same phase of pumping.
You can also use your arms to help you during the lightening phase.
Amplitude or Frequency?
What about the pacing when pumping? Frequency or amplitude? It is not yet an absolute science, but it seems that performing a wide pumping movement is less energetic than a very rhythmic movement. Giving amplitude to your movement will allow you to take advantage of the rest phases brought by the increased lift of your foil when it is close to the surface.
However, you can still give frequency to your foil at the exit of the wave in order to make it accelerate. Because remember, speed is one of the key factors of an efficient pumping!
When you start pumping, try to look far out the sea or at least at the wave or goal you are aiming for. This will force you to give your foil the forward inertia we were talking about earlier. In foil surfing, looking up is even more important as it will allow you to spot water movement and wave formation and thus choose the right area to join.
It is important to choose the area where you will stop pumping when you are trying to connect a second wave, otherwise you will fall or lose it. Since the energy of the wave is on its upper third, this is the area you should aim for. In addition to being in a powerful zone, you will benefit from the acceleration provided by the steepness of the wave. Your turn will also be important. Just like when you come out of a wave, your turn must be lengthened and ‘very round’ in order not to make your foil lose speed. The thrust you give to your legs during this turn should in fact be gradual and increase throughout your turn. As with a long carve in surfing, the pressure must be more and more pronounced as you go through the curve to maintain speed and therefore lift. In other words, a turn that is too tight may cause your foil to land prematurely because it will have lost speed.
With the acquired speed, it is sometimes possible to stop pumping because the foil has enough lift to keep you flying: your foil “saturate”. Then it’s the perfect time to get some rest. As soon as you feel that the foil loses speed and starts landing, you can start pumping again. When you feel that you are entering this phase, bring your foil close to the surface to allow it to glide longer and more easily.
Some training ideas
The effort required to pump in surf foil differs depending on the front wing you are going to use. Its area, its weight, its shape … There are plenty of factors that play a part in the pumping capability of your foil. Foils made for surfing are designed for agility and to allow you to make more radical manoeuvres. However, they require a little more pumping effort than the foils developed for downwind, for example. Pumping with this type of foil will be similar to the effort provided during a 400 m in athletics (effort with lactic anaerobia dominant) and that’s why connecting a multitude of waves is very physical. Just try to run 3 times 400 m with only a few seconds rest in between each reps! This example is a bit extreme but it gives a good idea of the type of effort that pumping can sometimes require depending on the type of wing you are going to use. For the most motivated among you, here are a few ideas on how to progress on dry land, both physically and technically!
To work on your technique, skateboarding can be a good way to progress. However, you will need to have access to a skatepark nearby. Ramps such as half pipes and bowls are a good way to work on your leg muscle memory and proprioception. Building up speed in a ramp is similar to the pumping movement in surf foil (extension of the leg muscles in the curves when going up, flexion at the top of the ramp, then extension again in the curve when going down).
The best training remains the pumptrack which are concrete or asphalt tracks that are similar to BMX dirt racing track. Coordination between your front leg and your back leg is essential to build speed without pushing on the floor with your foot. Pumptracks are quite demanding muscularly and respiratorily and will also be the perfect work out. The effort is indeed very similar to that of a connection between two waves in surf foil. If you have a cruiser or surf skate type board it’s even better because they will provide more instability and make you work on your positioning in addition to your pumping technique.
The doc start and beach start, once mastered, will also be a good way to perfect your technique when the waves are not there! Find a dock or a pontoon close to your home and practice. The pontoon and beach departures are done with lower speeds than at the exit of a wave, so the technique becomes a little more complex but you know what they say « pump hard, play hard » right ? If you want to learn how to start from the beach, have a look at our article on the beach start technique.
Physical training is an extremely wide and complex field. This part would require a whole book to be really specific and complete. Even if pumping corresponds rather to a short and intense effort of lactic anaerobic type, endurance (aerobic metabolism) is not to be neglected to progress. Moreover, working on your endurance will help you support longer sessions. The training must therefore be global and even if an activity always has a dominant energy metabolism, the objective is simply to give you here some keys and ideas to progress physically and specifically in your practice of surf foil.
If you are a fan of overall training or crosstraining, exercises such as box jump, burpees will allow you to work on your explosiveness and cardio at home.
If you are an « always on the move » kind of person, and you want to work more specifically on your respiratory capacity, the interval training in running or in any kind of endurance sports is a very good way to improve fast. If you have steps close to your home it is even better because it will also allow you to work on your amplitude.
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Choose the right timing
Remember to lengthen your curve at the exit of the wave to maintain speed.
Commit your body forward with a slight imbalance to create speed.
Coordinate the movement of the legs with the lightening and pressure phases of the body.
Remember to give amplitude
Aim for the top third of the wave you want to connect
There you are ! You just caught a second wave!