There is a lot to learn when first getting into foiling. We like to start by asking what discipline you are looking to get into: prone surf, SUP, wing, downwind, kite, windsurf, wake, or tow. The board and foil are typically very different based on the discipline as well as expected conditions.
The right gear, the right conditions, and some qualified guidance will definitely shorten the learning curve, as will a foil lesson or two behind a boat or on an electric foilboard (e-foil). Then each discipline often requires a new humbling effort of ‘putting in the time’ in order to start feeling comfortable.
For a beginner, the key to foiling is not only balancing front and back foot pressure, but also balancing side to side.
The goal is not to be all front foot, but balanced front and back as well as heel/toe pressure, otherwise your legs will get tired. At first, you should focus on keeping the board as flat and level as possible side-to-side.
Your pivot point or fulcrum is over the front foil wing (not the mast), because that is what’s providing lift. Foiling requires subtle movements and corrections, with little to no leaning or board healing, especially compared to surfing or wakeboarding, it’s definitely more about finesse than power.
Highly recommend spending some time in no waves or chop behind a boat, unstrapped, practicing pop up and getting comfortable riding for a minute or more on foil. Isolate the variables down to just feeling the foil, so you don’t have to worry about big sets coming in or how fast you need to go.
Once you can start to do heel/toe steering and riding through the wake and chop, then you’re ready for some small mushy waves.
Learning the different disciplines is really dependent on your experience. If you have windsurf or kitesurf experience, wing foiling, will be easier to learn than SUP or prone.
If you don’t have experience with wind sports, the hand held wing will be difficult to understand at first. If you have a great surfing pop up, prone foil surfing would probably be a bit easier.
If you are already great on a SUP in waves, SUP foiling might be the easiest to learn. If you have no experience with board sports, that might be a good thing too, because you are not bringing any habits over from the other sports.
Being on foil is completely different than any other sport.
This article give a good introduction to winging – skills needed and recommended gear. Wing Foiling Intro. Basically, if you’re looking to get into it, get a wing and start practicing on a skateboard.
The aspect ratio of a foil wing is that ratio of its span (measuring wing tip to wing tip) to its average chord (front to back distance). A low aspect wing would be similar fighter aircraft (designed for maneuverability) and a high aspect wing would be similar to a glider, designed to stay aloft.
There are two main materials for the mast and fuselage of foil sets - aluminum or carbon fiber - both have their pros and cons. Most front wings are carbon fiber over foam, and tail wings are increasingly G10 material.
Aluminum is much cheapr and has the benefit of being stiffer and tougher, and the stiffness is still a metric for carbon fiber masts to measure up to. The cons for aluminum are that is is usually heavier (high modulas carbon fiber with minimal flex is just about as heavy now though), it needs more maintenance (rinsed and taken apart after every salt water use), and if it bends it will stay that way (so not recommended for jumping and freestyle on wing foil)
Full carbon fiber setups are a bit lighter, much more expensive and basically maintenance free. Carbon masts can flex more than aluminum and not be permanently torqued.
The weigth difference between a carbon fiber setup and aluminum is really only noticeable when carrying the gear and if you're doing some jumping rotations (360s, backloop, etc). Aluminum is a great starter set, and in truth works great in all conditions and all levels, but almost all pros and diehards ride carbon fiber setups.