History of Wingsurfing - Kai Lenny goes viral!

The Not-So-Short History of Wing Foiling

Using a wing-shaped sail on the water dates back to the early 1980s with the invention of the rigid spar wing by Jim Drake and Uli Stanciu. Jim Drake took one of the yellow sail prototypes to the 1982 PanAm Cup in Kailua, where pro windsurfer Pete Cabrinha was famously photographed trying out the new wing. 

History of Wingsurfing - Peter Cabrinha testing Jim Drakes wing circa 1982.
Peter Cabrinha testing Jim Drake’s wing during the 1982 Pan Am cup in Kailua Bay, Hawaii.
Bajaboarder, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Modern wing foiling

Modern wing foiling, as we know it today, can be traced back to the early 2010s when a group of kiteboarders and windsurfers began experimenting with different ways to ride on top of the water using an inflatable wing-shaped sail. The first reported attempts at winging with an inflatable were made by Tony Logosz, Slingshot Kiteboarding co-founder and designer, who created the first “Slingwing” prototypes in 2011. Duotone designer Ken Winner also worked on inflatable wing prototypes as early as the summer before to use with SUP boards. The secret ingredient of a hydrofoil was the only element left to add.

In 2016, Alex Aguera, a professional windsurfer based in Maui, revolutionized the world of hydrofoils. The inspiration for this came from Kai Lenny, a professional surfer, who challenged Aguera to create a foil that could be propelled solely by the ocean’s energy and the rider’s paddling.

Kai Lenny and the Hydrofoil SUP 2016.

Who invented Wing Foiling?

It was not until the former world champion kitesurfer, Flash Austin, combined the sports of Stand-Up Paddle (SUP) foiling and winging that the sport of Wing Foiling was born. In 2018, Flash Austin began experimenting combining a rigid spar 3.5 m² and 4 m² handheld wings, made from his old Naish kites, with a SUP foil board in Maui. He had success getting on the foil and even executing jibes while on the foil.

Who invented Wing Foiling? Former kitesurfing world champion Flash Austin! Check out this video of some of his first wing foiling runs!

Inspired by Flash’s success, Ken Winner began working on inflatable wings again and the sport as we know it was born. Duotone started marketing their Ken Winner designed inflatable wing in the spring of 2019. Naish and Slingshot shipped their first wings that season as well. By the end of 2019 more than 10 companies were selling wings.

Duotone Foil Wing Product Clip May 2019.

Naish Wingsurfer release May 2019.

Going Viral

It was professional waterman Kai Lenny, however, who introduced the sport to the masses when his “This is Wing Surfing” video went viral in April 2019. The number of wing models from other kite manufactures grew exponentially that summer.

Rapid Growth

One of the reasons why wing foiling has become so popular is that it can be done in a wide range of wind and wave conditions, making it a versatile sport that riders of all levels can enjoy. In addition, launch and landing are much easier and safer than kitesurfing and open up an unlimited number of riding locations.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns significantly accelerated the growth of wing foiling. As kitesurfers and the general public were forced to stay home and not travel, many turned to the new sport of wingsurfing to make the most of their local conditions. In addition, the sport’s accessibility, ease of learning, and relatively low cost made it an attractive option for many people looking to try something new during the lockdowns.

Wing foiling has significantly grown the watersports community, and expanded our places to ride. With the continued development of new equipment and the growth of the wing foiling community, there’s no doubt that this sport will continue to evolve and grow in the coming years. So if you’re looking for a new and exciting way to ride on top of the water, wing foiling is worth checking out.

Check out Flash Austin winging with a Recycled Kite.

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