Now that the intense excitement of America’s Cup racing has blown over, there’s a new contender in town to replace the adrenalin-pumping action. The sport of hydrofoiling has emerged as the hot new adventure sport, and it’s proving popular with everyone from pre-teens to grandparents, not just action-seeking athletes.
Although the sport is taking off across the globe, here in New Zealand, it’s the small coastal town of Raglan where the hydrofoil heart beats the strongest. Much of that is down to adventurist Matt Taggart, who is passionate about passing on his enjoyment in sports ranging from snow-kiting and paragliding to wakeboarding, kitesurfing, and hydrofoiling.
Boasting impressive competitive credentials, including a World Master’s Title for hydrofoiling, this 50-year-old adrenalin seeker has a long and impressive history with all things relating to yachting, sailing, and the business of kitesurfing (he is also the co-founder of Ozone Kites Surf Ltd, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of kites and paragliders).
With his attention now firmly turned to hydrofoiling, Matt runs New Zealand’s only NZ Maritime accredited hydrofoil school and is confident he and his team can get most people up and away within their first lesson.
“People can be intimidated by a sport like this,” he says, “and in some cases too nervous to have a go at it. But once we explain how it works and show them a few simple techniques, they’re absolutely amazed at the freedom and sensation of getting up on the water and the foil.
“It’s such a buzz being part of that experience and watching people go on to continue to enjoy the sport, as surprisingly it’s not as expensive as people think to set yourself up. Also, the foil takes up little space on a boat and can even be used behind any fishing boat or jet ski, using the wake to ride the waves. It’s pretty epic.
“All that’s needed is a moderate level of fitness and we prefer that people are competent swimmers. We’ve pretty much pioneered a method of teaching that’s safe, fun, and easy.”
Offering a 60-minute lesson package at the Ozone hydrofoil school, Matt and his team teach newcomers off the back of a jet ski rather than a boat, using a large 8’6 SUP with a 40xm mast and large wing to get people up and foiling quickly and easily in as little as five knots speed.
“It’s fun and exhilarating for participants to master this sport so quickly,” says Matt. “We have taught people from as young as nine years old through to 70 years young, and depending on the skill level, we can progress to towing people into their first wave riding with a hydrofoil.
A long-time competitive athlete, Matt has racked up a swag of titles on the water, among the waves and in the air from around the globe.
He has passed on his joy of outdoor adventuring to his wife Rebecca (who also kite surfs), and daughters Ruby and Milla have been following in his wake (literally) since they could walk – regularly paragliding, snowkiting, wakeboarding, and hydro foiling alongside him and now, also on their own.
While competitions in locations like Ibiza, Hawaii, and even Iceland are usually on Matt’s calendar, COVID-19 travel restrictions put a damper on his 2020 and 2021 plans.
“On the plus side, it has also given us time to appreciate what’s here in our own backyard. Raglan offers up amazing opportunities and we’re fortunate to be based here.”
Not one to hold back from chasing his dreams, Matt chose 2020 to tick another achievement off his bucket list – opening a bar, restaurant, and café in Raglan, aptly named Isobar.
In keeping with his life lessons of expecting the unexpected, COVID-19
threw a massive curveball, particularly for someone who had invested massive amounts of time, effort, and money in launching a new business in hospitality, only to be met with ongoing lockdowns.
But Matt didn’t give up; he changed focus and put together a programme offering free coffee for support workers as well as delicious packed lunches for local essential workers.
Isobar made it through the gritty time and is back in action, with the addition of Iso Café, specialising in a menu that revolves around local seasonal fresh ingredients. It has proved a hit with locals and visitors and Matt’s keen eye for details keeps his business evolving.
Alongside Isobar is New Zealand’s first Ozone NZ store, carrying a full range of kites, watersports equipment, clothing, and accessories.
Full speed ahead
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Matt’s list of accomplishments include kite surfing 270km for a record-setting 6hr 32m unofficial win in the prestigious PIC Coastal Classic yacht race from Devonport to Russell (imagine the physical toll of kitesurfing that distance and for that long). At that speed, Matt and fellow kite surfing athlete Sam Bullock even beat all the yachts entered in the race.
While race conditions were far from perfect and there was a small issue of a narrowly missed altercation with a Great White Shark, it was yet another unusual achievement ticked off.
No stranger to the waters of Auckland, Matt has also been crowned King of the Waitemata in 2017 with a 34km circumnavigation of Auckland’s Rangitoto and Mototapu Islands with a foiling kite (reaching speeds of 42 knots on the downwind leg).
Much to Matt’s delight, kite foil racing has finally become an Olympic sport, set to debut at the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.
Matt is committed to seeing the sport continue to grow in New Zealand, and to promote and encourage participation in both kite foiling and kite (he is also the founder and organiser of the annual Raglan Kite Jam event).
All about the hydrofoil
If you’re new to the sport, the origins of hydrofoil date back to Graham Bell who invented the hydrofoil in 1906. It later went on to be seen on passenger ferries and to be used in the navy around the world.
The foil is a lifting surface used in both water and aeroplanes. The hydrofoil is the component that creates lift (as seen on America’s Cup boats and catamarans).
It was Emirates Team New Zealand who bought the foils to America’s Cup back in 2012, turning the sailing world upside down with their 72-foot catamaran flying over the
water and changing the face of top-level yacht racing. Since then, foiling boats have dominated the last three editions of America’s Cup racing.
“While not everyone can experience the speed and power of an America’s Cup boat, I’d love people to realise that hydrofoiling is actually quite accessible and achievable. Who knows – our next Olympic medal could be in this sport!”
Win the hydrofoil experience
Get up and foiling quickly and safely with an ultimate 90-minute hydrofoiling package, courtesy of Ozone New Zealand Kitesurf School in Raglan. Head to our competitions page for more details.