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.
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.
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.
I am a water fanatic – in it, on it, around it. If there is a way to move, soar, glide, surf or adventure on the water I am on happy kid! My daughter excels in many sports but around water she is happy simply relaxing on and around the ocean and lakes. Just the same, when she came to SUP while I kept on my wing learning journey she spotted a key flaw in my attempts!
I was using the wing more as a sail – as in windsurfing. But the wing flies best when overhead, more like a kite. This very basic video shows the position.
Kristy and I arrived at a lake (no, I won’t reveal its location) in a drizzly rain with a gusty, cold wind then dead calm frosty air. We almost called it a day. But since we had all our boards and gear we decided, “what the heck, let’s go.” It was a great decision. It’s such a truism, “You don’t know until you go.” Intermittently the sun came out and the gusty wind came in waves – dead calm then 2-3 minutes of breeze.
The lake was small, just a few acres of water and sheltered in a pocket among forest and mountains. The pattern was to wing the breeze when it came then wait around for the next minutes of wind. I had a ton of fun working to refine my tacks and jibes in a most forgiving situation.
Being a newbie at any sport is always daunting – and taking lessons is the best way to improve. But I live in Central Oregon about 3 hours from my nearest lesson site (Big Winds in Hood River) so I am depending on online videos to get me started.
All was going well over the past few sessions when the winds were (frustratingly) light. I could experience, practice tacks and gybes, stay balanced and get from here to there fairly easily. I have been using the smaller of my two wings, the 4m Freewing AIR V2.
Earlier this week I drove on to Suttle Lake after looking at my “wind app.” I didn’t expect much because the prediction was for average winds of 6.5 mph. I arrived to find a glassy lake. In my mind it was going to be a SUP day rather than a wing day.
Things changed quickly as they tend to do on the water). After about 45 minutes of calm paddling the breeze began to nip at my heels. Excitedly I paddled back to the car. It was time to inflate the wing and have some flying fun.
In the few minutes it took to get ready and back on the water the wind had gotten even more brisk. WOW! Was I excited. Tacking out from shore I was thrilled at the acceleration and steady speed. After a tack and then a gybe I started to really concentrate on heading back upwind as the wind was coming directly from the point I needed to return to.
In the image below – my return point is in the upper right. While my tacks were not getting me closer to the shore – I was totally stoked at how fast I was going. I hadn’t gotten my feet into the foot straps and it was all I could do to stay planted on my board. It was impossible not to be stoked by the bow wave zooming along ahead of me. The wing soared and played overhead – seemingly with a mind f its own. Yes! I totally need some lessons – but the ride was over-the-top fun!!
I powered and un-powered the wing to the best of my abilities, all the while thinking, “How strong is this wind anyway?”
I later learned that it had been 10-15+. That’s not much for a seasoned wing-er, but it was a lot for me!!!!! This old lady needs to consider getting a smaller sail. I wonder if a 3m Freewing is in my future? I think it should be – at least until I train and learn A LOT more.