Photos: Bryan McDonald
“What a great start to a new era of racing at StFYC,” said St. Francis Yacht Club Senior Sailing Director Adam Corpuz-Lahne after 33 wing foilers completed a modified slalom course on Friday, June 4, 2021. The race was part of a new monthly Wind Slalom Series open to windsurfers and “wingers”, an up and-coming sport that’s exploded in popularity over the past year.
“Winging” combines the foiling boards that developed for kiteboarding with handheld inflatable wings to offer a nimble, easy ride with less gear and lots of speed.
The first in a summer series of events drew both young and old competitors, as well as those new to watersports competition and veteran boarders of all types.
“We had double the number of anticipated wing racers, and they all seemed to be having a great time out there,” said Corpuz-Lahne, who said conditions were typical of San Francisco Bay in the summer—25-30 knots of westerly winds. “From the water level it was visually spectacular. The wings present something the kites don’t, which is rider proximity to the sail.”
Event organizer Seth Besse said it’s unclear if this is the first wing race hosted by a yacht club—he was aware of a small slalom race on Maui and another in Italy—but this one drew a much larger crowd, which is likely to grow as word gets out.
Following the event, San Francisco Bay magazine Latitude 38 wrote:
Seeing the St. Francis Yacht Club at the forefront of wing racing is no surprise. StFYC has been a leader in supporting “up-and-coming” water sports for decades. StFYC hosted a windsurfing series since before records became digital. The Club was also the first to establish a kitesurf race series in the USA, according to a June 24 article in the Marin Independent Journal which read:
“On selected Thursday evenings, as many as 25 to 40 kiteboarders congregate…to do battle over established courses. The St. Francis series is believed to be the first such program in the United States.”
St. Francis Yacht Club was also on the cutting edge of hydrofoil development since its inception, the evolution of which and combination with kitesurf racing has now become a full Olympic 2024 sailing event.
Digging through the StFYC archives I came across the results of the first (of many) Thursday Night Kite Series. The first race was held on May 12, 2005 with just a handful of competitors, each taking a turn being Race Committee on a different night throughout the series. My jaw dropped to see there was “established” racing back that far, but it dropped again seeing some of the competitor’s names.
Four of them, including that first May 12th night’s race winner Geoff Headington, are now “wingers” in the new StFYC Wing Race Series, which had over 30 competitors on the first night…and is run by a formal race committee.
StFYC truly is a club of visionaries in both sport and leadership. I’m proud to be a member of a Club that supports wild ideas and big dreams, the future of which sometimes turn into Olympic events.
A Firsthand Account from First-time Winger Noelle Phillips Brewin, ICOYC Club Correspondent:
I recently tried wing foiling for the first time at Sherman Island in California and it is definitely harder than it looks, but my guess is the sport will be huge!
It is way less intimidating and a lot more approachable than kiting. It is still fairly expensive to buy the foil and a wing, but there is less gear needed and it seems like a lot of recreational “wingers” get by with only one wing size and a stand up paddleboard to start out.
I attempted using my sister’s wing and foil setup and ended up with a lot of shin bruises from hitting the foil repeatedly when trying to get up; the few times I got going it was really fun! I think most parents will put their kids on wings before letting them kite and I think older kiters will likely “retire” to winging. Adults without any previous kiting experience would probably also be comfortable trying it out. My main goal for wanting to wing is so I can leave one on our sailboat and wing directly from the boat, which I’m too scared to do kiteboarding for fear I get tangled up in the mast!
In my opinion, at the beginner level, winging is a more exhilarating version of stand up paddleboarding, and that has taken off in popularity, so I don’t see why winging wouldn’t.