You have probably seen them while walking along the local beaches. Those colorful half circles moving along the ocean’s white capped glimmering surface. Hold on a minute. The person holding that half circle seems to be levitating above the water’s surface. What in the world is that? You are witnessing a new revolution in ocean watersports. These water men and women are taking advantage of recent innovative advancements in foil and sail/kite technology. It is called wing surfing, winging or wing foiling. Or the apropos “wing dingers.” Take your pick. It is the newest and fastest growing water sport in the world.
CAN YOU DO IT?
In speaking to some of the local wingers, it is clear this is a very approachable sport for anyone to try and take up as a new outdoor activity. Many of the wing foiling folks that you see at our local beaches have a kitesurfing or windsurfing background, sometimes both. However, Force Kite & Wake shop owner Stan Radev says you do not have to have kiting or windsurfing experience. Radev adds that it helps a little bit, but he estimates 80% of the winging packages purchased are by the person that just wants to pick up a new sport or thinks that it looks cool. Local winger David Ryerson learned to wing foil as the sport was just getting started here two years ago. He did not have surfing or kitesurfing experience and said “it is the most fun I have ever had in my life. For me, it is the most incredible feeling…a very healthy addiction.”
While it is an approachable sport for anyone, Radev says most people who are coming from sailing or kiteboarding backgrounds also go through a learning curve. “It’s harder than it looks…so you need to go through the proper steps.” Radev says lessons are best because “it will short cut a lot of the corners.” Ryerson agrees, adding that if any of this sounds intimidating, the wing course is highly recommended. Sealand Adventure Sports shop owner, Scott Hyland adds that "wing surfing is less intimidating for most people. It has more access to water since long kite lines in kitesurfing can be restrictive on where you launch. As you progress, you can really charge the waves."
Force Kite & Wake Instructor Michael Brandon says winging is so approachable you can purchase your own gear and go out and learn by yourself. Winging does not require a foil as you can use a wing on a simple stand-up paddle board or floaty windsurf board. That is the easiest and safest way for beginners to learn this new sport. Brandon also recommends taking lessons because that provides the fastest learning curve. Both Force Kite & Wake and Sealand Adventure Sports started providing winging lessons this year.
Brandon says it usually takes 3 separate lessons to get up and going on the foil using the wind to power the wing. The first lesson is to teach basic wing handling on the beach, then get on the water with a stand-up paddle board using the wing to get the feel of the mechanics of the wing generating power. The second lesson is to learn how to get up on a foil, by using electronic foil board technology, also known as E-foils. This is the easiest and best way to get the feel of how a foil board behaves underneath your feet. Plus, the size of the E-foil board closely resembles the size of a wing board. The third lesson puts it all together on the water with the wing and the wing foil board.
Radev emphasized safety, to approach it the right way, and to choose the proper gear. He added that it is quite easy to take the wrong approach, buy the wrong equipment, and not like the sport if you do not get the proper guidance by local knowledgeable people. Without the proper knowledge in any ocean water sport, emergencies can happen quickly. Take Charleston’s notorious fast moving tidal currents for example. Radev says it helps to know what kind of board and wing work best in your local waters, where to go winging and in what conditions so you do not get yourself in trouble.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Attempts at launching winging as a new sport have occurred before. The aptly named Wind Weapon was first introduced by Tom Magruder in the mid 1980s in the Columbia River Gorge area near Hood River, Oregon. Search “wind weapon” on YouTube to see that early invention in action. However, modern wind sport board foils had not been developed at that time, and the sport never really took off. Fast forward to 2011 when Tony Logosz, also in Hood River, took what Magruder had done and worked on more development. However, Logosz felt it was still not quite ready for prime time. When board foiling technology improved soon after that, he began to see the possibilities of the combination and knew user adoption would soon take off. In 2019 within a couple of weeks of each other, Robby Naish introduced the Wing-Surfer through his Naish brand and Logosz, through his company Slingshot, introduced the SlingWing. More sail wing and wing specific board introductions followed soon after from other companies.
WINDSURFING & KITESURFING EXPLAINED
Explaining winging and wing foiling first requires some background on the other two related wind powered water sports. For the uninitiated, windsurfing is best simply described as a surfboard powered by a sail connected to the board that the sailor holds on to, using the sail's boom handle. Kitesurfing is best simply described as a small surfboard or wakeboard powered by a kite with long strings that the rider holds on to, via a handle where the strings are attached. Both ocean wind sport endeavors have unique differences and advantages depending on who you talk to.
Winging simplifies things. It provides the sail power in the wind but is not attached to the board like windsurfing and it is not attached to strings like kitesurfing. Radev says, “it’s a very small foot print and is more sustainable to gusty winds.” The wing is lightweight with inflatable leading edges and a single inflatable center strut that provides the rigid stability in the wind. The rider can hold them using a boom or handles on the center strut. This enables beginners to learn a new wind sport more quickly and with less effort. It also allows advanced riders to surf ocean swells on the foil while “luffing,” the term for letting the wing fly out in a neutral position in the wind.
Adding a foil to any water sport introduces another dimension and increased difficulty all to itself. Both windsurfing and kitesurfing have incorporated foil technology in recent years to add a different sensation and feel out on the water. One can ride in more places with less wind. There are now foils on surfboards as well. The foil consists of a front wing and a smaller rear wing connected by a strut. The strut is attached to a mast, which is attached to where a rear fin would normally be located at the underneath rear of the board.
Think of a foil wing as an airplane wing. As the water rushes over the front and rear foil wing, these foil wings act like an airplane wing and create lift under water. This lift brings the board out of the water and now the rider is levitating while moving forward at various speeds. Normal surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing gives you the feel and sensation of the board on the water and you can feel everything the water’s surface is doing underneath you. Adding the foil makes you feel like a pelican stealthily gliding over the surface of the water. Like floating on clouds.
HOW ABOUT CHARLESTON?
There are notoriously windy spots around the world such as Hood River Oregon, Cape Hatteras NC, and Capetown South Africa to name a few. Charleston’s local beaches are known for its mostly user-friendly wind. Wind speeds here usually average 15-20+mph, which is a perfect range for learning to wing. Charleston beaches are also known for less than perfect waves. You will not find Pipeline or Jaws here, but you will find small 1-3 foot surf that is also perfect for wing foiling.
Ryerson says “coastal Charleston is epic for water and wind driven sports like winging, and our community is super friendly and helpful. Conditions are perfect for beginners to intermediate and advanced riders…beautiful beaches, soft sugar sand, flat water shoals, gentle to larger head height rolling swells and the harbor for those more daring. Depending on weather, tides, wind direction, wave height and water and air temperature, there are many beautiful spots to enjoy.”
LETS GO WINGING
Sealand Adventure Sports' Hyland says "I believe the industry thought that more paddle boarders would convert to wingers but that's simply not the case. More and more kiteboarders are starting to convert to wing surfing. It's like a hybrid between windsurfing and kiteboarding." Force Kite & Wake's Brandon says that although kitesurfing is still immensely popular in the Charleston area, winging is growing rapidly. He estimates their shop is seeing twice the interest they saw last year. Force Kite & Wake's Radev predicts that in a couple of years, you will see just as many wingers on the water as you see kiters.
If you are walking along the beaches and see the wingers out there doing their thing, now you know what it is all about. Perhaps you have the itch to learn the newest and fastest growing water sport. Perhaps you’ve watched our local low country pelicans glide so gracefully over the ocean’s surface and always wanted to know what that felt like. So get out there, visit the local shops, take a lesson, and just “wing it.”
Where to locally get winging lessons and purchase gear:
1405 Ben Sawyer Boulevard, #100
Mount Pleasant, SC
2120 Middle Street
Sullivan’s Island, SC