USING BIG WINGS

WITH ALVARO ONIEVA AND VICTOR HAYS

Investing in a wing of six metres and above can open up extra opportunities to session in lighter winds, but will require some adaptation in your riding technique. We asked Airush / Starboard riders, Alvaro Onieva and Victor Hays, for some key tips when it comes to managing more material overhead

WORDS: Alvaro Onieva and Victor Hays PHOTOS: Airush / Starboard

USING BIG WINGS

WITH ALVARO ONIEVA AND VICTOR HAYS

Investing in a wing of six metres and above can open up extra opportunities to session in lighter winds, but will require some adaptation in your riding technique. We asked Airush / Starboard riders, Alvaro Onieva and Victor Hays, for some key tips when it comes to managing more material overhead

WORDS: Alvaro Onieva and Victor Hays PHOTOS: Airush / Starboard

Whether you are riding smaller (2-3m), medium (4-5m) or larger (6m+) wings, a lot of the key movements and techniques can be translated. There are of course some subtle nuances to be aware of that will help when you switch up. We'll start with some basic fundamentals for the smaller wings you may be more accustomed to before moving onto the bigger wing techniques.

RIDING SMALLER WINGS (2-3M)

Riding a small wing in more powerful and often gustier conditions can cause the wing to be more sensitive and feel more erratic. Body position is key. You should have an athletic stance, with your arms slightly bent, shoulders back, knees bent, head up and your core locked. This position will help you anticipate and absorb any instability in the wind or water.

Although catching a wingtip is less frequently a problem with small wings, always remember to have your front arm over your shoulders.

A helpful way to prevent catching or dragging the wing tip is to apply downward pressure with your backhand. This is a really key tip when riding bigger wings, but works in any potential tip-dip situation.
The downward motion with your back hand helps pivot the wing; automatically lifting the nose higher, so the curve of the wing tip will allow water to roll off.

RIDING MEDIUM WINGS (4-5M)

These are usually deemed as average wing sizes for the most popular conditions and where most riders base their entire technique from.

If your wing has several handles, it’s best to start riding with the front hand on the first handle and the back hand towards the second-to-last grip. This is usually the steadiest / most balanced point to start from and will also allow you to react during underpowered or overpowered conditions.

If you are feeling underpowered in this mid-range, specifically when waterstarting a low volume board, moving your front hand one handle further back will mean the wing gives you more pull when you're coming up. Once out of the water and successfully foiling you can revert back to the normal hand position for more comfort.

Gybing image: Smaller and medium size wings are lighter and can fly more naturally overhead, with greater apparent wind

In overpowered conditions, it’s best to keep your front hand unchanged with a focus on light adjustments with the back hand to anticipate the gusts.
To maximize upwind ability and stability, the wing should be in front of you rather than too high overhead. When you bring the wing above your head, it will decrease stability and shoulder fatigue – but this is a position we need to look at with bigger wings.
RIDING BIGGER WINGS (6M+)
As technical as small wing, strong wind riding can be, when you use a bigger wing it's extra weight coupled with the lighter wind conditions, delivers its own unique set of challenges.
A bigger wing size naturally means that wing tip drag can be a more common problem. If you drop off the foil more frequently there's more fatigue involved in holding and pumping the heavier wing to get going again.
Essentially, the best advice with a bigger wing is to keep your arms high and maintain your speed to keep more lift in the wing.
As you're riding with your arms higher, the pumping method changes a bit, too. You can't have the wing so lateral to your body, so it's a higher pumping movement.
In general, your front hand should remain slightly higher most of the time to accommodate the extra wing size; around forehead height rather than chest height as it would be with a smaller wing.
Once again, a really key technique to help prevent wing tip drag is to apply back hand pressure downwards, allowing you to lift the nose of the wing higher to help water to roll off the tips if they do touch down.
The increased wing span of a bigger wing is the main problem for most riders. Some brands are now trying to increase the length of the strut rather than the wing span to increase the size of the wing.
The leading edges on big wings are even bigger than those found on most kites, which also increases the weight. The bigger leading edge adds stability to the wing, but it also means the wing travels more slowly through the air, so you ride with less speed.

Mark says that the trick to generating high speeds in low winds is to set your foil up so that it’s properly balanced, which then means you can really commit. “Generating speed means increasing power which, if it doesn’t come from the kite, has to come from somewhere else and in this case you use leg power to increase apparent wind and power in the kite. If the foil isn’t well set-up and balanced the amount of leg pressure you can apply in turn then limits your ability to generate power and speed

IS A BIG WING FOR YOU?

The disadvantages of a bigger wing are that it can actually take longer to get planing because they're slower. A good rider will likely be able to generate as much power using a smaller wing than an intermediate because they have better pumping skills.

However, although a six metre wing might sound big, this is still an acceptable size wing for manoeuvres, so don't be put off one if you're aiming to ride in lighter conditions. You just need to adapt your technique as described.

You might be interested to know that we actually tried a ten metre prototype recently and found it pulled with too much power on the arms once planing. Also, the seven metre was actually quicker and easier to pump and get up onto the foil in the first place. So there's a limit, according to your size, weight and skills as well as the wing itself.

Of course, if you haven't tried this already, choosing a bigger hydrofoil front wing will also help you plane quicker in lighter winds.

TIPS FOR TURNING MORE EFFICIENTLY WITH BIGGER WINGS IN LIGHTER WINDS

When it comes to switching hands for a gybe, as the bigger wing delivers more power, you should grab the handles closer to the leading edge when turning the wing. Sometimes you might even need to grab the neutral handle during the change.

Some wings have diagonal cross-handles that link the strut to the leading edge and these can be useful, offering a nicely balanced position to grab without having to reach all the way to the leading edge neutral handle.

For tacking with bigger wings, the extra size and weight is the biggest difference when adapting your technique. The bigger leading edge loses apparent wind more quickly, so its weight becomes more of an issue because there's less wind lifting it overhead.

The key is to make the tacking turn as short as possible without losing speed. Don't turn so tightly that you scrub speed, but also don't turn so widely that you lose momentum before you even go through the wind. The sooner you can get round into a position to power the wing up again the better.

The bigger the wing, the more handles they usually have. It's easy to get confused about which handles to grab after a turn. Doing plenty of training on land, turning the wing and swapping your hands a lot on the beach, really helps you become comfortable with grabbing the handles quickly on the new side. Once again, the quicker and more smoothly you can make your carve through the wind, the more float you'll maintain from the foil, giving you a little more time to focus on the handle grab on the new side.

Overall, the best tip for riding a bigger wing is to keep your arms high to prevent the wing tips touching the water.

TOP LIGHT WIND TURNING TIP: SWITCH YOUR FEET BEFORE TURNING

In lighter conditions, approaching the tack or gybe already in toeside stance is the best for stability through the turn and for maintaining speed to ride away in the new direction.

Going upwind slightly prior to starting the gybe will help you give that 'light foot feel' when changing your feet before the turn.

Push on your back foot, open your shoulders towards the wind and lift the wing slightly higher to increase lift. This allows you to lightly put pressure on the board during the foot change.

Change your foot position keeping your feet on the centerline of the board. Once you are in toeside position, initiate the gybe by applying pressure on your heels, or do the tack by putting pressure on your toes.

Having enough speed in the entry to make it through the turn with speed is essential to avoid the wing tip from catching.

ALVARO AND VICTOR ARE RIDING THE AIRUSH-STARBOARD FREEWING AIR

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