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Winging it

Riley Jones photo

New watersport will take you flying around Bellingham Bay

By Tony Moceri

If there is one thing that stays constant in our corner of the world, it’s that if there is a new way to recreate, we will have some early adopters. From the mountains to the bays, we embrace all the ways in which one can play in Mother Nature. These are often in obscure ways that may or may not one day become mainstream. Lately, I have been hearing more and more about the sport of wing foiling and had even randomly bumped into someone heading out for a session at Marine Park in Fairhaven.

I have watched and tried many board sports on snow, land and water but never have I seen a sport where it looks as though the people are actually flying. With their wing and hydrofoil, those who know how to harness the wind, and ride the board, can be seen hovering above our waterways. When you first witness the spectacle, they seem to defy the laws of gravity. However, what is actually happening is a bunch of science underneath the water.

The board, which looks like a small paddleboard, has a mast that goes down to essentially a glider under the water with a front and rear wing attached by a fuselage. This design allows the rider’s board, powered by the wind, to completely rise above the water with only the mast showing while the magic happens below the surface.

Riley Jones photo

To get the low down on this growing sport, I chatted with Riley Jones, the winging instructor at Kite Paddle Surf in Bellingham. Scheduling our talk around the wind, Jones filled me in on this board sport that has people braving the cold water and often bad weather to experience the fun of gliding above the water.

Winging has a relatively low barrier of entry as all one needs is the hydrofoil, the inflatable wing, water and wind. A background in wind sports is helpful, as is some experience on a board, but neither is required. Winging is less intimidating and safer than kiteboarding because of the wing replacing the kite. No kite flying learning curve, no possibility of being dragged out to the San Juans.

Beginners are recommended to start on a paddleboard with a keel to focus on learning to use the wing. The second hurdle is getting used to the foil. Getting the opportunity to do this behind a boat can be helpful but is not necessary. Jones says that while there is a learning curve, it is easy to learn and safe to do. A failed attempt at riding the board results in a low-impact fall into the water.

Locally the sport is slowly growing, but there are still relatively few people in the winging community. While the Pacific Northwest is an excellent spot for winging, the elements can deter those looking for a new hobby. A windy day in the summer can create dream-winging conditions, but this year-round sport has its best months in the fall and winter when the wind is more consistent. In our area, that means wearing a full-body wet suit, including gloves and booties. Time in the water is inevitable so being well prepared for the chilly water is a must. While winging can be done on pretty much any body of water that is deep enough, in our area, the consistent wind is in the bays where even in the summer, the water stays cold.

In Whatcom County, the popular spots to go winging are off the shores of Marine Park, Squalicum Beach and Locust Beach. The wind is typically blowing from the south, and riders, especially new ones, want to have the wind blowing them toward the shore. Other regional winging spots are Jetty Island, Whidbey Island and Hood River — the latter being a wind sports mecca.

When first researching the sport, like anything new, it can be overwhelming, but in general, a new rider will want a larger board, 1,700-2,000 square centimeters, which allows for more control. As one improves at the sport, smaller boards allow for more maneuverability. Wings also come in varying sizes; for our local wind, a five to six square meter wing works well.

There are endless amounts of information about wing foiling online, and packages with everything you need can easily be purchased, but as with all outdoor sports, it is important to understand what you are getting yourself into. Understanding the weather and having the proper gear for safety is critically important to prevent being caught in an unsafe situation. Starting with a local rider, shop or instructor can get you started down the right path so that you can soon be the envy of onlookers as you fly across the waters.   x

Tony Moceri is a freelance writer who loves to get out and explore the world with his family. He shares his journey @adventurewithinreach and tonymoceri.com.