As we all return to activity and many people are enjoying ‘staycations’, wingsurfing (together with its big brother, wingfoiling) is the biggest new trend on the water. The RYA launched its WINGsurfing training scheme this June and already there are four centres in the south-west running courses to get new enthusiasts up and flying the wing, and they’re training up instructors too.
Wingsurfing is a blend of kitesurfing, kitefoiling, windsurfing and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). It uses a semi-inflated wing, much like kitesurfing, to power you along. The wing isn’t attached to the board - there are no lines or harnesses and no rigging to be done –it’s controlled by your hands as you stand, and like windsurfing, you can use a plain board or one with a foil.
Wingsurfing is a great option for the whole family and all abilities and ages. No previous watersports experience is necessary and you can learn the basics on a large windsurf board or windSUP. If you want to move to the next level, you'll need a dedicated wingfoiling board which has a foil attached. The new RYA scheme consists of four progressive courses, aimed at introducing complete beginners to wingsurfing and then developing their skills in order to wingfoil with confidence.
Easyriders is a school offering kitesurfing, windsurfing, SUP, foiling and winging in Poole, Dorset, with two centres – one on the harbourside and another on the seafront at Sandbanks. The two options allow them to teach beginners in shallow water without tidal flow and then take students out onto the sea to introduce foiling. As Andy Gratwick, founder of the school, explains: “Poole is hard to beat, with 360 degrees of wind and it’s safe and excellent for foiling. As for wind, this is where winging has advantages because the range is wide; 5 knots is fun, and wingsurfing is accessible to most people - if you can stand on a paddleboard, whether you’re 8 or 80, you can do it - but then up to 20-25 knots wingfoiling really comes into its own.”
Like all the south-west centres, Easyriders provides all the kit for the WINGsurfing courses, and while everyone starts from the beginning, experienced windsurfers and kitesurfers progress more quickly and often get onto a foilboard within a couple of hours. “People just really enjoy it. We recently had 15 on a two-hour beginners’ wingsurfing course (as part of a teambuilding day), and they all loved it; everyone got up on the board and went somewhere, and achieved something. It’s really do-able and safe for everybody – and lovely to teach too. Even children can fly the wing - it’s pretty easy for everybody to do.”
Edge Watersports has many years’ experience of teaching watersports in Exmouth, Devon. Exmouth is an outstanding destination for sailing and many other watersports and has produced world-class sailors. The Exe estuary offers a variety of conditions in different tidal states and winds, and a useful environment for learning with large expanses of flat, deep water behind a large sandbank. Steph Bridge, Watersports Manager and Coach, says it’s the flat water that makes a big difference when learning to wingsurf, but then people can catch waves from the other side of the sandbank once they’re up and foiling: “We’ve been involved with winging for a long time, and at first we were seeing windsurfers and kitesurfers giving it a try, but this year the sport has really opened up to people who haven’t done windsports before. Compared to other watersports, it’s very safe, and people learn their wind knowledge through it. At the moment, it seems to be appealing especially to the 30-to-50 age group, and an equal number of men and women, unlike most watersports that are more male-dominated. But I think we’ll soon be teaching a lot more young people before they go on to other sailing disciplines because it quickly gives you a good understanding of how to foil – much more so than with sailing, kitesurfing or windsurfing.
“It’s very accessible - people who have had a go at kitesurfing but not grasped it have taken to winging much more smoothly because they feel in control. And you can get on the water so quickly too - just pump up the wing and off you go. I think we’ll end up with a race event before long – and it won’t be long before it’s an Olympic sport.”
The OTC is a watersports centre on the water’s edge, within the grounds of the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA) on Portland, Dorset. Accessible in all wind directions and tide states, Portland Harbour provides a flat water arena that is suitable for all abilities. Tris Best, OTC’s Director and RYA Trainer, reports that winging attracts people from many different backgrounds, including those who have never done wind sports before: “It breaks down barriers,” he says. “Where windsports have previously felt intangible, wingsurfing is accessible. There are fewer boundaries than in windsurfing, where you need to get to grips with harness, footstraps, waterstarts etc. With winging it’s ‘this is how you control the wing, here’s the board!’ The real benefit is that it’s definitely safer and less intimidating for people to learn – with kitesurfing and foiling, the board doesn’t support your weight and the kite has to be in the air, but with winging, the board supports your weight and you can take the power away from the wing and have a breather or paddle back to shore.
“Where we’re based at the WPNSA, a lot of people do have a windsports background, but we also see beginners. There was an explosion of SUP last year when covid restrictions were lifted, but people quickly found out that in wind it’s back breaking! A lot of people with a SUP realised that winging is a sport where the wind is an asset, not a hindrance and they can use their existing board, so costs aren’t prohibitive.”
Stithians Lake Watersports Centre is another fantastic and safe place to learn or to progress in winging in Cornwall. According to Matt Loughlin, Visitor Experience Manager and Instructor, the attraction of the location is that it’s an enclosed, windy flat water location with access to safety boats, and winging is something that you can do inland. “Winging is super fun, even if you’re a beginner on flat water. People are finding it easy to progress, including those who haven’t done windsports before, and they’re getting to foiling really quickly – much faster than windfoiling and kitefoiling.
“We’re definitely seeing a lot of people we’ve never seen here before (surfers, SUPers or complete beginners) and pretty much everyone who has done it has loved it – to the extent where they’re turning up a week later having bought all the equipment! Winging will be a lot more mainstream by next year. It’s going to really take off. Even the hardcore windsurfers are out wingfoiling now!”
“The best thing about wingsurfing is the accessibility,” concludes RYA Chief Instructor, Amanda Van Santen.
“It’s incredibly easy to master the basics, and the kit is affordable and easy to transport.
“As recently as five years ago, the availability, cost and skill required made most foiling sports an unrealistic option for many. Now, you only need to visit your local stretch of water to see how popular it is.”
The RYA WINGsurfing scheme includes instructor training and centre recognition as well as courses, so look out for more opportunities and information at www.rya.org.uk/go/wingsurfing.