Wing surfers have entered the waters to stay. The last few years I saw more of them each time I went windsurfing. Because they seemed to have a lot of fun with very low wind, I had to try it. So, I a lesson. Here is what I learned plus a few starter tips I got from interviewing a few professionals.
What is wing surfing? Wing surfing is a new sport that combines features from windsurfing, kitesurfing and hydrofoil surfing. The wing surfer makes use of a handheld wing for power and propulsion. This makes the experience very dynamic. The wing looks like an adapted kite. Because a hydrofoil is used, the hydrodynamic resistance decreases a lot after take-off. Thus, far less power is needed to go fast. This way wing surfers can have fun with a 5m² wing even in 14 knot winds.
When I first saw wing surfers, I was convinced I could do it too. They seemed to hover over the water so easily I thought it had to be very easy. Luckily, I took a lesson before entering the water unprepared. Though it is possible to learn the wing surf basics quickly, there are vital things to know before going alone.
How Does It Feel To Wing Surf?
First things first. In the next paragraphs I will explain what you need to have and to know to go wing surfing. First, I’ll explain how it feels to wing surf. In one word: wing surfing feels great.
Getting to know the wing on the beach
I started my lessons with a wing on the beach. Just getting used to how the wing behaves in the wind while steering. That felt awesome. Steering the wing feels much more dynamic than holding a windsurf sail or a kite. The steering is very direct because you hold the wing in your hands. There is no kite control bars or lines between your hands and the wing.
The wing is not attached to the board with anything else than your body. You are the linking pin. That makes it feel freer than with a windsurf sail that is attached to the board.
First run on the water with a wing on a SUP
After getting to know the wing on the beach I entered the water on a SUP board. According to my instructor this intermediate step is necessary. I wanted to go out on a wing surf board with a hydrofoil immediately but I did as he told. He was very right. Getting used to the wing on the water is far easier on a large SUP board.
I used a 185L inflatable F-One Rocket Air 7’11. The huge volume gave a lot of buoyancy and that was great during the first attempts to get up and go. Another feature I liked were the extra fins on the sides. A bit like daggerboards. It felt like they Kept me on a stable course.
The real deal: flying over the water on a foil board with a wing
Whuuhaa! That’s how I felt during the first meters after take-off. I must admit it takes a few practice runs to sail the first meters. Holding balance on a hydrofoil board of 140L was a bit more challenging than on the 185L SUP. But with a good instructor who was keen on details I got to hover within 2 hours.
The hovering feels great. Very light and smooth. Compared to windsurfing, Wing SUPing and riding a SUP there is one huge difference. Those activities are all done on the water surface. You can go left and right or straight forward. Hovering on a foil requires to steer up and down constantly.
This way the height, at which you hover above the water, is maintained within the length of the mast. If you don’t, you will either move to much up or down. Steering up too much will make the foil come out of the water. That resulted in a few crashes for me.
Steering down too much results in the board hitting the water. If the board hits the water radically it’s called a nose dive. Nosediving resulted in a few other crashes during my first runs. The trick is to maintain a nice steady hovering height. That just requires practice. Because the wing is constantly moving, your body will be moving to. Thus, the board is steered op and down by shifting weight distribution. To compensate for that intuitively takes time. Good instructor feedback helped me a lot.
Do I Need Lessons To Go Wing Surfing?
The short answer is: ‘Yes’ Taking a few lessons before you go wing surfing alone is a good idea’. I thought I might not need lessons because I had plenty windsurf and hydrofoil windsurf experience. Luckily, I called a wing surf school for advice to be sure. They convinced me to take a lesson. I learned so many details that improved my wing surfing. Finding all that out by myself would have taken a lot of more time. It would also have increased risk of injuries.
Interviewing experienced wing surfers on the beach confirmed I was right. After learning the basics though, I think practicing by myself is my way I go. There is an increasing number of instruction videos on YouTube to help. Also practicing with a friend and watching each other for feedback can be great. And last but not least Bonus Tip 3, in my blog about improving skills, might be very helpful.
What Gear Do I Need For Wing Surfing?
To go wing surfing you need a few essential gear items:
- A surfboard that is fit to attach a hydrofoil to it. A dedicated wing surf board works best.
- You need a wing to propel you forward. And upward if you get better. Make sure you have the right size!
- Hydrofoil to glide over the water. Make sure you have the right size (matching your weight and the conditions) and type.
- 2 leashes. One to connect the board to your ankle. The other to connect the wing to your wrist.
- Helmet for safety
Apart from these essentials I recommend to consider wearing a wetsuit and neoprene shoes.
What Does Wing Surfing Cost?
Buying a complete new wing surfing gear set can cost anywhere up from about €1237,- / $1405* in a end of season sale online at the Gong-Galaxy website. Other brands offer sets that can cost up to about the double of this amount. Apart from that there are extra cost for a helmet, wetsuit, neoprene shoes and transportation of the gear. I have a blog about buying the best wing surf board. In it I show the results of interviewing shop owners and instructors on their opinion on a wing surf budget.
Why Is Wing Surfing So Popular?
Wing surfing is gaining popularity rapidly. That is because of a number of reasons. First of all, the wing is handheld. That gives the wing surfer a very free and dynamic feeling. No lines or bar that attach the surfer to a wing. The risk of crashes and injuries decreases because the surfer can’t be dragged along by a kite that is out of control.
Second there is the advantage of the hydrofoil. The foil lifts the board and surfer out of the water once take off speed is reached. This way hydrodynamic resistance decreases a lot. As a result, the wing surfer can sail and have a lot of fun with very low wind speeds like 10 knots. Last but not least, the feeling of gliding above the water is great. Even at the first 10 meters I felt it, I was immediately hooked up to it.
Hydrofoil wings surfing compared to kite surfing
I tried both wing surfing and kite surfing. I love them both. The biggest difference I experienced was the free feeling I felt with a handheld wing. No lines attached to a big wing that is 24 meters away felt free. The connection with the wing feels very direct and that makes steering it easier.
Furthermore, the pulling power of the wing is far less. Because the hydrofoil decreases hydrodynamic resistance, far less power is needed to speed up. That felt safe and nice. The experience of gliding over the water was great.
An advantage of kitesurfing over wing surfing is the ability to jump high and far. Of course, jumping is possible with a wing surfer, but kite surfers remain king of the air. Kitesurfing can also be done with a hydro foil. Then a smaller kite can be used. I have not tested that yet.
Hydrofoil wing surfing compared to windsurfing
Compared to windsurfing, hydrofoil wing surfing is more dynamic. The wing used is smaller that a sail of preference in the same wind conditions. The fact that the wing is only handheld and not attached to the board, like a windsurf sail, gives a feeling of more freedom of movement. The feeling of hovering over the water adds a 3D (up and down steering is added) element that I found challenging and nice.
Windsurfing can also be done with a hydrofoil. Then the 3D element is added to this sport to. I believe windsurfers reach higher top end speeds at this moment. Speed records on a hydrofoil wing surfer will probably be tightened soon. Since the sport is new and gear development goes fast already. Both sports enable surfers to do a lot of cool tricks. Right now, windsurfers do the most radical tricks, like end over end double forward loops. Wing surfers are showing new tricks though.
Wing surfing is gaining popularity rapidly. The reason why? The feeling of gliding over the water is great. There is no risk of injury caused by being pulled by a kite. And last but not least, wings surfing requires relatively low wind speeds to have a lot of fun. Thus, many windsurfers, that are fed up with waiting for more wind, join the wing surfers already on the water.