Lighter isn’t always better
We are firm believers that foiling will connect watersports like nothing else in history. As hydrofoils become more and more popular in surfing, we are hearing more and more questions from people excited about investing in a surf foil, but unsure which option is the right, fit for their needs. One question people ask regularly is: What is the difference between Aluminum surf foils vs Carbon surf foils construction and which option they should choose for surfing. We’ll break down the basics to help clarify the main differences.
- Lower cost
- User-friendly performance
- Affordable multi-mast learning system
- More impact-resistant than carbon
- Better for teaching, loaning to friends
- Modular wing compatible
- Weight adds stability smooths out your ride and makes learning easier
- Weight adds momentum. That’s a good thing for smooth turns and pumping.
Here’s what Slingshot foil designer Tony Logosz has to say about foil weight in surfing (Ride Engine foils were developed in partnership with Slingshot and Logosz’s expertise).
- More work to carry to the beach
- Masts can bend under heavy load
- Requires regular maintenance to prevent seizing and corrosion
- Less Stiff or, less “slip” than carbon
- Weight limits jumping and freestyle ability
An aluminum foil favors ease of use and stability over speed and high performance. The largest benefit of Aluminum construction is obviously cost. For example, you can get a complete Futura setup and a starter mast for less than a grand. That’s still not cheap, but as foils go it’s a very affordable price for a great all-around setup. The ability to have different mast lengths for learning progression is HUGE, and it’s really only practical with aluminum construction. Shorter masts are also a good long-term option for foiling in shallow water.
Aluminum is heavier, but the added weight can actually be a good thing. Weight adds stability and makes for a less “twitchy” foil, which is particularly nice for entry-level or free-riders who prefer the description “user-friendly” over “high performance.”
One drawback of aluminum construction is the regular maintenance required to prevent parts from fusing together, corroding and seizing up. The maintenance is simple- a quick rinse after every use and disassembly and protective lube between ever few uses- but forget it just once and you could have irreversible consequences.
- Lightweight, easy packing to the beach
- Stiffer and stronger, better for high speed, jumping, and high torque situations
- More “slip” than aluminum
- Less “cavitation at high speeds”
- Fewer maintenance issues
- Less sinking weight, easier for strapless starting
- Requires extensive skill to enjoy
- Higher cost
- More fragile- doesn’t like rocks
- Prone to snapping if it gets tumbled in the waves
- Multi-mast learning system is cost prohibitive
Pretty much anyone who transitions from aluminum to carbon will tell you the same thing- it has a cleaner, faster and more efficient feel as it slices through the water. Top speeds are higher, upwind angles and efficiency are greater and agility is improved. For performance-oriented riders, carbon is the natural progression for those who can afford it.
A high-performance carbon foil can feel “twitchy” and super sensitive compared to a heavier aluminum, but once you get a feel for the difference, you’ll describe it as agile and responsive.
We normally only recommend learning on a carbon setup with a full-size mast to advanced riders who know they’ll progress quickly and are willing to take some abuse during the learning process. For everyone else, the aluminum multi-mast is by far the best way to learn.
Carbon is stiffer and stronger than aluminum, which is important for aggressive riding, jumping or heavy riders that could bend an aluminum mast. On the downside, carbon is more fragile and susceptible to impact damage.
Maintenance is still important, but carbon is less prone to corrosion than aluminum.
Learn with a cheaper, more durable and more user-friendly (and heavier) setup first. Once you’ve learned and are fully stoked on surf foiling, you may decide the setup you have is perfect, or that all you need next is an aftermarket wings to add to your quiver, or you may decide you’re ready for the high-speed, high-performance benefits of carbon.