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A Guide to Wingfoiling for Beginners by Thomas Boyce with the help of Ben E.

This excellent guide written by Thomas Boyce and Ben E. has been posted with the permission of Thomas Boyce. 

  “How Do I Manage My First Season Learning this Beautiful, Addictive but somewhat Difficult Sport?”  By Thomas Boyce with help from Ben E.

Julian Lim:  A Year 3 Wingfoilier from Ottawa (2023)     Photo: Brent Schmidt

Physical and Mental Preparation: 

Everyone who has the desire to learn how to wingfoil comes into the sport with different experiences and a different set of skills.  That being said, everyone can figure it out. People who have done a balance sport or a wind sport will have an advantage.  Those who are comfortable in water (especially cold water in Canada) and cold weather conditions will have a better chance of speedy success because you have to be tenacious and tough to get a full season of learning up here in Canada!  The season in Ottawa runs from Mid April to Early November.


Getting Ready for that Cold Water Spring Start:.  

In Canada, plenty of beginners buy their first wing in the Fall so that they can Wing skateboard, Wing Rollerblade, Wing Ski and Wing Skate.  This is a great way to get used to how the wing handles in the wind and delivers power.  Anyone with a windsurfing background will find it very intuitive.  Everyone else will pick it up fast!  Winging on Asphalt does not require much wind but it does bring with it risks of injury and damage to your fragile wing.  Wearing protective gear such as a helmet, knee and elbow pads and old clothes you can take a tumble in.  You don’t have to go fast to wing rollerblade or wing skateboard.  It is all about control, smooth turns and wing management as you work on your balance.


Foiling Without a Wing behind a boat/jetski:

A lot of people get opportunities to foil behind a boat or jetski in the summer.  If you get this opportunity with friends then go for it!   Getting up on foil behind a boat doing a deep water wakeboard style start is not for beginners, but if you are a good wakeboarder, then give it a shot.  You will figure it out.  If your friend has a larger board (SUP or large Beginner Wingfoil board) and a smaller foil then this is the easiest way to figure out the feel of the foil behind the boat.  You will not need much speed or power from the boat and even a 5hp or 10hp motor on a tinnie will get you up foiling on a big floaty board with a medium sized foil.  Note:  If you tow foil behind a boat with a really big beginners foil that has a really slow stall speed and lots of lift, watch out when you are going slow.  The foil will stay up on foil for a long time even when you have reduced the power source or even dropped the tow rope to end a ride.  The foil will then finally crash sideways with you way up on top of it (we call this Taco-ing) and you can fall on top of the sharp points of the front foil wing or rear stabilizer wing.


A Great Skills Progression for Beginner Wingfollers: 

(always wear full neoprene, booties and a helmet when learning with a foil on the water… they bite!)

  1. Tow Foil on a big board.  Get rides behind a boat on a big board with a foil - Learn how a foil behaves. Pad up & wear a helmet!
  2. Buy a 5m+ wing.  Currently I suggest people buy a BIG wing to start with like a 6m if you are under 160 lbs or a 7m if you are over 160 lbs, especially if you are tall.  Being tall helps you handle a bigger wing and not touch the wing tips to the water.
  3. “WingSail” a SUP (with a stick on Centreboard or home made strap on Centreboard) or large windsurfer with a hand held wing - this is a lot like windsurfing a longboard and is a fun way to get around a lake.  If you have not windsurfed before, it will help you understand how different wing movements and placement can affect steering.
  4. Wing Skateboard in a parking lot with a wing and a longboard skateboard (pad up and wear a helmet)  5m wing is good for light wind.  A 3m wing is often enough.  Some people protect the tips of their wing from asphalt touchdowns with plastic bottles taped on the wing tips.
  5. Wing Skate on ice.  It is one of the most fun things to do with a wing if you are a decent skater with hockey skates.  Speeds can get gnarly!!
  6. Wing Ski on snow with downhill skis - you need lots of wind for this if the snow is soft or deep on the frozen ice or field.  Fast spring snow that has been transformed into corn snow is the best!
  7. Wingfoil!  Get out on a sideshore wind day that has lots of wind: 18 -25 kts for your 5m+ wing.  Make sure your board is BIG (130L +) and make sure your foil is BIG (1800cm2 +).  Make sure there is a place to exit the water 500m - 1km down wind.  Practice winging on your knees out into the lake and back to shore.  Then practice getting up and trying to get up on foil.  Do not go out in cold water that you are not prepared to be in lots and not prepared to paddle back to shore in if your Wing explodes!  I like to see beginners use BIG hand held wings when they are starting so they have plenty of power 

(I started with a 7m wing in 18 kts of wind and got my first foil rides right away. I am 215 lbs.  I had done a lifetime of windsurfing and plenty of the following: Tow Foiling, Wing Skating, Wing Skiing, & WingSailing on a SUP)


Buy a BIG 7m or 8m wing for light wind once you can wingfoil out and back from your launch point.  Then you can get more foiling practice in light winds.  Plenty of Canada has shitty light winds in the summer months so you need a BIG wing to catch all those wind scraps!

Should I start with new or used gear?  

USED… If you know what to buy.  

NEW:  Only if you are RICH!   Or have a slush fund hidden from your “Minister of Finance” Ha ha

If you have the cash, a reputable shop can get you a suitable setup which will get you having fun on the water faster than a mix and match kit that doesn’t necessarily work together or correspond to your needs and will have you spending less money in the long term as they can help you plan ahead.   Be careful of the smaller shops that do not have much selection.  They can easily steer you wrong because they will just cobble together what they have in stock to make a quick sale.  Try to get the advice of a veteran in the sport before you buy.  It is hard to get a straight answer from someone who sells gear.  They can be very biased!

Where do I get my first gear?

Method 1:  Take a Lesson (or 5) at the beginning and use the instructor’s gear 

Method 2: Link yourself to a Wingfoil Mentor at your local launch/beach.  Try to borrow or rent a large board for the first few weeks from this mentor or from anyone you can.

Method 3:  Get a LARGE board on the used market, and find 1 Gently Used Wing and 1 foil set up (more on this later).  Make sure you spend most of your money on the Foil and that it is a great foil manufacturer that has a presence in your area so you can get more used front foil wings and rear stabilizers as you progress.

You will likely not use a LARGE beginners board for long, but if you buy a SUP Foil Style Board you might keep using it for SUP foiling if there are waves in your location, or any Large Foil Board can be kept to teach family members or friends.

Get as much information from locals who are way ahead of you in the learning curve and consult the larger, more reputable shops.

Advice from riders should be taken with a grain of salt regardless how well they ride. Many have not gotten to try a range of  gear and know more or less what works for them; not necessarily what will work for you.  Beware of any advice from experienced lightweight riders if you are a new heavyweight rider!  Lightweight riders do not understand the extra difficulties faced by heavy riders.  Gear has to be perfectly tuned for heavyweights.

There are a number of shops these days that are very familiar and competent with wing gear. It is their profession to help you choose the best gear for you, try to talk with the wing guy/lady that works there, so they can help you out.  Bigger shops usually have a wing foiling expert on staff who rides the gear often.

Foils:

What size should I start with?

Big front foil wings that glide - quality!  If you buy quality, you will always keep it for light wind sessions, gust hunting and dock starting  

Learn about Foil Cord Length, Foil Wingspan, Aspect Ratio and Surface Area.  Do your reading.   Typically a Mid Aspect Ratio (7) front foil wing in the 1800 - 2000 cm2 surface area range is great.  These front foil wings tend to be about 100cm (1m) wide.

Sample Wing Specs & Aspect Ratio Calculation:

AXIS Broad Spectrum Carve (BSC) 1060 Carbon Wing - very good starter front foil wing for Mediumweights to Heavyweights

Technical Data:

WINGSPAN: 1060 mm / 42 inches

MAX CHORD LENGTH: 200mm / 8 inches

AVERAGE CORD LENGTH: 163mm

ASPECT RATIO: 6.51 (Wingspan / Average Cord Length = 1060/163 = 6.5)

ACTUAL AREA 1803 square cm / 278 square inches

PROJECTED AREA: 1726 square cm / 268 square inches

VOLUME: 2800 cubic cm / 171 cubic inches

What brands do we like in Foils?  

“Most are very good, but you get what you pay for.”  While this is mostly true today, a lot of earlier generation stuff that you’ll find on clear out/ the used market can be terrible. To be clear, this does not mean that it doesn’t work; but it is either poorly built/designed so will fail prematurely or make your life much harder than it needs to be, or both.  Make sure you know what you are buying and that it will work with your board.

When buying a foil choose a system that you want to buy into, look for a well built foil with a big selection of wings, modularity, and cross compatibility with other sport from a big company that’s investing in developing new gear  and have an established system so it will be future compatible.  Some Foil Companies that tick all of these boxes are: Armstrong (NZ), AXIS (NZ), Lift, Slingshot, Gofoil, and SAB/Moses.

Tips:  

  • Get foils that plenty of locals are using (usually because local shops sell them)
  • Spend the most of your money on your foil set up.  They last.  Hand held wings degrade fast.  Foils last.
  • boards are overpriced for what you are actually getting.  They are still a very important component.  Wing Boards are getting better and better, but they will likely plateau in design well before the Hand Wings and Foils.

There are huge differences wrt wingfoil boards in general ease of use, efficiency at takeoff, feel in the air, and ability to forgive touchdowns. Wing Boards are also retaining their value fairly well for now and beginner boards are easy to sell. 

How long should the fuse be?

Around 70 cm is good.  Stable Ride.  You will go shorter with time and experience.

High aspect or medium aspect wing?

Medium Aspect Wing with an Aspect Ratio around 7 is good to start with.

Boards:

 How long and wide should my beginner board be?  Hard Board or Inflatable?  What Volume should my first board be?   So many questions!

Go BIG for the board you are first going to learn on.  Try to rent or borrow your first board

Board design is changing fast, but all you need for an Allrounder Board to begin with is volume packed into a short length, a flat bottom, a wide board, Round Rails everywhere except at the back and a twin foil track system. 

There is considerably more to it than that, but we are producing a Beginners Document here.  Other things that need to be considered are foil box position, volume distribution, outline, and rockerline are extremely important as well..  but to keep it simple use the beginner board formula, don’t be scared of volume, buy a wing specific board not a crossover (unless you already do the other sport ie SUP foil/ Windfoil then there could be an argument made), don’t be scared of length (if the board is well balanced/ light even at 7’ it will be fantastic for learning/ progressing quickly), buy a track system not a tuttle box!

Good Beginner Board 30 inches wide, 6 ft long, thick with a flat bottom

 100 Litres - 140 Litres in volume, depending on your weight.

Beginner Board Formula:

Take your Riding Weight in Kilograms, add 30 - 35 to that number and convert the number to liters.  Your typical riding weight includes all the wet gear you are riding with.  

EXAMPLE:  Some dude named Jeff is 175 lbs, He wears 13 lbs of neoprene, booties, harness and helmet.  Therefore his Riding Weight is 188 lbs or  85kg.  So… 85 + 35 = 120L for his beginner board volume.

More Board Formulas: 

Intermediate Board / Light Wind Board Formula:

Weight in kg, convert to Liters and add 20 L.

EXAMPLE:  Jeff is 188lbs = 85kg   Convert 85kg to 85L and add 20L = 105L for his lightwind board volume once he has mastered wingfoiling

Expert Board / High Wind Board Formula:

Weight in kg, convert to Litres and subtract 20 L.

EXAMPLE:  Jeff is 188lbs = 85kg   Convert 85kg to 85L and subtract 20L = 65L for his high wind expert board.

You will notice that we try to stay away from boards that are close to our kg weight in Liters. 

EXAMPLE:  Jeff is 188lbs = 85kg   Convert 85kg to 85L.  Jeff would stay away from boards around 85L.  These boards would be in his “Wobble Zone”  If he is good and has great balance he will still be able to ride a board in the “Wobble Zone”, but it is not ideal.

Hard boards are much easier to learn on.  However, if you don’t have much storage room at home or you plan to travel a lot or a large hard board is too heavy, then get a large volume inflatable board with some length and width that has a reputation for a stiff foil connection. Volume alone is a very poor indicator of stability/ease of use of inflatable boards, look rather at the length/width, don’t worry if the volume is considerably higher than what you get with the beginner board formula (inflatable boards are light afterall)

Wings: 

What are you looking for in a good beginner wing? Are some brands better than others?

Power (“low end grunt” is a better term, you want a wing that you can sheet in and go without having to pump), stability, and durability are key.  Try to try wings before you buy them or get your better wingfoiling friends to try as many wings as possible at the beach.

The table below can help you get started when you are purchasing wings.  Often people start off with One Wing because equipment is so expensive. Most people who get addicted to the sport quite quickly buy 2nd and 3rd wings in relatively short order so they can match the wing size to the wind strength.

SUGGESTED WING SIZE TABLE FOR A LOCATION WITH LIGHT WINDS (Ottawa):

Highlighted = buy first

Weight of Rider

Only Buying One Wing

Buying 2 Wings

Buying 3 Wings

Less than 150 lbs

4m - 4.5m

3m & 5m

2.5m, 3.5m & 5m

150-190 lbs

5m - 6m

4m & 6m

3m, 4.5m & 6m

Over 190 lbs

6m - 7m

5m & 7m

3.5m, 5m, & 7m

Extra Gear:

Board Leashes: Coil or straight? Ankle or Waist?  

Waist is best for a board leash

A board leash to your ankle means you are always stepping on it, but some people don’t mind.

Wing Leashes:

Coil or straight? Straight is more comfortable.  Make sure it is not too long.  If it is too long it will hang down and interfere with your harness line once you start to use one.

Where do I attach it: 

Wrist or Waist?  Wrist is great. Because two leashes on your waist can be a lot.  

Full wetsuit, Helmet and Impact Vests: Yes or No?

YES to ALL, or you will get cut up as a beginner and as an advanced rider in waves!  Once you are an intermediate rider on relatively flat water, you can go without the full wetsuit.

Water shoes / Booties: Yes / No?

YES in the beginning.  Protect those feet from the foil.  In cold water you will want neoprene booties or water shoes with neoprene socks.

Locations: 

Where should I learn? 

Anywhere with a good sandy bottom and safe launch with a side or side-onshore wind.  A place that drops off in depth quickly is great so you don’t smash up your foil.

What winds are best?

Side shore to side-onshore with good water depth.  

Strong 15-20 kt wind for learning.  You don’t learn much or get up on foil as a beginner in less wind.  Remember, you will drift downwind in light winds as a newbie

Get time on a foil behind a boat as much as you can in order to learn how foils react.  Then when you get up in foil with a Wing, you will know what to do (somewhat!).

Who gives lessons and where ?

There will be lots of people giving lessons in the future as the sport explodes in popularity.

Ask around your local launch.  Some experienced wingfoilers are willing to coach you at the beach if you ask!  As far as lessons go, the instructor must have the proper insurance if they are charging money for lessons.  If it is just a friend at the beach giving tips for free then there is no problem.

Contacts for Wing Foil Beginner’s Lessons in Ottawa:  

Stanley Boucher: 

Wil Tuba: Escape Plan Board Shack

Jodi Bigelow: PaddleFit

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