Winter days along the west coast of Florida can be exquisite – and this morning dawned high overcast, barely a breeze and the wide open Gulf of Mexico beckoning me to take a paddle from the Clearwater Pier. After walking my Starboard 4 in 1 Wingboard to the water I did wish that i could have been soaring along with my FreeWing – but 5 minutes into the paddle I fell into a sweet rhythm just enjoying the sights.
Heading north, a series of pilings lined the boundary line keeping power boats away from swimmers, but to the local pelicans the pilings were the perfect vantage point for looking for schools of bait fish which were abundant.
The water was so calm and what little breeze there was pushed me gently northward. There was no better time to make my way the 4 miles to Caladesi Island. I heard there was an inlet that would allow me to leave the Gulf and return via the Intracoastal Waterway.
Caladesi Island is generally accessed by boat. Most often, paddlers drive to Dunedin (about 4 miles north of Clearwater) then drive the causeway out to Honeymoon Island. From “Pet Beach” one can negotiate the inlet that separates Caladesi from Honeymoon Island – but beware of weekends and power boat traffic. Alternately, there is a ferry that will take beachgoers to Caladesi. For me, I liked the idea of accessing this gem of a beach with abundant mangroves to explore from Clearwater Beach.
It took about an hour of easy paddling to get to the south end of the park. I explored a bit further north of where the inlet showed on the map – but there was no inlet. Recent storms and silting had filled it in and small pines and mangroves had already taken over.
Just as I was about to return down the beach in a southward direction, amazingly the breeze picked up a bit AND SHIFTED 180 DEGREES!!!! How lucky was I. For the 4 mile return trip I had a gentle downwinder. It was a very special morning.
It’s a roll of the dice to make the one hour drive from my house to one of three lakes where wind and wing come to play. Of the three I choose the one with the most fluky wind because the lake is just so absolutely pristine clean and beautiful at Elk Lake Resort and Marina. I usually start down in a bay in the southwest corner.
On August 14, the conditions did not disappoint!
This 4 in 1 inflatable board by Starboard has delivered immeasurable fun to me since I got it just 4 months ago. This picture is very misleading because the bay where I put in and took out was dead calm (hence the paddle to bring me out to the windy area of the lake. But just beyond the calm bay the wind was a fairly steady 8-9 mph with wonderful, frequent gusts of 20-22 mph.
An array of various sailboats from Hobie Cats to 23 foot sloops were zooming on every tack – and I was right there with them with my 5m Freewing AIR V2. For the first time I had the “feel” for tacking – getting my board around like never before. Everything I learned from Jonathan at Cascade Kiteboarding was becoming more natural. When the wing was nearly pulling me off the board, for the first time I locked my feet in the foot straps and sped across the water like never before.
About 10 days ago I saw the movie Where the Crawdads Sing. I think the film brought out my inner “marsh girl” and inspired a paddle far different than my usual SUP time when I head out for training, distance, intervals or speed. A week ago that sort of paddling time paid off during 5-mile upwind race across beautiful Odell Lake during the 41st Pioneer cup. (Yup, someone had to be the oldest person out on the water lol. I was also the oldest in 2013 – STORY HERE)
Two days after I paddled hard, fast and furious at the Odell Pioneer Cup (pic to the left) the day dawned wind-less and absolutely perfect for a paddle. The section of river in town would be crowded with paddlers and floaters so i drove deep into the Deschutes National Forest and put in at a section of river I love. At 7 am no one was there but me.
I didn’t hear the crawdads sing but I was treated to watching the beavers play. My usual journey is about 2 miles upriver to the base of a tumbling falls and return. About a mile into the paddle for some reason I ventured off the main river and meandered into a slough (pronounced “slew”). It’s a body of water along a river’s edge that formed from an old channel of the river. While much of this slough is 1-3 feet deep, there are some ancient water filled lava tubes that dive into bottomless depths. Something about the day slowed my agenda and I savored a rich and rare experience of solitude amidst the beauty.
This was a day that my Starboard 4 in 1 board was not driven by the wind – my sails and wings stayed home. I love the versatility of my inflatable – it easily transitions from sport to sport.
How wonderful is it? Well. I only thought I knew until last Friday. That’s the first day of my wing journey where I had consistent strong breezes and wonderful gusts up at Elk Lake. Yes, the wind came from the east and the north, and sometimes from the south – that’s just Elk Lake. But is was steady enough that I FINALLY felt the loft and flight of my 5m wing.
But best of all – I felt where I should be standing on the 4 in 1 board. I was carving turns and making tacks like a rock star. Jibes were serious good fun! I am so hooked now there is no going back.
But is there “going forward” to a foil? Maybe. But not necessarily. This Freewing flyer is very -very happy on a super wing board and a quiver of great Freewing AIR V2s. Don’t judge me if I stay on the water rather than foil-flying. Just know that I feel no less the “eagle soaring.” What an amazing sport for any and all ages.
Wow – the feeling of zooming across a rippling body of water powered only by a lofting wing that you hold onto while directly powering your board – nothing like it…… until you realize how far you’ve gone from your start point. I have actually brought my SUP paddle along with me many times because I haven’t got tacking, jibing and sailing upwind mastered yet. Because of a much needed dose of instruction, I went to Jonathan at Cascade Kiteboarding for a lesson.
This past Friday up at Elk Lake Resort the wind off shore was steady and maybe 8 kn with some stronger gusts. It gave me a chance to get some of the longest rides I’ve had so far. It was also steady enough that I could practice lots of jibes. Tacking is still not in my skill set! Need more water time.
I did find myself far from the start point with the wind charging directly out of the marina area. Try as I might I couldn’t track upwind enough to zig zag my way back. So yup, I let the wing trail behind me as I paddled to a more advantageous position. There, upwind from the marina I ended my hour or so on the water with a sweet reach! I felt as relaxed as that guy on the floating dock!
Feeling where the wind is coming from while winging is a skill that can be practiced anywhere – on or off the water. During my lesson with Jonathan from Cascade Kiteboarding we spent about an hour on land. Sure I was hankering to get in the water – but the fundamentals that he was sharing were crucial. I had no idea how much I didn’t know.
Windsurfing and sailing had been my wind-driven experience for many decades. Wind fueling and driving a wing is a different experience in many ways. First of all I needed to realize that I WAS THE MAST! If any power would be generated from the wing to move the board, the “mast” or my strong upright posture and core was the vehicle.
Additionally, if the mast was going to remain upright, I needed to keep my feet FLAT – and keep the board balanced. This is a key technique if you ever plan to move on to a foil board. Once we got some balance going on, I picked up my Freewing AIR V2 and moved it to the luff, or pointing toward the 12 o’clock position. It soared quietly and easily perpendicular to the wind when I put it in position while holding the front handle – creating a neutral point.
It is a no-brainer that we want to have the wing on the downwind side when we start. This is the starting position for land drills and also for when we move to the water before we power up for our “pop-ups”. There are other ways to imagine the “wind clock.” Kiters often use a vertical image.
Johnathan drew a line on the ground that would serve as my imaginary board during the land drills. We worked on where my feet should be placed – and most importantly, he explained ‘Why” my feet should be there.
I learned that there was no need to fight the wing when it was in the 12 o’clock position. Being at 12 o’clock would allow me to control movement during gusts or any time I needed to control my speed or re-group. From this position I learned the best way to flip the wing and prepare to sail it
I was amazed how much I learned about keeping my elbows in, using my back hand for steering the wing and allowing my forward hand to steady things. Moving from the 3 o’clock to the 9 o’clock positions I began to get the feel for what going upwind or downwind was like. Yes, I came into this lesson with some skills. But I left the lesson with a much greater appreciation of the windy wonderful flight across water that the wing can offer.
I experienced what it felt like putting myself in a no-go (literally) spot. Being in irons with a wing is no fun. Being able to maintain power while making your way upwind is a beautifully nuanced skill – but also a necessity.
It’s a tired and trite saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But if the old dog is inspired, curious, open-minded and finds the right team for learning – then “new tricks” are fully accessible.
15 years of SUP have kept me strong and with an innate sense of balance (along a LOT of yoga). Throw in a re-kindling of my love for windsurfing back in the spring of 2019 and I was finally ready to explore winging this past May. I headed straight to Starboard for my quiver of Freewing AIR V2 wings (3m, 4m and 5m) and the sweet Starboard 4 in 1 inflatable 10’4″. (click for video)Talk about a stable and forgiving vehicle for my learning! And it paddles like a dream for those less than windy days.
For about 6 weeks I dabbled around on our local lakes in 6-15 kn winds using what I had gathered from watching training videos. I was unaware of how different “sailing” a wing was from using a windsurfing sail. That is – until I met up with the team at Cascade Kiteboarding yesterday. My experience from the first website contact form I filled out through my 3 hour lesson was 5-star plus!
Katie responded to my many questions quickly and completely. She set me up for a lesson with instructor Jonathan. Talk about professional in every way. Jonathan took plenty of time to HEAR what I wanted to learn and why. He listened to me talk about my past experience and concerns – it was a super gusty-windy day in the Columbia Gorge. Gusts to 30kn!!!!!
I needn’t have worried. Within minutes I was suited up with a radio-contact helmet. On and off the water Jonathon could coach my every move. Secondly, we were going to begin my lesson on land – experiencing the wind, laying down the fundamentals, discussing, having plenty of Q&A – before heading into the more protected bay just beyond the learning center site. For more about what I learned from Jonathon – CLICK HERE for Part 2 of this 3-part article series.
Summer finally arrived here in Central Oregon but steady breezes are still being elusive. I have yet to be patient enough to wait to get out on the water after 3 PM when the wind is more dependable. By 3:00 I have already had a paddle and enough tries at winging to get my oldish bod pretty darn tired.
When I started SUP about 15 years ago it was a relatively new sport here in Bend and there was a very tight-knit SUP community of friends to paddle with and to learn with. The learning curve was very quick and the fun was huge. Now that I have been the only person with a wingboard winging around early season on local lakes I have missed that camaraderie. Once summer really arrives I’m sure I will find a welcoming group of people. I hear that most are on a foil – so it will be great to watch them fly!
In a recent e-mail I asked her about some winging basics. She offered some insight on leashes. You only need to fall once in the wind to realize what a life saver (literally) the leashes on board and wing are.
Peggy uses an 8-10’straight leash off the back of the board and a waist belt for the coiled wing leash(about 4’long). I had been using the wrist leash that came with my Freewing but wondered if there was a better solution. I still need to paddle back upwind and the wrist leash got in the way of paddling, and also I often found myself sort of tangled. (Beginner Blues).
Being in my 8th decade, I am particularly interested in any refinement that could reduce the chance of wear and tear or injury to joints etc. Peggy shared that she has known many people have hurt their shoulders using the wrist leash. In her experience she had a few close calls in the beginning.
Since I am “in the beginning” and may be for some time, I went to my go-to experts at Big Winds to learn more about leashes that attach to the waist. After looking over their many options, I selected the Armstrong A-Wing Ultimate Waist Leash.
(Cool video for a complete overview) This leash uses a non-chaffing bungee spectra rope, has a comfortable waist strap that won’t release, and there is a quick release just in case you get in trouble. The spectra bungee rope that Armstrong selected for this leash is super strong and won’t break or get stretched out like other wing leashes do. Also this material does not chafe you when It wraps around your arm or side on transitions. There is also a quick release for safety:
No one wants to get tangled up in your board and wing leash. The more I learn the more confident I feel.
A wing and a prayer! The water is still bone-chilling COLD here in Central Oregon and the winds have ranged from 8kn to gusts in the 11-18kn range on the days I’ve been out with my Freewing AIR V2. The prayer – that I don’t fall in too often. I am noy a fan of wetsuits – call me crazy. Right now winging on my 32″ wide 4 in 1 board I have a super stable, agile base and falls have been rare.
That said, I see all the pictures of Freewing flyers on their foil and wonder, “Could I ever do that?”
Maybe so! It sure looks like a wishful flyer’s dream come true. Especially with Starboard’s newest inflatable foil, the Air Foil, which can easily travel with me to warmer waters and steadier breezes. But for now – I am solidly happy zooming along as a happy 73 year old wingboarder.
There have been those incredible moments when the wind, my wing, and the balance between power and speed align! Right now those moments are short-lived. But it’s enough for me to stay hungry for MORE “almost flying” good fun.
Playing at building some skills has been enhanced by watching lots of informative training videos. I am a visual learner and gain (maybe even subconsciously) new insights each time I view them. The Zero to Hero series has been my go-to! And thanks to my hubby and friends who take some pictures and video we can look at my current level and see all the room for improvement.