Battle of the Seasons

Winging has taken off around the world, as popular in the lazy tropical waters of the Caribbean as it is in bone-chilling frozen lakes and seas in the high northern hemisphere. Annabel van Westerop gets to experience both regularly, and here she lays out both the upsides and the downsides of winging in opposing seasons…

Photo: David Troeger (summer) / Danny Houwaart (winter)

A  water temperature of 27 degrees Celsius, that’s how I learned wingfoiling. Spoiled? Maybe. Although I didn’t feel so spoiled when I had to go from this heaven for wingfoiling back into a Dutch winter. Although currently living in the Netherlands, my roots are on the Caribbean island of Aruba. Luckily my parents were smart enough to stay when I decided to move back to Europe two years ago, so I have the perfect destination to travel to throughout the year. 

I got the first opportunity to start winging in October last year, when a few of the locals offered me their setup and shared their skills. I was surprised as it was way more fun than I expected. Luckily North was just finalizing their production of the first wingfoiling setup. Back in Holland I got my hands on a set and was back on Aruba later that year to get going. 

Foiling in the warm weather feels amazing of course, although I already bumped upon some first “summer struggles” quickly. One word, four letters: rash! We all know it from surfing, kitesurfing, and basically every other water sport you can think of, and winging is no different. There are many ways to get up on a wingboard and until you can fully sink your board with your feet in the straps, the risk of rash will be present. I started out on my knees, and while my knees lasted longer than expected, the tops of my feet were the first ones to give in. A week of winging with duct tape around my feet made me get creative with some other tactics of getting up. A key one was to keep the toes tucked, although my favorite, which I still use daily now, is to get up from sitting. However, that brought on the next one: bum rash! Thought I was looking all cute in my latest Mystic bathing suit when that one came around the corner. So after two weeks I was looking quite lovely out there: leggings, long rash guard over the impact vest, helmet, and even booties to walk outside over the reef. Please feel free to picture it…

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Coming back to Holland and, although freezing, it almost felt like a breath of fresh air at this point. Thick wetsuit, booties, gloves, cap, so no chance of rash anywhere, while still looking as normal and cool as everyone else out there. One good point for winter!  

And a second point for winter might come up quickly, because the wetsuit functions very well as a layer of protection. Everyone winging or foiling knows that you have some pretty crazy crashes. I’ve had a tough crash myself while kite foiling a few years back so I have huge respect for the foil. Even the crashes on the water itself can be harsh sometimes, so that protective layer all around feels very safe and comfortable so you can push even harder. 2-0 for winter.

It’s looking good for winter, but that ends pretty quickly once you’re cruising around and have zero grip in your hands and on the board. Gloves and booties are extremely limiting in your grip, and quick actions like switching your hands takes more time meaning you might miss the handle or get snagged behind it as you simply don’t have as much responsiveness in your digits. If you’re using footstraps, the same happens with booties. In other words, you’re lacking control in two pretty essential parts, the hands and feet. A point in summer’s favor then. 

Talking about lacking control… if you’ve ever been out in near zero degrees, you know that, gloves or not, at some point you’ll no longer feel your fingers. If I can’t even open the valve of my wing, how am I supposed to throw a frontside 360? And if only it stayed at the tingling of the fingers… the entire body is stiff and the wetsuit thick, so there is a significant decrease in flexibility, affecting everything from turns, to tricks, to the harshness of crashes. When the weather is warm your body is more relaxed and therefore everything feels easier and softer, including the water. 

So… looks like it’s a tie between summer and winter.

How about a compromise? As winter came to an end in Europe, the weather was softer, and the wetsuit thinner. A sweet little trip to Tarifa also helped in the discovery of perhaps the best weather for winging. Bikini weather on the beach, and the water cold enough to have to wear a wetsuit, ideally a 3/2 or 4/3. No rash, a layer of protection, no gloves or booties, and a warm and functioning body equals the best winging weather, hands down. Solution found, although we might all have to move to the Mediterranean or Cape Town… Neither of which are bad options!

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