Photos: Howard Shep
Ben Felton is a Bournemouth-based stand up paddleboarder that spends as much time above the water as he does on it. Ever keen to investigate what motivates and drives riders we caught up with Benny boy to get the lowdown.
Tell us when you first discovered stand up paddleboarding and what enticed you to get involved?
I discovered stand up paddle boarding around five years ago. A handful of friends were getting really into SUP, experimenting in the surf and such.
I was on a plane, coming back from a week’s snowboarding, and saying to a good long friend, Nick Woods, “I need to buy a longboard to surf and get back into the water.” His reply, was about to change my life, “Just buy a SUP it’s the new thing and really taking off.”
I thought they were boring, just paddling up and down the local seafront until I started watching videos online of guys ripping around on the face of big waves. I felt that’s where I need to be. Shortly after, I brought my first SUP.
You lean more towards SUP surfing – why is this?
The answer to this, around year ago, would have been yes but my progression on the foil has allowed me to use the foil in a whole range of conditions that I never thought would be possible. The SUPs I have rarely come out nowadays unless its big gnarly conditions or I fancy a change.
Any joy in flat water paddling?
Yes, I enjoy a flat paddle in the summer with an essential beer stop off on route. I also have recently purchased a race board for fitness and keep up the paddle strength. It’s a good way to workout went it’s flat.
And what about SUP foiling; when did that come on the scene for you?
I brought my first foil in November 2018. I had a local board repair guy retrofit a foil box into an 8ft Starboard Hypernut. Again, looking at videos online inspired me to have a go. I mean, who wouldn’t want a piece of that cake? There wasn’t anyone I knew to talk about it locally, but my friend Nick also brought one at the same time to learn together.
Talk us through your first flights. Were they successful from the off or did it require work?
Wow, those first flights! Not successful at all. In my head I thought how hard can it be? I’m a capable SUP surfer so adding a foil can’t be that hard, can it? HOW WRONG I WAS.
Every time the foil engaged, I entered another dimension of surfing that I had no idea about. And basically ended up with a hardcore face plant, rail to the ribs or a foil tip flying pass your face with the intent to hurt me! I was amazed at how much power the front wing produces when it starts to work!
It took some time. I had endless sessions where the conditions were perfect for my SUP, but I gave them up to struggle with the learning process of the foil. But when you get it, you reap the rewards big time and the struggle period is a thing of the past.
Where’s your local, and how is it for foiling?
Bournemouth area is my local. Yes, it’s great for foiling. I’ve been jumping around all the local spots lately, and they all have their different good points. There is one in particular that works occasionally, and you’re able to play around on a swell for 500m plus easily. In fact, another foiler did a 730m ride recently.
Are you well received by others – surfers for instance? Or do you cop any flack?
I’ve not had one issue, from anyone. So, yes well received, but I do take good care out in the water, when around other users. I show respect keep, my distance and don’t take any chances if someone is close. I’ve never foiled a busy surf line up, I pick up the wave further down the line, or an unused shoulder or better go somewhere else entirely.
Do you see SUP foiling growing in your area?
In the last two years, I’ve not seen much of an increase locally apart from, a few friends who got annoyed with my wave counts and distance, being easy triple to theirs on a session!
What’s your biggest tip for anyone considering SUP foiling for the first time?
Become best friends with a boat/jet ski owner! Being towed up on a foil, learning how the foil works, feet positioning, weight discipline, etc. is a short cut for sure!
Wear a safety helmet and an impact jacket and stay away from other water users.
Any other foiling discipline in the mix for you? If so, what are they and why?
I need to look a lot more into downwind foiling. It looks insane; I love the fact you can ride swells endlessly carving around. I do have a wing set up that should allow me to downwind foil.
Tow in foiling is also on the list. When we are allowed to travel, I’m hoping to try this out in Fuerteventura.
What’s better: a cracking day SUP surfing in good waves or a day SUP foiling in average wave conditions, and why?
This is a tough one to answer! If the conditions are right and there’s a nice size, clean, powerful wave, then the SUP. I love the steep drops, lip hits and the thrill of a big wave chasing you and the punishment it will bring if you get it wrong.
Although the foil has become the ‘go-to’ weapon of choice for me, I’ve become very choosy on the conditions to sup surf. Foiling guarantees a good session in any conditions, from on-shore mush to head high+ clean rollers. So answer is the SUP in (very) good conditions as it gets me going on the adrenaline fix.
Maybe if you ask me in a few years, I think you have a different answer!
As well as a SUP foiler you wing also. How does winging fit your foiling life and water sessions
Winging goes hand in hand with my SUP foil life. When the wind is up, and I cannot SUP foil I can ditch the paddle pump up the wing and get out foiling on the very same board I sup foil with. I’m just starting to get into the waves with the wing; it’s quite an experience to pull yourself onto a swell with the wing, depower it, and cruise along.
What’s better: SUP foiling or wing foiling and why?
SUP foiling. I love the freedom on the wave/swell. I love the silent glides, speed and being able to link waves with pumping. SUP foiling is a much more social with your mates than wing foiling. I find wing foiling is a very solitary sport! Nothing like sharing a few foil waves with friends and having a bit of banter about they’re last foil breach to face plant!
Any foil goals you have in mind?
Big wave tow-in foiling, wing aerials and get a 1km ride in at the local!
What about SUP surfing?
Get barrelled and spat out the tube! That’s everyone’s dream, hey?
Sum SUP foiling up in three words.
Insanely good fun.
Final shouts, thanks and praise?
Nick Woods for being the instigator to my SUP life, Karl Cadwallader, for providing me with my first board, first foil and first wing. Howard Shep for his amazing eye behind the lens and Richard Webb for being my ‘outback buddy’.
I’d also like to say a big thanks to all the Bournemouth local wingers, foilers, supers and surfers for making every session so much fun!