The incredible rise of the electric hydrofoils!
Here are 12 amazing zero-emission electric hydrofoil personal watercraft that fly over the water, a technology that didn’t even exist 4 years ago!
No wonder it is catching on. Nearly every description of the experience, from the inventors and developers who first came up with these machines to first time e-foilers, is that it feels like flying on water. Some of the manufacturers even say, when referring to the battery life: “flying time of one hour”.
A quick history and explanation. A hydrofoil is literally a wing that attaches underneath a boat or any kind of vessel. It acts the same way as the wing of an airplane – as the boat (or in our case, board) moves through the water, it increases water pressure on the underside of the foil, decreases it on the upper side and when the board reaches a certain speed the foil lifts the board out of the water.
Wikipedia says “The first evidence of a hydrofoil on a vessel appears on a British patent granted in 1869 to Emmanuel Denis Farcot, a Parisian.” Over the years they have been used on military vessels and passenger ferries, and in 2009 Alain Thébault, inventor of the electric foiling water taxi SeaBubbles, and foiling FlyBus ferry, put hydrofoils on an 18m sailing trimaran – the Hydroptere – and proceeded to break the world’s speed records.
As for boards rather than boats, surfer celeb Laird Hamilton put a foil on a surfboard in Maui around 2009 and started flying over water either on the waves as in this video or by having it towed by jetskis or kites.
In 2016 the electric hydrofoil concept sprang to life
It seems that around 2016 the idea of an electric motor hydrofoil board was occurring to a few people. Electric motors and batteries had developed to the point that the propulsion system could be light enough and powerful enough to be attached to the wing itself, under the water, and provide enough speed to lift the board.
Some of the people with the concept were already in the watersport business, others were just surfers or wakeboarders or unpowered hydrofoilers who had dreams of being set free from the towing mothercraft. Some had already been working on it in their basements and garages. Literally all over the world.
You’ll see below that these dreamers and visionaries were in Puerto Rico, San Francisco, Norway, Canada, Slovenia, China, Italy and the Czech Republic.
The first public breakthrough seems to have come in October of 2016 when Dan Montague, who had been head of R&D at the Naish International surf/wake/kiteboard company (see Jetfoiler below) put up a video on YouTube of him flying over the waters around Fiji.
At about the same time, in Puerto Rico, the hydrofoil factory of Nick Leason’s company LiftFoils – which had been making towable hydrofoil boards – had a catastrophic fire and he and his partners made the decision to concentrate on launching the world’s first commercial e-foil.
Below is a mini-documentary about the founding of the e-foil project, starring Nick himself.
Perhaps because the electrically powered hydrofoil isn’t dependent on water conditions – or temperature – developments and advances could be tested everywhere instead of in just the usual warm ocean places for surfing and boarding innovation, like Hawaii or California or Ibiza.
In the promotional video for Cabratec, you can even see the inventor, Miroslav Schuetz, step off an ice shelf on a fjord onto his ‘Easy Goat’ e-foil, zip around the open water and then follow the edge of the shelf before he slows down and steps onto the ice again!
Here are 12 companies making e-foils
Below is a collection of the 12 companies we could find that are making viable electric hydrofoils – plus an instructables project for those who want to build their own.
Plugboats makes no assertions about which of these are the best, but each item is linked to the company website for more information.
Most are in pre-order or reserve stage – except for Nick Leason’s Lift – which came on the market in May of 2018 and has already delivered over 600 boards to customers as of this writing. (April, 2019).
There will almost inevitably be some sorting out in the industry as to which boards can make the transition to being successful in the marketplace, but with so many people working on e-foils it also inevitable that the technology involved will become better and more affordable, probably very quickly.
For now, here is a look at the intrepid pioneers who are leading these exciting new advances.
Lift The first production e-foil, which started shipping in May, 2018. Like all of the e-foils, it has an electric motor, battery (in this case lithium-ion) and a hand controller. Lift’s is connected via Bluetooth. Riders can fly for up to an hour at speeds of 25 mph or more.
Jetfoiler Is the Don Montague creation being developed with his Kai Concepts team in San Frnacisco – who also invented the trimaran kiteboat. The Jetfoiler is still in prototyping, but it has already undergone a lot of real life testing and they “will make an announcement when we have boards available to sell.”
Flite was founded by Australian entrepreneur David Trewern who had learnt to surf, windsurf and sail by age 10, became one of Oz’s first Kitesurfers in 1998 and in 2005 broke the (GPS) Kitesurfing world speed record with a top speed of 48.5 knots. He’s assembled a group of 25+ experts who share the passion to create an amazing new way to ride water.
VEFoil started when a couple of dreamers from Canada decided to act on their idea and launched a Kickstarter project to cover R&D costs, receiving 366 backers and setting them on their way. They’ve designed the board so that the motor can be removed to convert it to a kite foil or wake foil.
Cabratec came about because Miroslav Schuetz was so inspired by Don Montague’s 2016 Fiji video that he set out to build his own e-foil. As he saw prices for others he concentrated on a more affordable option. Engineering, testing and prototyping took up 2017 and his EasyGoat became available for pre-order in 2018.
HoverStar Flight Technology began in Shenzhen China in 2015 with their H1 Flying Car. From there they moved to the water and put together a hand held electric motor ‘AquaJet’ for snorkeling, the ‘HoverArk’, a sort of floaty with motors, and the HoverFoil is just the next natural progression, an electric motor on a bigger platform.
Albatross from Okarbon is a little bit different, an inflatable board that comes with a battery powered compressor. The whole thing can be stored in a backpack and the video on their website shows the components being put together in a couple of minutes.
The Elevate Eco-Foil e-foil is another inflatable that is made for easy transport. In addition, its developers say that the actual hydrofoiling part with the motor can be easily attached to other wakeboards or SUP (Stand Up Paddling) boards to convert them instantly to e-foils.
Flying Rodeo is another kit-type e-foil with different components that are assembled, but the board is rigid, not inflatable. There are also two types of rigid board offered, with the motor and other hydrofoil elements being interchangeable to give different flying experiences.
And if you have an extra 17 seconds to spare, this video of the Flying Rodeo alternative to Santa’s traditional sleigh and reindeer is well worth a look.
EldoRIDEdo comes from the Czech Republic, the creation of a team at SportProp that has been making carbon and composite propellers and other parts, for aerospace, auto racing and even hang-gliding trikes, since 1993. When they imported a kite-hydrofoil in 2012 they started working on their impeller powered version
e-takuma is the last of our kit type e-foiling offerings, with the motor easily detaching from the foiling wing to make a towable foiling wake, kite or SUP board. One of their claims is ease of use, noting that out of 500 test users, the average time to ‘learn to fly’ was just over 3 minutes.
The Waydoo Flyer is from a subsidiary of TXA, a Chinese company that makes intelligent drones used in agriculture and applied that learning to electric hydrofoils. The e-foil division was founded in 2018, the big unveiling took place at the Singapore Yacht Show in April and orders are now being taken, with a one month delivery promise.
Build Your Own E-Foil! After seeing video of an e-foil and realizing they were really expensive, Hans, Jonas and Nikolai Hiorth of Norway – decided to build their own. Learn from them with their Instructables page that also has video of the great looking finished e-foil. Two-part instructions: board, hydrofoil, propulsion unit; battery and controller.
Photos are © the respective e-foil companies. Plugboats video uses footage from: Albatross, JetFoiler, Lift, Flite, Cabratec, Elevate, Waydoo, VEFoil
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Please be aware these will require motor boat registration in most US states. Life jacket requirements also apply on U.S. waters.