How to Start Wingfoiling

There are few ways to get into wingfoiling. YouTube helps.
There is a great school at Lake Pupuke on Auckland’s North Shore.
Since it is such a new sport, opinion on the best way to learn can vary.
Also, your watersports’ background and natural ability play a big part.
Any foiling experience (kite, windsurf, surf, sup) will help, as well as kiteboarding, windsurfing or sailing. However, the wonder of wingfoiling is that you can learn to do it with no experience in any other watersport.

My wife, aged 50+, was one such pupil, zero foiling and sailing experience, but a competent sup surfer (translating into board skills and good balance). For her, I broke the wingfoiling learning process into three parts (handwing only with no foil, foiling behind the boat, then combining the handwing with a foilboard), dealing with each on different days in one hour sessions.

My wife’s advantage is that she has access to all the required equipment and a reasonably priced instructor. Advice on buying your own gear is the subject of another article. Subsequently, we did buy her some small, used, handwings (she weighs only 50kgs) on Trademe at a good price. It’s best that she has her own wings (4m, 3.5m & 2.8m), because when learning the handwings do get a hard time (riding over them on the board for example). Subjecting my favourite gear to such trauma was not a good idea. When learning, having the latest generation handwing made by the brand of the month (favoured brands change pecking order regularly given the sport is evolving so quickly) is not critical, the right size to generate sufficient power is most important.

Since she only weighs 50kgs her “big” wing is a 4m. For heavier learners a 5m is a better size. When learning “power is your friend” – meaning plenty of breeze, a big handwing, big foil front wing (under the board) giving you plenty of lift to get going. However, there were a few earlier steps we went through before putting it all together.

We pumped up the handwing on land on a windy day in an area that was exposed to the wind. She held the wing, played with it, got surprised by how much power it had, and gybed it (changed hands to switch direction of the wing). The benefit of this short exercise was to gain some familiarity with the wing before hitting the water standing on a board. Any progression you can do with the least amount of hassle is worth it. Small steps are all that is needed in the beginning with each session being better than the previous one.

The first session on the water with the handwing was on a normal, stable, SUP (stand up paddleboard). No foil rig was attached underneath the board. The purpose was to learn to use the handwing to capture the wind, generate power and move the board forward. We changed the front hand holding the handwing to gybe (change direction turning with the wind – as opposed to a tack, which is a turn into the wind). This resulted in her heading off downwind, so a boat was necessary to bring her back up wind to repeat the exercise a few times.

For the next session on the water we used on old, long windsurf board with a centre board. This was also very stable and with the centreboard down it meant we did not lose as much ground downwind. Without the trauma of adding a foil to the mix these two sessions let my wife get very familiar with how the handwing worked to generate enough power and speed, which will be essential when a foil is added.

Next we put her behind the boat with a tow rope using a sup foil board, so she knew what it felt like to be foiling. It was important for her to get used to the height and feeling of foiling and having her control the lift. This was all done at a low speed, so she was the one responsible for pumping the board up onto the foil, rather than driving the boat at high speed to achieve this.

Breaking wingfoiling down into its component parts and dealing with one aspect at a time is the best preparation resulting is faster progression.

The fourth session involved a foilboard, which was relatively stable, combined with the handwing. As a beginner the worst mistake you can make is to have a board that is too small (unstable) for you. Growing out of your first foilboard is a nice problem to have as it means you are progressing well. Bigger volume foil boards sell really easily as there are always new people wanting to learn to wingfoil. Again, we needed the boat, because to go fast enough to generate lift to get foiling, a beginner will need to charge off downwind, so the boat is needed to (rescue) bring them back upwind for another go. It is counter-productive to try and stay upwind when learning, by doing so you won’t be able to generate enough speed to get up onto the foil, which is obviously what we are trying to achieve. For the record, once you know what you are doing, wingfoils truck up wind really well, because the foil makes them so efficient given they have very little drag.

To my wife’s credit, she did get up foiling with the handwing, only for about 15 seconds, followed by a controlled crash, but I consider this to be excellent progress. She did this a few times and is keen as to get back out on the water. She did go in both directions. One direction will always feel better than the other (depending on whether you are a goofy or natural footer). To change direction (gybe), come off the foil (when learning at least), head downwind, swap your front hand on the wing, which will turn you the other way. For a detailed breakdown of how to gybe click here. My wife’s great progress is testament to the sport of wingfoiling, as to how doable it is and why it has gained such wide appeal so quickly.

The main hurdles when learning are getting enough breeze, because a learner needs it, the sea state not too choppy, a support boat given how far downwind you travel, a big front foil wing to generate lots of lift, a stable board and an experienced person offering advice from the boat. No worries if you can’t put all this together from the get-go, as it will simply take a bit more time to progress.

Summary
1. Play with the handwing on land in some breeze.
2. Get towed behind a boat on a foilboard at low speed to learn how to foil.
3. Learn to use the handwing on the water on a sup or windsurf board that is stable, ignoring the foiling aspect at this stage.
4. Understand that you will end up a long way downwind, so have a plan to get back to where you started, but ideally you want your own support (rescue) boat.
5. Pick a day with plenty of wind and not too much swell.
6. Combine the handwing with the foil board and try and achieve sufficient board speed to generate lift from the foil.
7. Come off the foil to change direction (gybe) by turning downwind and switch your front hand on the wing to turn.