13-year-old Finn Spencer glides down a large bump during the Paddle Imua race. Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Kottke

13-Year-Old Proves SUP Hydrofoils are the Future

As Bob Dylan would say, the times they are a changin’.

Case in point: On May 6, 13-year-old Finn Spencer nearly beat an entire field of grown and elite men and women while competing in the 6th annual Paddle Imua. The nine-mile downwind race, held annually on Maui’s world-famous Maliko Run to raise money for kids with disabilities, begins in Maliko Gulch and follows Maui's North Shore to Kahului Harbor.

It's the kind of race veteran downwind paddlers and elite racers usually dominate. Not adolescent boys.

Finn charging down the Maliko Run. Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Kottke

Enter Finn Spencer, 80-pounds,  4'11", 13 years of age. Young Spencer managed a fifth-place finish at Paddle Imua after a long stretch of the race spent holding the lead position. But how?

Spencer was the sole entry for a new board class that, prior to the Paddle Imua, had never appeared in an official downwind SUP race.

The teenager would ride a SUP hydrofoil.

Nothing but miles of glides ahead. Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Kottke

Instead of a fin, hydrofoil boards sport a long, underwater wing that lifts the board out of the water. It basically helps you go really fast, especially while downwinding.

“There's very little resistance to the water so you can pretty much go over the backs of bumps and just keep jumping over to the next bump,” Spencer said. “On a race board you couldn't do that.”

So that’s exactly what Spencer did. Once he paddled out of the gulch and into the wind line, his 6’3″ hot pink board lifted out of the water and took off like a miniature bullet.

“Going down the coast I was picking people off and going as fast as I could,” Spencer said. “Then a mile away from the harbor mouth, I passed the leader which was really cool.”

The only reason he didn’t win was because the final mile was a windless stretch into the harbor. His fifth-overall finish came with a time of 1:10:48–just over three-and-a-half minutes slower than the fastest paddler.

The SUP foil needs wind to get out of the water, the flatwater start did not help. Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Kottke

Nevertheless, Spencer had already made his statement. The feat was made all the more impressive by the fact that it was only his second time SUP foiling the Maliko Run.

“You don't need to be bigger or stronger to be on the foil, you just need a lot of practice and time on it,” Spencer said.

Not surprisingly, he’s been putting in plenty of practice hours to master his new craft.

Spencer means business with this stance. Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Kottke

Spencer has a few good training partners, as well. First and foremost is his 16-year-old brother, Jeffrey. While Finn was racing at the Paddle Imua, Jeffrey was busy competing against the world’s best paddlers in the APP World Tour’s Japan Pro-Am.

“[Jeffrey] started paddling before me and has always been better than me,” Spencer said. “He pushes me a lot and teaches me but I think it is a really good relationship.”

An underwater look at the hydrofoil in action. Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Kottke

His other training partner? A man by the name of Kai Lenny. The star paddler lives just down the street from the Spencers and often goes SUP foil surfing with the two brothers.

Not a bad role model to have.

When Lenny introduced the world to SUP hydrofoiling with a video of him effortlessly gliding down the Maliko Run, he claimed it would be the future of downwinding. Fast forward one year and Lenny’s protégé just proved his mentor’s prophecy to be correct on the very same stretch of hallowed water.

Finn would eventually pass the entire field to lead the Paddle Imua. Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Kottke

“I definitely think eventually everyone will go to foiling for downwinding,” Spencer said. “I’m looking forward to see where it goes and the new waves of foiling people will invent and discover.”

With a 13-year-old pioneer leading the charge, the future has arrived.


Watch Kai’s SUP hydrofoiling video that started the whole craze.

Photos from the 6th annual Paddle Imua.