Championship Hydrofoil Skiers Teach Beginners How it's Done

The Minnesota Hydrofoil Club helps water skiers experience a higher level of fun.
Hydrofoil pro MJ Pohl, left, already has daughter 8-year-old Allie, right, up on the board.

Thrill seekers get ready: Summer in Minnesota is a great time to get out on the water. Not only in a boat, but behind a boat, cutting a wake on a lake. Sure, you’ve been up on waterskies, a wakeboard or a kneeboard to get your splash on, but the Minnesota Hydrofoil Club offers clinics to help you elevate your water ski experience to a higher level. A hydrofoil ski is also known as an air chair or sit ski. A rider is buckled into a seat attached to a board with a long foil assembly. The foil allows the rider to rise up off the water like a ramp, so the hydrofoil ski is known for getting big air. Minnesota Hydrofoil Club member, instructor and championship hydrofoil skier MJ Pohl says the record height for a hydrofoil jump trick is 24 feet into the air. Pohl and her husband Dan are long time water ski performers and were both members of the Twin Cities River Rats Waterski Show Team. Dan tried the hydrofoil ski first. “He was doing a lot of knee boarding and got sick of strapping his ankles onto the board,” Pohl says, “so when he saw a hydrofoil ski in a store, he decided to give it a try.” The Pohls were nervous at first about being strapped to a 30-pound contraption. “Something that heavy can seem a lot like an anchor,” Pohl says. But their feelings changed once they tried it. The seat of the hydrofoil ski glides up off the water, giving the rider the feeling of flying. “It’s that feeling that hooks you,” she says. “It’s so cool. Then you want to try jumping and flipping.” Fellow River Rats skier Trevor Judd contacted Pohl for a hydrofoil lesson. “It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done,” Judd says, “but I liked how different it is from skiing. When you rise up, it becomes almost effortless. There is a feeling of weightlessness.” River Rats show director Abraham Cass started hydrofoiling back in 1998 when his dad bought one of the first prototypes. It wasn't until Cass had a bad knee injury in 2006 that he began hydrofoiling in earnest. “It doesn’t put any stress on my knees,” Cass says. “It’s a safe alternative to wakeboarding and freestyle jumping. Learning new tricks on a hydrofoil ski gave me the opportunity to experience the thrills and challenges I missed by not being able to wakeboard.” Cass notes that hydrofoiling is a bit different than water skiing when it comes to technique, but says that anyone who has waterskied could easily pick it up. “Even if you haven't water skied, hydrofoiling has a gentle learning curve that makes it a little less painful than other skiing activities. And it's great on the knees!” he says. “After riders get used to a hydrofoil, they can get some pretty significant air time,” Cass says. “I am now working on front flips and reverse rolls. The tricks are a blast even if I don't always land them.” Pohl and her husband run two to three hydrofoil ski clinics during the summer for the Minnesota Hydrofoil Club. Clinics are mainly conducted on Medicine Lake and are open to anyone over 10 years old. Pohl says kids can perform hydrofoil tricks well because they are light on the board, but she recommends beginning hydrofoil riders weigh at least 80–100 pounds. All hydrofoil instruction complies with USA Water Ski organization oversight. To contact Pohl for hydrofoil instruction, go to and click membership services, then affiliated club listings. Search for Minnesota Hydrofoil Club.