That’s why I started Wing Foil

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Spring means more wind and less waves, so why limit yourself to surfing? Photo: Uniqsurface//Unsplash

Here in San Francisco, spring means many things, all negative for surfers. The winter swell from the northwest is starting to subside, so the waves at my beloved Ocean Beach are getting smaller, the wind shifts from offshore to offshore, and to top it all off, there’s fog. This spring, I decided that instead of taking my longboard out to slop onshore, I was going to learn a wind sport. I chose wing foiling, and for about a month, I have had (almost) as much fun as in surfing. The learning curve is meteoric, exponential, even, and I’m sure it’s something every surfer should at least try. Here’s why.

Sailing sports and surfing work perfectly opposite each other – calmer winds are better for surfing, while the wind is, obviously, better for sailing sports. I was also drawn to the fact that sailing sports are more versatile than surfing in that you only need one body of water – any body of water – to practicing them, which as a surfer means I could possibly spend more time away from the ocean without going crazy. And the foil, unlike windsurfing or kitesurfing, is relatively compact and accessible. And the crossovers between foiling and surfing cannot be denied. So when Slingshot, a windsurfing manufacturer in Hood River, Oregon, asked me if I wanted to borrow some gear to try foiling, I immediately said yes.

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A board, a foil and a kite are all you really need to get started. Pictured is the Slingshot board and foil, mentioned below, and a borrowed F-One 4.2 Swingwing for the windier days. Photo: WS

The equipment I received and learned on is surprisingly simple. A WingCraft 90L board with a big, stable Slingshot foil (the PFI 835/710) underneath, a five-meter Slingwing V3, and I was set. I’ve been venturing further afield lately, like to the Golden Gate Bridge, so I’m wearing a PFD because my mom and my girlfriend made me promise to (call me considerate).

I’ve been going there about five to seven times a week for a little over a month and reaping the rewards. It took me about a week to figure out the wing and figure out how to get on the foil. At the end of the following week, I rode for 20-30 seconds before falling. The week after, I rode as long as I wanted and stayed upwind (the most important breakthrough moment). I can now cruise from Crissy Field to the Golden Gate Bridge, carve and ride the swell bumps that come through, and I can turn and go sideways maybe 70% of the time. And every day that I go out, I get closer to the old people that I see take off from the shore and stay on the foil until they come back an hour later, delighted and satisfied.

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In theory, all you need is a body of water (fresh or salt) and a little wind to have fun with a kite. No wave required. Photo: Uniqsurface//Unsplash.

The learning curve, while steep, is not painless. Until you can stay upwind, wing foiling sucks. If you can’t stay upwind, you have to gain that downwind potential energy in some other way, like bringing it up the beach while wrestling a kite in one hand and a foilboard in the other with the mast. stuck in your shoulder. Oh and it’s windy so everything falls apart, the kite and the board both want to go the opposite direction you’re walking, your hair is in your face and the frustration is compounded by other wingmen who trot towards the water, throwing themselves, and coming up to the wind without effort. Meanwhile, you’re out there, drifting aimlessly downwind as you try to figure things out. Thank goodness this stage only lasted a few weeks.

Occasionally though, that sailing sports frustration will come back, like when I break the foil and fall flat on my stomach at 15 miles per hour. And as I go, there are days when it’s too windy for my five-meter kite and I get really beaten up. That last part drives up the cost – I was lucky enough to start with borrowed gear but as I start buying my own – a smaller wing for the windier days, a more advanced foil, etc – the cost is quickly accumulating.

Fortunately, as the sport grows in popularity, a robust used market develops and new technologies increasingly reduce the cost of entry – you can often find fenders in good condition on Craigslist for as little as 350 $. And for the most part, that’s all you need to get started. As part of my learning process, I fitted an old paddle board with the SUP reel (a relatively new device that attaches to the bottom of any paddle board like the keel of a sailboat) to practice using the wing before moving on to the foilboard. I saved it to give my friends a taste and so far everyone who has tried it has had fun figuring out how to harness the wind in such a user-friendly way. Best of all, I didn’t feel the need to take expensive classes. Slingshot’s Foil Academy, a free online course, gave me just enough of that classroom knowledge to go out and figure out the rest on my own.

One of the biggest surprises coming from surfing where noobs are almost universally hated was the friendliness of the wind scene. Instead of grunts and cold shoulders, I got the “welcome to the family” treatment and a little more guidance than I expected. As the wind drops in the evening, everyone lingers, cleaning their gear, opening the cold and chatting about the day’s adventures. At least in my breezy little corner of the world, there’s always someone to ask for advice if you need it, or borrow a pump if you’ve forgotten yours.

In case you can’t tell, I am. If there are waves, I will always surf, and I have no reason to approach a queue with my underwater guillotine. But this new quest leads nowhere. And that’s one hell of a day’s activity.

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