13-year-old proves that SUP hydrofoils are the future

On May 6, a 13-year-old nearly beat an entire field of grown and elite men and women while competing in the 6th annual Bluesmiths Paddle Imua race.

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 that veteran downwind paddlers and elite racers usually dominate … Not teenagers.

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

Enter Finn Spencer. Young Spencer managed a fifth-place finish at Bluesmiths Paddle Imua after a long stretch of the race spent holding the lead position.

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

The teenager would ride a SUP hydrofoil.

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

Instead of a fin, hydrofoil boards have 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 told GrindTV. “On a race board you couldn’t do that.”

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

So that’s exactly what Spencer did. Once he paddled out of the gulch and into the wind line, his 6-foot-3-inch 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 told GrindTV. “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.

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

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

Spencer has a few good training partners, as well. First and foremost is his 16-year-old brother, Jeffrey.

While Finn was racing on Maui, 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? The one and only 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 Bluesmiths Paddle Imua. Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Kottke

“I definitely think eventually everyone will go to foiling for downwinding,” Spencer told GrindTV. “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.

More hydrofoil coverage from Grindtv

Kai Lenny hydrofoils a 50-mile channel from island of Hawai’i to Maui

Watch Laird Hamilton surfing on his SUP hydrofoil.

Professional paddler Connor Baxter fights off 10-foot tiger shark while on SUP hydrofoil.

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