At first the seeming accessory of choice for serious gear nerds, harnesses are now becoming more prevalent, though there are still plenty of people bashing their necessity in online groups. Have you tried one? WSW editor Jim Gaunt is now seriously hooked on the benefits of riding with a harness line

WORDS: Jim Gaunt

ABOVE: Kylie Zamati, saving energy in the Ride Engine Vinaka harness PHOTO: Eric Duran

I find myself in a period of gadget gluttony when it comes to wingsurfing. In my kitesurfing life I’m quite the opposite; trying to get away from too many devices, accoutrements and unnecessary faff. My friends will attest that even if I arrive at the spot first, I somehow end up being the last to hit the water. I'm at a loss as to what I do between arriving, checking the conditions, rigging up and getting out that I could do any quicker. Perhaps my general moving speed is a little less energetic, which is strange as my wife often tells me that the only time I move quickly is for my watersports. I must be positively pedestrian at everything else! Anyway, wingsurfing is still so new and fresh feeling with a super steep learning curve that I don’t mind taking the time to don boots (we ride off a shingle beach a lot), an impact vest and helmet. It feels like part of my wing outfit. While I’m at it, how much longer does it take to strap on a harness when I’m this tooled up anyway? I had already been lured to order a super minimal, slimline Ozone Connect harness, that features a very simple, supple, padded back section with a metal hook and single webbing strap on each side before even trying to wingsurf with my stiffly fitting, hardshell kite harness. Designed to offer just enough support without impeding movement, the Ozone Connect (initially designed for snowkiting I believe) couldn’t really be much more simple or take up any less room on my back (and is a fraction of the price of a modern kite harness). It also sits nicely in the non padded section at the base of my Mystic impact vest. I ordered my harness line from F-One, which is adjustable via a series of pigtails and knots. Very simple.

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LOVE AT FIRST FLIGHT

All set, my first session was halfway through testing the powerful seven metre F-One Strike for this issue. When the wind picked up and my arms were starting to fatigue as my riding posture became more compromised, rather than change down a wing size, I decided to try out the harness. After a couple of face plants being pulled over the front, I managed to adapt to the technique very quickly and the support from the harness absolutely transformed the wind limit in the wing and my arms. Before taking up kitesurfing in 2001, I had a lot of windsurfing experience in my teens and early 20s. Hooking in and out of a windsurfing harness became second nature, while as a kitesurfer we spend all our time pulled from the waist rather than our arms. I’ve been trying to work out if I had no other windsport experience in which using a harness is entirely necessary, would I still find a harness so appealing? My answer to that is that I’ve spent 18 months wingsurfing without a harness, so it’s not like I haven’t given it a chance. The connected, natural and effortless riding sensation that I felt within the first ten minutes of using the harness was a real game changing moment for me. I may not use a harness every session, and I certainly don’t hook in on every run, but unless wings somehow eradicate the pressure in my arms, I now can’t see myself generally not using one. It may take some of you more time to adapt to the wing-whip and hip-thrust of hooking in and then learning to trust how much body weight you can rest against the pull of the wing, but if you’ve reached a point where you’re enjoying your riding and wanting to extend your sessions, then a harness is an excellent and relatively easy (and affordable way of doing so).

“Hugely increases the ease with which you can go upwind as it makes it easier to position the wing higher into the wind.”

RIDING BENEFITS OF A HARNESS

  • Massively increases your levels of energy for longer sessions.
  • Hugely increases the ease with which you can go upwind as it makes it easier to position the wing higher into the wind. You just twist your body into wind, your wing comes with you and that’s it – you’re literally riding at a completely different upwind angle to everyone else. Also, using far less energy going upwind means you can put more effort into your downwind wave riding / pumping / jumping performance.
  • Improves the top end performance of your wing.
  • Will make it easier to ride through winter as less pressure on your fingers / hands (which is a problem in thick gloves).

Check out the brand new Ride Engine Vinaka harness below, with a sliding hook:

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“Before you go out and buy a harness and harness line, check if your wing has harness line attachment points. I have been using my harness with the F-One Strike and Freewing Air V2 wings. Both work excellently.”

DOWNSIDES OF RIDING WITH A HARNESS

  • There is a little bit of technique to master when learning to hook in and out. Although it’s not too difficult, I do think this will be an unnecessary complication until you’re riding around with good speed, making your turns and riding far downwind chasing lumps and bumps. If you’re cruising around in one spot in medium winds, you’re probably not getting that fatigued and the extra mobility of easily being able to get back onto your board is more important to have.
  • Relating to this point: having a hook in front of your belly could make clambering onto the board a bit more difficult... if you have a habit of clambering / rolling onto your board from the water. To counteract that Ride Engine have released a neat looking design that has a hook on a webbing strap that can be swept to the side, out of the way. (See above.)
  • The harness line can get in a bit of a tangle with your wrist leash at times, but once you’re up to speed on your foil, let go with your back hand and free up the leash. It’s not usually properly tangled, just a little bit caught and needs pulling down.
  • If you fall off while hooked in you may need to use your hand to free the harness line from your hook while in the water.

GO LONG

Unless you’re using a wing with a boom the option for where to position your harness is usually limited, as most wings just have two attachments points; one for each end of your harness line. So the main adjustment you can make is to the length of the harness line. My advice is to start off long. Although you may need to move your wing more to hook in that way, you won’t suddenly find yourself with lots of power and the wing very close to your body (which will pull you off balance initially). Having a longer harness line also means you still have quite a lot of movement in the wing, so you can tilt it up to depower, or twist it forward for a less powered upwind angle. The shorter lines you have, the more committed and more powerfully you’ll be riding. The advantage of a shorter harness line is there’s less dangle and when you’re committed and experienced you can lock in and ride more aggressively, but it’s also harder to unhook from. * Before you go out and buy a harness and harness line, check if your wing has harness line attachment points. I have been using my harness with the F-One Strike and Freewing Air V2 wings. Both work excellently.

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