Wing Foiling - Buying Guide

Wing Foiling - Buying Guide

One of our goals here at Kites and More is to make sure that our customers are confident in what they are buying, especially does that are in the early stages of their new hobbies. This becomes particularly relevant when it comes to wing surfing, which, despite it's rise in popularity and adoption globally over the last couple of years, is still a new discipline. One that can be confusing even for the more experienced surfers transitioning from kite, wind or even SUP. So, to shed a bit of light on the subject and make it a tad easier to find the gear that is right for you and the level that you are at, we have put together a (hopefully) helpful guide on Wing Surfing and Foiling.

What is Wing Surfing?

Slingshot Slingwing V2 in action

To begin with, let's establish what Wing Surfing is, how it came to be and how did it get to the stage it is at today.

 Wing Surfing is simply the use of a hand held wing in order to propel a board on the water. Wings have been used on surfboards and windsurf boards ever since the mid 1980’s – a concept called the ‘Wind Weapon’ designed by Tom Magruder. Despite being so innovative for the time and offering a more freeing experience than windsurfing, it never really caught on. A theory on why that was the case is the surge in windsurfing at the time as well as some short comings in the design of the Wind Weapon such as it's inability to float.

This concept has been revisited by various kitesurfing brands like Slingshot in early 2012 but only really as passion a project by designers and not something on a commercial scale. This did however see wings improve greatly as they now benefited from same construction methods and characteristics as a kitesurfing kite, more specifically with the introduction of an inflatable leading edge and struts.

Then along comes foiling, which impacted every single water based board sport including SUP, surf, windsurf and kitesurf. This change showed that it was only a matter of time until people started to revisit the use of handheld wings to propel themselves on the water due to the efficiency gains that come from using a foil.

And a matter in time it was, although it took roughly 7 years to get there with the first truly commercially available wings being released in mid 2019. However, shortly after, the sport simply exploded, with the majority of surfers, especially those with a background of kite- and wind surfing jumping ship. 

 How to Choose your Kit

On to the good stuff, how to choose your Wing Surfing / Foiling kit. We've broken this into 3 main categories, covering the Wing, the Board and the Foil as well as a bonus Accessories section for small add-ons and essentials.

The Wing

How to choose your Wing Surfer

Wing Surfers, or simply Wings serve the purpose of helping you maintain movement and gain speed while gliding on your foil board above the surface of the water.

Wings are measured by area in square meters and are available in a range of sizes, ranging from 3m² up to 8m². With the technology constantly evolving, these now also come in a variety of shapes and constructions, set out to overcome the shortcoming of their previous versions. When choosing the size of your wing you will do so depending on the weather conditions in which you plan to wing surf.

Here is a table showing the general wind ranges you can expect from different manufacturers when choosing a wing size. We do recommend to always check the manufacturer recommendations, as this serves as a general suggestion, and although fairly accurate, small margins can make a world of difference. Also keep in mind that rider weight plays a major role in choosing the right wing size, with heavier people needing larger wings to get them going. So if you’re around 80 kg or more, consider going for the larger wing for a given wind range.

Wing Size

Wind Range

3m²

20-45 knots (23-50 mph)

4m²

14-30 knots (16-34 mph)

5m²

10-25 knots (11-28 mph)

6m² +

8-18 knots (9-20 mph)

 

 Wing Foil Boom vs Handles System

The second thing to consider when choosing a wing is how you will hold it. You'll find two primary means of holding the wing, either soft handles running along the center strut or a hard boom that is attached to the center strut from tip to tail. The boom makes it easier to control the wing, especially if you're a beginner as well as giving you the option to control the wing only using one hand. The Strut system makes the wing more compact and easier to maneuver once you've mastered all stances and grip positions. Each option comes with its pros and cons so just choose what you're more comfortable with.

Duotone Wrist Leash


Finally, the last thing to consider is your choice of leash attachment maintaining a connection to your wing. Leashes are usually attached either to your wrist, usually attached to your "front" hand, or to your waist leash. No one is better than the other, so again, choose what you're more comfortable with.

The Board

Foil Board Buying Guide

As opposed to choosing a wing, when choosing a board you will have to take two factors into consideration:

  1. Rider Weight
  2. Rider Level

In terms of Rider Level , foil boarding is a progression sport, so as a general rule you will progress towards smaller volume boards as you become more experienced. And since that is something personal to each rider, in this section of the guide we will be focusing on Rider Weight , more specifically, how to choose your very first foil board.

When choosing a foil board, you will do so based on the volume of the board. Shape and size also play a role, but this becomes more relevant when going into specific disciplines (Surf Foiling, SUP Foiling, Kite Foiling, etc.) , when buying you first board, volume is what you should be looking at.

A good, general rule for choosing the right volume is to ad 30-40 liters of volume on top of your body weight. So for example, a 90kg rider will be looking at a board between 120-130 liters in volume. This will offer them the necessary float and stability to start Foiling and concentrate on learning how to control the wing rather than focusing on their balance.

Once you're comfortable with the wing, you can start progressing towards a smaller, more maneuverable board. To have an idea on what to aim for, most high end riders are using foil boards of around 40-50 liters in volume.

 The Foil

Naish Foil Head

Here it's where it gets tricky, and we say that because there are considerably more things to take into consideration when choosing the right set-up. These include: Foil Construction, Fuselage, Mast, Front and Rear Wings.

Foil Construction

Your choice here will be between Carbon and Aluminium made foils. Carbon Foils offer a number of advantages over Aluminium ones, as they are stronger, more durable over time and they do not laminate as easily. There is however a price difference involved between the two constructions, which will weigh out the differences.

Fuselage Length

Foil Fuselage length Fanatic

When choosing a fuselage, you will do so based on its length. A longer fuselage makes it easier to control the pitch of the foil keeping it at a steady altitude. A shorter fuselage on the other hand will be more sensitive to weight changes, making the foil looser and allowing for tighter turns and more responsive pumping motions. However, this comes at a price, making it more challenging to fly level.

Mast Length

The foil mast is indirectly proportional with the fuselage, which means a shorter mast offers more stability and less danger, making it ideal for beginners. They are also recommended for use in surf due to how easy it is to control them when catching waves and the fact that they have less drag and allow you to practice in shallower spots. The standard sizes for a short mast is between 24" and 28".

Foil Mast Sizes

A longer mast will give you more clearance, allowing for steeper turns, more leverage and slower pumping motions making it less likely to breach at high speeds. If you opt for a longer mast, you will have to use this exclusively in deep water spots and are best to avoid small waves as the foil is deeper on takeoff and the chance of wipe-out on breach is very high. Due to their size and weight, they also have higher flex, drag and feel more tippy to ride than a shorter mast would. Generally long masts are anywhere between 28" and 32", while kite specific foilers can go up to 36" to 42" in length.

Front Wing - Shape

Here is where it gets a little tricky, as you have the choice between a high aspect and a low aspect wing shape, referring to the ratio between the wingspan and the chord (trailing edge of the wing). High aspect wings are slimmer and wider, resembling the shape of a glider plane, while low aspect wings are fuller and more stubby.

Low aspect wings are easier to control at lower speeds, create more lift and are more predictable to small changes in angles of attack, making them ideal for beginners.

The high aspect wings are most efficient at higher speeds, creating the most amount of lift and least amount of drag from any given surface area. At lower speeds these are very difficult to control as they drop off the foil very early when slowing down. These are more suited to experienced riders who can pump up their foil to high speeds quickly and are comfortable controlling it in uncomfortable situations.

Foil Wing Shape Flat vs Curved

A secondary aspect to take into consideration is whether the wing is flat or curved. A flat wing offers an easier upward lift  and creates less drag than a curved one would. A curved wing is more unstable in a straight line, as it almost forces you to go from one turn into another, and is harder to lift on, but offers a lot of directional stability which makes it ideal for carving in the surf.

Front Wing - Size

Foil Wing Sizes

The size of the wing is very much dependent on your weight, as a heavier person will need a bigger wing to get up on, and the other way around. A smaller person will find that a big wing will get them up and foiling very quickly, but they will struggle to keep the foil down, which will make it very hard to control. As a general rule, we put together the table bellow to help guide you towards the right wing size for your build.

Rider Weight

Foil Size (area)

< 70Kgs

1500 cm²

70kg – 85kg

2000 cm²

85kg <

2000 + cm²

 

Tail Wing

 This is fairly straightforward, as in most cases your rear wing will match your front, so the same principles apply. High aspect are most efficient, low aspect easiest to control and curved wings add directional stability while reducing turbulence off the wing tips.

Foil angle

On some foils, such as the latest Starboard foils, you can adjust the angle of the rear stabilizer. This allows you to decrease or increase the lift without changing your wing setup. A bigger angle will create more lift at low speeds while a lesser angle will be less likely to breach at high speeds and give you more control over the foil.

Summary

To summarize, if you're new to the sport, you will most likely go for a low aspect, flat wing on a long fuselage and a short mast as your first set-up and only begin to experiment with the more advanced shapes and sizes once you become confident in your abilities.

The beauty behind foiling however, is the fact that, for most manufacturers, all parts are interchangeable, so you won't be forced to change your entire kit within 6 months of purchasing it, but rather upgrade it piece by piece as you go along.

Learning to Foil

Foil Tutorial

We're not going to lie, your first few sessions, especially if you don't have experience with other sports, surfing in particular, won't be pleasant. There will be a lot of ups and downs, both figuratively and literally, as you will be falling and getting back on your board A LOT.

So, in order to make this transition as smooth and painless as possible, here is a list of tips to keep in mind when heading out for your first few sessions:

  1. Find a good Spot! It's easiest to learn to foil when going downwind, so for your first sessions try to find a spacious area with safe downwind landing.
  2. Drop the Wing! When starting out, it's important to understand how the foil works, and how you can best control its motions with your body. Only start using a wing once you're comfortable with the foil. The easiest way to learn the basics is to have someone tow your from a boat, jetski or even at a wake park (should they have the right facilities).
  3. Take your time! Like we mentioned before, you will be falling and getting back up a lot, which can be extremely exhausting. So make sure to take your time with every run, control your breathing and take as many breaks as your body asks for.
  4. Suit Up! Foiling can be very dangerous if done recklessly. The foil is sharp and the board is hard, so make sure you wear as much protective gear as you can. We recommend going for a full wetsuit, booties, impact vest and most importantly, a helmet.
  5. Learn before you practice! There is a lot of informative material out there to prepare you for your first time foiling. Make sure to get as much of it in as you can before heading out. As a starting point, take a look at Fanatic's Foiling Academy Tutorials.