While the jury is still undecided on what these things are called Naish, have settled on the Wing Surfer and I got to ride the hottest thing on the Internet right now. First up, cards on the table, I thought this looked like the kookiest thing on the planet when I first saw it.
When someone as adept in the ocean looks a little, dare I say it, ‘kooky’ then you have to wonder about the future. Then as more videos emerged, there were more toilet stances going down than when Branson crossed the channel. Arguably the greatest waterman on the planet Kai Lenny joined the party, riding a ridiculously small board and a fair go ripping on the thing, but to me, it still looked awkward and ungainly.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I was at the Naish Meeting in Tarifa with the legend, Robby himself, giving us a demo on what to do and how to do it. I was only there for three days, and while primarily testing kite gear I knew, despite my preconceptions, I had to at least give this new fangled weapon a go.
I’d watched plenty of dealers and distributors having a crack, and the Wing Surfers didn’t stay long on the beach the whole time I was there. On the last day, I saw someone bring one back to the beach and decided to jump at the chance to find out what it was all about.
I’d got some tips from De Action Man Brian Talma the day before so between his advice and Robby’s crash course I felt fairly set. Cards on the table to my abilities in case you don’t know, I windsurfed since I was 7, started kiting in 2001 and have been kite foiling for almost five years now. I’m no expert, I still crash turns regularly, but I can foil.
I’ve tried SUP foiling, but this was two years ago and before the huge wings started to come on the market. Brian’s advice was to take a floaty board, with a big wing attached. Robby’s advice was to try the wing on a SUP board without the foil first, so you can get a feel for how the wing works.
When I saw the Naish Hover 140 hit the beach with a 2000 surf foil attached I felt confident based on Brian’s words this would be the combo to learn on. Skipping the straight SUP action and going onto the foil, after all as my friend Rich said even if you don’t foil you’ll have half a chance of staying upwind with the extra lateral resistance provided by the mast and foil.
I attached the wrist leash and ankle leash, climbed on the board and raised the wing into the air. Brian’s top tip; and my advice to anyone is to keep your front arm super high; this helps keeps the wing tip out of the water as once this catches you get in a right kerfuffle.
As I sheeted in on one of the handles with the backhand, the board got some forward momentum while I was on my knees still. So far so good it was time to stand up, easier said than done in choppy Tarifa Levante conditions with limited range of movement in my still recovering ankle. However, it was easy enough, probably more physical effort than actual skill.
And just like that, I was stood up, holding the Wing Surfer and headed out to sea. My old memories of the Centre of Effort and Centre of Gravity from my windsurfing days came back, and by standing further forward on the board or by standing further back you could get it to point up or downwind, but it was an odd sensation to someone who hasn’t windsurfed in years.
At this stage, I’ll be honest and say I felt like I was wrestling a bear. While wobbling along, I’m trying to keep my left arm above my head, and I’m feathering the power with the right feeling pretty unbalanced. My heart was pumping, and I was puffing harder than Snoop Dog on a Saturday night. This was physical, and I consider myself to be at peak physical fitness with all the hours of gym rehab I’ve been doing over the last six months.
I think I’m arguably fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been in my life and this was hard. Exhausted after an embarrassingly short run, I dropped into the water, wondering what it was all about. I turned the board round, climbed back on and tried going the other way, which is right foot forward, AKA goofy and my bad side.
It was an equally tricky endeavour and just as exhausting although my left arm was glad to no longer be above my head, giving the shoulder muscles some welcome relief! I had a feeling like I needed more power, the wind was probably 15-18 knots, and I never felt like I had enough power. Certainly not enough to generate enough lift on the foil to fly. It was time to pump the hell out of things and really put some effort in.
I jumped in, turned it all around again and jumped on. This time I was pointing off the wind and felt a good gust and started pumping the wing and the board in an effort to get it up. Up we went and then down, a few wobbles and then suddenly the board speed clicked and the whole thing rose up and started working.
Oh My Word. What a feeling. I’ll be honest, I wanted to hate this and that first 15 minutes left me wondering what the point was. Now, flying above the water on a wing using a wing, it felt incredible, maybe it was the euphoria of succeeding at something that felt rather tricky and difficult, perhaps it was just that indisputable buzz of flying across the ocean.
It felt a little like that first time I got dragged through the ocean behind a kite. It was a real instant hit of pleasure. I carried on cruising and enjoying the experience, so much so that when I looked back, the beach was a good mile away. Mmmmm perhaps it was time to jump in and try and go back the other way, my bad side.
I’ll be honest, it didn’t come easy on my switch side, I wobbled, fell in a lot, cursed and wondered why I had gone so far out when I didn’t know if I could get back. However, I eventually found my balance and was cruising again off the foil. Time to throw a load of energy into it and try and get on the foil once more. After a couple of crashes and wobbles, things clicked, and I was flying on starboard tack too. I was totally trashed though, physically; I had to have a break.
I made it back to the beach about half a mile downwind from where I had started. It was about all I could do to get the board and wing up the beach and sit there panting away like an exhausted dog. That was brilliant, but totally surprised me how physical it was. Way harder than kiting, I’d burned through over 400 calories in the 30 minutes I’d been on the water, and my peak heart rate was 170 with an average of 130 for the duration of the session. These are similar stats to a hard run.
I’d found it hard, but incredibly exhilarating, I wanted to hate it but loved it, I think the energy spent was most likely down to poor technique, and perhaps a lack of enough wind for a rank beginner to be able to generate power easily. I’d found by holding the handles closer to the back of the wing I got a lot more power from it, but I still needed to pump like mad, both the wing and the board to get up and flying.
I had one more go at trying to get back upwind, but by now I was so close to the sand dune at Valdevaqueros I was seriously lacking wind and power. I headed back to the beach even further downwind having got nowhere near flying the foil for the long walk back to the Naish tent on the beach.
This sport is very different. It’s going to appeal to different people if you have a SUP and don’t want to paddle when the wind is above 5knots then suddenly that paddle board gets a new lease of life. Add a surf wing and do some downwind adventures. Naish is firmly looking at this market as the bread and butter of the business.
However, if you are a surf foiler, kite foiler or even windsurf foiler, then adding a hydrofoil to the board and using a wing surf for propulsion offers a really different feeling on the ocean. I can’t speak for everyone, but I enjoyed it, and I’m working on getting myself a set up so I can try and master it.
My one concern still is that after the session, I jumped on the kite foil and had an absolute blast cruising about. Is the Wing Surf going to offer similar vibes? Watching Robby on it, you can see the potential, but I feel like that ability is a good few weeks of practice away. I love learning new things, so I’m definitely going to explore this more.
I’d like to state at the end of this article that no one paid me to say this was good, and no one told me to give it a try. I really wanted to try it and be proved right by my preconceptions that it was a bit of a joke, but it’s not, it’s seriously good fun. I doubt it will be for everyone, and for sure if you want to use one with a foil you will need to have some good skills, but damn I enjoyed it.
Wing Surfer Questions Answered by Robby Naish
By Rou ChaterRou has been kiting since the sports inception and has been working as an editor and tester for magazines since 2004. He started IKSURFMAG with his brother in 2006 and has tested hundreds of different kites and travelled all over the world to kitesurf. He's a walking encyclopedia of all things kite and is just as passionate about the sport today as he was when he first started!