Just ask the Wright Brothers. Since the invention of flight, man has sought ways to duplicate the feeling of soaring in the sky. Today, athletes are able to lift off and take flight with the introduction of winging to the water-sports scene.
With modern prototypes of wings emerging in 2018, the sport serves as a more accessible option for folks drawn to its predecessors of windsurfing and kiteboarding. The equipment is simple: An inflatable wing at three-to-six meters wide generates both upward force and sideways propulsion to move a board rider across the water. The power comes from wind with the body acting as a mast, arms holding the wing as “sail,” and the board acting as a “boat” underfoot. Because the wing is smaller than a kite or windsurfing sail, it’s easier to maneuver, and the consequences are lower—dropping the wing is equivalent to putting a foot on the brakes.
Combined with a foil board, the mesmerizing experience of floating is magical but also has a scientific explanation. Understanding physics isn’t a requirement to feel the exhilaration, but simply put, a hydrofoil operates on the principle of Newton’s Third Law: “For every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.” A foil mounted to a board below the water’s surface deflects downward pressure and the inflatable wing creates enough lift to take a rider above the surface to seemingly float in the air. This ethereal feeling has propelled the sport’s popularity in Central Oregon and across the world.
As a word, and sport, winging serves as a modifier. Before the subject of foiling, skiing, ice-skating, or skateboarding, add the word “wing” and those sports morph into new sports such as wing foiling, wing skiing, or wing skating. Athletes call themselves wingers, wingdingers, or wingboarders. The most accessible entry point for water is to pair a wing with a stable SUP board. “Wing Foiling has become the fastest growing water sport. This is due to the fact that it is fairly easy to learn, not gear intensive and very safe (compared to kitesurfing),” says Michael Giebelhaus, owner and operator of local wind sports company Kiteline Kiteboarding. “The biggest advantage, and draw to the sport, is that you are able to just grab your gear, walk into the water (or beach), and go. It's also very safe as you can simply let go of the wing as it's attached to a leash, and it will fall to the water and depower. You can also grab a wing and your SUP—adding a bigger fin on the bottom helps—and you've created your own little sailboat.”
Because the equipment is easier to maneuver, launching is also simpler, making local lakes and bodies of water easy places to access the sport. Summer afternoon weather in Central Oregon provides temperature differentials to form thermal winds that suck air from the hot eastern plains toward the cooler Cascade Mountains. With a smaller kite, safety for riders on the shore is also key. Plus, the risk of impaling a larger kite in trees along a shoreline is absent. According to Giebelhaus, on any windy day, a group of local wingers can be found at Suttle Lake. Other locales include Haystack Reservoir Crescent, Odell, Cultus, and Elk Lakes, plus sections of the Deschutes River. That group often includes Dennis Oliphant, local sportsman, Bend resident since 1977, and founder of Sun Country Tours. Dennis, whose watersport repertoire includes kayaking, surfing, kiteboarding, and windsurfing in Central Oregon, Maui, and Mexico, says, “The local community was a motivation to learn too,” says Dennis. “A lot of the guys I used to kayak and surf with are now sharing the stoke. It has been a strong bond of like-minded people that get together and laugh, learn and enjoy being outdoors.”
According to Giebelhaus, “Anyone that loves the water, being outside, and feeling the power of the wind while it propels you along will love the sport.” Wing foiling creates a feeling unlike that found in other watersports. Winging allows mere mortals to feel like Superheroes, flying like a bird or a plane.
LEARN WING SPORTS
Kiteline Kiteboarding, based in Bend, sells inflatable wing foil boards that are very buoyant and easy to learn with, says owner Michael Giebelhaus. “You can use a SUP that you may own and add a large ‘dagger fin’ to the middle of the board, which will help it track better and go upwind. We sell a stick-on fin for this purpose,” he says. Other ways to learn are on land using a mountain board or skateboard and a hand-held wing, or on snow with skis. Kite-Line.com