Kiteboarder's Perspective on How to Choose the Right Wing Foiling Wing

Kiteboarder's Perspective on How to Choose the Right Wing Foiling Wing

Aaron: I had a question for Tucker, for those of us who both kite and wing. On a kite, there's a certain set of things that I want to know when we're looking at a kite review, like power, upwind ability, and relaunch. How does that translate to wing? What are the elements that you're looking at? Obviously, relaunch isn't a factor.

Tucker: Well sort of. When you drop the wing in the water, you have to get it back in your hands and into the air, so that is kind of a relaunch, but yeah, it's not as critical when it's right there and you can manhandle it. But a lot of it's the same: we're talking about a sail, a foil shape, lift, forward drive, the creation of apparent wind... a lot of that is all the same in terms of concepts. It breaks down a little differently in winging because there are different needs and different riding styles, and some things like turning speed are negated because the wing is right next to you.

Aaron: So when you're a consumer and you're doing research, what are those factors that you're personally looking for in a wing?

Tucker: There are some differences right from the get-go with wings. You get wings that are very lifty and grunty. They're "pull-and-go" because they're going to create a lot of lift and get you up on foil very quickly without a lot of boardspeed. You could be at a standstill, and with a powerful pull, you're up and off. On the flipside of that, there are wings that want to pull forward and create forward momentum rather than pulling up or downwind. They want to slide forward and create more apparent wind and boardspeed, and those tend not to get up on foil quite as easily. It takes a couple more pumps to build the speed and the lift, but then once you begin to move and go faster, you're really compounding the wind through the wing, creating that apparent wind and creating more power out of boardspeed and forward momentum. They all have their own benefits and drawbacks. A grunty, lifty wing tends to be a little easier to get up on foil because you can just pull up on them like a pull-up bar, whereas with those more forward-pulling wings you want to build that speed more, so it's a slightly different technique and maybe a bit more of an intermediate riding style.

Aaron: But then you're going to jam back upwind on the low end.

Tucker: Yeah, you're going to create more boardspeed and apparent wind off of those forward-pulling wings. They do tend to go upwind a little better because they're not dragging you downwind, kind of like kites. You get those kites that pull like a truck, but then you've really got to force them to drag them upwind. It's the same kind of idea with wings. Those forward-pulling wings also tend to have more range on the top end, so you can ride them really overpowered, whereas the grunty wings are very punchy and wanting to lift you off your feet if you're riding in overpowered conditions. The ones that want to slide forward rather than yanking you downwind or lift you off your feet just want to create more speed, so as long as your foil can handle that, then you're okay. You can really drop your foil size because as soon as you get them moving, the next thing becomes controlling that speed so you're not getting over-lifted. It's also a benefit; you don't always need to go Mach 10, but a smaller foil that's faster is also going to have a smaller wingspan, so now you have a foil that glides really well, is very capable in terms of speed, but also is very capable in turns. A high-aspect wing with a bigger size has great low end, great glide, and a pretty good top end range, but the wingspan gets pretty cumbersome in a rolling turn, especially in a powered situation where you're going fast. They're really not going to want to roll over and do a Mach 10 banking turn, so sizing down lets you get the best of all worlds. You don't get a real low end in terms of light wind ability on a setup like that, but as long as you're riding in decent wind, you just size up your wing and that lets you ride that smaller foil.

Aaron: So we talked about grunt and forward drive... how about handling the wing, negotiating turns? Are some wings better at entering into a turn and exiting out of a turn than others? What are the things you're looking for there? Something that's going to float and drift a little bit while you come around?

Tucker: Yeah. Again, there are a lot of variables. You can talk about how a wing luffs if you're doing a jibe. Is it going to fall in front of you? Is it going to just hang out in front of you? A lot of that has to do with the wind speed. A lot of times I'm not just dropping my wing and letting it luff into a jibe unless I'm riding a wave and then I'm turning into a jibe. I'm going to hang onto the wing through two-thirds of the turn and then switch, so the luffing doesn't really play in as much. Those forward-pulling wings tend to be a lot easier to complete a tack because, when you're going up into the wind, they don't have as much drag, where the grunty wings tend to have a lot more drag through the canopy. You're going to have to fight and muscle a grunty wing through the wind, and that decelerates you. It's amazing how quickly you decelerate on a wing that has more drag in a tack, but the flipside of that is you can give it a couple of pumps and you're off to the races.

Aaron: Once you bank onto a swell, how do you characterize the ability to flag the wing out and have it float and not want to tip over and flip around on you? What kind of terminology do you use?

Tucker: That has more to do with the dihedral shape of the wing. The more dihedral there is, the more unwieldy it's going to be side-to-side. It also has a lot to do with the handle and if it's sloppy or if you can really grab hold of it and manhandle the wing. With a lot of these new hard handles on the strut, you can grab the front of it, and that can give you a little bit more leverage and control over the wing, and even a little power if you need it. It definitely makes it easier if you need to quick grab it with two hands or if you want to throw it over your head. A lot of times I'll throw it over my head with the center strut resting on my shoulder as I'm going down straight down the line, and that keeps it from falling in front of me and tripping me up. It also lets me see what I'm doing, rather than having a big wing in front of me while I'm trying to navigate a wave face. So there are a lot of variables in winging, and some of it's just personal preference, obviously. Some people swear by this wing or that wing.

Aaron: Sure, and we do that with kites too.

Tucker: Having a discussion with somebody that really knows their stuff can help. Our guys here at the shop can say, "Hey Tucker, I've been on this wing and that wing, and I really like this but I didn't like that. I'm considering this other wing- what do you think?" And I can say, "Yeah, that sounds like a good choice," or, "Oh, no, no. That's a lot like the one you don't like." There are a lot of variants in wings now, which is great. Lots of good flavors to choose from. Maybe that black licorice isn't for everybody, but it's nice to have some flavors other than vanilla. Two three years ago, everything was just so middle-of-the-road. Everything was kind of a do-it-all, jack-of-all-trades with medium power delivery. It kind of pulls forward, it kind of has a little grunt, but with no polarizing aspects to the wing. It's good for everything but not great at anything, so seeing some of these polarizing models in the industry is really cool.

Just to touch on those real quick, the Unit is very grunty. The Slingwing is very grunty. The Slick SLS, North Mode, and Ocean Rodeo Glide Aluula are very forward-pulling, quick, fast wings. A lot everything else falls somewhere in between on that spectrum, but it is good to know what kind of wing you like, though that may change depending on the conditions. I tend to like those faster, forward-pulling, speedy wings, but there are a lot of situations where I'll grab a Unit or a Slingwing and have a lot of fun on that. In light wind it makes it easy to pull and go, and if you aren't riding for a lot of speed, that can still be a consideration. Or maybe I'm testing a bigger board and foil, and then who cares if the wing can go Mach 10 when the foil only goes Mach 3. Since I don't need that speed, I'll take the easy up-and-go. Sometimes your wing complements your board and foil. Those bigger boards and foils really like that easy up-and-go. But a fast foil with a grunty wing will get you right up on foil, and then you immediately max out and you can either ride overpowered and uncomfortable on the wing while the foil just wants to keep going faster, or the foil wants to go faster and the wing has too much drag. So those are some things to consider. There's a lot there and, honestly, I don't think there's a clear answer for everybody. It's not like A plus B equals C. There are more variables than that.

Aaron: To summarize, coming from the kite world, I know there are some things that I'm going to be looking for in a kite. I want to know about the low end power, the upwind ability, the jumping, the relaunch, and a few other things. How does that translate to wing, in a few points?

Tucker: The people that have been doing this a while have ridden a lot of different wings and they'll have an idea of some models they like or interfaces they like, and it's pretty easy to hone that down for them. For a new rider, I'd say some things you can look at are the interface of the wing, so a handle or a boom or loops... something that's appealing and makes sense to you. Having an idea of what kind of riding you might want to do also helps. Are the waves really appealing to you, or are you in the middle of Kansas where you're never going to see a wave unless you go on vacation? So knowing if you're going to want to get into freestyle, racing, waves, freeriding, or a bit of everything helps inform some of those decisions. What kind of wind range are you going to be flying, realistically? If you're in Maui, maybe you won't care that much about the latest and greatest in 8 meter wings. But if you're somewhere in Southern California, maybe you do want to know all about the latest and greatest in light wind wings, and you're going to consider the low end more than its range in the high end or its performance in overhead swell. Knowing some of those variables is definitely important, as well as considering the gear you're riding.

Aaron: So it's a bit more complex. I feel like kiting is an easy translation. We know the recipe and, based on X, Y, and Z, I can pick out a kite because I know what I like in a kite. On a wing it seems like, especially for the beginner, there may be more variables. So that's where, if you have questions, please don't hesitate to pick up the phone or shoot us an email. I know what I'm looking for in a kite, but how do I do that in a wing? I'm new on winging too, so I'm running through those processes in my own mind. So bottom line- if you have questions, give us a shout. You know we're always happy to help with that.

Tucker: We're also over-complicating things a little here. We're talking about minute details of things that really only matter to very picky people or very advanced level riders that are looking for peak level performance in certain areas. For new riders... honestly, grab just about anything. As long as it's the right size, it's gonna work. Are there advantages to some wings over another? Absolutely. We can definitely help you pick the right one there and focus on beginner ease-of-entry into the sport, make your life good, and make the most of the equipment you have without having to buy five wings. But the reality is that they're all pretty middle-of-the-road in comparison to kiteboarding. In kites, you can certainly make a bad choice with a kite that's just not right for a beginner or even outright dangerous without the right level of experience, but with winging it's really not like that. There are definitely benefits to every choice as well as drawbacks, and we can help anybody understand those and make the right choice. Another easy button is just to look at our packages. These are pre-built for new riders at a great price and are going to have exactly what you need as a new rider.

Aaron: Tucker, thanks for helping to explain some of this. As I'm talking with you, I'm always learning because you have a wealth of information. Thanks for joining us. This has been Tucker and Aaron at MACkite. If you have any more questions about wings, sizing up the wing, and the difference between kite characteristics and wing characteristics and how you pick out the right wing for you, pick up the phone and give us a call. Until then, we hope to see you on the water.

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9th Mar 2023 Tucker Vantol & Aaron Johnson

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