Foilboarding makes a splash at Lake Tahoe |

Foilboarding makes a splash at Lake Tahoe

Jonah M. KesselNo waves will interrupt Al Traves' ride on his hydrofoil board as he hovers over Lake Tahoe. Traves and friends are promoting a new sport that they believe can revitalize water sports activities on Lake Tahoe.
Jonah M. Kessel | Jonah M. Kessel / Tahoe Daily Tr

In the film “Step Into Liquid,” there is a scene where world-class big-wave rider Laird Hamilton is on a surfboard that has a hydrofoil mounted to its base.

It’s rather odd to see someone standing above the water on a board that basically is connected to a metal rod that’s touching the ocean’s surface. But for many, including South Lake Tahoe’s Al Traves and Mollie Mason, “Step Into Liquid” was their first introduction to foilboarding.

“We saw Laird doing this on big waves, so we thought it was time to do it here,” said the 34-year-old Traves, a former competitive snowboarder.

Foilboarding isn’t a new activity, as it’s essentially a derivative of the Air Chair and Sky Ski that have been around for decades. On the Internet, there are numerous videos of people foilboarding.

But it was in Hawaii where surfers first started to seriously consider the idea of foilboarding, cutting off the hydrofoil from Air Chairs and mounting them to their surfboards. Traves and Mason, though, believe they could be the first locals to bring the sport to Lake Tahoe.

“It’s popular over in Hawaii, and you see videos of people doing it over on the Internet, but we’ve never seen it in Lake Tahoe,” said the 27-year-old Mason.

The cost of an entry-level Air Chair or Sky Ski runs about $1,600, which forced Mason and Traves to get creative. They acquired an old Air Chair, ripped off the chair and mounted a pair of step-in snowboarding bindings to it. Then they welded a hydrofoil to the board’s base, found a pair of used snowboard boots and cut the toes off so Traves and Mason didn’t need to switch boots.

“It’s junkyard style,” joked Josh Silverstein, who has tried foilboarding ” unsuccessfully, he admits ” and serves as the pair’s primary driver and supporter. “To be honest, that thing intimidates me.”

But unlike an Air Chair or Sky Ski, which encounter difficulty in rough waters, foilboarding is at home in tranquil waters or Lake Tahoe’s legendary chop.

“When there is 3 feet of chop and it’s coming at you from every direction, we’re just cruising along and carving,” Traves said. “Every day is glass on one of these. Every day is a bottomless powder day, and you know how many powder hounds are in Tahoe.

“But you need to give credit to the people who ride Air Chairs. It’s pretty difficult, and they can get huge air on them, but we just couldn’t wrap our heads around that idea. We’re snowboarders, so we popped the chair off.”

Randy and Amber Tanaka, who have been riding a Sky Ski for nearly a decade, believe foilboards are more popular than Traves and Mason think, but that you mostly see Air Chairs and Sky Skis around Lake Tahoe.

“The main reason why people don’t get into it is cost,” said Randy Tanaka, who works at General Electric in the Carson Valley and rides his Sky Ski several times a week. “It’s not like wakeboarding or waterskiing. It’s just not a cheap sport to get into, and that usually scares people off.”

As long as they can find used Air Chairs to convert to a foilboard, Mason and Traves hope to attract more people to the sport. But, Mason warns, learning to foilboard isn’t like learning to wakeboard.

“The learning curve is tough,” Mason said. “It’s like riding a bull, and you’re going to take some falls. But it’s really fun, and when you’re out there gliding, it’s so smooth.”

Air Chair/Sky Ski

Boards with a seat mounted to it. Riders sit on the apparatus and hold onto a tow rope connected to a boat. They can ride on the water, keeping the hydrofoil submerged, or rise above the water by engaging the hydrofoil.


Boards that are basically Air Chairs/Sky Skis that have had their seat apparatuses ripped off them and replaced with bindings that you can stand in. Riders stand in the bindings and hold onto a tow rope that is connected to a boat. They can ride on the water, keeping the hydrofoil submerged, or rise above the water by engaging the hydrofoil.

How does a hydrofoil work?

When the hydrofoil ” a tall, finlike structure ” is submerged in the water, boards can be ridden on the water without engaging the hydrofoil. If foilboard riders want to engage the foil, they lean back on their back foot and feel the foil come out of the water, effectively raising them above the surface. If an Air Chair/Sky Chair rider wants to engage the foil, they also lean back, but there are other ways to engage the foil as a person becomes more advanced.

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