Josh Waitzkin, the author of The Art of Learning and eight-time U.S. National Chess Champion, sat down with bestselling author Tim Ferriss for The Tim Ferriss Show to talk about how Lift’s eFoil factors into his learning process and his newfound passion for foiling. “It’s a crazy, intense feeling… [Lift’s founder] Nick is a real pioneer in the foil world,“ Waitzkin says, adding that “foiling is at the cutting edge of the surf world… I love it.” We can definitely relate.
How technology is changing water sports and why Lift is at the forefront of the revolution
It’s difficult to think of any industry that isn’t rapidly changing thanks to constant advancements in tech, and sports is no exception. Water sports, in particular, have seen major advancements because of various exciting innovations in tech. The advent of electric foiling, in which riders of all capabilities can lift above the water on a board attached to a mast with a motorized propeller system (otherwise known as the eFoil, which was pioneered by Puerto Rico-based company called Lift), has opened up an extreme sensation, previously reserved for professional surfers, to anyone who wants to try it.
Along with making incredible water sports experiences more accessible, tech has made them safer and more precise. For instance, the Lift eFoil has a Bluetooth hand controller that gives the rider total control over their speed. If the rider releases the control, or if the controller is submerged in water, the motor automatically stops. Lift’s controller is also equipped to indicate when the foil’s battery is losing charge so that a rider can get safely back to dry land. Along with a fully submersible battery (or as Lift founder Nick Leason calls it, “17 miles of power for flying packed into a tight little black box”), the eFoil depends on five computers with individual software, all communicating together, to ensure the best rider experience. This hi-tech system is a big development in a sport that previously required a highly-skilled rider to rely on unpredictable waves and water conditions in order to propel themselves in the water.
Technology has also led to an evolution in the way people can follow and interact with water sports communities. Social media pulls more people into the conversation every day, and better Go Pro and drone tech has led to riveting, beautiful content that captures experiences like never before. A forward-thinking company today focuses on connecting people, creating spaces on social media where people from all over the world can connect. For Lift, an active presence means foiling fans and owners alike get up-to-date news, tips, inspiration, and ideas.
Consumers and companies alike have become increasingly environmentally conscious, and respecting the environment, especially oceans and waterways, has become a shared priority. It’s crucial that water sports companies take the environment into consideration as they develop products, and Lift has been a pioneer in this area. The eFoil, with its electric propulsion system, is a silent, emission- and pollutant-free watercraft so that riders can explore nature without disturbing it.
As tech evolves, it changes the way we think about and participate in our favorite sports. Companies that embrace and integrate high-tech features into their products can offer safety, more meaningful connections with fans, and more environmentally-friendly experiences. With Lift’s eFoil, technological advancements have contributed to a brand new water sport, open to anyone who wants to experience the thrill and sensation of flight above the water.
Why foiling is the hottest thing in water sports and should be your next adventure
As anyone who loves adventuring out on the water knows, the experience of moving quickly among the elements can provide a sense of quiet and calm, and also of thrill and exhilaration. Electric foiling, in which a rider lifts above the water on a board attached to a mast with a motorized propeller system (otherwise known as an eFoil), is one of the fastest growing trends in the water sports market. Seeing these impressive watercraft in action, it’s easy to understand why this one-of-a-kind experience is taking off.
Much of what makes foiling so appealing is the inherent joy in the adventure. It’s accessible and easy to pick up, with most riders comfortably gliding over the water within an hour of their first lesson—regardless of their athletic prowess. And unlike boating, it’s something almost anyone can try, since you don’t need a special license or permit to operate an eFoil. The rider isn’t overburdened by needing to master a special skill, which frees up the mind and spirit for true exploration.
Despite the complex technology and dedicated craftsmanship that leads to such a smooth and seamless ride, the mechanics of using an eFoil are relatively uncomplicated. The rider controls the eFoil with a handheld remote to reach the desired speed and can fly fast and yet never touch the surface of the water. It’s absolutely exhilarating. For families ready to bond on vacation together and solo riders who are driven to set out on their own path, foiling is a great, safe option. A rider can cruise in places where a boat or jetski couldn’t necessarily go, allowing for a singular peaceful connectedness with nature.
Since the eFoil’s motor is silent and powered by a battery, there’s no sound or gas pollution, unlike other watercraft. The rider is peaceful and weightless, but in complete control, soaring over the water. A more serious foiler can up the ante and crank up the intensity by confronting larger swells and getting air. The ride all depends on what the rider wants, allowing for a more personalized journey. This versatility just can’t be found in other water sports. The eFoil can be used on choppy seas, ocean swells, riding behind a boat, on rough rivers, or in quiet lakes. Any body of water that’s shoulder deep is fair game, and the next adventure is always within reach.
Since the eFoils are easier to disassemble and transport than a jet ski, for example, owners can take them along on a boat trip. This adaptability means that there are many different ways to have serious fun with this incredibly innovative technology.
Among companies that are active in the foiling world, Lift, a ten-year-old foil company based in Puerto Rico, has set itself apart with its eFoil, which has already shipped to close to a thousand people worldwide since 2018. For Lift Founder Nick Leason, the hustle is all about getting as many people out onto the water as possible. “People ride the hell out these boards! It’s great,” Nick says. “Our demographic ranges from the world champion of surfing to the guy that never even dreamt about it. There’s just something majestic about flying over the water.” From the thrill of the wave to the calm of a lake, you control your own destiny on the eFoil.
Explore the high-tech components that make up Lift’s innovative flying surfboard
Nearly ten years ago, Nick Leason set out on a mission to bring the experience of flight over water to as many people as possible. His company Lift has since introduced the world to the first self-propelled electric surfboard, or eFoil. “We’re opening up foilboarding to a wide demographic of people,” Nick says of Lift. “Imagine that you’ve never surfed before. Now you’ve purchased an eFoil and you can carve perfect turns as you glide above the surface of any body of water and connect with nature. It’s the best feeling in the world.” Nick and his team meticulously crafted each of the eFoil’s components so that riders of all skill levels can easily rise up on the hydrofoil and glide at speeds of 25 miles an hour and over.
The board and hydrofoil
The optimal foiling board has to tick a number of boxes: it has to be strong but light, stable but small in size, rigid but thin, fully sealed but accessible. The Lift team spent years perfecting a board that fits within all of these parameters, and now they’re leading the market. Lift’s hydrofoils and boards are made out of carbon fiber, the best possible material due to its strength, rigidity, minimal weight, and excellent feel in the water.
The eFoil’s custom Lithium battery pack is equipped with a sophisticated battery management system to meet the highest safety standards. As Nick explains, “All battery packs are not created equal, and ours is top of the food chain.” The battery is powered to carry riders at top speeds for an hour and only takes two hours for a full recharge.
Lift contracted the best motor engineer in the U.S. to build a machine that could efficiently convert electrical power to mechanical power, to keep riders moving smoothly through the water. “I’m still impressed by what our motor can do,” Nick says, “and how well it’s holding up to the elements.” The motor on Lift’s eFoil is designed to be an extension of the rider and, because it’s electric, there’s no delay from command to action. Leveraging the eFoil’s built-in computer, which is programmed to set the perfect accelerations, decelerations, and speed outlets, the rider gets unparalleled stability and control.
The wireless Bluetooth hand controller
Lift’s team had to solve for the fact that radio waves don’t travel through salt water and carbon fiber. “You’d think that there are many waterproof wireless hand controllers in the world capable of throttle control,” Nick says, “but there were none. We invented it, and it was a beast of a project!” By pressing the throttle on the eFoil’s wireless hand controller, riders control their ride’s speed; the motor automatically shuts down when the controller is released or hits the water. The Lift team made sure the controller displays speed settings, alerts, and battery charge percentages too.
The eFoil contains five “computers” with individual software, which all communicate and interact with each other. It all comes together to provide seamless control as the rider activates the power of flight.
By employing much of the same modern technology that’s used in other vehicles on the road, in the air, and on the water, Lift has not only pioneered a new sport but also a brand new, uniquely exhilarating experience. The journey from conception to mass production of the eFoil took a ton of work, but as Nick explains, “after almost a decade of tedious work and investment, things are taking off—literally.”
Why and How Entrepreneur Nick Leason Launched an Electric Flying Surfboard Company
When Nick Leason was young, he dreamed about being able to fly like his favorite superhero, Superman. Over the years, his passion and fascination with flight grew. In college, Nick saw someone using a foil for kitesurfing and, in his words, “fell in love.” Inspired, he then tried foiling and was instantly hooked. For Leason, nothing compared to the sensation of connecting to nature by flying over water, carving smooth, bottomless turns.
At 24, Nick had an engineering degree in aerodynamics under his belt, and a vision: bringing the sensation and freedom of flying to all kinds of people—not only those who live the extreme sports lifestyle, but also those who don’t. He set himself the impressive challenge of building a hydrofoil that worked flawlessly. In 2009, together with his father, Nick opened a foil shop in Puerto Rico. He assembled a team of accomplished shapers, engineers, and artists, equipped the space with state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment, and named the new company Lift.
As time went on, Nick wanted to push things even further by building a foil board with a motor and a Bluetooth controller, so the rider could fly in any body of water, no matter the wave conditions or their athletic ability. The team got to work, starting by strapping an electric motor to their foils. “My team and I pretty much duct-taped pieces together. It took some tweaking, but eventually, we got our first ride of about 50 feet,” Nick reflects.
But what Nick and his team thought would be a year-long project to bring the eFoilto life in 2015 ended up taking years of innovation, perseverance, and grit to perfect. First, the Lift team had to create a battery that could propel the eFoil over water for many miles in rugged conditions. Batteries can be dangerous when not properly designed and integrated into a system. Much like those found in commercial aircraft, the design and construction of Lift’s battery had to be reliable and safe. The next challenge was the hand controller. A Bluetooth, wireless, waterproof, buoyant hand controller didn’t exist yet, so the team had to design, build, and test one, and then integrate it with the foil’s machinery. On top of all that were the myriad other components, like a motor and software, that needed to be conceived and meticulously constructed (not to mention, there was no similar existing product on the market to reference).
In August 2016, Nick and the Lift team were fully committed to getting the eFoil to market when an electrical fire burned their 4000 square foot factory in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico to the ground. Luckily no one was injured, but it was a huge loss for Lift and their custom stand-up paddleboard factory, MHL Custom. And yet, looking back, Nick now believes the fire was actually a blessing in disguise. The custom boards Lift had been producing were undoubtedly beautiful, but had consumed a lot of the team’s time. Nick chose to shut down MHL Custom and concentrate 100% of his efforts on rebuilding Lift and perfecting the eFoil, and the team got back to work in a new facility.
Lift was still pushing hard in September 2017 when Category 5 Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, sending the island into chaos. Forced to temporarily relocate to the United States, Nick kept in touch with his team on the island, as they all continued to forge ahead.
After much perseverance and innovative thinking, Nick’s dream—to bring the experience of flight within reach—is now an inspiring reality. In 2018, after nearly a decade and many iterations, Lift took flight and started shipping eFoils to customers around the world. With facilities in California and China in addition to its home base in Puerto Rico, Lift is a proud leader in the ever-growing foiling industry. As of early 2019, it’s nearing 1,000 eFoils shipped, and this number grows and grows.
But things aren’t stopping there for Nick Leason and the Lift team. “We now know a thing or two about electric propulsion and watercraft,” Nick says. “I have some wild ideas to work on that will take years, but we’ll do it. Here we go again…”
I was hooked. Nothing compared to the sensation of flying over water carving smooth, bottomless turns. It’s a feeling so unique; it kept me coming back for more. There was only one problem…I had no one to share it with.
To harness the power of a wave and surf like a bird, although extremely rewarding, is difficult. Not because riding a foil is hard, but controlling the source -flying a kite or surfing a wave- takes skill. To harness that type of power and gain excellent control is something that may take years to master.
So I set out to make it easy.
I started with the simple task of strapping an electric motor to our foils. My team and I took some parts we had in the shop, cut holes in them, bought some parts off the shelf and pretty much duct-taped pieces together. It took some tweaking, but eventually we got our first ride of about 50 feet.
From that moment on, I was possessed. Imagine taking someone that has never dreamt of surfing, deep powder snowboarding or flying. A person that doesn’t live the extreme lifestyle and within minutes they feel it all. They’re soaring like a bird, carving butter smooth turns and experiencing the freedom of flying through the freeways of the ocean, rivers or lakes. That was my goal, but what I thought would take a year to build took a whole lot more.
It’s one thing to build a prototype. It’s quite another to design a consumer-friendly product that’s safe, reliable and completely badass. We couldn’t just buy parts and assemble them. We had to design and build everything from the ground up. The components just didn’t exists. And to top it off, there was no product in the market to reference.
So how did we build it?
The first few years were a chase. We had to convince the best minds in their field to work with us to build a flying surfboard. And yes… Pitching a flying surfboard is no easy task. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. And after countless conversations, costly contracts and lots of pleading, my father and I were able to convince enough brilliant minds to help us build the components necessary to create the world’s first wireless, electric foil board.
And let me tell you it wasn’t quite as simple as strapping a motor to our foils…
The battery alone was half the battle. It’s the energy source that propels the eFoil over water for many miles in rugged conditions. Batteries can be dangerous when not properly designed and integrated into a system. If you cut corners, you’ll pay the cost! So even though we paid a premium price, our lithium batteries were custom built by the best in the USA to keep cars on the road and airplanes in the sky. Much like commercial aircrafts, our design and construction was based on the principle that it should be overbuilt, reliable and safe.
The next challenge was the hand controller. I was surprised to find out a bluetooth, wireless, waterproof, buoyant hand controller didn’t already exist. We had to design, build and test it for the application. Integrating, among others, magnetic actuators, sensors and screens. It was quite the challenge, but well worth it because our hand controller was successfully designed to be an extension of the rider. It works reflexively meaning you have complete control over your ride. By simply pressing the lever on the hand controller the motor responds instantaneously to your command adjusting the speed. It also throttles you back in the event of low battery so you can get back to shore safely.
So what now?
After years and many iterations, we evolved from the “Spruce Goose” prototype with cheap hobby store batteries into a sophisticated craft that has some serious horsepower and aerospace electrical safety standards. The best part is I’ve taken countless friends and peers to our local lake and had them foiling within minutes. Some were athletes, some weren’t, but everyone had fun flying over water.
The journey has been long and arduous. I’ve broken down on many occasions in the face of failure. My shop burned to the ground. Girlfriends have run away and we’ve spent way too much money to get here, but now the fun begins.
With passion and a dream, engineering visionary Nick Leason cofounded Lift in 2009 to combine his love for surfing with the desire to fly. Foiling was relatively unknown at the time, but Nick had ambition and the willingness to work hard. He saw huge potential in these “flying surfboards” and immediately began designing foil boards despite his lack of experience.
A hydrofoil (or foil) board is a water board with a set of wings underneath it. Like an airplane, those wings lift the board off the water when a little speed is added. However, instead of flying on air the hydrofoil flies on water.
“We were hooked the first day we tried it and have been continuously designing and improving the sport with one goal in mind: foil board surfing for everybody,” said Nick, Co-Founder and Head Engineer at Lift.
Nick always believed in the impossible. Every year on his birthday he blew out his candles wishing to fly like his favorite superhero, Superman. As time passed by his fascination with flight only intensified. However, it evolved into a different vision; flying on water.
He assembled a team composed of accomplished shapers, engineers and artists, and alongside his father built an operation equipped with state of the art manufacturing equipment.
“Designing and building foils has been incredibly challenging,” explained Nick. “At first glance you’d think it’s a simple toy. But the foil demands precision and balance to work properly. It has taken a lot of engineering skills, athletic ability and above all perseverance to design, build, test and repeat.”
Nick’s perseverance was tested on August 26, 2016, when Lift’s 4,000 square foot factory located in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico burned down. Luckily no one was hurt, but inventory was lost along with major machinery including one of the largest CNC board machines in the world.
Nick was in China developing his latest foil when he heard the devastating news, and was forced to make difficult decisions regarding the fate of his company overseas. Nick chose to shut down MHL Custom (a company focused exclusively on building custom stand up paddle boards) and concentrate all his efforts on rebuilding Lift.
Nick’s hard work paid off. As every other major water sports brand fixated on building surfboards, kite boards, and stand up paddle boards, Lift focused exclusively on hydrofoil technology and innovation. After almost a decade, Nick laboriously positioned Lift as a leader in hydrofoil technology.
“Lift is a hydrofoil brand. We believe in the growth of the sport and the possibilities of making user-friendly hydrofoils for everyone.” said Nick. “And this is just the beginning. Hydrofoiling is literally taking off and we are continuing our commitment to new designs and experiences through foiling. Just wait to see what we have in store for you as you learn this new sport and grow with us.”