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a man learning how to wing foil by starting on his knees on the slingshot ltf board in the water.

You have to crawl before you walk, or in this case, kneel before you rip it up. Photo: James Ferrell//The Inertia


The Inertia

Maybe you’ve seen videos, maybe you’ve seen people doing it in person, but either way, you want in. And I don’t blame you. A couple years ago I was in the same boat, waking up before the crack of dawn to surf before the wind picked up, bemoaning solid afternoon sets with too much texture on the face, and generally spending less time in the water than I should have. 

Seeing wing foilers make effortless loops on windy days off the coast at my local surf break finally pushed me over the edge, and since then there’s been no turning back. I’m genuinely addicted to the strange and wonderful sensation of wing foiling, and it’s been incredible to follow along as the sport grows in popularity, and the gear keeps getting better and more refined. 

But how and where to start? There’s no doubt that it’s intimidating to invest in a sport that costs upward of a grand (at least) to get into. So that’s why we created this guide, to help you get on the right gear, for the right cost. Wing foil packages are also a great way to get into the sport, and we cover those in this article here.

Money-Saving Tips
Money-Saving Tips

Check out used listings in your area. In the Bay Area, Crissy Field Swap Meet is a great place to buy/sell used gear. There are a number of regional Facebook pages as well, so do a search.

Wing foil gear is advancing in leaps and bounds. This is great for beginners as there’s often incredible deals on last-season’s gear, and you won’t benefit *that* much from tomorrow’s top-of-the-line, cutting-edge equipment… yet.

In the following, we’ll go through each piece of gear you need to get flying, and give you specific recommendations based on our own experience, as well as some general buying advice on how to choose the right wing foil gear for you based on age, height, weight, location, and prior boardsports experience. But in short, here’s the gear you need: a foil, a foil board, and a wing. As well as a few other odds and ends like a pump (for the wing), wetsuit (depending on where you ride), helmet (almost certainly), and a pfd/impact vest (also a great idea). 


Wing and Slingshot LTF Board on the Beach

The Slingshot LTF (read our full review here) has a baseplate compatible with fins and a keel for SUP-Winging (pictured), and a foil for Wing Foiling (below). Photo: James Ferrell//The Inertia

Learning Progression

There’s two distinct parts of wing foiling that a beginner will have to combine to get up and flying. The wing, and the foiling. And these can both be practiced separately. 

It’s optimal to get time tow-foiling behind a boat or Jet Ski, or having at least a couple of sessions on an e-foil to learn the foil part of the equation. E-foils are pricey but can certainly be worth investing in for windless days, accessibility for sharing the stoke of foiling with friends and family, or reselling once you’ve gotten your use out of it. 

For beginners with no prior windsports experience, it’s also not a bad idea to get on a paddleboard to learn the basics of the wing, going upwind, etc. This can be done with wing-specific boards like the Slingshot LTF (pictured above), or any paddleboard with a SUPwinder or similar keel attachment. This  can also be done (not as optimally, though) with a larger/beginner-sized foil board, but having the foil attached underneath will have you popping up on foil when you might not be ready. And if you do it without the foil, you’ll need some type of keel underneath to do anything more than go where the wind takes you. 

Riding the Waydoo Flyer One+ in the San Francisco Bay
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From there, you’ll move on to real foil gear. Those with sufficient watersports or foiling experience may be able skip some of the initial steps, but there’s no doubt that giving yourself the time to work on the separate skills of winging and foiling before you get out there with your wing foil gear will reduce the learning curve and help you stay safe while doing so. And as you start acquiring your wing foil gear, it can be worth looking into the types of package deals that MACkite and other windsports retailers offer to help lower the startup costs (somewhat). 


Jesse Faen jumping while wing foiling

@jessefaen shows us what he’s riding. Photo: James Ferrell//The Inertia

Foil

The Right Type of Foil

Foils tend to come in a few separate parts. There’s the front wing, back wing, a fuselage that connects the two, and a mast that connects the first three parts (generally referred to as the “foil plane”) to the foil board. 

The right shape of foil matters, and Aspect Ratio is a good rule of thumb in determining that fact. Starting out, you’ll want to use larger, low-aspect foil wings (Aspect Ratio of about five or less) for early lift off of the water and a stable yet maneuverable ride. Pair that with a longer fuselage and larger rear wing for even more stability, and a mast that’s on the shorter side (70-80 cm) so when you inevitably “breach” (get lifted out of the water by your foil), you don’t fall too far before hitting the water.

That’s the “beginner foil” in a nutshell, but some great options for beginner foils include the Slingshot PFI series, the F-One Gravity, Armstrong’s CF foils, and Cabrinha’s X-Series, to name a few.

Slingshot foil comparison

Despite being having similar wingspans, the Slingshot PFI 835 (top) makes a great beginner foil with a ton of surface area for lots of lift, whereas the Slingshot 926 PTM (bottom) has a glidier outline for high-efficiency (and more advanced) riding. Photo: Will Sileo//The Inertia

The Right Size Foil

As far as sizing goes, the most commonly used metric for foils is the Surface Area, measured in square centimeters (cm2). You’ll want to look for a foil size roughly your weight in pounds with an extra zero at the end. For myself, at 155 pounds, I would want to start on a beginner foil that’s roughly 1550 cm2

The amount of wind where you’ll be learning also plays a factor here. If you ride somewhere with moderate to high wind, it makes a decent amount of sense to air on the side of less foil rather than more, or “size down if in between sizes.” If you’re learning somewhere with low-moderate wind, the opposite holds true.

Foil Aspect Ratio Comparison

Foil shape matters a lot. Aspect Ratio doesn’t tell you everything about a foil, but it’s a good rule of thumb to start with. Photo: F-One.

Other Considerations

Beginner foils, more so than advanced ones, often come in a full set (foil plane+mast) meant to drop the start-up cost somewhat, and help make sure the beginner has everything they need when they arrive at the beach. For some sports, I’d recommend staying away from “beginner package deals” and assembling your own kit, but in a sport with so many confusing (and expensive) components, these sorts of packages are certainly worth considering. 

Foilers tend to have a loyalty towards a specific foil company, and with good reason. Within a manufacturer, foil parts tend to be interchangeable, allowing a foiler to adapt to the conditions, adapt their kit to various foil disciplines like downwind foiling or surf foiling (each tends to call for different sizes and shapes of foil)… or progress in downsizing from a beginner kit to a more advanced one without having to replace everything from mast and fuselage to the nuts and bolts that keep it together.

Easy modularity is a huge plus for a foil system, and will be a big point of comparison in our upcoming Best Foils review, but I digress. This matters a bit less when you’re just getting started, as those beginner components (often aluminum or fiberglass) tend to be less premium than (and sometimes not compatible with) the more advanced bits and pieces (often carbon) that you’ll progress to, and because beginner foils are often easiest to resell as a package when you’ve moved on. 


Attaching a foil to the Slingshot LTF

Your first foil board should look relatively similar – big, with plenty of surface area and volume. Photo: James Ferrell//The Inertia

Foil Board

The Right Size Board

As for your first real foil board, the general guidance tends to be your weight in kilograms, plus about 20-40, translates to how many liters you want your first foil board to be. At 68 kilos, I began with a 90L wing board, and found this to be a great starting point. However, I benefited a lot in my learning process both from my age, and prior boardsports experience. For older or less-experienced riders, it can definitely be worth going up to your weight plus 30, even 40 for your first wing board. However, same as with the wing, bigger is not always better, and you’ll want to strike the right balance. In the early stages of winging, a bigger board is awesome, giving you a nice, stable platform to take off from for the first time. However, as you progress, having too large of a platform will hold you back, making turns and wave-riding more difficult. 

The Right Type of Board

While volume is a nice rule of thumb, shape matters as well. Beginners want to choose a board with a wider outline for stability as opposed to the narrow and pointy downwind boards that are starting to become popular for light-wind winging. A brand’s “all-around wing board” is usually a good place to start if you’re perusing the selection. You’ll also have to choose between an inflatable wing board or a hard board.

Inflatable boards are great for travel, and are safer and softer for beginners, providing a softer landing for the inevitable spills that come with learning to wing foil. However, although they’ve gotten surprisingly good, inflatables just don’t yet reach the same stiffness and performance potential as a hard board, and at some point in your learning progression, you’ll be moving to a hard foil board.

If you have the budget, and would maybe keep the board to teach someone else on, or for traveling, an inflatable can be a good call. But if you have the space to store one, and can endure a few hard knocks as you’re starting out, a hard board will progress much further with you in your wing foil journey.

Some examples of great beginner wing boards include the Naish Hover Wing, Slingshot Wing Craft V2, F-One Rocket Wing ASC, and Duotone/Fanatic Sky Wing. For more options, check out our article on The Best Wing Foil Boards.

Deep Tuttle vs twin track foil connection points

Left, a Slingshot windsurf board with both twin track (outside) and deep tuttle (inside) connectio points. Right, F-One mast top-plates for deep tuttle (left) and twin track (right). Photo: Slingshot Sports//F-One

Other Considerations

It’s also worth paying attention to what’s going on with the underside of the board. A flat bottom rather than a contoured one will be better for stability, and you definitely want to make sure the mast attachment point on your board matches the foil mast you’re using. There are two types: Deep Tuttle Box and the more standard twin track/plate mount system. Tuttle is a system inherited from windsurfing, and is for the most part being phased out, so I’d recommend sticking to two-track mountings for your board and mast if possible.

New Technology

New wing foil gear is being released almost every day, it seems, and one new piece that has just hit the market (and we can’t wait to get our hands on to test) is the Lift Foils Blowfish. It is designed for use with e-foils for increased accessibility, and the ability to use one’s efoil as a dinghy for adventures like fishing, and snorkeling. However, we’ve caught wind of the idea that it could also be an incredible solution for beginning wingers who want to avoid purchasing a larger board to learn on and then quickly growing out of it.

The Blowfish, basically one large inflatable rail that fits around the front and sides of a foil board, dramatically increases the volume of your ride, meaning, in theory, a new winger could purchase a smaller wing foil board than recommended for their weight/experience, attach the Blowfish for the beginning stages of learning, and once ready, remove the blowfish and have a smaller board to step down to as they progress. The disclaimer is that we have yet to test this theory, but we did think it was worth mentioning here as a potential innovation.


Wing foiling with Jesse Faen

Larger wings are great for beginners and lighter wind conditions, generating extra lift to get up on foil. Pictured: certified non-beginner @jessefaen makes good use of his 6.5m Slingwing. Photo: James Ferrell//The Inertia

Wing

The Right Size Wing

Last but not least, the wing is a critical piece of the equation to get right. It’s a good idea to consult local knowledge for where you’ll be winging to determine the size you’ll want. For your first wing, it’s best to go a bit larger than the “average” wing size for your area (rider size/weight plays a factor as well, but it’s less important here than with the foil and foil board). The extra power will give you a wider operating range in lighter winds, and help you get up on foil easier as you’re starting out. 

However, “bigger is better” is by no means a foolproof solution. As you learn to pump your way onto foil, you won’t require the same amount of push from the wind to get going, and you may soon (as you’re able to stay on foil and begin learning to turn) want a smaller wing for the increase in maneuverability and ease of handling that it brings. Larger wings are more cumbersome to turn with, and furthermore, being overpowered while learning can hamper your progress.

To clarify – being overpowered to start with is great, getting you up on foil without too much effort. However, once you have gotten out of the water and are actually riding, it’s extremely frustrating to be completely overpowered on a large beginner foil and with a larger wing – you’ll be too busy getting bucked off of the foil or breaching (getting so much lift the foil pops out of the water) to focus on progressing your winging.

For example, where I learned to wing, a 4m wing is the “average” wing size, tending to work best in the widest range of conditions we have to offer. I learned on a 5m wing, and while it was a great choice starting out, it soon became too much wing for me, especially on the very windy days when more advanced riders were pulling out their 3.5 or even 3m wings, and I pretty quickly picked up a 4.2m wing for windier days. I suspect I may have gotten a bit more use out of a 4.5m wing than the 5m, however, having the 5m in my back pocket for lighter-wind days ended up being a welcome surprise.

As you continue winging, you’ll start to build a quiver of wings. A three-wing quiver spaced 1m apart– 3m, 4m, 5m, for example – tends to give you the best and most reliable coverage of conditions without too much overlap. It’s also a good idea to consult other riders in your area, who can advise you on what wings sizes they tend to use the most.

Ocean Rodeo Gen2 Glide wing foiling at the AWSI expo

Ocean Rodeo’s all-Aluula Gen 2 Glide is not a beginner wing. Photo: Cory Diamond//The Inertia

The Right Type of Wing

Is there such a thing as a “beginner” or “advanced” wing? Definitely. Beginner wings tend to have more “grunt” or get-up-and-go energy, whereas more advanced wings sacrifice that for better top speed and upwind-ability. Most wing manufacturers do a solid job of telling you which wings in their lineup are which, but beginner wings tend to have a more compact outline, less dihedral (angle between the two sides of the wing) and soft handles. Beginner/intermediate wings also have a lot of crossover with surf-style wings, whereas more advanced wings tend to be billed as a brand’s race or freestyle model of wing, which can be helpful to pay attention to as you assess options.

Wing windows can also be a consideration for added safety while riding. That said, it’s worth noting that windows will never be as good as lifting the wing and having a look around you. You’ll definitely want to get in the habit of checking your surroundings from the beginning, especially if you are learning in a crowded location or one with any type of ship-traffic.

As for what handles are best for beginners, soft handles are often recommended for their simplicity in packing/storage of the wing, and being soft you’re less likely to give yourself or your board a knock with them. Hard handles do provide more direct feedback, however, and a boom can make a huge difference for nailing and improving your turns, giving you a much wider margin for error when swapping hands. They add to the cost of the wing, usually needing to be purchased separately, and are another piece of gear to keep track of, but can make a difference. Learn more about the differences in our article on The Best Wings for Wing Foiling. As far as beginner wings go, the F-One Origin Wing is a solid choice, as is Slingshot’s Slingwing, and North’s Nova.

Other Considerations:

As you’re purchasing your first wings, it’s worth keeping in mind that you’ll probably thrash the heck outta them as you’re learning. Don’t go straight for the Aluula construction wings, instead save a few bucks and go for one of last-season’s wings (as a beginner, all that newfangled technology won’t make a big difference), or a lightly used wing. However, buying used wings as a beginner can be a risky business if you don’t know what to look out for.

Of all the wing foil components, wings have the shortest lifespan, eventually “bagging out” in the canopy (losing their fabric tension) or taking on the scuffs and pin holes of regular use until something important breaks. If you plan on going the used-gear route for your wing, be sure to run things by an experienced foiler to make sure there aren’t any red flags (such as home-made bladder repairs) or overly worn material. You also might want to ask a friend, or watch a video or two on how to properly roll up and store the wing that you end up purchasing. It’s certainly worth knowing the proper way to do so (varies somewhat from wing to wing) to ensure a long lifespan for your investment.


MACkite wing foil gear chart

A handy-dandy chart for determining what size wing, foil, and board to purchase based on your weight and experience. Photo: MACkite//The Inertia

Other Odds and Ends You’ll Need

Leash (x2)

For your board leash, the most common types are coiled leashes, which help shorten the length of the leash to keep it out of the water while you’re on foil. Common attachment points are at the waist, ankle, or calf. However, if you’ve got a surf leash lying around, that should do the trick while you’re starting out, and let you take some time to decide what kind of wing board leash will work best for you.

Wing leashes are often included with your wing, though Duotone and the 2023 Cabrinha/Dakine wings are notable exceptions. The most common type of wing leash attaches to your wrist, however, waist leashes are also a popular choice for those who find themselves paddling often, as well as keeping things from getting tangled during tricks or turns. Ozone wings come standard with a waist leash.

valve types

Left to right: F-One’s Reactor Valve, Duotone’s Airport II, and the basic one-way valve nearly everyone else uses. Photo: F-One//Duotone//MACkite

Pump (with the correct attachment for your wing)

Most wings make use of a standard two-pin connection type (similar to a Boston Valve), but some wings that don’t are the F-One wings which use a system compatible with most paddleboard pumps, Duotone who simply have their own system, and Reedin. It can be worth grabbing a small adapter set so you are never without the adapter you need! And if you forget your pump at home, don’t be shy to ask around and borrow one at your local beach. Happens to everyone at some point.

Safety Gear

It’s also highly recommended to wear a helmet and pfd/impact vest, especially as you’re starting to use the foil. As you gain experience, you’ll learn how to fall away from the board and foil, and hopefully develop a sixth sense for keeping that foil in the water and away from your wing. But in the beginning your body simply won’t know how to do these things, so a helmet and vest can go a long way to keeping you safe. 

More Foil Gear

A board bag is another worthy investment to keep that foil board ding free while in transit (nobody wants a waterlogged foil board dragging them down), as is a waterproof pouch for your cell phone or a marine radio. If something goes wrong and you find yourself stranded (though it’s best to avoid putting yourself in such a situation to begin with) it’s nice to be connected to call for help. In the SF Bay, a marine radio like the Standard Horizon HX40 is basically required equipment given the strong currents. Another must-have for the SF Bay, as well as many other wing foil locations across the globe, is a wetsuit


Wing Foil Jesse Faen

Jesse Faen catches a wave on the Slingshot LTF with a 6m Slingwing and his own, more advanced, Slingshot foil. Photo: James Ferrell//The Inertia

When to Upgrade Your Beginner Gear

As with most boardsports, a time will soon come when you’ll want to upgrade to more advanced gear from what you began on. But in a sport with such expensive components as wing foiling, those upgrades can be intimidating. Generally, here’s what I’d recommend in terms of upgrade progression:

The first upgrade item I recommend is a second wing, likely smaller than the wing you started out on. Once you’re consistently getting up and riding on foil for more than 5-10 seconds at a time, having a smaller wing will keep you from getting too overpowered in stronger winds (see below on the importance of conditions) and allow you to continue your learning progression in a wider range of wind speeds. I’d generally recommend sticking with the gruntier, beginner-intermediate wings until you’ve got your gybes on lock. Unless you’re working on your tacks or trying to achieve the best speed and upwind angles, more advanced, “racier” wings won’t be super helpful.

Next can either be the foil or the board, depending on how much, or how little, you sized these up for your beginner setup. You also might want to pay attention to your own pain points as you ride – do you find yourself breaching often or having trouble keeping the foil below the surface of the water? Upgrade your foil first. Do you find yourself bogging your rails on turns? Maybe upgrade your board, or consider purchasing a longer mast.

Looking at my personal experience, I learned how to wing foil on a 90L board with a 2000 cm2 foil, 72cm mast, and 5m wing. At 155 lbs that foil size was undoubtedly way too much foil for me, and had me breaching quite a bit. Especially with the extra power of a 5m wing. So after acquiring my second wing (4.2m), the first thing I upgraded was my foil, switching to a 1400 cm2 front wing and an 85cm mast. The 90L board actually lasted me quite a while, though towards the end of my time with it, I could definitely tell that my progression was being hampered by being on too large of a board, particularly when wave-riding or working on turns and maneuvers.


Wing Foiling at Hood River in Light Wind

Light wind makes for high-effort winging. Not exactly ideal beginner conditions. Photo: Cory Diamond//The Inertia

Importance of Conditions in Learning to Wing

In surfing, poor conditions are often the best for learning, resulting in less crowds and plenty of reps on soft, crumbly, non-critical waves. Wing foiling is not surfing. When you’re learning, it’s better to learn in the “best” possible conditions: strong, consistent (a.k.a. not gusty) wind about 15-20 knots, flat(er) water without too much chop, waves, or strong currents (though a steady current going upwind, the opposite direction the wind is blowing, can create more “apparent wind,” helping you get up on foil faster). It’s also best to stay away from locations with too much marine traffic, which can be dangerous as you’re learning and need all of your focus for the wing and foil. 

It’s exceedingly frustrating to try and learn to foil without enough wind to get you up, or while being sucked downwind by a strong current. Similarly, super-windy days can breed their own form of frustration as you’ll find yourself getting way too much lift from your beginner foil and larger wing. As hard as you might be frothing, save yourself the agony of a frustrating session and check those conditions before you go. Happy winging!

Editor’s Note: For deep-dive reviews of foil gear, here’s our guides to The Best Wings for Wing Foiling, and The Best Wing Foil Boards. And stay tuned for our Best Foils review this summer. For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.

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