As a surfing enthusiast myself, I’m always on the lookout to try new trends in the water as much as I can. So when I heard about a sport similar to kitesurfing and wakeboarding minus the line, I just knew I had to give wing surfing a try. (Hey, kitesurfing is all fun and games until your line collides with someone and you end up in a big, tangled mess!)
So what is wing surfing exactly — and is it here to replace some of the famous watersports we already know of? In this article, I’ll be sharing with you information about it including tips on how to get started with this sport.
History of Wing Surfing
In 1986, an avid windsurfer named Tom Magruder created a non-motorized, wind-powered wing inspired by how seagulls fly. His invention was called the ‘Wind Weapon’, a windsurfing sail made by combining the aerodynamic contour of airplanes and bird wings.
Magruder’s innovative wing enabled surfers to launch into flight even in flat water. But unfortunately, the Wind Weapon didn’t take flight in production as its hardware was too heavy and hard to control. Since windsurfing wasn’t mainstream during that time, Wind Weapon failed. It was way ahead of its time and people weren’t ready for it yet.
When the 2000s came, some companies also started to design and develop inflatable wing prototypes for stand-up paddleboards, but similar to the Wind Weapon’s fate, these models didn’t find success.
Slowly but surely, however, windsurfing competitions started to use hand-held sails to help surfers glide over frozen lakes. As the era changed and hydrofoils started to catch people’s attention, the wings went for a strong comeback. In 2019, they were commercially produced again and were welcomed with open arms by windsurfers looking for new challenges. This time, the wings are to stay for good.
What is Wing Surfing?
Also referred to as wing foiling, wing surfing is a water sport that gives you the freedom to glide in the water without any lines or ropes restraining your every movement. To wingsurf is to ride a SUP or foil board while you carry with you a hand-held wing or sail that helps propel the board in the water by using strong winds. Basically, it’s windsurfing and kiteboarding minus the tangles.
Although the wings are a good addition, I wouldn’t say that wing surfing is here to replace other watersports. Merely, the wing/sail is just a compliment that can be paired with any kind of board that you may have. You can use the sail for riding kiteboards, skateboards, or even snowboards. However, you should take note that the wing wouldn’t make you surf or paddle faster, it’s just there to add more fun and flair to your sport.
A lot of people have also developed a liking for wingsurfing as it’s safer than kitesurfing. It’s also simpler as it only requires basic boarding/surfing skills, good intuition, and minimal equipment. If you want high-performance wing surfing, you can combine your hand-held wing with an e-foil to reach maximum speed, upwind ability, and great maneuverability.
Watch celebrity surfer, Kai Lenny, take his wing and e-foil for a test ride in the video below.
Now, if you’re into SUP, you’ll find the portable sail for wing surfing helpful, especially during windy days. The wing eliminates the need for paddling, and it makes you ride faster even with a wind speed of only 5 to 10 knots. For wing foiling, however, you’ll need about 10 to 15 knots to be able to ride both downwind and upwind.
Wing surfing Vs Kitesurfing
Wing surfing and kitesurfing have common similarities (i.e. the use of kite, board, and wind force), however, they share a single difference, which is the use (or the lack thereof) of lines and ropes. Aside from that, wing surfing is also relatively safer and faster to progress with.
Groms are more independent when it comes to learning and performing their first rides because the rules of wing surfing are not so technical. With the kite wing acting as a sailboat, they can perform limitless freestyle and wave-riding tricks on their own. They’re also less stressed, so they spend more of their time and energy being stoked.
What You’ll Need
Wing surfing is a low-impact water sport wherein you’ll ride on top of a board while you hold an inflatable sail that will help you glide the water’s surface. That said, you’ll need your wing (kite wing/wing foil), board, leashes, and protective gear to start.
The kite wing or wing foil for kite surfing is a cross between a windsurfing sail and a hang glider sail. It should be made from lightweight materials and comes with little to no resistance so it’s easy to maneuver without your arms tiring. The wing works by letting the wind blow it and lift it up as it propels you and the board forward.
I’ve personally tried a bigger wing and I found it difficult to get over my head or prevent its sides from getting in contact with water; therefore, I suggest you go for an all-around wing and stick to the ideal size of 4 to 5 square meters. It must also be durable and can withstand a wind speed of up to 25 knots.
Unlike kitesurfing, you don’t need to wear a harness in wing surfing. But you do need to wear a wrist leash so it won’t fly away from you in case you accidentally let go of the wing during a wipeout. This leash will be attached to the wing’s edge and on your wrist. Since you will be holding on to the wing the entire time of your session, the handlebars must be soft and ergonomic. It should also be located at the centermost part of the wing so it folds easily when traveling.
Now, don’t be alarmed if some wings have attachment points where you can strap harnesses. This is allotted for people who also want to enjoy wing surfing with a harness hooked in as it enables them to wing surf for longer hours. You can make use of it or not, that’s entirely up to you.
The average price of a wing starts from $600 to $1000, and it can get higher than that if you are to purchase multiple wings that you’ll use for different surfing spots. Is it worthy of the investment, you ask? As of writing, I can’t conclude on its resale value yet, as this wing surfing only came into popularity in 2019.
If you’re a beginner, I suggest starting first with a volume and a bigger stand-up paddleboard. Regardless of its size or shape, this board floats so it’s safer, and only requires a smaller wing. Also, it can only reach a limited amount of speed, so you have more control of your pace. Since SUPs are also more stable because of their size, the only thing you’ll need to be focusing on is the handling of the wing and not the balancing part.
Now, if you’re leaning more on a high-performance board with a speed that zooms while reducing drag and tension at the same time, you should look into wing foil boards.
These kinds of boards will bring out the best performance of your kite; however, to attain this, wing foil boards require good wind conditions of at least 17 to 22 knots in flat water. Nowadays, I’ve seen that inflatable foil boards are also gaining popularity as they’re more portable and easy to store when traveling.
In choosing your board, you must take into account certain things such as your weight and the wind speed in your area. Also, some boards have foot inserts, some don’t. If yours don’t have them, you need to wear an ankle leash to prevent your board from floating away in case you bailout.
Wing surfing is easy to learn and has lesser risks than other watersports, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear safety equipment such as a helmet (more so if you’re using e-foil) and a wetsuit.
Wing surfing is more of an intuitive sport, meaning you need to learn how to control your wing by using your experience. It combines the basic skills of surfing and kitesurfing, so the learning curve of wing surfing may take you some time — but that’s totally fine. Here are some tips to get you started.
Wing surfing requires good wind conditions, and the ideal onshore wind ranges from 13 to 18 knots. The top wind speed you can wing surf without it being risky is 25 knots. Offshore winds will carry you out to the sea, so you should avoid wing surfing when the winds are blowing from the land towards the sea/lake.
Riding the board
Before starting with wing surfing, you must be an experienced rider who already knows how to ride and balance yourself on the top of your board, especially if you will be using fast e-foils. This way, your full attention will be focused only on controlling and adjusting the angle of your wing.
Controlling the wing
Next, you need to get used to the wing’s weight and handle. To do this, you need to practice with it on land before you set out in the water. On a light, windy day when the wind speed is ideally at 8 to 15 knots, take out your wing and try to flip it sideways, then move it around until you feel more comfortable holding on to its handles.
Actual Wing Surfing
To be able to stand up on your board while you’re holding your wing with one arm, you need to take it one step at a time. First, carry your wing and board towards the part of the water where you can easily get yourself on top of the board. After that, you’ll need to come up from your knees while keeping the wing over your head.
Next is to bring up your one foot first, then keep your back knee planted on the board. Maintain this position until you’re comfortable bringing your other foot up to a standing position.
Remember that in the actual water, your board wouldn’t sail vertically, even in flat water. Instead, it will go sideways because the wing will go against the wind. To be able to adjust your direction, you need to turn your wing and rotate your body and the board. Then, you need to keep pressure on the windward rail and your back foot to get the board to go in the direction that you want.
You might also find it difficult to keep your board upwind as the wind will always turn it downwind. To counter this, you must bring the kite over your head, and tilt the board sideways.
Wing surfing is a promising watersport that’s suitable for riders of any age or skill level. It gives the impression of kite surfing, but no lines or ropes are connecting you to your kite. Instead, you’ll have a hand-held wing that lifts you forward and upwind. While it’s the combination of kitesurfing, paddle boarding, and windsurfing, wing surfing is not meant to replace them. Rather, the wing only acts as a complement and addition to these water sports.
If you really want to appreciate wing surfing, remember to take it easy and learn the dynamics through muscle memory. I find it more enjoyable to wing surf when I’m not actually thinking of the direction of where I should go or the handbook of rules I need to follow.
I hope this article has inspired and shared valuable insights to get you started on wing surfing. However, if you have zero experience in the water (surfing, paddle boarding) I suggest you take some classes first before you branch out to this sport to lessen risks and injuries.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is wing foiling and wing surfing different?
Wing foiling and wing surfing are similar when it comes to using a portable/hand-held wing that will allow you to ride strong winds with a maximum speed of 25 knots. The only difference they have is that wing foiling uses an e-foil or hydrofoil, while wing surfing uses a regular stand-up paddleboard or surfboard. If you’re looking for supercharged speed and a high-performance board that doesn’t drag, you should go for hydrofoils; however, they’re more expensive.
Q: Is wing surfing easy to learn?
Yes. Groms and older people find wing surfing safer and easier to learn than kitesurfing because its rules are less technical and it doesn’t require the use of lines and ropes. Also, if you’re already familiar with riding a surfboard, you’ll find the hand-held wing or inflatable sail easy to maneuver and control.
Q: Can you wing surf on a SUP?
Most beginner wing surfers start by using a stand-up paddleboard as they’re bigger and more stable in the water. This boards enable you to focus your attention more on your wing handling.
Torsten Bird is a talented and adventurous waterman from Western Australia, passionate about surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, hydrofoiling, skimboarding, snowboarding and skateboarding. Torsten has spent countless hours mastering his skills and his dream is to one day represent Australia as an Olympic athlete. Follow Torsten’s adventures on Instagram.