Wing Foiling – How to Get Started

There is no bigger buzz in the watersports world than wing foiling and with good reason. Compared to its older cousins, windsurfing and kitesurfing, wing foiling is the new kid on the block. However, don’t assume it is giving up its limelight anytime soon. It quickly established its rightful place within the watersports world and caters to both experienced and new enthusiasts. 

But, being relatively new on the scene, how do you learn? What equipment do you need? To help get you on the water safely and successfully, we’ve put together a guide to winging for the complete beginners. 

What is Wing Foiling?

 A wingfoiler standing on a board before it goes onto the foil in Littlehampton, UK.

Wing foiling is a water sport which involves a foiling board and a wing. It uses a wing to harness and manipulate the power of the wind. There are similarities between a wing and traditional sails or kites. However, in wing foiling, riders hold onto an inflatable wing directly. They use handles or bars for control.

To be able to wingfoil, the board has a foil. The foil lifts the board and rider out of the water when the necessary speed has been created. Wing foiling is becoming increasingly popular as it offers a lighter wind alternative to windsurfing or kiting. It excels in light winds because once on the foil, there is little drag in the water allowing it to reach exhilarating speeds better in light winds. 

What Gear and Equipment is needed? 

Even though the winging is newer to the scene, there is a large variety of equipment on the market. Catering to a range of budgets, getting into winging can be done more cost-effectively depending on what you choose. We’ve broken down what you need to get onto the water. 

Personal Safety Equipment

Wetsuit – whether you are wing foiling in the summer in the UK or braving the colder water in the winter, a wetsuit is needed to protect you from getting cold and prolong your sessions on the water. The extensive wetsuit market can be overwhelming for newcomers to water sports. Wetsuits come in a variety of thicknesses: the colder the water; the thicker you want the suit. The more expensive wetsuits on the market offer both thickness, warmth and flexibility; vital for wing foiling as you will be climbing on and off a board. 

Check out our wetsuit guide 

Impact Vest – Impact vest provides multiple different levels of protection while out wingfoiling. Like in the name, it is designed to take on the impact of falling or crashing, which is inevitable when learning a new watersport. The materials within an impact vest also provide buoyancy, so wearing one can help keep you afloat; keeping you safe if you become tired or injured on the water. 

Helmet – If you are coming from sports like windsurfing or kiting, you may notice that there are more people using helmets when foiling and it’s a sensible decision. Although helmets are recommended for most watersports, the need when foiling can be greater as the foil lifts you above the water, not only that but the foil itself can be sharp. 

Leash – In wingfoiling, leashes are used to keep the wing and the board attached to you. This is a vital safety feature that prevents either piece of equipment from drifting away once fallen. For the wing, you need a leash that attaches from the leading edge to your wrist; this means that if you let it go, you can easily retrieve the wing. The board can be attached with a leash from the back of the board, either wrapping around your waist or ankle. When you are learning, it is advised to use a wave leash as it helps with footwork.

Wing 

When you are learning the wing, it is recommended to use a larger and more stable wing in lighter conditions. The exact size needed in order to learn to get onto the foil varies consistently, factors like wind speed, the rider’s weight, board size and whether you ride on salt or fresh water all impact the size needed. 

Wings come in a large size spectrum, varying from 2m to 8m, although it is most typical for beginners to learn on is between 4m – 6m as these offer stability. For specific advice, find a local wingfoil school or shop to help. 

Board 

If you are new to wind sports in general, then the first few sessions on the water will all be about learning to control the wing. We recommend using a large board without a foil to do this as it’ll provide stability and comfort while you practise wing control. You can either use a paddleboard or a large windsurf board for your first few times on the water. 

Once you’re ready to learn how to get onto the foil, look for a board that has a good amount of volume. Volume is described in litres and the general rule of thumb is 1L = 1Kg. 

An easy guide is

             Your weight in kilos + between 40 to 60 = Board volume in litres.

As you progress, you’ll find that you don’t need such a large board and can generally jump down to a board with a small literage.

Foil 

For first-time foilers, it’s recommended to go for a low-aspect foil. Compared to a high-aspect foil, the low-aspect foil is wide from side to side and narrower from front to back. The benefit of choosing one of these foils, especially when you are new, is they create lift at a lower speed and are stable once up. This can help when you are a beginner as you will be able to go out in lighter winds and maintain control. Don’t worry about needing to upgrade quickly after a few sessions, these foils are perfect to take you from beginner to intermediate, when you’ll be learning gybes, starting to catch waves and pump the foil. 

Similar to choosing a board in any watersport, your weight is a factor in how quickly you’ll get onto the foil. If you are smaller, a larger foil will get you up quickly, however, you may find at faster speeds it’s harder to control. 

What Conditions Should You Practise Wing Foiling? 

Wingfoiler checking out the conditions before heading out onto the water 

There are a couple of things to consider when it comes to wing foiling and the right condition to do it. We’ve broken them down into these two things: 

The Spot

When it comes to choosing a spot to wingfoil in, you need to consider the conditions of the water. Whether your local spot is a lake or the open sea, it is worth checking if other wing foilers or watersports users are using this body of water, that will be a good sign that it is a safe location. 

Something foilers need to be more aware of is the depth of the water. This is vital for ensuring your foil doesn’t crash against the bottom and become damaged, as well as causing a nasty crash. Another thing to be aware of is seaweed or grass. This can be a foiler’s enemy as it will wrap around the foil, preventing speed and chance of getting on the foil. 

The Wind 

Once you’ve chosen a safe spot to start learning, the next thing to consider is the wind strength and direction. Ideally, when learning, you would look for 10-15 knots. This can be a stable and friendly wind to learn. 

The next is the direction. It’s important to consider where the wind is going to push you. Ideally, going out on the water in onshore to cross-onshore winds is best for all water sports users, as if the wind picks up or for any reason you can’t sail back in, the wind will push you towards the beach. Avoid offshore winds for this reason as you may struggle to get back to the beach.  

The ideal time of year for wing foiling in the UK is during the summer as a steady wind called the Sea Breeze comes into effect. Learn more about the Sea Breeze and how best to plan water sports around it.

How To Learn The Basics Of Wing Foiling?

So you’ve got to this point in the article and you’re finally ready to get out there! Try these steps:

Step One – Learning to control the wing

Learning to control the wing is the first step to successful wing foiling and you don’t even need to head out onto the water to do this.  Start practising wing control on land first.

To get used to the hand placement, start by holding the wing handles or boom with a relaxed grip, ensuring your front hand is closer to the leading edge of the wing, and your backhand is positioned further back. This arrangement provides leverage and control. 

The next step is learning how to control the power by practising how to sheet in and out. To sheet in, pull the wing closer to your body with your backhand, increasing power and acceleration. To depower, sheet out by extending the wing away from your body. Sometimes, pulling in slightly with your front hand and out with the backhand is the quickest way to depower but be careful not to pull with the front hand too much and backwind the wing. 

The movements to master the wing are subtle, experiment with arm and body placements to steer the wing.

Step Two – Getting onto the board

This next step definitely requires you to head out onto the water. To carry your kit, make sure you hold the foil and board on the upwind side of your body, as this allows the wing to flap downwind and away from the sharp foil.

Wing foiler carrying equipment into the water with the wing downwind 

Walk out into the water until it’s over foil depth; you need to be able to climb onto the board without the foil hitting the bottom.

Once you are all ready to try on the water, start by climbing onto the board, keeping your body weight even over the centre of the board and holding the wing by the leading edge. When you’re comfortable on your knees or on the board, gently move your front hand onto the handles and put your back hand on. Now you can start to feel the power you were practising with on land.

It’s much easier to stand on the foil board when there is power in the wing. Practice with the power, and when you’re comfortable, you can begin to stand up by stepping up onto your front leg and then your back over the centre of the board. Once you are up, keep your wing flying and keep your feet firmly on the board. Keep a gentle bend in your knees.

As you get power and speed, you may feel that you are being pulled away off the centre of the board. This is where you need to counterbalance the pull by moving further back and out on the board. The adjustments are subtle, controlled and gentle in order to keep the board flat. 

To control where you are going, practice with toe and heel pressure. By applying pressure with your heels, you will head upwind; when you apply pressure with your toes, you will head downwind, away from the wind.

Step Three – Getting onto the foil for the first time 

 Silhouette of a wing foiler on the foil 

Transitioning onto the foil is the next exciting part of your wing foiling journey. Before attempting to get onto the foil, ensure you have a solid understanding of basic wing control and board handling. Start by positioning yourself on the board in a stable stance, with the wing positioned overhead or slightly off to one side. Head slightly down wind to gain momentum from the wind, gradually shift your weight forward and apply gentle pressure to the front foot to lift the foil out of the water.

Maintain a balanced and controlled approach as you rise onto the foil, focusing on maintaining stability and minimising any sudden movements. As the foil lifts clear of the water, adjust your body position and weight distribution to maintain control and stability. Keep your movements smooth and fluid; this will keep the foil flying.

Once you are up and flying, control the direction your board goes is the same as when you are off the foil, apply pressure to your heels to go upwind, and toes to go down wind. 

Step Four – Sailing

Once you’re comfortable with controlling the wing, steering the board, and getting onto the foil, it’s time to focus on refining your sailing technique. This part is exciting as you can improve and develop a range of skills, including speed management, tack and gybe manoeuvres, and navigation. Get out on the water regularly and practice, practice, practice. 

Where to Learn to Wing Foil in the UK?

A student carrying beginner wing foiling equipment into the sea on a lesson at The Beach in Littlehampton 

For the highest chances of success, we recommend getting a wing foiling lesson. As the sport becomes increasingly popular, wing foil schools are regularly available all across the country and abroad.

We recommend The Beach Watersports in Littlehampton for wind foiling lessons close to London and Brighton. The spot is on the English Channel and is a perfect location to get to grips with the basics. Their team of BKSA-certified instructors can help you learn new skills, hone your abilities and reach new heights in the sport.

Their wing foiling lessons are during the 2-3 hour window surrounding low tide. This timing provides the perfect playground for beginners to pick up the basics in optimal conditions. With vast stretches of flat, knee- to waist-deep waters spanning up to 150 metres, The Beach Watersports offers the ideal environment for novices to embark on their wing foiling journey.

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