The feeling of levitating over water while being powered by the wind is as incredible as it is addictive. 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 is all about.
Imagine a collision between a kite surfer and a wind surfer and from the ensuing carnage emerges a sleeker and more user-friendly waterborne package that requires less wind to work. There are many kiters and windsurfers 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.
Not to mention the whole set up is more travel-friendly. Especially when compared to the size of windsurfing boards, booms, sails and the variety and bulk of kitesurfing kites, cords and harnesses. With winging, it’s a board, foil and wing. Everything can be easily bagged and checked when traveling. It’s all compact enough to fit into a small apartment or car. No roof racks required.
“Wing foiling adds another dimension to wind sports by merging the gap between windsurfing and kite-surfing. It has made conditions that are not very windy and without waves insanely fun.” Shares Hawaiian waterman and foiling pioneer, Kai Lenny.
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. 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.
Four-time World Kite Surf Champion Keahi De Aboitiz enthuses, “Winging has been an interesting. I wasn’t sure how much I’d get into it in the beginning, 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 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. Even without swell, the wing harnesses the wind which gives you speed and elevates the foil quickly.
Robbie Naish, kitesurfing pioneer and multiple world windsurfing champion asserts that, “I think wing surfing will become the dominant wind-driven sport over the next decade. It checks all the boxes: simple, fun, fast.”
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.
Aussie Waterman James Casey Recommends, “Beginners should start in stable wind conditions on flat water. 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 getting 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.”
Despite the odd-looking size of the wing, they’re pretty simple to inflate. Depending on the manufacturer they’ll be one or two bladders made up of the leading edge and the center strut. And definitely use a hand pump, your lungs ain’t going to cut it.
Keahi cautions, “Trying to learn everything at once can be very difficult and can result in some sketchy crashes. Learn the basics of a foil on an electric foil. It’s a lot easier to bring in the wing after that.” He adds, “A lot of people liken wing foiling to snowboarding in powder as it has that same feeling of a smooth glide and drawn-out high speed carves.”
What is 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.” Predicts Keahi. “The people who never wanted to learn to kite surf are much more interested in winging as it’s a little cheaper and requires less gear. It opens up a lot of new spots like small lakes, or locations with tricky launches, or places that you can’t kite. 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 to not 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. As frothing foiler, former Pipeline master and two-time World Surfing Champion Tom Carroll reckons, “A whole new world opens up. A whole new world of ocean action.”