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, so you can get to flying as soon as possible.
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), board leash (and a wing leash if your wing doesn’t come with one), wetsuit (depending on where you ride), helmet (almost certainly), and a pfd/impact vest (also a great idea).
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.
It’s also recommended to get on a paddleboard to learn the basics of the wing, going upwind, gybing (turning downwind) 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.
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 help 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 a 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. However, although they’ve gotten surprisingly good, inflatables just don’t yet reach the same stiffness and performance potential as a hard board. If you have the space to store one, and can endure a few hard knocks as you’re starting out, a hard board is the way to go.
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.
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). 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, you’ll 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. Too much wind is great for easily getting up on foil, but it’s extremely frustrating to be completely overpowered on a lifty beginner foil, with a larger wing and just getting bucked off foil or breaching (getting so much lift the foil pops out of the water).
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.
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 generally beginner wings tend to have a more compact outline, less dihedral (angle between the two sides of the wing) and soft handles. It’s also a great idea to choose a beginner wing with windows for added safety while riding. That said, it’s worth noting that windows will never be as good as the under-wing check. Better to get in the habit of checking regularly and before you turn sooner rather than later.
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. However, a boom makes a huge difference for nailing and improving your turns, and unlocks advanced techniques such as one-handed riding. 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 Swing Wing is a solid choice, as is Slingshot’s Slingwing (confusing names, I know), North’s Nova, and the Cabrinha Vision.
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 a lightly used or brand new wing from last season or the season before.
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.
Other Odds and Ends You’ll Need
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.
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.
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.
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 best to learn in the “best” possible conditions: strong, consistent (a.k.a. not gusty) wind about 18-25 mph, 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. As hard as you might be frothing, save yourself the agony of a frustrating session and check those conditions before you go!
Happy winging, and sound off in the comments with any questions or suggested additions.
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.