Wing vs wind foiling
Photography: by Justin Dennington, Tracy Dennington and Ian Butt
Justin Dennington is an accomplished wave sailor living down in the West Country with spots like Marazion and Gwithian on his doorstep. Yet when conditions are not 100%, you can often find him with a wing in hand. We caught up with JD, no stranger to this magazine, to determine the reasons behind this.
First of all, how did you get into wing foiling? What appealed and when did you start?
I got my first wing about a year ago, I’ve been SUP foiling for a couple of years, and I’d been contemplating downwind foiling but found it difficult to line up conditions and logistics without the use of a backup ski. I remember seeing a YouTube video of these guys riding rolling swells with the wing and the benefit of using the wing to carry you out to catch these swells that you could then foil. The penny dropped right there, and then, for me, the wing is a bit of a game-changer, especially for downwind foiling. With the addition of the wing, it now makes it a lot easier to catch rolling swells, or the tiniest of waves, and has also opened up lots more opportunities in the waves. A lot of the appeal for me is that is it bridges that gap with light wind days where I would not bother going windsurfing or SUP surfing as it would not be that great.
Why not windsurf foiling, which in theory would fit better with you as already being a sailor?
I tried windsurf foiling, but it felt too much like just blasting around on a normal windsurf board. My windsurf kit is all wave orientated, so it isn’t that great for blasting around, and I would windsurf foil if it was light but kind of just glazed over and got bored quite quickly. You can’t do a lot in the waves windsurf foiling; you’ve only got to look online to see that most of the stuff in waves or on rolling swell is with the wing. However, I’d say that if your windsurfing background is more free ride/slalom, then yes, windsurf foiling is probably going to be a better fit than wing foiling.
What does wing foiling offer? What plus points would you give to someone looking to start?
For me, wing foiling offers a more pure foiling experience, unlike windsurf foiling, where mast foot pressure has a direct input to the foil, and there is always that connection between board and rig. With the wing, I control the foil with my input and foot pressure. Just like surfing, the wing is an independent engine I can switch on and off as I desire. When we get decent swell and light winds, I can use the wing to fly out and gybe on some swell, park the wing in neutral and foil the rolling swell or wave back in; if you feel yourself losing momentum on the swell or wave, you can re-engage the wing for power, which you can’t do with windsurf foiling. The wing has also opened up an avenue of flat conditions that I would never be able to sail in as I don’t have big kit, so if it’s too light for me to windsurf, I can now go winging. I’ve been wing foiling over the summer when others around me have been windsurfing on 7.5 – 8m sails. Foils are so efficient you can get going with a 4-5m wing in the lightest of breezes. Another bonus is you don’t need a wave to be able to pop some airtime either. If conditions are looking too breezy and messy to SUP surf, I can break the wing out and go wing foiling. So there are lots of plus points for anyone who is looking to start winging.
Are there any downsides to winging?
Yes, I now get excited about a 2ft onshore wave….haha! I suppose it can be a bit off a faff, getting in and out of the water in certain conditions, especially if there is a decent swell or a beach break. You have to walk out deep enough to launch before you can turn the board over for the foil, again; if there are waves, it can be a bit tricky, especially if it’s a decent size with a lot of white water. Foils can get damaged easily, so you have to be quite mindful of that. Foils are also a sharp bit of kit; I’ve had a few love bites, but thankfully nothing too serious. I don’t personally wear a helmet, but if you’re planning to learn wing foiling, then a helmet and body protection should be a serious consideration.
Tell us about the spots you usually wing at and why they’re good for it?
I mainly wing the same spots that I SUP foil, which is Maza (Marazion) or the Bluff (Hayle estuary); these are both sand bottom (so relatively foil friendly). Maza offers the most user-friendly conditions with softer onshore waves and good rolling swell on a southerly and works well in many wind directions. The Bluff offers really good long waves as they tend to jack up and break on the outside sandbars then hit deeper water in the channel, go fat but keep rolling up the river mouth for some long rides, but the Bluff doesn’t have the same wide wind window as Maza. You also need to carefully pick your timings for this spot and be quite a confident foiler, as there is a lot of water moving. You can find yourself on the inside going up the river mouth quite quickly, so definitely not a beginners spot.
Many others participating down your way?
There’s only a small crew at the beaches down here at the moment, just a couple of friends that are also wing foiling, both are very experienced wave sailors, and both also SUP foil. I have heard that a few up at the local lake are winging but haven’t seen them at the beach in the waves yet. The wing goes hand in hand with the foil, and there are not many down here foiling, so that’s probably why the numbers are low. Anyone living down here would have a good pick of both learning and more advanced wing foiling locations if they were contemplating getting into winging. They have great places to windsurf, but the same spots can offer up some tasty conditions for wing foiling when conditions are too fickle.
What’re your goals with winging, if any? How far would you like to take it, for instance?
I have been popping some jumps recently, and I think, like most sports, the more comfortable you become, the more you’ll try different tricks. I suppose goal wise I’d like to get an aerial trick under my belt, although, at 49, the slams seem more painful and body recovery a lot slower… haha! Other than that, just trying to be as good as I can. It always puts a massive smile on my face after a session either way.
Do you subscribe to the hype surrounding winging at the mo? It seems anyone with experience is hailing it as the biggest thing since sliced bread. Do you agree?
At the moment, no, not at all; wing foiling is in its infancy, so there is a lot more to come from it; I also think that a lot of the guys that are hailing it that, don’t windsurf, maybe in a few years we might be hailing it that, but at the moment for me windsurfing is still the best thing since sliced bread.
Does wing foiling compare to windsurfing, as some suggest? Example: if you can windsurf, you should find wing foiling no trouble?
Yes, it does, however, saying that it is only the wing that compares. The wing acts very similar to a sail; you hold it in a similar way, not quite as upright; you can sheet in and sheet out like a sail. I think most (like myself) will take a little time to get their heads around because it is not attached to the board, but any competent sailor would pick it up in a very short period of time. If you had no wind sports background, it’s still not a massive learning curve with the wing; learning wind awareness and sailing angles is probably the key factor for most non-windsurfers.
You also do a bit of SUP foiling when conditions allow. Does this help with winging? If so, how?
Yes, massively, learning to foil is harder than learning to use the wing, so if you can already foil, it’s a significant advantage. It took me under an hour to get up wing foiling, but I could already foil, which helped a lot. If you’re already foiling, then you know the feeling of the foil lifting and understand what is going on underneath the board, leaving you to concentrate on handling and learning the wing. I’ve been doing some wing coaching over the last few months for my wife’s Paddleboard business GoSUP. I would say if you have no wind sports background, do not foil and are looking to get into this sport, then you need to learn one or the other first, as otherwise your effectively trying to learn two sports at the same time, don’t get me wrong it’s achievable but it will be very slow progress.
Are you ready to give up standard windsurfing in favour of winging yet?
Haha… no! I love windsurfing more than anything; I’m not getting any younger and have a long term knee injury that I try to manage as best I can, and wing foiling is definitely easier on the knee, so when its light with choppy onshore small waves, I opt to wing and have a great time. Still, when conditions are on for windsurfing, there’s no substitute.
What equipment you are using to wing foil and why?
I’m using the Neil Pryde Glide surf foil, with the medium slim high aspect front wing is around 1230cm projected area and gives excellent speed and tighter turns. My board is the JP Australia 6’8 foil board; this also has plenty of volume for me to SUP foil, so it is a great 2 in 1 choice without having two boards. The Cabrinha crossing X2 wing has undergone some huge design changes for 2021; Cabrinha has had a rethink, especially on the centre strut design, which now gives a very rigid, almost boom-like feel. Coupled with two short, rigid bar handles, a no-fuss stable wing produces a huge amount of power if you want it.
Who inspires you as far as winging goes and why?
I get inspired by the videos of Kai Lenny & Co going crazy with the jumps; Balz Muller is a level that a lot of us will only dream of, but showing that the boundaries can be pushed a whole lot more. Also, the guys here that I foil and wing foil with, as if one of them starts doing a new move or transition, then it always pushes me to try harder; it’s easy just to become stagnant otherwise.
And where would you love to head – home or away – to score a wing sesh? And why?
I have some great locations right here on my doorstep and a few more locally that I want to explore. I want to check out places like Bantham and Daymer Bay as I hear they can be good with the right conditions. I visit Fuerteventura every year, and I’ve seen some good vids from Flag Beach, riding the swells that squeeze between Lobos and the Fuerte, so that would be on the itinerary the next time I go out.
Final thoughts on wing foiling?
Although no-one is ripping a wave apart (not yet anyway), the sport is growing and developing very quickly, foil development you can’t keep up with at the moment. I think the guys that prone foil are where we’ll see the waves’ biggest progression with a foil; the boards are small, allowing them to push the limits. Wings themselves have more to come design-wise as well, and I’m sure we’ll see the design divide for freeride, surf and race wings. We already see organised wing racing, and 2024 is the foil’s Olympic year, so who knows how far it will go? No, it’s not windsurfing; the fact is it’s not like any other board sport, the disconnection of the board from water, allowing you to glide above the water silently, is an incredible feeling. It does take time for progression, but the rewards are defiantly there. For me, it’s opened up a whole new avenue of riding, unrideable swells, waves that I would look at and say no before, now I’m reaching for my winging kit, and every session is progression. Like most, I thought it was a short term fad when wings first came out, but it’s here to stay.
Thanks and praise?
I want to thank my sponsors JP Australia, Neil Pryde & Cabrinha, who produce the most awesome kit year after year. I’d also like to shout out to our local photographer Ian Butt who stands on the beach, sometimes in the craziest weather getting the shots. Also, Tracy from GoSUP, who if not on the water herself, sits behind the lens for us.