Wing Foiling | Why Are People Drawn to It?

Wing Foiling | Why Are People Drawn to It?

What's the appeal of wing? There seems to be a lot of interest, and Tucker, Ryan, and Jeff explore why people feel drawn to it.

Tucker: It's growing so fast, and I think part of the reason is because it appeals to other avenues that people are already committed to. Surfers already know the appeal of being in the water and riding a wave. Windsurfers, kiteboarders, and sailors already understand the appeal of riding on wind power and and being on the water. I come from a background that's really varied: surfing, snowboarding, wakeboarding, skateboarding, and also sailing and kiteboarding, so it has a broad appeal. There are different reasons besides just the fact that wing foiling is fun and can be high performance and exciting. It can be both those things, but there are reasons why people are both surfing and wing foiling or windsurfing and wing foiling. There are similarities between the sports, but there is also an appeal for each.


Jeff: And there's a lot of crossover with wake. Winging has surf, it has foiling, and it has wind power, which appeals to a lot of the sports that we're talking about. I started in '82-- I'm aging myself a little bit--as a windsurfer. I was addicted to windsurfing. I had my wind surfers on top of my car, all the different sails, the dagger board... I was in love and did that for 30 years. I just got into winging two years ago, and I was at my local windsurfing spot. When I came in to the beach, they said, "You're windsurfing again!" To the casual onlooker who's not in the sport but knew that I windsurfed for 30 years, it looks like windsurfing.

Tucker: I describe it like that to people who have no idea what winging is. It's like windsurfing, but the sail's not connected to the board, and the board flies, like some Marty McFly craziness.

Jeff: As a windsurfer, you're used to holding onto a boom or handle with a sail in front of you and you're used to standing on the board, so you know the style and you're used to tacking and going upwind and doing your jibes and tacks. It's a very similar language, very similar flow, and very similar visual when you're out there on the water. I've heard from some kiters that think the wing is blocking your view, but windsurfers are used to having it there and knowing ways to dip around and look. The wing is very nice since you can put the blinds up. It also adds an element of surf and an element of foiling and pulls all that in with the elements of what it felt like to be a windsurfer ripping across the water, but you're doing it silently and smoothly.

Tucker: As a windsurfer, what has it done for your experience in terms of getting on the water and having fun on those days that aren't blowing 25?

Jeff: Winging has opened up the whole wind window. From the low end to the higher end, the stoke can be real. Even at a high performance, you can do a lot of things at the low end that you couldn't do on the low end of a windsurfer, and obviously the high end has its appeal. Even for everything in between, I think winging has leveled the field. From the beginner to the intermediate to the advanced winger in any of those conditions, you can have fun. If you want to advance in windsurfing, you need more wind and more charging conditions, where you don't need that for wing foiling.

Tucker: And it's not either/or. You can do winging when it's under 25, and you can still do windsurfing when it's blowing over 25. If you're winging just in under 25, you can get away with one wing, or two if you want to do super light wind as well. That's what I'm hearing from a lot of people from a windsurfing background. They're looking to add to their light wind fun. Sure, they can go out on a one-design board and ride in 8-9 knots, but it's not fun for them anymore and they're looking for something that's faster to set up, easier to keep with them in their car, and more compact with a broader range, and that's really what winging does for those guys, and that's the appeal for them.

Jeff: And let's just be honest- as you age and get a little older, in windsurfing there's a lot of friction a lot of contact in the water, you're bearing down, and it physically can be a demanding sport when you want to rip across the water. A lot of guys still like to feel that connection with your feet between the water and the board, but with winging, once you're on foil, it's much less demanding physically. You can do this sport into your later years and still do higher-performing things. Riding a wave doing a high-speed jibe is pretty cool. It's lower impact to ride a foil versus that whole board, so I think that's another appeal.

Tucker: As you're aging, you may not be riding as aggressively as you'd like to, and that can hold you back from something new to challenge you. Winging is so low impact that I consider it very low consequence when things happen, so it's easier to keep pushing yourself to progress.


Jeff: Why don't you hit the surf side of it?

Tucker: I think there's a lot going on in the surf side. It's exciting to see lots of high-end, pro-level and ex-pro surfers that are at the peak of their surfing game complementing that with wing foiling. You've got a huge amount of the Hawaii crowd using foils for tow-ins; even people like Laird Hamilton are showing that capability. It gives them the ability to go out on an everyday session, progress, and push their ability and their limits. If you're windsurfing in Southern California, realistically, how many days do you get where you can progress to an advanced level? You need a certain kind of wave, it's uber-crowded, and if you go out for an hour you're lucky to catch a few waves. It's still an amazing sport, but winging is another tool in your kit to go out there and make the most of the day, and that's what it's all about. You can get out there and catch every wave if you want. You can go out there and rip at high speed and do high-performance turns and maneuvers and get that feeling on a day that's much smaller and less demanding. You don't need to fly across the world to do it; a lot of our backyard conditions are pretty amazing. It's really exciting to see the surfing community group winging in as part of the sport and have so much interest from a crowd that's usually got the blinders on a bit more towards other sports. I think there's a lot of appeal from surfers progressing to prone foiling and wing foiling and even downwinding, because when it's windy you can go catch more waves and have more fun.

Jeff: I've never had surfers ask me about kiting much, but when I started wing foiling, I actually had surfers come up and talk to me because it looked like something that would appeal to what they wanted to feel in the water and to ride that wave in the toeside/heelside turn and that power of the wave.

Tucker: It's even great for surfers that aren't winging because it's pulling people out of the everyday lineup. You'd normally have another 10 guys sitting there with you, having to share waves, but now they're out 100 yards past you riding offshore waves or at a completely different break. No winger wants to ride in any kind of crowd, so you're in completely different zones and riding different parts of the wave.

Ryan: It opens up a lot of locations. One thing we haven't talked about much yet, and we're a prime example of it, is how many good surfing days do we really get here at our local break in Michigan? But if you add even just a foil, and not necessarily the wing yet, just the foil can multiply those days by 10.

Tucker: Yeah. As a beginner, you can be pretty satisfied surfing on a two-foot day with a longboard, but the more you progress, and especially with our kind of conditions where it's two foot and jumbly, not clean, longboard waves, it levels up the progression. It gives you something new to learn and it lets you take advantage of days that would otherwise be just subpar.

Kite Foilers

Jeff: Ryan, you've been foiling with a kite and behind boats, so the appeal was big for you as a wake and kite foiler.

Ryan: Yeah, I think Tucker and I both started kite foiling at about the same time with the original Liquid Force Foil Fish and then the Slingshot Hover Glide systems. Those were the first production so-called easy-to-use, user-friendly foils that came out.

Jeff: Winging's growing exponentially, and I think it's because of the appeal.


Tucker: Wake has been a growing market. People who wakeboard or wake surf, or even people who just have an outboard and have only been tubing because their wake isn't perfect are getting into foiling. There's a pretty good chance they have proximity to water because they own a boat or have friends with a boat, but on certain days it's going to be windy and you don't really want to go on the boat when it's blowing 20 or 25 miles an hour. So what do you do? Grab a wing. Then all your neighbors see you and think that looks pretty sweet, and all of a sudden you've got a bunch more people out there. Part of the appeal from the wake crowd is that you don't need to get a crew together, there's no boat, gas or maintenance, and no trailering. Another is that this is something to do on the days you'd otherwise be sitting at home or doing something else not on the water.

Stand Up Paddleboarders

Jeff: What about Stand Up Paddle?

Tucker: You can group them in with the surf crowd. Maybe I shouldn't always, but when Kai Lenny first started doing downwind paddleboarding, all of a sudden all the paddleboarders wanted a downwind paddleboard. But at that point, only Kai Lenny could do it. The gear wasn't there and the expertise wasn't there. It was almost impossible to do; you had to be Kai Lenny in the perfect conditions to make it work, but now the gear has come along and really lowered the bar for who can be out there downwinding. My buddy Matt was on an inland lake this week in about 20 knots of consistent wind, and he was paddling into boat wakes that were coming by and getting on foil and going for some short runs. Of course, Matt's a phenomenal paddleboarder, but what that tells the rest of us that aren't phenomenal paddleboarders is that with the right gear and in the right conditions, it's attainable now.

Jeff: Even if you just have a stand-up paddleboard at your cottage or lake and you only paddle around in flat water all the time, you can trade the paddle for a wing and progress into this.

Tucker: You can step into downwinding really easily with a wing because you have the wind power. As long as it's windy, you can go downwind any day you want, and that's going to help you build the skills for foiling. Downwinding has its own skill set of reading waves and finding that energy, and when you have a wing you can make those mistakes and take those risks to learn something new and still get back on foil. Otherwise, once you're lucky enough to get on foil, you're going to be so incredibly focused on not falling off foil that now you can't make a mistake or put yourself out there to try a new line, which I think is limiting towards progression.


Jeff: Let's not forget the younger age. We also want to get the next generation involved. They're already getting behind the boats and there are a lot of younger surfers. Where is winging for the younger crowd that's out there? You both have kids. Have you thought about engaging them in any of these water sports? Ryan, where would you think your kids would be?

Ryan: As they grew up and got a little bit bigger, they would hold on to the wing. It's a great family activity. It's very accessible. You can go anywhere. You can go on your family vacation that's near the water and wing. You couldn't necessarily do that with kiteboarding where you are limited to certain spots. A lot of times, unless you're going on a kite specific trip, it's not even worth bringing your gear if you're going on a family trip. With winging, it's always worth bringing gear.

Tucker: And you don't need to foil. My wife and kids have a blast just going out on a day where it's blowing 10 to 12 with a paddleboard and cruising around.

Jeff: So winging has a large appeal because you can do it anywhere.


Tucker: I'm getting a lot of sailors who are really loving winging. That's a different avenue than coming from a boardsport. If you have a larger sailboat and you're touring around, it's really easy to keep your gear on board. Winging allows you to have a lot of fun when you don't want to sail or just want a surfier experience to go ride waves or race around with your friends. It's super fun to do when you're anchored off or you're stopping somewhere. It doesn't cost anything and if you're sailing there, there's probably wind. So a huge section of the sailing community who have never done a boardsport are getting into winging.

Jeff: You don't have to worry about the kite lines; you can go right from your boat.

Tucker: Yeah, it's very accessible, and they understand the feel of sailing over water. With the America's Cup races, it's really brought foiling into the consciousness of a lot of sailors. Not to say that sailing's been stale, but it's been around a few thousand years and it hasn't changed a whole lot until the foils came into the game. Every sailor that I know wants to foil at some point, and I think wing foiling is the most accessible, affordable, and useful tool to do that for a wide audience. It gives you that feeling and performance that sailors just can't get from a sailboat without going to a foiling sailboat, and those require all kinds of money and setup and crew, so it's just not realistic for most people or even yacht clubs to own a couple of foiling sailboats. There's some real appeal there, and it's really interesting to see how some of those yacht clubs have parlayed that into race series for wing foiling.

Jeff: Well, it's about getting people on the water at the end of the day. That's what we're trying to do. Winging pulls in a lot of elements, and I think we covered it quite well, but if you have any other questions about the sport of winging, we're here to help. We'll catch you next time!

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Mr. Jeff
15th Sep 2023 Tucker Vantol & Jeff Hamilton & Ryan Hooker

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