TECHNIQUE: VIDEO & TEXT
Wing Surf World's Neal Gent delivers key tips to help you successfully accomplish a deep waterstart, which you'll need to nail if you want to ride a board with much less equivalent litre-volume than your body weight
INTRO - SCROLL DOWN FOR THE VIDEO
So, you’ve been winging a little while now, got your transitions going and maybe you're starting to jump? If that's the case you may be starting to recognise that your bigger volume board might not have the performance you’re now looking for? The most obvious limitation is how much volume and support you're going to have to sacrifice to ride a small board. Even just getting started is going to create a whole new challenge. Once you’re up and flying around on a shorter, smaller – and therefore lighter board – you'll enjoy amazing rewards in terms of more fluid riding sensations. Last issue we discussed how much difference moving from a beginner board to a shorter intermediate board makes; you get just as big a progression in feel and performance when you step down again. If you search ‘deep waterstart winging’ online you’ll quickly find some nice videos and notice there are a bunch of different ways to approach the technique. As always, I’m not telling you my way is best; I'm just hoping to pass on some tips that I’ve found to make it easier.
CONDITIONS You want to be nicely powered up so that not too much wing pumping is needed to come up on the foil. You can figure out the wing/foil pumping challenge for lighter wind starts once you've mastered the basics, but it is FAR easier to deep start when there's enough wind so that as soon as you sheet in with your back hand you have plenty of power. Unless you’re lucky enough to ride somewhere where strong wind doesn't create chop, you’re probably going to have to deal with the challenge of learning this deep waterstart technique by contending with at least some small waves. Another reason you'll need stronger wind is that I suggest learning to deep waterstart with a small wing which makes it easier to keep the wingtips clear of the water. When I was learning to deep waterstart I needed at least 20 knots of wind to manage it without expending a HUGE amount of energy. If the wind is onshore, paddle yourself out so you’ve got lots of downwind room to play with (you don't want the extra pressure of trying to stay clear of a shorebreak!).
GET TO YOUR FEET There are lots of videos that show a rider doing a kneeling start. I started on my knees too – mostly thanks to having watched those videos. Where I ride on the UK's south coast I found that the waves / chop that come up in 20+ knots of wind made it pretty much impossible for me to stay on the board on my knees while I was sorting the wing out. (The wind is almost always onshore for me, too). For that reason I changed my approach to getting on my feet rather than my knees while underwater. I can deal with a lot more chop and even some whitewater if I do that.
DEEP START PHASES:
(Disclaimer! My wife Jess filmed thE VIDEO in lovely Sardinian flat waters, but this honestly also works in 35+ knots with waves back home as well!) Most of the tips with the wing should help you whichever way you choose to learn. 1. Get upwind of your board and with your back hand take hold of the leash roughly a foot from the wing (when the board sinks you need a little leeway or the wing will stop your hand from going underwater). You need the wing to be as close to you as possible as it’s your best friend for providing stability. 2. Sink your board and get both feet on top (keeping hold of the leash so the wing doesn't escape from you). I put my back foot on first as this board is about 55 litres and takes some effort to sink. AS SOON AS your back foot is on get your back hand onto the front handle of your wing and press down for stability. I have seen it done by just pressing down on the leading edge itself, but I find that by getting hold of the handle then the next phase of getting the handles to your hands is much easier. Now work on getting your front foot in place if you haven't already done so, or just take the opportunity to fine tune your foot placement. Don't stand up; stay crouched so as much of your weight is in the water as possible. 3. Lots of the videos show the rider pulling the wing straight to them at this point via the leash, but already having the front handle means your balance is massively enhanced, especially if there are some waves. Get steady before aiming to move your back hand to be under the leading edge and take hold of one of the closer handles. 4. DON’T RUSH! If you try to go for both handles and bring the wing over you and start all at once, you're asking for a reset, especially if not in choppy/wavey waters! If you rest the leading edge on your back shoulder at this point you can use the tip of the centre strut in the water to stabilise you while you get everything else lined up before actually going for the start. You can actually stay in this position comfortably for a while, maybe waiting for a gap in the waves, or for a gust to arrive. Whenever I start making mistakes in my deep starts it’s because I'm rushing. 5. You’re all set and a nice gust has arrived so you're ready to go. A big key point here is to bring the wing over your head and not reach downwind for the handle. Get your front hand onto your preferred handle and bring the wing way overhead so you can just put your back hand easily onto the relevant back handle. You can actually pause in this position under the wing with both hands in the correct position. If you bring the back of the wing onto the water and the leading edge onto your front shoulder you can stabilise things again. You can’t see anything in this position, so don't wait for too long in this position, but it's useful if you need to quickly iron out a wobble. 6. Lift the wing and pull in the back hand to power up. As you get the power on and start to move, stand up a little more to get more of your body out of the water (you are the biggest anchor). Steer the board hard downwind at the same time as powering up the wing, pumping if you need to. This is all about getting the little board onto the surface and reaching foil take-off speed before your weight sinks that little board again. You can carve upwind as soon as you're foiling nicely.
HAVING DIFFICULTY SINKING THE BOARD? To be honest the 55L board in this clip is pretty hard work for me (82kg) to sink and floats to the point that I have to stay in a very deep squat whilst going through the phases. I have a 32L Armstrong that is FAR easier to sink, but then needs a lot of wind to get up on, so I can’t use it in marginal conditions. JP made me a 44L board which seems for me as the best of both worlds; it's much easier to get underwater and duckdive (for foil surfing) but not so small that it sinks too far to be able deep start in 12 knots of wind with a six metre wing. Volume will be a really personal number. How you choose to start, your weight, ability and local conditions will all play a part in the ideal step-down smaller board for you. I can deep start with my wing on a kite foil board that has almost no volume if it’s howling, but I’d never use it for fear of getting stuck out to sea with no hope of even paddling in if the wind died!
FALLING AWAY DOWNWIND AS YOU GET GOING (Or pretty much any fall where the board comes out from underneath you.) Try to slow down the stages of your start. It’s really crucial to keep the foil and board balanced directly underneath you. Even a tiny off-balance is magnified when you try to stand-up and get going, so really try to get stable first. Even if you're lucky enough to have perfect flat conditions to learn this in, don’t expect this process to be quick. Learning this in waves/chop it took me quite a while and on one occasion someone’s girlfriend on the beach commented on how sorry they felt for the poor learner on the yellow Wasp (yup, me!) who had done nothing but fall for ages before getting up! You've got to love a challenge though, and now I'm very happy to be riding a smaller board!