How to Choose the Right Wing, Foil and Board
This is the third and final blog on my Wingsurfer’s Guide Through Progression. If you missed the two earlier blogs on getting started you can review them here and here. They will help to give some context on my experience during the early days (funny, just 3 months ago) and lead up to this final blog. Thanks in advance for reviewing and hopefully this will help some of you out that are learning this relatively new sport. Now well into my efforts to become better at winging, I’m very happy with the progress to date. As mentioned in previous blogs, it’s a quick learn if you can keep at it. I’ve had the luxury of getting to try a good amount of the F-One Winging lineup and finding the right gear for the right conditions is helpful and makes the learning curve much quicker. With the right gear you’ll spend way more time up foiling and avoid getting exhausted trying to get up or stay up on foil. After a few months of practice, I can now competently get up on foil, stay upwind, tack, jibe, surf swell and have a great time out on the water doing it. Throughout this time, I started on larger boards, foils and wings and moved to smaller ones as my skills progressed. Here’s what I found works well for me now.
The Right Wing.
The F-One Swing 4.2M, Rocket Wing 5’4” board and Gravity 1800 has pretty much been my go to setup for most conditions here in La Ventana Mexico. We get regular 18-20 knot days but this season it’s been not nearly as consistent with many lighter days and some heavy gusty conditions at other times. What I found in experimenting with different combinations is the 3.5M Swing vs 4.2M with either the Gravity 1400 foil or Gravity 1800 foil (lighter wind) and Rocket Wing 5’4” felt really great. The smaller outline of the 3.5M Swing was easier to handle and more maneuverable especially downwind swell riding where the larger wings may have to be held up in lighter winds. There was also minimal chance for wingtip drag in the water compared to the larger 4.2M, 5M or 6M Swings. It wasn’t that much more to get up on the board with the 3.5M than the 4.2M on average wind days (18-20). And once up it’s really easy to keep foiling especially if I opted to go with a larger foil. The exception to this is if I’m practicing tricks and want more power or when it’s really light wind then the larger wings and foil combinations are great to have in your equipment quiver. Granted you may settle on one or more of the bigger size Swings as your favorite(s) especially if you are a larger rider. Also keep in mind that the Swing is extremely versatile with huge wind range so you can get away with just one wing and I have a number of friends that do this, but it’s sure nice to pair the correct size wing for the right wind conditions. And the cost of Swing’s are usually the lowest cost item in your winging equipment list vs. foils and boards so it makes sense to have two or even three in your quiver. F-One makes Swing wings in 2.8M, 3.5M, 4.2M, 5M and 6M that will get you on the water starting at 10 knots and keep you there up to a small hurricane. Many other companies offer similar sizing so no matter what brand you’re on it’s worth checking out.
The Right Foil.
My quiver of foils consists of a 1200cm first generation F-One wing and 1400cm, 1800 cm and 2200cm Gravity wings. One very windy day as an experiment I opted for the 1200cm foil because I wanted to get more of the loose and carving surf “feel” and get as much speed as possible. At 160lbs/72kg this is on the threshold of what I’m able to wingsurf on and constantly stay on foil. But it only works when it’s REALLY windy (consistently over 30 knots). When I would fall the smaller foil had me struggling to get back up on foil although it was very thrilling to ride. More realistically I would use the Gravity 1400 wing on stronger wind days or the Gravity 1800 wing in lighter or inconsistent wind and the 2200 only comes into play when there’s no or few whitecaps. Each wing size larger that you go to becomes incrementally slower and I love to ride swells so this became an important factor. The swell offshore in the channel here in La Ventana runs down the bay really fast. In order to stay on a swell for a longer ride you need to maintain a lot of speed. The Gravity 1400 keeps great speed when up on foil and is well suited for these conditions. It also helped to have a smaller foil when dropping into larger swells as trying to keep the foil down while building more and more speed can be challenging. However, if the winds lighter or I’m opting to ride the swell and waves at some of the reefs closer to shore, these swells are much slower in speed and its often less windy so the Gravity 1800 works really well there. On both setups I opt for the C300 Surf Stabilizer tail wing which allows for a bit more roll that the standard stabilizer. In one configuration (Gravity 1800) I use a custom tail stabilizer which I cut down in size by removing the winglets and sanding everything out. This reduces lift and creates a more loose feel (it basically turns my Gravity 1800 into a 1600) and allows for more roll and yaw. F-One will be releasing a smaller stabilizer, a higher aspect wing and updates to some of the existing wing line up allowing more configurations and choices that will be available soon. It’s also really important to consider what size rider you are. Larger riders may need larger foils like the Gravity 1800 or Gravity 2200. You can offset this somewhat and get away with a smaller foil as a larger rider by using a bigger Swing like the 5M or 6M giving you more lift from the wind. A lot if it boils down to personal preference but these should provide some guidelines.
The Right Board.
Now that I’ve progressed I do occasionally go back and forth between the sinker (Rocket Surf 5’0” 35L) and the rocket wing (Rocket Wing 5’4” 60L). But ultimately the Rocket Wing wins for the simple fact that gains in performance aren’t enough to outweigh ease of use. Ease of use being defined as getting on foil with the least amount of effort or energy exerted. Being able to get up on foil and not struggle with getting to your feet is super important. Your sessions become much more enjoyable when your spending most of your time on foil and not laboring over getting to your feet. Unless the conditions are really good it takes a lot of energy to get going on an undersized board which reduces your overall session time and often leaves you falling more because your tired. It’s also a disadvantage to be riding an oversized board with more surface area than necessary. The result can mean the bottom of the board sticking to the water when trying to get up on foil or having a “wheely” affect where the weight of the board is counter balancing the foil underneath you so you’re struggling to keep it on foil as the case with many of the larger sup style boards. Also, as you progress things like swing weight and surface area come into play when tacking for example where you want to minimize your outline as you are going directly into the wind during transitions. The Rocket Wing boards were designed specifically to address the need for volume and performance for our wingsurfing sport. They are extremely well balanced, buoyant and stable given their size and very forgiving once on foil. My experience was that once on foil, the Rocket Wing board allowed me to get away with many errors in foot placement after switching stance compared to smaller boards. It also allowed for much more ease in getting up than a lower volume board and provides far superior maneuverability compared to larger boards. Using the right size board can make a huge difference in your progress. In general, the recommendation for board sizes are as follows. For a beginner your weight (in kg) + 40 liters, for intermediates your weight in kg + 10L and for advanced riders your weight in kg -15L. Of course there are riders that may be much larger and need a high volume board and conversely riders that due to youth, fitness, expertise or sheer willpower can ride much smaller volume boards but these guidelines should cover the majority of riders.
Non equipment related topics that were useful to learn along the way. There are many ways to learn wingsurfing and these are things that were helpful to me. I’ll add the standard disclaimer to not hate me if you do it differently J. But before that, will make one more plug for an accessory. Use a harness line! The F-One Swing comes with pre-stitched webbing to easily add an inexpensive accessory harness line available from your dealer. This is super beneficial and will keep you from getting tired when going upwind so unless you plan on only doing downwind runs it’s an easy decision to get a harness line. As a side note, when you’re getting up the harness line can sometimes swing back and forth and hit you. One trick I learned was to use my index finger or thumb to grab the harness line where it attaches to the strut while holding the handles which takes the swinging out of the equation when starting off in the water to get up on foil. Once on foil it’s not really an issue. Also, don’t forget to try the different settings for harness line length. I preferred to have the harness line at the shortest setting (third knot) bringing the Swing in closer to my body for my shorter arm length and better control.
When you’re out on the water try and create the best possible outcome each time you prepare to get up on the foil. Get yourself mentally and logistically ready before every attempt to get foiling. As mentioned, more attempts to get up on foil equals less water time and getting tired much sooner. When you fly the wing on the beach it’s much different than in the water as everything is suddenly moving around and stability becomes a challenge. Depending on where you ride you may have gusty, shifting or inconsistent winds which can challenge your ability to get enough lift from the Swing or unexpectedly pull you off while in transition to your feet. Chop and swells can make balancing while still in the water on your knees very a rollercoaster ride as they lift the board from behind and the sides randomly. Kelp or seagrass can slow or stop you at any time if it wraps around the mast or foil. Here’s a sort of checklist of things that may help. Check to make sure your board leash is clear and not wrapped around your mast, stabilizer wing around an ankle or running between your legs. I attach my leash to the back of my harness to keep it away from my feet. It often ends up between your legs after a fall but is easy to clear. When you’re on your knees prior to getting up standing just lift the knee then ankle while pulling the leash gently back around your foot. Check the wrist leash is on and adjusted, keeping it loose enough to rotate on the wrist. You can get some more life out of your wrist leash if you spin it and unwind the leash where it attaches to the leading edge as it often winds and wraps tightly after several falls. Check around you and make certain no other kiters or obstacles are near before initiating getting to your feet. Look at your board positioning and make sure you start off at a downwind angle. This generally puts the swells behind you and makes it more stable since you’re not getting hit from the side with swell. Also, when starting on your knees, place them far apart which gives you more leverage to balance the board (or counter balance roll) while you’re getting in position to grab the handles on the wing. If it’s a light wind day look for upwind of you for signs of gusts coming and more wind. There’s no sense in trying to get up on foil if it’s light you just exert a ton of energy. Look upwind, read the water and watch when gusts are coming then get on your knees and go for it. Don’t hesitate to grab the handles! This is one of the things I see new people doing a lot. They become so fixed on trying to balance the board and spend too much time at this phase of getting up. As soon as you grab the wing handles everything becomes smoother as the foil stabilizes the board once a little speed is applied. When things start to stabilize put that front foot up, then the back and get to your feet. All of this should happen quickly when you’re learning. The worst thing that will happen is you will fall but at least you attempted to get up and you will still have energy to try again. Also for most people the first few sessions can be extremely frustrating.
You may already be a competent kite foiler or prone surf foiler, windsurfer or have no foiling experience at all but understand the basics. This is a new way to get foiling and the approach to get foiling is different than what you may be used to. The power you get from a kite doesn’t exists with a wing, or it does but you have to harness it in a much different way. Because there is no mast or lines you have unlimited directional capability with a wing which is good but can create problems during the early learning stages as you figure out the correct angles of attack for the wind and how to generate power. If your weight is off, the board with large foil under it may feel like it’s working against you as you try to balance yourself getting to your feet. This isn’t as prevalent in kite foils as they are much smaller in size. Just know that it gets easier quickly and it will take a little bit of time to figure out. Don’t get frustrated (easier said than done) and try to slow down once you get the basics of balancing on the board, holding the wing and going through the process of getting to your feet. When positioning the wing regardless of water starting or up on foil, keep that front arm (upwind arm) stiff at the elbow and high! This will help ensure you don’t dip a wingtip in the water causing the wing to immediately flip on its back. When the wind is light and up on your feet but not yet foiling, it will help to pump the board by applying back foot pressure as you pull in on the wing to engage the foil. In light conditions this can make all the difference in getting you actually up and foiling quickly. Once up on foil and stable, try to stand tall. This helps to get the most efficiency out of your foil and keeps your weight input even which is key when foiling. You may need to pay more attention to keeping your feet centered on the board (between the rails) than you would on a surfboard or other type board if you’ve not done much foiling. Once up try to relax and enjoy the ride!
Next steps, toeside and heelside tacking. Learning new things is always exciting and now that I’ve managed to get all the basics down (switching stance, getting up, heelside, toeside jibes, surfing swell, etc.) I’m focusing more on tacking lately. If you’re the kind of person who prefers to stay dry and not fall this isn’t the trick to learn. Progression can be satisfying although in my case the first toeside tack I tried I ended up putting the board on a rail while getting pulled backwards by the wing and I landed on my back, more specifically on my ribs and swore never to try it again. At 55 with not great medical insurance (yes I’m from the USA) getting injured or hurt is best to be avoided. One thing that really helped was to find a buddy around the same skill level to work on new tricks with. I was lucky enough to have a competitive friend visiting and she was game for learning the tack. My bruised ego from that first attempt healed quickly and we reviewed every Youtube video available on tacking a wing then went out each day and practiced until we couldn’t lift our wings over our heads. A few lessons learned are keep the wing high over your head and forward throughout the tack. A friend told me it’s like throwing a dart as you go into the wind on the transition. You could hear us yelling “dart, dart, dart!” every time we were in earshot of each other. It wasn’t long (a day or two) before we were successfully making a few tacks both heelside and toeside. It’s important to keep a lot of speed going into the transition to carry you all the way through the turn, at least while you’re learning. Often I’ll also look for a small swell to help lift the foil under me while heading directly into the wind at the apex of the turn. The heelside tack was definitely easier to consistently make for me as you can lean back keeping your weight and balance more consistent while doing the turn. On the toeside tack you really have to arch your back or figure or a way to keep your weight over the board at the apex of the turn in order to keep it coming around and maintain lift. Don’t get discouraged and once you’ve done a few, don’t overthink it. Like anything, with more practice comes consistency. When you start to really get the tacks down you’ll be less focused on the wind and very in tune with the foil making micro adjustments through the turns. Recently I created penalties so each time I fell I had to do three more attempts at the end of the session. I call these the Advil sessions. Also, attempting the tacks in unfavorable conditions like heavy gusts, very light winds, turbulent swells and overpowered definitely increased overall success rate.
Equipment maintenance is a necessity. My buddy Billy Ackerman is an accomplished kiteboarder in just about every discipline and great wingsurfer. He has a lot of gear and is an expert on maintaining it, more than anyone I know. So I was grateful to learn some tips from him on getting the most out of my setup. You spend a lot of money on your gear and keeping it in good shape will allow more time on the water and less time repairing things. Rinse your stuff off, at the beach if possible. Especially the foil after each use if it’s in salt water where corrosion can make screws almost impossible to remove. Once corrosion starts it continues to build and ultimately will make removing screws and metal fasteners impossible. Part of battling this is keeping the saltwater exposure to a minimum (rinsing gear). The other part is lubricating everything so that the corrosion can’t build up. Think of it more like maintaining a mountain bike where you need to lube things frequently. In the case of your foil, it’s probably worth the time to disassemble everything and lubricate all the screws at least once a week if you’re out there daily. I went out to the local hardware store and bought a simple $15 weed sprayer. Works great to rinse down gear and you also get the cheapest hot shower around if you leave it in the sun during your session. If you do get a screw that simply won’t come out, try letting it soak overnight in WD-40 or a dry lubricant. Also it helps if whatever tool your using to remove the screw with is made of a good solid material and not a cheap one which may bend, break or strip the screw head. One of the best things you can do to avoid the problem is lubricating everything with a marine grade lubricant like Lanocote or anti-seize. Here’s the one from Loc-Tite I use (thanks Billy) liberally to cover every screw on my foils with. If your board has a lot of volume it will most likely have a vent plug. Occasionally open the vent plug, turn the board upside down and bake it in the sun. This will help remove any water that may have gotten in the board if you accidently forgot to close the vent plug and hit the water. When you fold up your wing and put it away, try to get all the sand off of it and out of the bag. Unlike a kite, your wing will regularly come back to the beach soaking wet. In order to get all the sand and salt off the wing I usually temporarily roll it up and give it a good rinse when I get home. The nice thing about the wing is you can use the front handle to hang them to dry from a convenient location. Try not to leave your wing inflated on the beach all day or for excessive amounts of time. This just puts more UV stress on the material and like sand will reduce your wings lifespan. Try and keep your foils covered when not in use if you can. Carbon fiber and other materials used for your foil setup are fragile and can chip or scratch easily. Especially during transport where they are often thrown into the back of a car or placed in the dirt, asphalt or other rough surface.
Foil maintenance, sanding foils, makes a huge difference. I recently read an article which talked about the importance of keeping your foils maintained and smooth. My two primary Gravity foils were in pretty good condition overall but had a few small scratches and some wear at the tips of the wings. After reading the article I opted to wet sand them and it was easily noticeable how much better they felt in the water, a lot better. Basically you want to fill any major nicks or deep scratches with JB weld, slow cure as a first step. Next wet sand the areas that need it with 300 grit wet sand paper, then 600 and finally 1000 or more. This should be done on the wing, stabilizer and fuselage and mast if necessary although most issues are on the wing and stabilizer. It will remove that dreaded whistling sounds when foiling if it exists and you will definitely feel the difference on your foils. Be certain to use lots of water with the sand paper throughout the process. Once this is done bevel the trailing edge of the wing by taking a block and the 600 then 1000 grit paper to it. Start by squaring off the trailing edge at a 90 degree angle then rounding at about 30-45 degrees on the top side of the wing. There’s a bit of debate about finishing the trailing edges but I found this worked well for me. You don’t need to go crazy here and only want to knock down the edges. For the stabilizer, it’s the opposite, 30-45 degrees from the bottom side of the wing, slightly rounded.