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Ready for a real-life 'magic carpet' ride? Hop on an eFoil.

Learning to fly on a surfboard isn't easy, but the "unreal feeling" is worth it, Sarasota eFoil owners say.

The eFoil is growing in popularity in Sarasota.
The eFoil is growing in popularity in Sarasota.
Courtesy photo
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The waters of Sarasota Bay are glassy as the flying surfboard lesson begins, but the journey feels surprisingly like a thrill ride — no waves required.

As the motor kicks in, the front of the board rises above the surface, and the rider shifts his weight forward to balance. The motor may be small, but its effect on the board is powerful.

As the rider rises to his knees, then feet, the froth at the edges of the board falls away as it lifts above the surface on its fin, its submerged wings gliding beneath the water.

It’s a sight that has evoked comparisons to the hoverboards in "Back to the Future" and earned the boards the name of "flying surfboards."

Known as eFoils, these electric foil boards have been growing in popularity following their introduction in 2017 by Lift Foils. 

Among the local businesses that have embraced the technology is Sarasota eFoil, operated by Dustin Johnson and Seth Hajek.

“The closest thing I can compare it to is a magic carpet ride,” Johnson said. "It’s like, impossible, but these make it possible, pretty much.” 

Learning to fly

When Johnson and Hajek opened the business two-and-a-half years ago, the eFoil was still in search of a niche, but the board's reputation, and the public demand, is growing, they said. 

“The only drawback to going in early is, it’s still so new, so people don't know to look for it yet, but once you get over that hump – we’re already established, we’re here, we know the terrain, we know the areas, we know the perfect places to go,” Hajek said.

Both men discovered eFoils while they were spending time in Puerto Rico, the base of the Lift Foils company, of which they are now an affiliate. 

When they tried out the boards however, they realized learning to use them wasn't easy, finding the experience "intimidating."

“It was like, here's the board, you figure it out yourselves," Johnson said. "We've learned what to do and what not to do, and we can translate that over to all of our clients and our customers, to make it just as easy and as smooth as possible."

Their lessons, usually 90 minutes long, are held in varying locations around Sarasota, depending on weather and water conditions, and begin with the basics — how to get on the board, how to control it, and how to position yourself effectively.

Hajek said customers with no watersports experience have mastered the board in as little as 10 minutes. Of course, the learning process isn’t as easy as the press of the “start” button on the remote control.

The eFoil's speed is controlled through a remote, held by the user.
Photo by Ian Swaby

If you’re not a surfer, you’ll need to acquire your balance, and even with the speed set to a lower level as you begin, the movement feels fast, for being on water.

If you’re inexperienced in surfing — as this writer was — you might find yourself falling more than once; but that's not a big deal. Johnson or Hajek will be there on an eFoil of their own to help fetch your board, and they’ll have plenty of advice to offer you via waterproof radio helmet.

Once you begin to acquire the art of the eFoil, a sense of freedom and exhilaration sets in, and the lesson can then move on to the true objective: free-range exploration.

Meanwhile, the user can rest assured that watchful eyes are fixed on the board's technological components; its computer hooks to a data cable, which is able to transmit information on any issues – e.g. overheating circuits — to the owner’s cellphone and also to Lift Foils.

Hajek said the eFoil is easier to master than a traditional surfboard.

One reason it is easier, he said, is that it is propelled with a motor, rather than by a wave, which means the user has a long straightaway in the water where they are in control of the speed. 

At the same time, he said, it allows users to pick up some of the skills of surfing.

“You build a core balance with these, which definitely is needed for surfing for sure,” Johnson said. 

That doesn’t mean that it works just as well in reverse, however – surfers will need to abandon some of the techniques they regularly practice.

Although the price tag of the eFoil is out of range for many — purchasing your own board costs at least several thousand dollars — the boards are easy to maintain, Johnson and Hajek said.

When finished, the user pops the battery out, places it in a case and rinses the saltwater off the board, including its waterproof internal components. 

The user occasionally must apply corrosion inhibitor, or perform firmware updates via smartphone.

Dustin Johnson hoses down the board. The board typically requires little maintenance after use, needing to simply be rinsed.
Photo by Ian Swaby

For people of many different ages, it’s the future of watersports, say the two instructors.

"More people are starting to have these and bring them out for just an extra activity, something different, something that just feels fake because once you're flying, it does feel fake,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t feel real. It’s pure fun.”


An alternative way to explore

Sarasota eFoil was among the companies in the area that didn’t stop at just eFoils.

Johnson and Hajek noticed that many customers had a dilemma — they wanted to rent an eFoil, but their spouse or partner wasn't interested and was in search of a more relaxing water activity.

A Seabob.
Photo by Ian Swaby

“We were like, no, we don't have anything else, and then we're like, you know what, this would be a perfect thing for people who wanted to have something more leisurely they could do, that there’s not really a learning curve involved in; it’s just kind of fun,” Hajek said.

The Seabob, or “high performance underwater scooter,” looks something like a mini jetski, although it doesn’t seat the user; they just grab the handlebars, and go. 

However, don’t let it’s small size fool you. The Seabob packs a power that feels similar to that of the eFoil.

The shop offers rentals of Seabobs, but partners with ZEUS (Zoom Electric Ultimate Sports), which fulfills the sales side of the equation.



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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