Thanks to Matador for this:
Holding an inflatable wing and catching the breeze while standing on a board, with only an attached hydrofoil in the water — this is what winging, or wing foiling is all about.
If you’re unfamiliar with wing foiling, imagine a collision between a kitesurfer and a windsurfer. From the ensuing carnage, a sleeker and more user-friendly waterborne package that requires less wind to work emerges. Many kiters and windsurfers are forsaking their sports and taking up winging for this reason. Less equipment also means it’s easier to learn, as there are fewer things to think about and get tangled.
Moreover, the whole set up is travel-friendly – especially when compared to the size of windsurfing boards, booms, and sails, as well as the variety and bulk of kitesurfing kites, cords, and harnesses. With winging, you have a board, a foil, and a wing. Everything can be easily bagged and checked when traveling, and it’s all compact enough to fit into a small apartment and a rental car, no roof racks required.
When did wing foiling start?
As to when wing foiling started, you’ll be hard pressed to find a video with winging prior to 2017. And the first commercial wing was only released in 2018. Since then, the sport has seen rapid growth with various disciplines branching off. In late 2020 the first freestyle event was held where participants launched themselves and their equipment into multiple flip and spin combinations. People are winging on flat water in lakes and harbors, and when there’s swell in the ocean they’re doing long distance downwinders — going from one spot to another — following a coastline harnessing the wind and open ocean swells.
I spoke with four-time World Kite Surf Champion Keahi De Aboitiz, who uses Cabrinha gear, to get his thoughts from when he started out. “Winging has been an interesting one as I wasn’t sure how much I’d get into it in the beginning,” De Aboitiz told me. “But like a lot of people, I’m completely addicted and now it’s my go to activity for small waves. For me, the biggest allure is the same reason I got into foiling . . . the ability to ride tiny swells that you would never want to surf. The added benefit of winging is it allows you to get into a wave or swell much earlier with no more need for paddling!”
The beauty of hydrofoils is that they’re so efficient in creating lift, they don’t need a breaking wave to move — unlike surfboards. So unbroken, open ocean swells are accessible. Even without swell, the wing harnesses the wind which gives you speed and elevates the foil quickly. Whether it’s wind or swell, your speed is nature-supplied.
Is it easy to learn to wing foil?
Now, while this all sounds simple and straight-forward, there’s a bit of a learning curve. Well, a lot of learning curve to be honest. The wing can be awkward to manage when you first start out. And the act of balancing on a rising foil needs to be mastered.
If you don’t have a foil or foil board, a great way to get the feel of a wing is on a skateboard. That’s ideal if you have a large, flat and empty concrete area around. Schools, parking lots, and basketball courts are great options. Or if you have a lake, harbor, or area of flat water in the vicinity, use a standup paddle board (SUP). They’re stable and easy to get back onto if — okay, when — you fall off. Trying on an SUP will give you an idea of the power of the wing.
I had a chat with Aussie waterman James Casey — who offers winging tutorials and private clinics — about tips for beginners. “Beginners should start in stable wind conditions on flat water,” Casey recommended. “Start with a big board and medium-sized foil and take it step by step. If you can get out three days in a row in good conditions, you will get it. Cycling is a great cross-over to get your legs strong and surfing is a great way to learn to read the waves and conditions. Between the two you will be ready to foil.”
If you want to try wing foiling in the US, the Global Wingsport Association (GWA) has a list of the best places in the US.
If you can take lessons, definitely do. The GWA also offers a list of wing foiling schools around the world.
The quarterly Foiling magazine also has a free downloadable guide to wing foiling, and plenty of great coverage of foiling from around the world — along with gear reviews and heaps of info.
What equipment do you need to wing foil?
Wings — They come in different sizes. Which size you use is dependent on your weight, strength of the wind and how buoyant (i.e; how many liters) your board is. The stronger the wind, the smaller the wing. Wing sizes generally come in three, four, five, and six meters. A four- or five-meter wing is suitable for beginners, covering an array of wind speeds from 10 to 30 Knots.
Despite the odd-looking size of the wings, they’re pretty simple to inflate. Depending on the manufacturer, they’ll have one or two bladders made up of the leading edge and the center strut. You’ll need a hand pump, as your lungs ain’t going to cut it.
Foils and boards — Hydrofoils are referred to simply as foils, and there are many different types of foils and boards on the market, from beginner to complete professional setups. If you don’t want to invest too much to start with, there’s a good selection of second-hand equipment already — a testament to winging’s rapid growth. Head online or to your nearest surf- or water-sports store. Wing-specific boards are around 4’6” to six feet in length. Start on a large one, about 30 liters more than your weight, then move down in size as your skills improve. NSP is a good place to check for a complete range of gear from beginner to professional.
Says Keahi, “I’ve taught a little bit of winging now and I find it really helps if you break it down into two sports. Trying to learn everything at once can be very difficult and can result in some sketchy crashes. But if you can learn the basics of a foil on an e-foil (electric foil) . . . it’s a lot easier to bring in the wing after that.” Continues Keahi, “A lot of people liken wing foiling to snowboarding in powder, as it has that same feeling of smooth glide and drawn out high speed carves.”
Is everyone going to start wing foiling?
As surfing lineups get ever more crowded around the world, winging is becoming an attractive option for those looking for their fix of water time and natural thrills. With 70 percent of the globe covered by water, the current winging boom has barely scratched the surface.
As for the future of winging? “I can see it continuing to explode in popularity as it seems to bridge the gap across a lot of sports,” says Keahi. “The people who never wanted to learn to kite are much more interested in winging as it’s a little cheaper and [requires] less gear. You can even wing in the snow [with a snowboard or skis, or on the ice with ice skates], or on a skateboard in the car park. For me, I like to use it as a tool for chasing bigger waves on a foil. It’s nice not to need a jet-ski to get to distant surf spots or into bigger waves.”
From the surf to flat water and from parking lots to snow and ice, the versatility and freedom that winging offers is just too much of an allure to ignore.