Wing Surfing – what’s this new sport all about and how do I choose the right gear? (2023)

By Jane Cormier

Wing Surfing is a HOT new sport that has grown in popularity over the last couple of years. Winging combines elements of windsurfing, kitesurfing, surfing, and foiling. You ride on a SUP Foil board or regular SUP board while holding a handheld inflatable sail, known as a “wing”. The sensation of foiling / hydrofoiling is quite magical. With the help of a light breeze of around 10 knots (12 mph), you use the hand held sail and your body’s motion to pop up onto the foil. It all feels like you suddenly levitate above the surface of the water – floating along in a silent nirvana.

Who does Wing Surfing appeal to?

Wing surfing a.k.a. wing foiling offers water sports enthusiasts an easy and safe way to learn how to hydrofoil – which is one of the coolest sensations you will ever have. This new sport appeals to anyone (kids up to seniors) who love the water – including surfers, kiters, windsurfers, paddle boarders, foilers, and sailers, 0r really just about anyone. Compared to windsurfing, it’s a lot less gear to set up and easier to progress more quickly. Compared to kiteboarding, it takes up a lot less space which opens up a lot more access points and does not require an assisted launch or landing. Compared to surfing, you can enjoy this when it’s windy and when there are no waves. You can feel like you are surfing on swell on an inland waterway, and it feels like you are surfing a wave.

It’s easy to learn, the gear packs up into relatively little space, it’s accessible, and it offers a great fitness work out. Wing foiling is an easy, low impact sport that will get you into great shape. When you are first learning, a 45 minute session will wear you out. Ease of use: less equipment – less wind – less effort – all combined with a silly kid kinda fun, make this sport a no brainer for those seeking a new irresistible thrill.

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Brief History of Wings & Foils

Hand held sails date back to the 1980s. Hydrofoils emerged over 100 years ago. Innovations in kitesurf and hydrofoil technology have been catalysts in propelling hand held wing and SUP foil design. As these technologies have advanced, pairing a hand held light inflatable wing has become a natural pairing with a SUP foil board. Now that the sport has become so accessible, it invites the masses to join in on the fun on learning how to foil.

For me I remember seeing Kai Lenny hydrofoiling in Maui back in 2018 and thought to myself “yeah well, that’s Kai Lenny”. I never imagined that foiling on a SUP would become so approachable. We owe this to cutting edge r & d, and to new foil technology. Now we can all have a little slice of Kai Lenny’s foiling stoke.

How do I learn this fun new sport?

We started up our wing surf lesson curriculum in 2020. We invite you to register for step 1, learning to fly and handle a wing. You can then progress to steps 2 – learning how to ride a foil board, and then step 3 – putting the 2 together. If you don’t live in the SF Bay Area, then you can hunt for a local shop that offers lessons. You can also just buy a wing from us, and use it with your SUP board. When you are ready you can buy a SUP foil board and start wing foiling by combining the wing with a hydrofoil. Youtube is always a great resource for learning new stuff. We have a Boardsports Youtube channel with playlists that include our favorite instructional videos – so subscribe to our channel and couch surf your way to stardom.

How do I select the right gear for Wing Foiling?

Here is what you need to get started with wing foiling (a total kit will run for approximately $4,000):

  • Wing
  • Wing leash
  • Pump
  • SUP or Wing Foil Board
  • SUP board leash
  • Complete Foil (includes mast, fuselage, front wing, rear wing, hardware)
  • Wetsuit if riding in cooler water temps

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Choosing a Wing

We carry all of the top brands of wings – Duotone, F-One, Naish, Ozone, Takuma, Slingshot, and Starboard. I have flown them all and they are all great. They have different features and benefits that we can help you weigh in your decision on which wing to buy. Features include handle placement, windows or no windows, boom or no boom, and the shape of the wing (high aspect or low aspect). If you are in the SF Bay Area and are buying wing gear from us, we will show you the different models in person so you can see for yourself which ones you prefer. If you are not local, we can talk you through all the features to assist your decision making.

Here are some thoughts on different features that help us suggest what wing you might enjoy most:

  • Windows are nice but they add weight. It’s just as easy to lift the wing up when you need to peak around to see your environment. The windows are made of PVC so over time they will stretch and that will impact the performance of the wing. But some people really like having the added visibility.
  • Handle size and style is important. If you have smaller hands, you will like some of the brands that have smaller handles and more of them, making it easier to grab the one that feels like the “sweet spot” for powering up the wing. If you have bigger hands, you will need one of the wings that allows you to comfortably grab the handle and wrap your hand in it. Some wings, like the Takuma wing ride have wide long handles making it easy to “trim” your wing.
  • Boom is great for windsurfers. The Duotone Echo wing uses a boom. It’s great for windsurfers as they are comfortable with grabbing anywhere they want. But the boom does add weight – and is less convenient to travel with. The Takuma Wing Ride wing has long handles that are also similar to being able to slide along like you would when moving hands along your boom. If you travel a lot, some of the other models pack up really small and make it so convenient for traveling.
  • Harness line attachment points.Some wings have small attachment lines for adding a harness line. Most people prefer the freedom of holding the wing and not using a harness. Others that ride for longer sessions enjoy adding a harness line and hooking in. You can also just attach a harness line to the handles or to the boom.
  • Shape of the wingeffects its performance. A low aspect wing (aspect ratio is the ratio of the length of the wing over the width of the wing) will do really well in powered gusty conditions as it will be stable and compact. A high aspect wing is great for light winds as it has great low end power and goes upwind really well. A medium aspect wing is a nice middle ground.
  • Price.They are all around the same price (the top brands at least). We tried some low price cheaper models and you definitely get what you pay for. So we shy away from the cheaper brands that have less stellar performance and less durability. Expect to pay approximately $700-1100 for each wing you buy, and price is dependent on size. Most beginners start off with 1 wing.

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Once we interview you to see what wind conditions you have in your area, how much you weigh, and what size board you will use, we can advise you on what size and brand of wing to go with. Most brands include the wrist leash (so the wing does not take off when you let go). There are some other options such as a waist leash (stays out of the way better) so you may decide to buy a different leash.

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Ozone Waist Leash

As you improve and go in more varied wind conditions, you may find that you want more than one wing. The wings depower very easily, so generally its better to go a bit bigger on size so you have enough power to get up on the foil in light winds. If you are in very light winds (8-12 mph) we will recommend a bigger wing. If you are in higher winds (15-20) we will recommend a smaller wing.

Here is a size chart on approximate wind range of different size wings. I flew my 4.0 F-One Swing Wing in 35 knots (briefly) and I was fine, albeit I was lit like a Christmas tree. But I was able to make it back to the beach. I fly my 6.0 F-One in 9 knots (10 mph) and am able to get up on the foil. So generally, unless you are a bigger rider, somewhere between 4m and 6m wings are going to be your size range. For kids or folks in ultra high winds (Columbia River Gorge or Maui) we recommend sizes 2.5-3.5m.

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You will need a standard kite pump with a nozzle that works with the brand of wing you buy. We stock pumps that work with all wings. The pumps have a pressure gauge on them so you can inflate your wing to the recommended psi.

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Choosing a board and foil:

The Board

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We carry all the top brands of SUP and Wing Foil boards including Fanatic, F-One, Jimmy Lewis, Naish, Quatro, Ride Engine, SAB (Moses), Starboard, Slingshot and Takuma. If you plan to foil with your wing (as opposed to just having fun with your wing on your current stand up paddle board), generally your first board will be a SUP Foil or Wing Foil board. SUP / Wing Foil boards are generally between 5 and 8 feet long and 26″ to 36″ inches wide. Their size is not only measured in the dimensions but also in the volume / displacement. SUP Foil boards can be used to wing foil and to paddle onto a wave to foil. Wing foil boards are dedicated wing boards. Some brands make crossover boards that can windsurf foil, wing foil and sup foil. For wing foiling, generally the SUP/Wing foil specific boards will be your best bet.

For beginners, we recommend starting off with a board that is 40 liters more than your weight in kilos. So if you weight 80kg (175lbs) you will want to start with a board that is around 120ltrs in volume. Here is a sample board size chart.

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You need stability to be able to learn to handle the wing and progress more easily in the beginning. If you pick too small a board, it will make it harder to learn. If you are in a very light wind spot, a bigger stable board may suit you for a long time. If you have higher winds to progress to, your next board would be your weight in kilos plus 15-20 (so if you weigh 80kg, your second board would be 90-100 liters). Smaller boards make it easier to maneuver and turn so as you progress you may choose to go with a smaller board. Experts progress to very small boards that have volume equal to their weight in kilos, or even less than their weight in kilos. Riders than can rip on these smaller boards generally have previous foil and watersports experience.

We want to make learning easy – so we will assist you with getting the right board for your weight, the wind in your area, and your previous experience. Make sure to get a board leash so you don’t have your board take off without you.

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The Foil

Just like the board advice, you will want a foil that makes your progression easier and more enjoyable. The top foil brands that we carry include Armstrong, F-One, F4, Go Foil, Moses, Naish, Ride Engine, Slingshot, Starboard, and Takuma. Foils are comprised of the mast, fuselage, front wing, and rear wing. Once we know your board size, weight, and wind speed in your riding spot, we can recommend the right size foil. You will want to start with a mast length of approximately 75cm so your foil does not breach out of the water.

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Here are the considerations in choosing the right foil:

  • Mast length and construction – for beginners we recommend 75cm. Aluminum does the trick but if you want to spend the extra $ to save on weight, carbon is lighter. Aluminum has a higher chance of corrosion, so be sure to rinse your mast and use tef-gel for the foil screws and foil mount screws on your foil plate. You need a long enough mast so prevent your foil from breaching from the water. You also want to prevent the rails of your board from coming down and touching the water. A shorter mast can make it easier to learn on as it’s more stable. A longer mast can make the foil more maneuverable on tight turns (waves) and also work better over big chop and swell.
  • Wing surface area. Wings are measured in square centimeters. We recommend beginners go with a nice big stable wing to start. That may range from 1600-2400 square centimeters (average size 2000cm) and we adjust that size recommendation depending on your weight. As you progress, you may want to go down in wing surface area.
  • Wing profile. Surf foils generally have a thicker profile that gives them better lift when trying to get up on the foil and are more forgiving as you bob up and down (change your angle of attack). Most people wingsurf with surf foils. Race foils have thin profiles, have less drag, and go fast. The race wings are easier to control at high speeds, but have less lift so they are too difficult to learn on.
  • Wing shape. Like inflatable hand held wings, foil wings have low aspect, medium aspect, and high aspect. Low aspect wings are easier to control at slower speeds – and a thick profile low aspect wing shape will have good early lift at slower speeds and be easy to control. High aspect thin profile wings are more efficient, have the least amount of drag, and the most amount of overall lift (think of a glider plane). A high aspect wing will fall off a plane more easily when slowing down, so it will be less stable. For beginners we ask you if you want the most lift at slower speeds and the most stability, or do you want to progress to go fast. We will assist you in determining the best shape for your goals.
  • Wing curve. The more curve in your front wing, the more it will want to turn. If you want more maneuverability, choose a front wing with more curve. If you want more stability, choose a wing with a straighter profile. SUP surf foilers use curvy front wings. The wing tips can also add stability to the wing, so that can balance with the shape of the curve. Turned up or down wing tips on the back wing will also enhance stability of the ride.
  • Front wing / back wing compatibility. When you go with a large front wing, you will get more stability with a larger back wing as well. But if you don’t need as much lift in windier conditions, a smaller back wing will create less lift. Some foils allow you to adjust the pitch of the back / rear wing which can be a nice way to adjust how much lift you get out of your foil.
  • Wing construction: Most wings are made of carbon with a foam core.

Here is Robby Naish showing the different dimensions of the components of their foils wings.

Ultimately it’s your goals, weight, and local wind conditions that will determine what foil set up is best for you. Most brands are modular, so you can change out wings on the foil as your progress.

Cool Wing Foil Accessories:

  • Rail Saver Pro Rail Tape – when laying your board on its side with foil attached, this protects the rails

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  • Drift Stopper – if you are learning to wing on your stand up paddle board, this will help you to go upwind

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  • Rack Pads, Straps, and a key lock box for your car – for securing your board to your car and locking your keys while you ride.

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  • Tef Gel – apply to your foil screws to prevent corrosion

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Tef Gel Corrosion Eliminator

Progression Tips:

  • Learn to fly a wing (step 1) using a big stable wide style beginner windsurf board. The centerboard will make it easier to go upwind, and the wide style board will allow you to focus on learning how to fly the wing. This will all make it easier to learn how to get your first ride, how to turn around / tack / jibe, how to go upwind, and how to come back to where you started. We recommend mastering those skills before trying to combine the wing with a foil. These progression steps are covered in our Step 1 Lesson – Learn to Fly the Wing

  • Learn to initially foil (step 2) behind a boat, jetski or on an e-foil to start. Separating the skills makes it easier to master each step. We teach folks behind the jetski in our Step 2 Foil Board Lesson

  • Once you have practiced steps 1 and 2, put the two together. Once you master wing foiling basics and your first couple of pops up on to a foil behind a boat, you are ready to put the two together. We teach the Step 3 Wing Foil lesson at our Alameda location with a nice long sandy beach. We use radio helmets so we can coach you through the learning curve.
  • When you fall off the board, hang on to the wing. The extra float of the wing will cushion the fall. Don’t kick the board away, just fall slowly off the side of the board. Kicking the board away will make it turn over and expose the foil. Your goal is to not go near the foil.
  • When learning to ride the foil, stand upright and have your feet across the centerline of the board. Your back foot will be over the front of the mast, with the arch on the centerline. Your feet will be a little more than shoulder width apart, with your front toes on the centerline. We will teach you how to “pump” up onto the foil by pumping the wing and undulating your body weight. Your hips control the foil, so you need to stand upright – and adjust your weight according to how you want to control the foil. Put more weight on your back foot to bring the foil out of the water. Once up on the foil, put more weight on your front foot to keep the foil from coming up out of the water. An upright stance is key.
  • Wear a helmet. We carry all the top helmet brands.Wing foiling is safe, but when you are learning and near a foil, it’s best to protect your head.
  • Foil in enough water. Learn to read tide charts, and make sure you have proper clearance beneath your foil so you don’t run aground.
  • Use a board leash. You don’t want your board taking off from you so use a leash.
  • Ok now you are officially ready – go have fun!

Sky Solbach in Maui on a Fanatic SUP Foil board and Duotone Echo Wing

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