ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
MY SITUATION AND EXPERIENCE
By: Neal Gent
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
By: Neal Gent
Honestly, when I first saw the wings online I was definitely not convinced about them! I’ve always been keen to get into the ‘next thing’ on the water because I really believe that trying the different variations of sports enhances your core favourites. Learning new things also keeps me stoked to be on the water, especially when our home conditions on the UK’s central south coast are not always epic for waves. As a brief personal journey, in the early 2000s kiting ‘replaced’ windsurfing for me to become my go-to sport when the waves weren’t good. Further to that, I’ve surfed for almost as long as I’ve windsurfed. Anyone who lives on the UK’s south coast will vouch for how rarely you can ‘surf’ good waves locally, so I also started SUPing and found that paddling small, crumbly waves is still good fun. I still do all these sports to some degree and now the thing that links them all together, blurring the lines of each, is riding a foil. I absolutely love cruising on a kite with a mid-sized front hydrofoil wing. It’s not about the speed for me; I like carving, riding the swell on a foil and mucking about with transitions. A massive new range of days on the water opened up when I started SUP foiling and then surf foiling. If the summer breeze kicks up a bit of a wave, then even a one foot wave is seriously addictive for foiling!
The sensation of riding a foil along a swell or tiny bit of wave is amazing. Weirdly, I get just as much buzz from foiling in one to two foot conditions as I do from a really good day kiting/surfing.
ENTER THE WING
I was seeing an increasing number of watermen / women who I already admire all over the world singing the praises of the wing. I had to admit that I may have been wrong about this sport! I started on a four metre Slingwing, using my 6’2’’ SUP foil (a custom from JP Surfboards, based in Swansea) which has 115 litres of volume. It wasn’t really windy enough the first day I tried, but I was encouraged by the fact that I could get back upwind, even when not planing on the foil. I spent a couple of hours just figuring out how to manage the wing, getting on and off the board and working out where to stand. Even when not planing, the foil’s presence under the water makes seemingly small boards feel so much more stable. The next session was windier, but in the cross onshore wind one to two foot waves were creating a lot of whitewater. To be honest if I wasn’t so pig-headed I may have given up right then!
Image below: Neal's prone surf foiling skills have helped his wingsurfing no end, but it works both ways; your wingsurfing skills will help you improve other hydrofoiling disciplines too when you cross-over!
GETTING UP AND GOING After A LOT of time spent fighting the shorebreak, I got far enough out to find a calmer section of water between the breaking waves to actually get up on the foil. Suddenly, I was flying along effortlessly with minimal effort on my arms. The wing had transformed from being my worst enemy, to actually feeling really comfortable. It took a while to appreciate the need to go fast in order to successfully make turns, but even they started coming in that first proper session. The progression from there can be quite quick if you have sensibly sized gear (more on that later in this feature) as it’s quite intuitive to start trying to carve turns and go with the swell on your foil. Now I am utterly hooked! I think the biggest challenge to getting up onto your feet and riding is having the time to get everything sorted. The slicker you get, the shorter time between waves you need. It amazes me how easily you can cope with either going round or over whitewater once you’re on the foil, but pre-take-off, even a little bit of whitewater is enough to knock you back and have to re-set. Coping with rough water will be totally dependent on your skills. Once you’ve mastered being stable while kneeling on the board and then bringing the wing into play, you can cope with almost anything if you’re powered up... except large whitewater. Like any board sport it’s ‘easy’ on flat water with constant wind, and the more variables you add the more challenging it gets!
REPLACEMENT THERAPY My perception of when I’d go wingsurfing has now changed. When the waves or wind aren’t good enough to warrant kiting or windsurfing, they are usually brilliant for wingsurfing or surf foiling and the best thing is that these foiling sports compliment each other without really replacing them. There is one exception though: I used to really love kite foiling in light winds, but I’m just not sure if I need that in my quiver anymore. High tide launching with my kite is impossible where I live (so that means I’m restricted to mid and low tide conditions only) and kiting is banned in the harbour. For wingsurfing, neither of those is an issue anymore! If you’re a kiter, once you’ve learnt your wingsurfing moves in flat water, you’ll probably return to preferring kiting in flat water because of the higher speeds and jumping potential. You’ll feel like you’re travelling at hyper speed when you get back on your kite gear, but wingsurfing in small waves is a massive amount of fun, so you may find yourself with a tough decision each session in those conditions if you’re a kiter. My high performance surf SUP has hardly been out of the bag since starting to surf foil and wingsurf. The feeling of being on a foil on a small wave outdoes the feeling on a SUP by miles, but perhaps I’ll return to the SUP on the rare, bigger days when the foil reaches its limit.