The watersports world is currently under threat from another new sport. Wing-surfing, wing-foiling, winging, or whatever else you have heard it called, is making impressions on most shores and all over social media. Whether it's here to stay and mix it up as another sport for us to enjoy, (or simply a hiccup in development, for most to point, laugh and take the 'Mick' out of), is yet to be clear. But, with many of the top windsurf and kite brands making specific kit, it's definitely not a one-night wonder!
Where does it fit in to an already busy and somewhat opinionated small industry? Are kiters going to convert? Will windsurfers drop their booms/harnesses? Will surfers/paddle-boarders start enjoying the lack of paddling required?
From what we've seen and heard so far, it's definitely an opinion splitter; like Marmite, people seem to love it whilst others hate it.
Some of the pro watermen/women of the world seem to be embracing it. Cynics may speculate it's simply a ruse to help reel in the social media likes ... and yet some genuinely seem besotted with it.
What is clear is that it's not that easy to have a go just yet! Many of the brands did not commit to big number orders here in the UK, meaning that you may not have actually seen one in the flesh yet, let alone had a go. The 2020 windsurf and kite kit is just starting to being rolled out, and that should mean that there will be some more wings making their way to the UK. The question is: will that make 2020 the year of the wing?
On the water the wing is relatively easy to get to grips with, especially if you are coming from a windsurf/kitesurf background. A few minutes spent on land working out how to move it in relation to the wind will make life easier once afloat. Everyone that sees it for the first time asks a similar question: "Doesn't it knacker your arms?" Actually, it is surprisingly easy on the arms if you're doing it right. The wing will support your arms if flown at the correct angle, whereas if you try use the wing to create a horizontal/forward pull, your arms will suffer.
The enjoyment of winging can be hard to pin-down, especially if you're coming from another watersport. You can't do huge jumps; you can't do hugely impressive tricks, and you can't go that fast ... all of which are possible in both windsurfing and kiting! Although the sport is new, the boundaries are already being pushed. People have begun to develop the skills and kit, but you can't help but think that the jumps are tiny compared to kiting (although they have been getting higher recently) and the tricks look like dodgy attempts to follow in windsurfing's freestyle footsteps.
Surfing is definitely an area that the sport stands out in, whether that be surfing rolling swell/chop or riding unformed waves at your local break. It's an area that will appeal to some in the same way that paddleboarding in waves does ... but don't think you will be welcomed into the line-up anytime soon! You will be able to ride a big hydrofoil well before a wave starts to break, meaning you can potentially enjoy a wave and get off well before anyone has started to paddle for it. Guy Bridge has been setting the scene for winging in surf so far in UK; have a look at what he's been up to in this link.
On a non-foiling paddleboard, the wing acts a little like a windsurf rig. Steering is easy to get to grips with: weight and wing back and the board turns upwind; weight/wing forward and the board will turn away from the wind. As you build up a little speed it's tempting to bring the wing lower to help increase velocity further, but you soon realise there's not enough space, as the wing-tip catches the water! Because of this less efficient wing angle (in addition to the obvious aerodynamic inefficiencies), the board simply won't go that fast compared to windsurfing. Upwind on an inflatable was also a bit of a no-go until I located the removable daggerboard board into the windsup. Without it, I was just about cruising across the wind, but by the time I had tacked at either end of the short runs, I was definitely downwind of my starting-point. As soon as I put the daggerboard in, I was then cruising upwind, albeit not at the same close angles to the wind that you can achieve on a windsurf board. This seemed to be true in both light winds (around 10knots) and stronger breeze (around 20knots). The stronger breeze just highlighted the fact that it is simply less efficient, and more work than both windsurfing and kiting. I was being left behind by both!
On the foil is where the sport begins to come into its own ... but what you need to get out of your head are those other sports, as you won't be competing with them on any level!
You're still looking at 15knots of wind, a 4.0m² wing and 2000cm² front wing area, before being able to get up on the foil! Less wind is doable, but you're going to need to get your wing pumping to get the board speed up before a bit of foil pumping to get you moving enough to create some apparent wind. Once up and foiling, you stand very upright and change the angle of the wing lower or higher depending on gusts and lulls. But all the time, the trick is trying to get the wing to support your arms. The more you play the angles, the more you will find the support for your arms. This support does come at a cost, and that is speed, as well as upwind efficiency. Turning around will take a bit of practice, but if you've done some foiling before you will find that it requires some similar skills. Gybing is easier than tacking as you can enter the corner with a bit of speed, then fly the wing neutrally through the middle of the turn and rely on the foil to generate to the power to compensate. Depending on the size of the foil's front wing underneath you, it can help keep you up and going, gifting you the time to rotate the wing and get the power back on again. The foot change seems easier to do either before or after the turn.
Whilst a foiling tack is doable, it takes a bit of work! You can gain a lot of ground upwind from a good tack by foiling into it. Again, changing the feet either before or after the manoeuvre is easiest. Speed into the turn makes life easier but a bit of leg pumping and pointing downwind out of the turn is the key to a fully foiling tack.
For me, the flat water of Portland Harbour has provided a great arena in which to learn the skills of this new sport ... but I think it will have a shelf-life, as the other more established sports have more appeal, in terms of excitement in the flat.
Wing-surfing on swell (both at a beach and doing downwinders), DOES however have real appeal to me, as the big foils can catch relatively small swell and the wing looks like an ideal method to get onto the swell in the first place. On my the first downwinder I left the OTC slipway and went East, downwind towards the harbour's wall. As the swell built the further downwind I went, I could really feel the foil working and the wing doing less. That trip down to the harbour wall is just shy of 2 miles as the crow flies and in the two hours when I was out, I managed 19 miles up and down inside the harbour, averaging 9knots over the 2hours I was out.
Overall I think the wing will be around for a while, enjoyed by those people that aren't necessarily into speed, racing or freestyle, yet are looking for a nice way to cruise about their local spot, and even dabble with some swell that would otherwise be hard to enjoy.