WSW editor Jim Gaunt tackles a question from a friendly local kiter who wondered why all the wingers he greets on the water seemingly don't respond! This isn't so much a technique article about waving; we're talking about an important skill for ocean going wingers, relating to balance, direction, momentum, perhaps a little pumping know-how and wing handling!
As a kiter, and now also a winger who wings around a lot of kiters, this is a subject that had been on my mind. It's really easy to wave at people while you're kiting because your harness takes all the kite's power, creating the great, natural vibes on the water... man. When winging, the vast majority of us don't hook into a harness line, so we need both our hands rooted onto the wing's handles, otherwise most of us would stop moving. Waving isn't something of immediate focus when you learn to wing. Your eyes may be wide open, but your field of vision is usually pinned just a few feet ahead of the nose of your board. Peripheral observation efforts are reserved for the road. At some point, however, you begin to relax and find that you're actually able to look around at your surroundings and take in the sights much better.
It was only very recently that I had a conversation with a kiter on the beach about how difficult it is to wave when winging. He was kindly complimenting me at the time, saying how, as a kite foiler, had enjoyed watching me glide around on the little waves in previous sessions. Mentioning he'd waved a few times while we passed, I quickly apologised. “Sorry, it's actually quite hard to wave while winging,” I explained, which seemed to come as quite a surprise. “Oh, really?! I hadn't ever considered that.” he replied, now bemused as he looked to be reliving those moments through a different light.
We must be aware of this quiet angst brewing within the kitesurfing ranks, stemming from a false propaganda, pointing to a seeming snobbery amongst wingers. Kiters are used to being the 'latest' watersport on the beach and may recently have felt in danger of slipping into some form of antiquity, like windsurfers at the end of the nineties. No one can help them with that, but perhaps we can make everyone feel a bit better.
Undisturbed good times, Flamingo Flei, Blouberg, Cape Town Photo: Kyle Cabano
“THAT'S THE LAST TIME I'M WAVING AT A WINGER”
As a winger, the situation runs something like this: You're riding along, smiling broadly and feeling good. As a kiter gets closer, you notice they start to release their hand from the bar to give you a wave. You think, 'Shit'. They get closer and you can see their broad smile begins to fade as you turn your head away from them to look at your wing. Your own smile crawls up your face to be replaced by a brow furrowed in confusion. How to counteract this complex cultural interaction, somehow requiring extra-sensory co-ordination between your foil, limbs and wing? Which hand should you wave with, and how the hell do you balance the wing with just one hand? By the time you've decided to just smile and nod, when you look back around, the moment (and said kiter) have long since passed. Judgement cast. So how do you wave? Well, this isn't really a technique article about waving; we're talking about an important skill for ocean going wingers, relating to balance, direction, momentum, perhaps a little pumping know-how and wing handling. And people said winging is easier than kiting! What do they even know?!
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE:
- Working up to a wave
Chuck Patterson demonstrating an excellent upwind riding position. Dropping a wave from here can be complicated and take too long... Photo: Frankie Bees / Naish
GET SOME POWER IN THE WING Riding close to the wind (heading upwind) is not the best scenario for trying to take a hand off your wing. When riding upwind your wing needs to be at a very precise angle to power-up. It's a fine balance between having power and having none at all, such is the close angle to the wind. Therefore, if you attempt a wave in this position, you'll only have a very short period of time between when you depower the wing by letting go with one hand and the board losing momentum, leading to you sinking. If you end up pointing too high into the wind, you'll lose all power in your wing completely.
Another factor is that when riding upwind you're generally riding at a slower speed than when riding across the wind or slightly off the wind (downwind). This means you'll also be less stable on the foil if you try to release one hand from your wing. So, point your board onto a broad reach (heading just off the wind – beyond 90 degrees from the wind's direction). By doing this your sheeting angle for 'catching' wind will open up and you'll find that your back hand has more power available. This will not only help with picking up speed, but will also mean you can power-up again more immediately once you've finished your all important wave (or shaka... why not go all in?!).
BE PREPARED FOR THE PULL There is some extra challenge when it comes to riding your board and wing in a more downwind direction. The benefit of extra pull for more speed is also countered by the fact that the wing will be pulling you forwards in a more similar direction to that which your board is travelling. When you're riding across the wind there's a lovely amount of lateral resistance that makes you feel securely balanced between both your feet as you sheet the wing in and out nice and calmly. The further downwind you point, the more broadly the wind hits the wing and the more difficult it is to easily sheet out and ditch power.
This can lead to you feeling more precariously balanced; as if you're fighting the chances of being pulled forward over your toes. So the key here is to bend your legs, particularly your back leg, and be ready to brace against the extra pull by rooting your front heel into the board. Not exactly like a tug-of-war stance, but the physics can be similar depending on the strength of the wind. Eventually you'll learn to have a nice upright stance and feather the wing's power more effortlessly, but my point here is just to be aware that, as you point more downwind, you should be ready for a bit more power in the wing. Essentially this is because you're not as naturally balanced (and well practiced) in the position you ride across the wind.
Robby Naish on the blue wing, demonstrating a very secure downwind stance, burying his front foot into the deck to ensure he doesn't get pulled forward Photo: Frankie Bees / Naish
DOWNWIND PUMP Another benefit of heading slightly off the wind is that you should also now be moving more in the direction of the wind, so can take advantage of any bits of chop / lumps / or even rolling wind swells for extra speed / momentum. In itself this, coastal wave cruising is a technique you're no doubt aspiring to. Perhaps there's now the added motivation of being able to wave (show off) to all your mates on the water. Great stuff.
Victor Hays, cruising with is front hand free Photo: Mark Graaf
FRONT OR BACK HAND WAVES / SHAKAS? Now you're used to gaining enough momentum to consider releasing one hand from the wing you need to work on your release tactics. Of course what's immediately clear is that we can't just release our front hand with the back hand still in its normal position towards the rear of the wing. Balz Müller maybe be to do it, but for most it will result in a wing flip disaster, quite the opposite of the composed look that we're striving for. The back hand seems to be the obvious one to release, without some effort it's not easily visible for Mr/Mrs. Smiley Kiter to see your hand and involves an awkward reach forward (compromising your balance). It's best to build confidence in generating enough board speed so that you can glide for the time it takes to be able to shift your back hand to the front handle, then release your front hand, wave and then reconfigure your hands back to their normal position.
Hendrick Lopes, utilising the ease of the front handle rather than reaching fully for the neutral handle for a short glide Photo: @fningasurfkultura
HEY PRESTO But what do you know?! In doing this, you've suddenly found yourself in the perfect ride'n'glide position for riding wind chop or for pumping between swells. When trying their first glides on lumps and wind swells, very often people try to reach for the neutral handle on the leading edge too early and end up losing power in the foil very quickly. They then can't grab the riding handles again quickly enough before touch down and end up falling off. Most wings will drift nicely if you just hold the front power handle, which then also means it's much easier to get both your hands back on the power handles when you need to re-power the wing. You see this isn't really an exercise in waving, it's all about becoming a more proficient, flowing, ocean skilled rider. In case you missed it last issue, here again is the video we did with Brandon Scheid about exactly this topic:
WINGERS ARE WONDERFUL:
- A summary
DOWNWINDERS ARE A JOY There's a reason you see everyone smiling when they do a downwinder. Not only are they on an adventure, but it's the best waving practice there is. Go with the wind, take your hand off and shake it all about to anyone who can see you! In fact, while you're waving, why not try to swap hands and wave with the other? (All of a sudden you've developed advanced wave-riding wing-handling techniques!)
UPWIND NOD Upwinding is tricky to be able to hang cool with a casual wave. You're usually going upwind for a reason: either you've lost ground downwind (perhaps you're still getting to grips with the sport), or you've done a really nice wave ride and are super hungry for another one, so are cranking back upwind ASAP to claim another wave. Either way, you're on a mission, so I think a friendly smile and a nod is adequate. It beats a sudden look of confusion. So anticipate a wave and just drop the nod... perhaps even a wink if they're close enough to appreciate it... if you think it's a look you can carry off.
CROSS-WIND CARVER Most of the time we ride across the wind. We're nicely balanced and usually have a pretty decent, stable riding speed. A powerful sheet in with your wing as you then pressure your toes to point the board slightly off the wind will give you a good moment to release your back hand quickly and get that wave / shaka in action. Or you can place your back hand on the front power handle, wave with your front hand and then for extra kudos, pump your board a few times and maybe hook into a little downwind lump for some glide time. (If you look back you may see that the kiter has tripped their rail while watching your immense skills for so long).
MIDDLE HANDLE SECRETS There is often a reason that some wings have so many handles. It's not usually because the designer can't decide quite where to put them. In fact, the middle handle can sometimes be so well balanced the you can hold the wing with one hand while still benefitting from the wing's power.
Mark Shinn uses this handle with one hand when doing a board start with a sinker board because the board already creates stability through movement when he has only one hand on the wing, which helps him then get to his knees from a seated position. So in this set-up, you could try shifting your back hand to the middle handle, waving with your front hand, all nice and easy.
WAVE: to move the hand, especially alternately in opposite directions NOD: to make a slight, quick downward bending forward of the head, as in assent, greeting, or command SHAKA: Zulu military leader (Chaka), who founded the Zulu Empire in southern Africa, died 1828, now brought forward into the watersports mainstream, popularised by Robby Naish. Sometimes known as 'hang loose', the shaka is a gesture of friendly intent, often associated with Hawaii and surf culture. A solid move in any situation, on land or water.