Rarely has an activity come along and caused such a stir so quickly…
The hype, excitement and the volume of brands that have jumped onboard reminds me of kitesurfing in the early days. Wing-surfing, however, seems to hold a greater appeal to a broader section of new watersports participants because of its simplicity and safety.
The big question for kitesurfers is: how will wing-surfing / wing-foiling / foil-surfing / fit in with a kiting lifestyle? Here’s the situation…
WORDS – Jim Gaunt – WSW and Kiteworld Magazine Editor
Back in early summer I was sat in the Dulce Nombre hotel in Tarifa watching Robby Naish explain what the new Naish Wing-Surfer is all about to fellow media representatives and assembled Naish dealers / distributors. I’d watched him riding the Wing-Surfer on his foil board the day before and noticed how physically engaged he seemed with the wind, while at the same time making it look fluid and easy with the benefit of the wing seeming so compact compared to kiting.
Robby later explained to me that throughout his life he realised that he wasn’t much good at anything other than playing hard on the water. (Robby’s dad moved the family from California to Maui, Hawaii when Robby was very young and from there the youngster carved out a phenomenal wind sport career, getting his first world windsurfing title at 13 years-of-age, eventually amassing 23 more in that sport before then claiming another three in kiteboarding. )
The wing-surf phenomenon seems to be just the latest way to have fun with wind and water. ‘What’ he’s having fun with doesn’t seem to matter.
A couple of months later I was in Mauritius, listening to another man I have enormous respect for as a proven pioneer and visionary, F-One boss Raphael Salles. He admits that they were probably a little late to the game when they pushed ahead to release a wing for this season, having been so busy with the development of their two new Bandit kites.
Eventually, they put a priority on finding some time during a test trip to Cape Verde in February. “It was a great surprise straight away.” Raph explained.
The main element is how much immediate control you have over the power in the wing and how safe you feel in being able to release your back hand and shut that power off in an instant. This is very appealing to many people who can be intimidated by the look of kiteboarding.
When we were trying out F-One’s wing-surfer, called the Swing, on the beach at Le Morne later that afternoon, I saw the butterfly effect in action with several ‘bucket-and-spade’ hotel clients coming up and keenly asking for more information on what these things were called and where they could learn?
If you have an SUP board then obviously you could stand on that and use a wing to catch the wind, but unless you’re Robby Naish it’s virtually impossible to manage to go upwind without the aid of more lateral resistance (dagger board or central fin) than most of these provide.
Just because you may already be a kiteboarder, doesn’t mean that you’re automatically set-up for wing-surfing once you acquire a wing. Yes, your wind awareness and balance will definitely help, but in terms of equipment you’re still going to need a big foil if you want to wing-surf properly.
For learning the recommendation is to have a board that will still float on the surface of the water when you’re kneeling on it. Generally speaking that’s a volume mass equal to your weight in kilos plus 40 litres. So if you’re 80 kilos, you should be looking towards a board of 120 litres in volume. Essentially you’re looking at a prone surf foil board, or a small SUP foil.
As you get better (and the learning curve is fast and steep) you could progress down to something with a volume of your weight plus 10 litres. (The really good guys are now using tiny boards, similar to kiting; balancing their feet on them underwater and then quickly flapping the wing overhead to pump the board up and out of the water).
In the kite industry, we’re seeing more and more schools and instructors taking up kite hydro-foiling and offering basic cross-over foiling lessons for people who can already kitesurf. One of the appeals for the student is that they can use and abuse the school’s entry-level foils for a few sessions before then buying something more high performance that will last them longer. I’m sure that pretty soon we’re going to see the same thing happening with wings.
Designers have been playing around with wings for a long time, but it’s really only since the improved efficiency and increased ease-of-use of today’s hydrofoils that they’ve suddenly found their place.
Anyway, how does it feel to learn?
Heaving yourself up onto the board once you’ve fallen off is definitely the hardest part and if you’re not used to that it can leave you out of puff quite quickly. Fall off, get back on, wobble up onto your knees, take the wing from the water and pull it up over your head, power up the back hand a little for some upward lift and then try to push yourself up to your feet without using your hands to help; it’s all quite a core workout. Fall off and do it again five times and you’ll be surprised how tired you’ve become – and how far downwind you’ve gone.
However, this stage really and truly doesn’t last very long at all compared to kiting. If you’re already a kite foiler, the lift on these big surf wings is so much steadier, so you’ll have it dialled to some extent and be riding back and forth in one decent session of mid-strength wind. If you’re a prone surf foiler, you’ll be even quicker.
If you don’t yet have foiling experience, don’t worry, because wing-surfing is still easier to pick up than kite foiling itself, but it does require an investment in both wing and board / foil. Just be prepared for a slow down in riding pace – but wing-surfing is more about contact with underwater energy and then the freedom of letting the wing drift powerless behind you once you’ve caught a small wave.
The wing doesn’t really operate in any different winds or sea states to general freeride kitesurfing equipment that you may already own, but there’s a massive natural appeal when it comes to using your foil in full connection with the waves. You have a wing in your hand, but when you let go with your back hand, literally all the power and pull disappears. You’re free on the foil.
Although F-One have introduced a harness line onto their Swing, you definitely don’t need to use that when you’re learning, so you’ll be riding without a harness for a good while (in fact all other brands say you don’t need a harness at all, such is the light pressure of the wing in your hands, weighing just a couple of kilos, and then it’s very light in force once it’s lifted by wind).
BECOMING WATERMEN AND WOMEN
Raphael told me that the main advantage is how much power control you have and how safe wing-surfing is. “I tried a small downwinder on my first afternoon with the wing and discovered the surfing element. That really is the key thing with the wing.” he says.
Raphael also says that his customers are developing and changing.
“If I look around the car park at my home spot, I can really see the way that people’s approach to watersports has changed a lot. Our customers now have many toys in their cars and everyday they want to pull out the right toys for the day.
“It’s not like before when you were either a windsurfer or a kiter. Look at Kai Lenny; he’s everything. The new generation see something on the internet, click, and want all the information straight away to be able to try it tomorrow. My generation were passionate about one thing, and that was it.”
WSW is a hub of useful equipment and technique features / videos for wingsurf and other hydrofoil related board sports.