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Rising above the waves

wing foiling at windsurf city in larnaca 3
Summer has us all piling down to the beach. And now there is a new sport to enjoy while there discovers ALIX NORMAN

 

“This is the closest a human came come to flying! You lift off the surface of the water and race through the air. It’s freedom, it’s magic, it’s flight…”

An avid windsurfer, Larnaca-based Margarita has spent most of her life on the water. But now, she’s able to rise above the waves and – unconnected to mast, harness, or lines, simply soar through the air!

Margarita is an exponent of wing foiling, the newest sport to hit Cyprus. It’s a sport that owes a lot to recent inventions: most notably, the hydrofoil and the hand-held wing. The first, you’ll have seen on television: hydrofoils are used in the Americas Cup, lifting 6000-kilogramme yachts clean out of the water, and allowing them to reach previously unforeseen speeds through a complex process that involves the downward acceleration of water over a curved surface (similar to what happens to an aeroplane wing). But while the first hydrofoil design was patented over a century ago, recent developments have now permitted sailors, surfers, kitesurfers and windsurfers to take advantage of the hydrofoil, allowing this incredible invention to lift their boards above the waves.

“The beauty of a hydrofoil is that it raises you right out of the water; almost a metre,” explains Margarita. “Suddenly, you don’t need to worry about choppy conditions or oncoming waves: your foil – or mast as it’s known, despite the fact that it goes down into the water, not up from the board – sits below the surface. So essentially, you’re not riding the rough waves, you’re riding the smooth waters below.”

The second invention that’s contributed to the wing foiling boom is, of course, the wing. Over the years, various hand-held wings have been invented. Earlier versions that relied on a rigid aluminium structure for shape proved burdensome and difficult to lift from the water. But with the advent of the kitesurf sail (with its inflatable leading edge), the hand-held wing has become light, portable, and easy to use.

“Combine the two, the hydrofoil and the hand-held wing, and you have a sport that’s unlike anything you’ve ever tried before, and equipment that can be packed away in seconds!” says Christophe, another local wing foiler. A sailmaker by profession, Christophe claims to be the first person in Cyprus to have tried wing foiling – “and I was immediately hooked!” he laughs.

“I’ve been windsurfing for years,” he acknowledges. “And I’ve been kitesurfing since 1999. But in 2019, when wing foiling began to take off around the world, I decided to give it a go. And it is,” he adds, “the best! It has a bit of everything in it: sailing, surfing, windsurfing, and kiting. But you don’t need a strong wind or big waves or even strength – the wing weighs less than two kilos. You also don’t need a lot of space to set up your equipment like you do with all the kitesurf lines, and you don’t need a huge car to carry your board, as with windsurfing or surfing.”

In wing foiling, he continues, you can catch a small swell and ride forever. “I’ve even wing foiled in the wake of a jet ski,” he exclaims. “It’s surreal – if someone had told me 10 years ago that I’d be flying above the water with a hand-held sail, I never would have believed it. But it’s a sport whose time has come.”

Jorg Grether, who runs WindSurfCity on Larnaca’s Mackenzie Beach, agrees. “We’ve had wing foil equipment at our centre for the past two years, and all our instructors are qualified by the VDWS, the international water sport training association. But it’s only started to take off this summer. And already, we’re seeing new people wanting to learn wing foiling every day, drawn by the exhilaration of an experience that’s unlike anything else.”

Jorg and co teach both wing foiling and wingsurfing: “The first includes both a hydrofoil board and the hand-held wing, the second involves a normal surf board. So if you feel the foil board is a little daunting to begin with, you can get used to the mastless wing while riding a normal SUP board before you move to the foil. It’s still great fun,” he adds, “but once you’ve got the hang of the wing, you’ll definitely want to add the foil to the mix!”

Jorg and his instructors begin wing foiling lessons with an introductory course: “What the equipment is, how it works, how to fall off the board safely. We’ll work on getting a feel for the wing: handling and rotating it on the beach, looking at how it can change your direction and speed. And then we’ll take the wing into the water and combine it with a normal SUP board.”

If the student is a fast learner, they’ll soon progress to a hydrofoil board, says Jorg. “And that’s where the fun really begins! As a windsurfer, I see wing foiling as a pretty much separate discipline – something completely new. You are literally gliding over the water, unencumbered by a heavy mast or harness. It’s impact-free, so a lot easier on the beginner’s body: everything comes out of balance and coordination, rather than brute strength. So it’s a sport that can be enjoyed by children from the age of about 14, and people well into their 70s!”

While there are still relatively few wing foilers on the island – “mostly on Ladies Mile, at Pervolia, and Pissouri,” says Jorg – it’s a sport that’s definitely gaining devotees by the dozen…

“When I first heard about wing foiling, I was a little sceptical,” says Margarita. “‘Surely it can’t be that amazing!’ I thought. But I was wrong – it’s even more incredible than it looks, and now I simply can’t get enough of it! As a busy Mum, I snatch any moment I can to get out on the water. Wing foiling is something completely different; utterly breath-taking. It’s the most free you can be. It is,” she concludes, “basically flying!”

 

For more information on wing foiling in Cyprus, visit https://www.windsurfcitycyprus.com/en/

 

 

 

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