IS WINGSURFING DANGEROUS?
(AND HOW TO STAY SAFE)
IS WINGSURFING DANGEROUS?(AND HOW TO STAY SAFE)
Sensi Graves assesses her stance on the subject after breaking her wrist during an unusual fall
Photos: Debbie Jean Holloman
I’ve only had one broken bone in my entire life. And it happened while winging. As a professional kiteboarder, wing foiling was the very last thing that I dreamed about having injuring me. And yet, I broke my wrist wing foiling a few months ago when I fell forward on the wing and the boom snapped my hand back to my wrist, breaking my radius in the process.
There I was sitting in the water, struggling to breathe through the pain, holding onto the wing leash that was attached to my now-broken wrist, thinking, 'How the heck did that happen?'. I’ve done a lot of sports in my life, from snowboarding and skiing since age 10, to mountain biking, wakeboarding and surfing, not to mention hitting rails and sliders kiteboarding for over ten years.
So breaking my wrist begged the question: Is winging dangerous?
I broke my wrist smack-dab in the middle of the windy season here in Hood River, Oregon. I was just starting to get into my stride with winging, having learned just four weeks prior.
Where once I was a skeptical onlooker, I was now a full-blown enthusiast.
My first sessions on the wing were horrendous. I went out on an SUP board and a Sling Wing and could not get going. I was hauling myself back out of the water after what felt like every 20 seconds, becoming increasingly bedraggled and worn out, only to end up back in the drink after another failed attempt at 'catching' the wind while keeping the wingtip out of the water. I found myself doing a walk of shame from the end of the sandbar, dragging a massive board and flapping wing behind me.
Fast forward nine months later and my fiancé, Brandon Scheid, started to learn to wing in order to test product as part of his job. He had some failed attempts but soon enough he was winging! And loving it. Like, really loving it; winging more than he was kiting.
I decided to give it another go. Starting in the 'kiddie' pool at the end of the Hook, I began taking the wing out on a 100 litre board; just enough that I could easily balance on my knees and stand up, but not so large that I couldn’t break it free from the water in order to get on-foil. My time spent falling off the board slowly decreased and my on-foil runs increased.
The combination of this new and stimulating sport with the amount of challenge involved meant that my neurons were firing and consequently I felt extremely rewarded at the end of every session. I just felt so accomplished. I had tackled this hard thing and gotten the hang of it!
It was only a matter of time until I started venturing away from the shore and out into the river swell. Then, just when I thought I was getting good... ker-splat! Broken wrist.
The thing about incurring an injury from a sport that is so new is that it now unveils a whole additional set of questions. Prior to injury, most beach-goers would come up to me, intrigued and eager, with questions like, 'Is it difficult?' 'What size board was I riding?' 'Any tips for learning?' When they found out my cast was caused by winging, the questions suddenly changed to, 'Oh, is it dangerous?'.
My immediate reaction was 'Yes!'. Of course it’s dangerous; you’re flying around on a sharp piece of metal / carbon while holding onto a wing that powers you along. Then I'd think about it and say, 'No, it’s really no more dangerous than any other sport out there. You can take precautions in sport and you can push yourself to the limit and take risks; it’s really up to you.'
Was my accident a freak thing? Yes, I think so. I don’t think wings are inherently more dangerous than any other watersport, but there are certainly some things to watch out for when progressing your winging.
The biggest takeaways from my injury and subsequent recovery are below:
"I just felt so accomplished. I had tackled this hard thing and gotten the hang of it!"
AK DURABLE SUPPLY CO RIOT HELMET
HOW TO STAY SAFE WHILE WINGING:
1> Always wing with a buddy. The cardinal rule of almost any sport is to stay with your buddy. Plenty of people have been lost in the woods while skiing when they separated from their crew. Wingfoiling is certainly no different. When I broke my wrist, my friends were there to help get me back to the beach and they quickly noticed that I was in trouble. Have each other’s backs while you’re on the water and ensure the safety of yourself and those around you. 2> Protect yourself from falling on the foil. The foils are the most dangerous part of a wing set-up. They’re hard, can be sharp and there's a chance you can fall directly on top of them. Try to propel yourself away from the foil. Neoprene and impact vests are helpful pieces of equipment. 3> A helmet is vital in the beginning. Always ensure you're wearing proper gear. 4> Don’t go out further than you can swim. When first learning to wing, I could only get up to the left. Coming back was extremely difficult and I had to be very mindful not to go too far in one direction. Once I was up and riding, I’d venture out into the river and catch the swell, however there were more than a few times when the wind dropped and I found myself praying for a gust to be able to limp back to the beach. 5> Have an escape plan. Too often we enter the water without a care in the world and no game plan for if things go wrong. Wingfoiling is a unique sport in that the board size differs drastically depending on who’s riding it. Some boards will allow an injured person to paddle in while others will only be a hindrance. Winging is also tough if you’re trying to rescue someone else. You don’t have nearly the manoeuvrability of a kite. 6> Things go wrong when people to start to freak out. Stay calm and take decisive, immediate action. One of my rescuers immediately went to go flag down a guy on a jet ski, saving me the pain of working my way back to the beach.
ride engine empax impact vest
On the tail-end of my injury recovery, I keep getting asked if I’ll wing again; as if the one injury is such a detriment. To tell you the truth, I’m more excited to start winging again than I am to kiteboard, which makes sense. I’ve been kiteboarding for over ten years, whereas I’ve only been winging for four weeks. I have a lot more to learn wingfoiling than I do kiting. Humans thrive on stimulation and the promise of testing my limits, trying new things and having my brain and body engaged and entranced is really attractive. I want to be in that flow state in a sport and, for now, winging is doing that!
OUTRO – Sensi's injury seems to be a very rare occurrence. Generally, with the right gear and an awareness of ocean safety, wingsurfing is a relatively safe sport if you've had good tuition