The dream of flying. With the wingfoil, water sports enthusiasts come a little closer to this dream. Since the first wings were presented in 2019, the market has almost exploded. Many want to experience the feeling of «flying».
You will soon see them on every Swiss lake: the wingfoilers. Standing on a foil board and holding a «wing», they glide almost weightlessly over the water. In contrast to windsurfing or kitesurfing, the wing is not firmly attached to the board or the surfer. Only a safety line prevents you from losing your material. This opens up hitherto unknown possibilities for tricks and variations.
Flying weightlessly over the water takes your breath away from the moment you take off!
Thanks to the hydrofoil technology, the water resistance of the board is massively reduced. As with an airplane, the front wing generates lift. The rear, smaller wing serves as a stabilizer. In this way, the board is lifted a few centimeters out of the water and experts glide or fly almost powerlessly over the water.
The fascination of wing foiling
Balz Müller, a professional water sports enthusiast from Biel, has been there from the very beginning and is one of the absolute world leaders in wingfoiling. «I tried out a wing for the first time in Silvaplana. After two hours I was so excited, I just had to have this thing. I scraped together all my money and bought the only wing they had from the local surf school. Since then I’ve been on the board every free minute.”
Wingfoiling is like a drug, in a good way.
«Wingfoiling is like a drug, in a good way. Man can’t get enough of it. Flying weightlessly over the water takes your breath away, from the first second you take off!” says Balz Müller
In addition, much less wind is needed for wingfoiling compared to windsurfing. According to Balz Müller, this makes almost every Swiss lake attractive for wingfoiling. «On the Swiss lakes there is perhaps enough wind for windsurfing on 25 days a year. The wind is enough for windfoiling 300 days a year. That’s why the sport is exploding at the moment.”
Wingfoiling – an old idea reinvented
What was probably the first idea for a “wing” came about in 1981. The American Jim Drake (inventor of windsurfing) and the German surfing journalist Uli Staciu built the “Urwing”, consisting of aluminum poles and canvas. They even applied for a patent for the idea. Due to the high water resistance of the surfboards of the time, the wing had to be very large and was correspondingly heavy and unwieldy. Although there were various further developments, the idea did not catch on.
The development in the kite industry brought a first ray of hope. Thanks to inflatable constructions and light canvas, the wings became lighter and were still robust enough. In 2011 there were the first prototypes, which correspond to today’s wings. But the water resistance of the surfboards was still too great.
The breakthrough came with the development of the hydrofoil. The hydrofoil technology was invented around 1900. But it was only after the turn of the millennium that resourceful developers took the technology to a new level. The foils got better and better and thanks to the low water resistance, the wing also worked now. In the spring of 2019, world-class windsurfer Robby Naish presented his first wing. Since then, wingfoiling has been unstoppable.
In addition, wingfoiling – in contrast to kiting – is allowed on almost all Swiss lakes. And so, for Balz Müller, Switzerland suddenly became a wingfoil Mecca: “Windsurfers used to fly to Hawaii in search of perfect wind conditions. With wingfoiling, the Mecca has shifted from Hawaii to Swiss waters because we have perfect wingfoil conditions here!»
Wingfoiling on the rise
In the spring of 2019, world-class windsurfer Robby Naish presented his first wing. Other manufacturers followed. Since then, the sales figures have been increasing continuously. Sales figures have really exploded, especially in the USA and Australia, says Philipp Knecht from Sideshore AG (Swiss importer of the most important wingfoil brands). In Switzerland, the sales figures are still at a relatively low level, but have also increased by 40 to 50 percent compared to the previous year.
Wingfoiling is relatively easy. If you have a sense of balance, almost anyone can do it.
Yo Wiebel also notices in his foiling school that wingfoiling is on the upswing. The number of people who want to learn the new sport has doubled compared to the previous year. This also has to do with the fact that the target group is larger compared to other water sports. Since wingfoiling requires little strength, it is a sport for young and old alike: «Wingfoiling is relatively easy. If you have a sense of balance, almost anyone can do it.”
Wing foiling as a top sport
For some time now there has been a World Cup, European and World Championships in the “Race” and “Freestyle” disciplines in wingfoiling.
Now my opponents are 15 to 16 year old boys. I’m having a hard time keeping up with these young savages!
In 2020, Balz Müller took part in the first official Freestyle World Cup and won right away. Since then he’s been one of the world’s best, but at 28 he’s already a thing of the past, as he says himself: “Meanwhile, my opponents are 15 to 16-year-old boys. I’m having a hard time keeping up with these young savages! It’s crazy how quickly the sport has gone from just back and forth to somersaulting!”
Whereby simple somersaults are a thing of the past. In big waves, the wild youngsters are already jumping double somersaults. When it comes to rotations around the longitudinal axis, you are currently dealing with triple rotations («ten-eighties»).
Balz Müller: «I also jump triple rotations. The problem is the landings. I stand maybe two out of ten attempts.” Nevertheless, Balz Müller stays on the ball. He is currently working on a backflip with triple rotation (“Cork ten-eighty”). The limits of this young sport are obviously far from being reached. It will be interesting to see what else is to come.
Radio SRF 1, morning broadcast August 15, 2022