Photo: Matt Georges / F-One

F-One nailed the design of their V1 Swing wing early in development in 2019. Light, easy and balanced, after a swift release it went on to be one of the most popular inaugural wings of last year. December 2020 saw the launch of the Strike – an altogether more focused, performance oriented design for the world's best.

Is the Strike just for pros? WSW editor Jim Gaunt caught up with F-One owner Raphael Salles, French pioneer of kitesurfing and wingsurfing, to find out...

WORDS: Jim Gaunt

It will soon be two years since the first release of the Swing V1 and I remember sitting at your first presentation in Mauritius in July 2019, listening to your explanation of your first wingsurfing experiences. Having been initially hesitant about the importance of the development of wingsurfing (pushing it behind a very challenging kite design schedule that you were in the midst of at the time), you suddenly clicked with it while doing a downwinder in Cape Verde. Things then moved forward for the F-One Swing very quickly. Can you describe those first sensations that you felt when you realised how good wingsurfing was?

I felt what everyone is feeling right now. I see so many riders come off the water with a huge smile as they explain the feeling of their first ‘free flight’ on a small bump.

Even the most advanced riders who also surf are amazed by the power that the foil provides. Right from the beginning the wing gives the thrill of learning something new and different sensations. When you come from kiteboarding, the simple fact that you don’t have to wear a harness is a pure joy.

It’s also easy to launch from many different locations and works well in lots of wind conditions. I started windsurfing in 1976 and stopped in 1996 to start kitesurfing. Riding the wing is such a good mix of two sports and I get the best of both worlds. Sometimes when you mix things you might get the bad side of both. This time definitely not and I feel both windsurfing and kitesurfing elements when winging.

Raph getting into the Swing in his early wing days, Corsica Photo: Ydwer van der Heide

It will soon be two years since the first release of the Swing V1 and I remember sitting at your first presentation in Mauritius in July 2019, listening to your explanation of your first wingsurfing experiences. Having been initially hesitant about the importance of the development of wingsurfing (pushing it behind a very challenging kite design schedule that you were in the midst of at the time), you suddenly clicked with it while doing a downwinder in Cape Verde. Things then moved forward for the F-One Swing very quickly. Can you describe those first sensations that you felt when you realised how good wingsurfing was?

I felt what everyone is feeling right now. I see so many riders come off the water with a huge smile as they explain the feeling of their first ‘free flight’ on a small bump.

Even the most advanced riders who also surf are amazed by the power that the foil provides. Right from the beginning the wing gives the thrill of learning something new and different sensations. When you come from kiteboarding, the simple fact that you don’t have to wear a harness is a pure joy. It’s also easy to launch from many different locations and works well in lots of wind conditions. I started windsurfing in 1976 and stopped in 1996 to start kitesurfing. Riding the wing is such a good mix of two sports and I get the best of both worlds. Sometimes when you mix things you might get the bad side of both. This time definitely not and I feel both windsurfing and kitesurfing elements when winging.

In your mind, has the potential of the sport changed in the last 18 months? Absolutely. I knew expert riders would love wingsurfing, but I wasn't sure how easy it would be for most people to learn. I’m really impressed how fast everyone is learning and enjoying wingfoiling. I’m also pleased to see surfers learning a wind sport. The Swing V1 has been very popular, yet it took a relatively short time to design compared to your kites. What do you think you got right with the Swing from the beginning? We were learning the sport and designing the Swing at roughly the same time. We made a perfect wing to learn and progress in the discipline. The Swing’s main advantages are its light weight, stability and power – all you need to get planing and riding comfortably. The light weight and good stability make it perfect for free fly surfing, which you will love the most. Will there be a Swing V2 soon? Yes. After a long R&D process on the Strike we also developed the Swing V2, which will be released this spring. The Swing V2 pushes the original features of the V1, so it’s even lighter, super comfortable and finely balanced. You won't go as fast or as high compared to when riding the new Strike, however if you like light wind wave riding you will be pleasantly surprised by the Swing V2 performance.

Taut and manageable / Photo: F-One

Taut and manageable / Photo: F-One

The first difference I noticed when looking at the Swing and the Strike is how much more material tension there seems to be in the Strike. What advantage does that have? I have seen several comments online that people think one disadvantage might be that it has less gust management... I have to tell you that we made the biggest number of prototypes for the Strike in F-One’s entire history; even more than when we split the Bandit kite with the Bandit S. It was essential in order to have a comprehensive understanding of how a wing works. First, we were looking for performance and then taking time for comfort and wind range gains.

Unlike a kite, a wing has no mast and no arc design with bridle lines to hold the shape. When you hold the two handles the whole wing wants to deform and literally destroy its shape. Tension is necessary to keep the shape. As soon as the trailing edge takes too much curve the wing becomes unbalanced, there's a loss of performance, control and your arms will start to fatigue. Tension is key to maintain performance and for gust control.

Of course, if you build a super stiff wing it also won't work well because our aim was to have tension but not stiffness, while keeping the weight similar to the Swing V1. Our designer, Robert Graham, did tremendous work to fulfil our needs, especially when we tell him difficult things like, “Robert, make it stiff... but soft when needed!”

Hendrick Lopes proving the Strike's free-flight credentials

Hendrick Lopes proving the Strike's free-flight credentials

Marcella Witt

Fernando Novaes - both photos: Jericoacoara, Brazil

Like the trend in kiteboarding, I'm sure most people want a wing that will allow them the freedom to try a bit of everything as they improve. Do you think the Strike can be a one wing for all? Our R&D philosophy is always based on making products that can cover many programs, like the Bandit kite or our famous Mitu wave board. Our goal was to ensure the Strike could work in a school or for winning a competition with the highest jumps. The Strike is as light as the Swing V1 and the improvements on stability and control mean that, after testing it, we have many schools placing orders for it. So the Strike can for sure be your wing from day one with great advantages to help learn the sport quickly in good conditions and then of course offers fantastic progression. If you are a rider who lives in an area that's quite choppy and only has waves when the wind is really strong, you are linking your turns okay and starting to experiment with pumping, but you're not yet jumping – is the Strike still the right wing for you? If your goal is also to jump in any way, the Strike is your wing. You will love the Swing V2 for light wind cruising and surfing waves, however the Strike offers better control and balance when you're overpowered.

Titouan Galea competing at the Superfoil Wing Foil World Tour event at Fortaleza in Brazil, November 2020 / Photo: Svetlana Romantsova

Titouan Galea competing at the Superfoil Wing Foil World Tour event at Fortaleza in Brazil, November 2020 / Photo: Svetlana Romantsova

Do you think it will become necessary for some riders to have a specialised wing for freestyle and one for wave riding? Where in wing design is the clash between what a rider needs in performance for freestyle and wave riding? The weight of the Strike is only a few grams heavier than the Swing, but we kept it light because weight is so important for surfing in free fly mode. Wave riding and surfing the swell with a wing is a big advantage compared to riding a wave with a kite: the wing is only flying behind you and doesn't really inhibit your surfing. So all you want from the wing when you're free flying and holding the front handle is that the wing feels as light and balanced as possible. For now it's possible to fit both disciplines. The sport is so new though, so who knows what we will be doing next year. We will see what our next needs are in time.

Titouan Galea

Titouan Galea

When the Strike launched late last year and we saw it in the hands of professionals, like Titouan Galea, we suddenly saw the height of their jumps increase massively. Can you tell me a bit about that; how stability in flight and descent becomes an issue? Some of the images really look like hang gliding, he was so high! The recipe for going high with a wing is speed, control, power and stiffness. To fly off the water with a foil and a wing you need speed because the vertical traction that you have with a wing is far less than you have with a kite. The foil will give you vertical boost if you are going fast, however, you need control to be able to approach a jump with speed; to be able to edge and then fly safely. You need stiffness to keep the shape of the wing so it won't lose power and prevent you gliding far. All these things are basically what you need to be able to ride overpowered and have great upwind performance in comfort. So the Strike isn't just for jumping. It was so nice to see Titou’s face when he was testing the Strike protos and flying higher than ever with a wing. What about the descent? If you get the lift and power to go high, the wing should have enough power to support you on the way down. The exception comes if you are jumping off a three metre wave face rather than flat water; the lift will come from the wave not from the wing.

Strike on the left, Swing V1 on the right

Strike on the left, Swing V1 on the right

I know there's not been much travelling for anyone at the moment, but where is your favourite place to wing and why? The thing with wingfoiling is that any windy spot with some chop or small swell can be a great location. It's not like kitesurfing or windsurfing where riders crave a bigger reef wave with side shore wind to have the most fun. We really enjoy riding the stormy conditions here at home in the south of France. So many locations are going to open up for wings and we will discover and enjoy many new spots; even lakes can be perfect. Personally, I've found Manawa in Mauritius is a perfect wave for wingfoiling and also the left in front of the Mitu&Djo centre at Kite Beach in Cape Verde is a lot of fun. Those are not amazing waves for high level kiting, but they are for wings! To be honest, any warm and windy place would be welcome right now!

I know there's not been much travelling for anyone at the moment, but where is your favourite place to wing and why? The thing with wingfoiling is that any windy spot with some chop or small swell can be a great location. It's not like kitesurfing or windsurfing where riders crave a bigger reef wave with side shore wind to have the most fun. We really enjoy riding the stormy conditions here at home in the south of France. So many locations are going to open up for wings and we will discover and enjoy many new spots; even lakes can be perfect. Personally, I've found Manawa in Mauritius is a perfect wave for wingfoiling and also the left in front of the Mitu&Djo centre at Kite Beach in Cape Verde is a lot of fun. Those are not amazing waves for high level kiting, but they are for wings! To be honest, any warm and windy place would be welcome right now!

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