Non-Swiss and high-wind Foilstyle might not be what you expect, but it is exactly what we are discussing in today’s interview with Will Graham (Slingshot/Severne). The brit has been making a name for himself online with his crazy, strong wind Foilstyle video’s over in Vasiliki, Greece. Recently he became supported by Slingshot, so we thought it was time to get to know the foilstyle specialist who is rumoured to be doing power moves on the foil, without ever having done them on the fin. Being 100% committed to the foil, he gives us an insight into the discipline and his transition to it. Before we start, check out his latest edit below.
FPT: Hey Will! For those amongst us that do not know you yet, tell us about your windsurfing journey so far.
Will: Hi Freestyle Pro Tour! Thanks for having me on the show! I started windsurfing 7 years ago while working in the UK as a kids outdoor instructor. I was lucky enough to work with loads of ex summer seasonaires who were all fanatical about windsurfing. Needless to say, they got me hooked straight away! After getting to an intermediate level, I did my start windsurf instructor qualification and realised teaching watersports was a lot more fun than teaching rock climbing. I quit my job and headed out to Greece to do my first summer season. My second season was in Vasiliki in 2018, where I worked with some of the coolest, most down to earth people I’ve ever met. I had the best 5 months of my life there and have come back to Vass every summer since, working for various different centres. This year I’ve opened a freediving school called Freedive Lefkada and a part-time board repair workshop. I work for myself, giving me loads of time to play on the water.
FPT: Whenever on the water in Vass, you are easy to spot as you’re always hovering above all the windsurfers. How did you end up getting into Foilstyle? What was the transition like?
Will: I learnt to foil on my first Vass season in 2018. At the time I was a super entry level freestyler having just learnt to Vulcan, but I loved how high you could jump a foil. Having a pretty solid knowledge of composites and access to a good workshop, I built my own deep tuttle box and modified a 2013 Startboard Flare to accept the pink NP foil as soon as I got back to the UK. I was told by pretty much everyone that my creation wouldn’t work, as this was before narrow 3 strap foils boards had become mainstream but they were wrong. Still, I didn’t have anywhere near the skills to start foilstyling at this point. I loved how the smaller board felt and ended up building four in total, each one improving on the things I learned from the one before. Up until summer 2021, foiling was just a light wind option, and something I only did if it wasn’t windy enough to windsurf. But I got to the point where I peaked at windsurfing and was just getting frustrated with every session, whereas I loved every minute on the foil. From that point onwards I pretty much stopped windsurfing and have just focused on foiling since.
FPT: Was it difficult to transition?
Will: For me there wasn’t really a transition as such, because I started foiling while my windsurfing was still relatively average. So my skills in both grew at a similar pace. Although I would say that I’m a better foilist than windsurfer now.
FPT: Word on the street is that you are learning power moves on the foil without ever having done them on normal freestyle gear! How is that going for you?
Will: Haha this is true! I guess from the beginning I had people telling me what was and wasn’t possible. But I realised that most people will just repeat something they’ve heard someone else say without working it out for themselves. On a fin I can Spock and Forward loop. On the foil I can Forward, Switch Kono on both tacks, Air Skopu, Shaka, Backie and have landed the odd Burner. As well as having a few downwind 360 and boomerang variations dialed just for fun. The truth is that I actually think some moves are easier on a foil than finsurfing, especially moves where you can carve into a switch duck instead of stepping into switch and ducking. A good example of this is the Switch Kono. Riding a foil also gives you a much greater wind range and the ability to get upwind straight away. Therefore you spend a lot more time each session actually practicing the moves. This is unlike windsurfing, where sometimes it feels like you spend the whole session just waiting for the right gust to try something new.
I’m now going for Culo’s and full Kono’s as well as a two new foil specific moves that I’m not sure are even possible (for me)…
FPT: What moves are we thinking there?
Will: So the first one isn’t particularly technical in theory. Just scary. I love boomerangs. They’re hands down one of my top three favourite moves. But I also like forward loops. So I wondered whether it’d be possible to get a boomerang forward as a combo move. You would throw the sail into the stall, then as its coming up. Pop the board, catch the sail mid air and send it straight into the forward rotation. I think it’d be one of those moves that looks rubbish to most people, unless you can windsurf and appreciate what just happened. The other move is one I’m pretty sure people might have landed already. I personally haven’t seen it yet though. The idea is that you would duck to clue first then carve and jump the board into a sort of half Backloop, only doing a 180 rotation. You would land like a regular half kono. Again, I don’t think it would necessarily look that cool. But I think it’d be a fun way to progress!
FPT: Have you also had a go at the “slappy” move variations that the Swiss guys do?
Will: I was sessioning the slappy twizzle really hard last year. But I could never quite work it out. I kind of got stuck in a loop of stepping switch and just slamming the sail through the wind. I would get this crazy, out of control rotation with no hope of landing it. But I’ve learned a lot in the last 12 months so now you’ve asked, I’ll have another look at it and see whether I can get any closer. I think it’s a really, really cool looking move!
FPT: We’re looking forward to see it! Coming back to the “normal” moves, what do you think the main challenge is for you considering you have no regular freestyle power move experience?
Will: Probably that I’m going through the same learning process as other freestylers but being twice as high up. The foil also carries a lot of momentum with moves like a Forward or Burner, so there is more potential for bigger slams. That said, while the splashes are bigger, I’m generally learning new moves in slightly less wind than I would finsurfing, meaning the sail is less powered up. I the end I don’t think the crashes are much worse than on a fin, although I guess I wouldn’t really know. Weirdly I’ve also found that because you pop so much higher on the foil, you have more than enough of air time to think about whats happening, which is super useful when learning new moves. I think this is why I managed to land my first Shaka after only 4 sessions.
FPT: That’s impressive, I’m sure a lot of freestylers would be jealous of that kind of Shaka progression. When learning new moves, how prone to injury do you think Foilstyle actually is? We see you swinging the foil around in 30+ knots and sometimes have to hold our breath seeing whether you are still in one piece on the other side!
Will: There is undoubtedly more potential for injury on a foil. Everything is a bit bigger and you have a 1 meter razor sticking out of the bottom of the board. Still, a lot of this can be managed by being super strict with yourself. Generally I do my best to stay with the kit when I crash. Holding onto the boom tight and trying to keep my feet in the straps. My thinking is that if I can stay connected to the kit, I can’t hit the foil as easily. Some of the worse foil accidents I’ve seen have been people trying to eject away from the kit and getting caught up in the foil. It’s nasty stuff to see. All that being said, I have gotten lucky a few times in the past and have now decided to start wearing a helmet since my moves are getting bigger.
FPT: On your socials you suggest, as a controversial opinion, that foiling is better than windsurfing. Is Foilstyle the future?
Will: It’s an interesting one. Foiling has completely redefined what it means to windsurf. We can go out and have the session of the season in wind we wouldn’t normally even have bothered travelling to the beach for. Objectively I think foiling is better than finsurfing. You can get out more often and spend more time practicing your moves because the wind range is so much wider. You’re also significantly more manoeuvrable on the water than finsurfers due to the ability of going closer, and further, off the wind much more easily. In most disciplines of windsurfing, I think foiling will push finsurfing out. That said, freestyle has a real die hard following of riders and only a small number of them seem to be getting on the Foilstyle train. In the future I would love to see fin vs foil freestyle events, with riders deciding which set up would suit them for each specific heat. This would mean the event is less wind dependent, leading to more competitive sailing and removing the unfairness of the wind dropping on your heat. But maybe that’s wishful thinking.
FPT: So are you planning to compete in future Foilstyle events?
Will: I would love to participate in an event at some point next year! However, this would be more because I think it would be a really cool experience. For me, foiling has always been something I do because I enjoy it. I’m now landing moves that I never thought I would be good enough too land. But when I sail, if a move isn’t working out, I just move on to something else and leave it for next time. There’s no pressure to perform or train. My drive is purely the fact that doing tricks feels really satisfying. And I guess they look kind of cool too! The other thing is that I prefer to foil in finsurfing conditions rather than light wind. So I would have to learn how do all my moves in the lighter stuff as well. But who knows, I’ve got some great Foilstyle kit sponsored by Slingshot now, which is already proving to be a lot of fun to train on. Only time will tell…
FPT: Your main competition would be the Swiss Foilstylers. They are probably the hart of the discipline out there right now, and Balz especially is pushing it like crazy. What’s your thoughts on them and have you sailed together yet?
Will: I’ve been low level fangirling over the stuff Michael Näf, Jakob and Balz Müller have been doing for the last few years! Especially at the beginning, when foiling was relatively new and people weren’t really sure what to think of it. They were there riding these crazy home made boards that have paved way for what we all ride now. I think the only reason Foilstyle is really a thing at all is because of their commitment. I remember watching a short drone edit of Balz in Biel on his red ferrari board in 2017. There aren’t really any tricks in it yet, just a Forward Loop and a Backie crash. But it was that video that really made me want to foil. Even today it’s still one of my favourite foil videos. I’ve never ridden with any of them before but I think it’d be really cool to see them ride in person and I feel I could learn heaps from them.
FPT: Time for a strong wind Foilstyle trip to Vass for the Swiss boys then! Thank you so much for an insight into your foiling mindset! We’re looking forward to see more content from you!
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Follow Will on Instagram to see his latest endavours: https://www.instagram.com/weewillywindsurfs/