Part 1 Introduction
Wingfoiling is growing at an exponential rate, and with that comes a constant flow of new kit to the market. As a beginner to the sport, trying to understand all the terms (aspect ratio, dihedral and angle of attack, etc) as well as getting to grips with the technical sizing for foils, wings and masts can be overwhelming. Buying wing foiling equipment can be daunting; I remember when I was buying my fist foil, I was completely lost in the sea of numbers on the manufactures website. This guide is designed to cut through all the noise and give you a simple and straightforward blueprint to buying your first set of wing foiling gear.
Recommendation: I know there will be a bunch of people who will see the length of this article and switch off immediately! And to be honest, I don’t blame you. It can get a bit techy and it’s not for everyone. So, I have given you a “down and dirty” summary below. This is, essentially, what I tell my mates when they ask what kit they need to buy…
Wing: Get a new or nearly new 5m from a top brand of the current model - don’t scrimp on this.
Board: You need around 100-150L to start (this will depend on your weight). If you have the time to search, a second hand one is fine. Alternatively, we have found that the North Seek 5'11 (138L) is perfect for learning, or you can take all the hassle out and get a package deal here. You will jump to an 85L board in a matter of 6 months if you are dedicated and consistently on the water, but for the average person it could take 12 months for this change. Why is smaller better? well, when you are foiling the board does nothing but get in the way. Smaller boards feel much nicer under your feet with less "swing weight".
Foil: Buy a complete foil (Front wing, mast, fuse and stabliser) from a well-established brand with a good R&D pedigree. You want a mid-aspect Front Wing around 1500-2000cm2 (weight dependant). The mast needs to be 75-85cm and the fuselage around 70cm. Go with the stabiliser that comes recommended with the Front Wing.
Pretty simple when you put it like that! Obviously, there are weight, age and background skill considerations but it works as a rule of thumb. If you want to know how I came to this conclusion and get some essential wingfoil knowledge, I would highly recommend you read on…
Part 2 The Wing Guide
Being the powerhouse, the wing is an important part of the puzzle. That being said, it’s probably the least technical of all the components, so it’s a good place to start. The other bit of good news is that nearly all manufactures use the same sizing conversion so it’s easy to compare.
Wing Glossary of Terms:
Stability: Is the tendency for a wing to return to its original path after a force is applied. A stable wing will sit or ‘float’ in a neutral position when being held by its leading edge. An unstable wing will deviate from its original position when allowed to; it will flip and roll as gusts hit it. Both have advantages: a stable wing stays where you put it, an unstable wing is manoeuvrable.
Wing Cord: The length (of a straight line) from the leading edge to the trailing edge. Cord lengths are closely related to aspect ratios and help determine the drag of the wing.
Angle of attack: This is the angle between the relative flow of air and the cord line. A high angle of attack produces more lift but comes with higher drag. You tend to need higher angles of attack at lower speeds (less flow over the wing needs more lift). The opposite is true when going fast.
Dihedral: This is the upwards angle of the wings (from the centre strut) as you look from the front. In wingfoiling, the main reason this is applied is to increase stability and allow for bi-directional winging.
Low end grunt: A term commonly used in wing foiling to describe the wings ability to perform at low speeds. A wing with good ‘low end grunt’ will harness power to get going earlier than a wing with poor low end grunt. The trade-off for this is reduced performance at high speeds.
Depth: The area of the wing that produces the maximum amount of lift and therefore drag. This can be seen as an area of loose or floppy material when resting on the ground. Every wing needs a certain amount of depth or there would be no power.
The size and shape of the wings are the main variables on offer. Sizes range from 2 - 8 meters squared. The smaller sizes are designed for very strong winds (30kts +), they need to withstand high loads and keep their shape through strong gusts (because they are inflatable, in extreme cases the wing can bend or fold in gusts if not reinforced properly). The larger sizes are for the other end of the spectrum; winds in the 6-10kts range can be great fun on a 7 - 8 meter wing. This takes some skill to be able to pump up onto the foil, and once you are up the wing produces just enough lift to keep you going.
As a beginner, you want to stay away from the extremes. As a general rule, a 5m will be the best size for those entering into the sport. The good news is that you will always want a 5 meter in your quiver as you progress, and as an absolute beginner, you can still learn on the same wing that a seasoned wingfoiler would use. You won’t outgrow a wing if you buy the right one! Buying a wing that is too big will be cumbersome, heavy and difficult to handle. Because in the early days you spend more time closer to the water (not on foil or with a shorter mast), there will be a tendency to hit the wing tips on the water. This often results in a swim! On the other end of the spectrum, too smaller wing will not give you the power/lift to get up to speed on your foil. Until you have mastered the skill of pumping on to the foil, a small wing will be frustrating.
As mentioned in the glossary, the stability of a wing is its ability to sit/glide when you hold it from the leading edge. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of pro-riders, gliding down the face of a wave holding the wing from the leading edge handle. This demonstrates wing stability and it’s an important design feature to look for. It’s not only critical for this type of riding but it impacts the handling at low end speeds too. An unstable wing will constantly want to flip onto its back on the beach or when hanging from the wrist leash when you position the board. One of the easiest ways of determining a wings stability is from the amount of dihedral it has. Of note, too much dihedral will reduce the wings manoeuvrability and the low end grunt (see glossary). You are after a wing that has a good amount of dihedral and therefore stability.
You are looking for a wing that has the balance between upwind performance (how close/fast you can go to the wind), stability (see glossary above) and rigidity (the tendency for a wing to hold the manufactures intended shape). The key to a wing’s upwind performance is how much pre-tension there is. Pre-tension is the structure of the wing in the first 1/3 of the canopy from leading edge to trailing edge. You want a wing that has the optimal angle of attack up wind (to minimise drag) whilst giving you enough lift to drive you. When placed on the ground a wing with good pre-tension will be taught or strung along the first 1/3 of its canopy.
The area behind this (the last 2\3) will appear more baggy when on the ground. This is where the depth is focused for more power and low end grunt. A wing with too much depth (the whole wing is baggy on the ground) will be good at low speeds to get going, but it can be a challenge upwind as it will create more drag.
Ideally you need to find a balance between pre-tension and depth. The F-One Strike (pictured below) is a great example of this balance.
Wing Weight and Rigidity
Rigidity is another key component for a wing. I would say less so for the early stages but as you experience more varied conditions (stronger winds or pumping conditions) you need a wing that will hold its shape as you ask more of it. This is especially true for heavier riders. The down side of more rigidity is generally more weight for the wing (it won’t glide as well) and cost due to the extra materials and build hours. It’s about getting the balance right. Choosing the cheapest wing on the market is generally associated with less rigidity, you will soon become disgruntled when you want to use your kit in more varied conditions.
New or second hand wingfoiling wing I hear you cry? My advice would be to buy a wing that is this year’s model. The sport is developing at a rapid rate and 2 year old wings, by today’s standards, are dated. If you can find a second hand wing from the current year then go for it but the wing is one bit of kit that you will keep for the longer term so buying new will not be wasted.
Part 3 Wingfoil Board Size Guide
Your requirements for a wingfoil board will change dramatically as you progress through the sport. Unfortunately this means you will have to upgrade boards (downsize in volume) as your skills develop. The main variable you need to be concerned with is board volume which is measured in litres (ranging from 20 – 150l). It’s important you start on a high volume, stable board as initially you will be spending most of your time learning to fly the wing and understanding how you control the different points of sail (upwind, reaching, downwind etc). This will occur whilst you learn to balance on the board when it’s on top of the water (not up on the foil). For this you need stability.
The volume of the board will need to support your weight without the aid of the foil. As a general rule for learning, they say the volume needs to be around your weight (in kg) plus 20-30. For example, an 80kg person will need a 100 – 110l board. We have found this to be a bit conservative and suggest "bigger is better". Bigger boards with accelerate the learning process significantly and reduce the frustration factor. As you progress, volume becomes less important because as soon as you get forward speed the flow over the foil produces lift and board volume is not required. Also, as your skill level increases you will be able to balance on smaller boards. Do not be tempted to buy a small volume, high performance board for leaning. This will leave you frustrated and delay your progression considerably.
Once you get to the stage that you can pump on to the foil in minimum wind (this is an advanced technique) a large board does nothing but add drag and feels cumbersome under foot so you want to volume down. A large board will also be heavier and therefor harder to jump, wave ride and do tricks on.
For the reasons mentioned above you don’t want to spend a huge amount on your fist board as you will be looking to change it in a matter of 6-12 months. A good option for this is an inflatable foilboard. They are cheap, pack away easily and bomb proof! Alternitively, the tried and tested North Seek 138L is a favourite with our students.
You want to buy a large volume board for the initial stages but know that you will need to volume down in a matter of 6-12 months so don’t spend your entire budget on a new, high performance board.
Part 4 - Beginners Guide to Buying a Hydrofoil
When I was learning I found this subject the hardest of all to get my head around. There are so many variables, and as a beginner, I didn’t know where to start. To help you navigate this subject better than I did, I’m going to break it down into the following sections:
Front Wing Size
Front Wing Shape
The subject of hydrofoils is a rabbit warren of design and features so I’m going to attempt to keep it simple.
Foil Glossary of Terms
Foil Cord: The length (of a straight line) from the leading edge to the trailing edge. Cord lengths are closely related to aspect ratios and help determine the drag of the foil.
Foil Profile: This is essentially the thickness of the foil when looking from the leading edge. A large profile will have more stability and lift at slower speeds but will have a lot of drag associated with them. A foil with more drag will not be able to reach higher speeds, less of a concern for beginners/intermediates.
Aspect Ratio: This is the ratio of mean cord Vs tip to tip length. A foil with a high aspect ratio will be fast, will have good glide characteristics and be very efficient. The negatives of a high aspect ratio foil include high stall speeds (it needs a lot of speed to prevent the stall), less manoeuvrability and increased rider skill levels.
Angle of attack: This is the angle between the relative flow of water and the cord line. A high angle of attack produces more lift but comes with higher drag. You tend to need higher angles of attack at lower speeds (less flow over the foil needs more lift). The opposite is true when going fast.
Mast: The vertical part of the foil set that connects the board to the foil.
Fuselage: The horizontal part of the foil set that connects the front wing to the stabiliser. The mast also connects to the fuselage.
Front Wing: The main power house of the foil that produces the majority of the lift.
Stabiliser: The rear hydrofoil that balances the forces of the front wing. The lift acts in the opposite direction to the front wing (the front wing’s lift acts upwards and the stabiliser’s lift acts down).
Shim: A small wedge that is placed under the stabiliser that changes the angle of attack of the stabiliser in relation to the front wing. It changes the stabilisation characteristics of the foil.
Front Wing Size
As far as I am aware there are three ways the main manufactures measure their front wing sizes.
- Surface Area (cm2)
- Projected Area (cm2)
- Wing Span (cm)
I am going to use Surface Area in this guide as it is by far the most used unit. Please be aware of the others and ask you dealer for the conversion to surface area when considering which front wing to buy.
A larger front wing has very different characteristics than a smaller one with the same shape. The larger the foil, the more lift it will produce at slower speeds but that comes with drag penalties. A larger foil will also be more stable in roll (left and right banking) as there is more foil to be moved through the water. The water acts as a dampener for the larger wings and the opposite is true for smaller ones.
When you are starting out, you will not be concerned about speed, nor the pumpability or wave characteristics. Your main focus should be on stability. That being said, you don’t want to buy a front wing that you will only use for learning and then have to upgrade quickly as you progress. My advice would be to start with a mid-size front wing. For a 50-60kg person this would be around 1250cm2, for 70-85kg person around 1500cm2, for 100kg person around 1750cm2. This will be slightly less stable than a large front wing (2000-2500cm2) but you will use the mid-size in years to come and with the right size board and wing (please see parts 2 and 3) you can compensate for a smaller foil. I still use my mid-size for surfing smaller waves and for really light wind days.
Front Wing Shape
Ok, so now you know what size to get, lets dive into the shape. The shape of the front wing is directly proportional to its performance and usability. Shape is commonly referred to as the aspect ratio of a foil. One of the most common beginner mistakes is buying the wrong shape foil. You want to stay away from a high aspect ratio foil as you will not be able to harness its benefits (speed, glide, efficiency) but will suffer from all its drawbacks (high stall speed, lack of manoeuvrability, difficult to use). Conversely, you don’t want a too low aspect ratio as it has a very specific use. You should stick to a mid-aspect ratio foil, that is a balance of the two and allows you to learn on but will still use in waves and light winds when you are more advanced.
Thankfully, almost all brands use the same sizing convention for their masts. They range from around 60 - 110cm long. A shorter mast is used for learning because it keeps you closer to the water. The crashes are less severe as you simply have less distance to fall. There is also less righting moment so there are less controllability issues; a shorter mast is more stable and easier to use. Shorter masts are also good for prone foiling. When foil surfing in Sydney’s beach breaks I often use shorter masts. They prevent the foil from hitting the sandbars on take-off and duck-diving.
Long masts are for more advanced riders. They are great in waves and for speed (you can lean the rig over for increased upwind angles). Longer masts are also appropriate for jumping and free-style as it gives you that extra bit of trajectory. All of this comes with stability and draft issues that a skilled rider can overcome.
So, what size is best for you? Well, it will comes as no surprise when I say a mid-length is the best. If you have the option of learning on a shorter mast (in the region of 60cm), then great, but I would not recommend buying one. You will quickly want more altitude to get over chop/waves and you will feel held back by its limitations. My advice is to go for a 75cm or an 85cm mast. Just remember that an 85cm mast is on the long side of the mid-range so it will take longer to master wingfoiling than if you choose a 75cm. Most people will end up with 2+ masts, so they can change depending on the discipline and conditions. Buying a 75cm mast will not be a waisted purchase if you also take up prone foiling!
This is the component that holds it all together. It’s core functions are pitch/yaw stability and rigidity. The loads on the fuselage are high and it needs to be able to withstand this without being too heavy. The main variable that we can choose is its length ranging from 50-90cm. The longer the fuselage, the more stability you will have in pitch (nose of your board up and down about the mast) and yaw (nose left and right about the mast). The payoff of stability is the lack of manoeuvrability. As you progress with wingfoiling you will generally want a shorter fuselage, but this also depends on the conditions of the day. A 70cm fuselage is about the right length for all-round performance. It’s enough to learn on but won’t hold you back as you get better.
The function of the stabiliser is to complement the front wing. Without it the foil is uncontrollable so it plays an important role. As with everything else I’ve mentioned, more stability (which is good for learning) comes with more drag (bad for speed and efficiency) so it is a balance you need to get right. Manufactures spend a lot of time and money in getting the partnership between the front wing and stabiliser right, so my advice for entry level is to go with the manufacturers pairing recommendations. When you get better and can feel the subtle differences between stabilisers, you can experiment with designs and angles of attack (by placing a shim underneath the stabiliser).
Ok, so this is an important one. Different brands use very different materials and fittings. The long story short is that brands are not interchangeable. For example, you can not put an F-One mast on a Unifoil fuselage! When choosing a brand to go with I think it’s important to have a local rep or shop that can help you when things go wrong and for advice on what components to buy. Foiling is progressing at such a rate that you want to choose a brand that has good R&D and will push the market. It’s also worth considering what the local riders are using as you can get advice and spare parts from them if needed. Whatever brand you decide, make sure you think into the future and know that you will probably have to stick with them for some time.
For your first foil you want go with the manufactures suggested pairings. As you develop a style and preference of your own you can pick and choose the parts that work for you. It will serve you well to choose a brand that you plan to stick with for the long term because they are not interchangeable. Select one that has good R&D and that local riders use. It’s definitely worth getting a good quality package deal that will allow you to add components as you progress. This may not the cheapest initially but it will save you $$$ in the long term. The F-One 1480 Phantom and the Unifoil 210 Vyper (1400cm2) foils complete are perfect examples this. They are mid-aspect foils that are able to be used in the learning stages but have the performance to push you when you progress. They are both great all-round Front Wings that perform well in a host of conditions.
I hope you have found this guide useful. It’s the exact advice that I give my friends who are wanting to get into the sport. Obviously, there are some exceptions to the rules mentioned but feel free to reach out if you want to discuss specifics. PerformanceBoardsports do a tailored wing foil package at discounted prices. Please get in touch and we will put a bespoke package together for you. If you have any questions or want to know more, don’t hesitate to get in touch email@example.com or 0426551022 and I’ll be happy to chat to you about foils all day!