Equal Heights

It’s a simple fact that we run more action shots of male riders in this magazine than we do of female riders, and by some measure. 

Why? Well, we simply receive less female pro rider content than we do of their male peers. So, as we had a little time off over Christmas, we got pondering – why exactly is this the case, and what does this mean? And should we even be asking this question at such an early time in the sport’s development?

We spoke with some of the highest profile female wing riders in the world today to get their take on female representation in the sport, whether there are issues at play, and if so, how best to address them…


BOWIEN VAN DER LINDEN

Bowien, you’ve been smashing it on the GWA tour this past season, coming 1st in freestyle and 2nd in race for 2021. We assume you’re aiming for top of the podium in both this year?!

Thanks! Yeah it’s been a crazy year doing the whole tour and I’m so happy with my results. Next year I’m looking forward to the tour and definitely aiming for the podium again, especially in the surf-freestyle discipline. But it’s definitely not a given to be on the podium again next year, everybody’s level has been increasing so much in the last months and the sport is so new. Maybe we’ll have some great female riders who haven’t competed yet entering the tour! 

Where are you right now, and how’s the training for the 2022 season going?

Unfortunately I have not been training so much since I left Tarifa at the end of December. Right now I’m at home in Noordwijk, in The Netherlands. Due to the tour I have been away from home quite a bit in the last few months and as I am a full-time student I really needed to do some catching up at home. But I’m looking forward to going to my usual winter destination, Cape Town, to train for the ‘22 season in March. 

Would you like to see more female wingers entering the competitive scene?

Right now we are still quite a small group of female wingers doing the tour, especially compared to the amount of men. It would be great to see more ladies competing. I think winging is such a great sport for women and it’s sad to see that we aren’t representing the sport in the same numbers as men just yet. But I think in the coming years this will definitely change, the sport is still so new and I feel like many ladies don’t think of themselves as “good enough” yet for competing on the tour. I had the same feeling when I did my first competition and look how this year went! 

How do you see female uptake of the sport more generally? And do you think anything could be done to encourage more women to take it up?

I would definitely encourage everyone to grab a wing and get out there. I think the best way to encourage others is just show how much fun we’re having out there and show what an easy sport it is to have a great time on the water, even if your level is not super high.

Sitting in the top tier on tour you’re somewhat of a role model for others who are taking up the sport and wanting to compete. But who’s been the person you’ve looked up to the most?

I think being around the best wingers in the world is so inspiring and has helped me progress on my freestyle. I really look up to many wingers who have been smashing it on the tour this year, such as Balz for his rad tricks and dancing on the water, Titouan for his clean style in his backflips, Julien and Camille for always seeming to have the most fun out on the water while also doing some crazy riding, and many more too!

JALOU LANGEREE

Photos: Danny Houwaart

Hey Jalou. So how did you first come to winging, and what was the appeal?

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I started winging a little more than a year ago. Bowien van der Linden was the first one to start at our local beach in Noordwijk and that got me inspired. At the time there was limited gear for winging so I would only look and I had the chance to try some gear from friends. Starting on the massive board while trying to control the wing was just pure fun. That stage of learning, swearing and then making your first meters is priceless. That’s when winging got added to the list. 

You recently retired from competing internationally in kitesurfing… will we see you on the GWA tour this year?!

Haha, if I compete I just want to do it for fun. No pressure. I’m currently not in a phase where I’m hungry to be the best. I have nothing to prove and that feels great. Pure free ride! 

In your opinion, would you say that wingfoiling is a male-dominated sport at this stage in its development, or would you disagree?

No, I don’t think so. It certainly looks a lot more equal than when I started kiting back in the day. Women are stepping it up, levels are increasing quickly. I think we have reached a time where equality is growing between men and women. I’m not saying we are there yet, but step by step, we are heading in the right direction.

What proactive steps do you think the industry or media could take to help things move quicker?

I feel like the brands are doing pretty good. I see Olivia for Duotone on the wing shoot. Annabel for North. Definitely women are getting the opportunity to shine, if the brands use it in the correct way. Not just the cruisey shots for the girls and the badass action shots for the boys… if you understand what I’m saying!

MOONA WHYTE

Photos: Christina Funk

Hey Moona. We’ve no doubt you’re somewhere very warm right now… how is it?

Yes, I’m lucky to be home in Hawaii right now! We had a slow start to the winter this year, which I didn’t mind at all because that meant the waves were small and we had lots of wind! So I was able to get some good wing sessions in. Then the last couple weeks we had bigger waves and glassy conditions, so it was perfect to transition back over to surfing.

You’re spoilt for choice in terms of the conditions you have at home and in your travels – how has it been adding winging into the mix?! Is it usually pretty easy to pick your wing/kite/surf days?

So far I haven’t gone on any trips to wing yet, and I’m not looking forward to the extra bags! But it’s been amazing to have winging in the mix at home so far. Each sport kind of has its season, I mostly keep winging to summer since the waves can be near flat, and there’s wind almost every day. I’m able to wing right outside my house too, which makes it really easy. When the waves pick up, I pretty much always choose kiting and surfing over foiling because I prefer to foil when it’s tiny! Between kiting and surfing it’s up to the wind and swell direction. And then in winter I’m surfing most days. It is crazy how many options we have to choose from though!

You’ve come to wingfoiling as a professional kitesurfer. Do you see similarities in gender balance across the two sports, or is one more balanced than the other?

Participation wise, there are definitely a lot more men than women out on the water in both sports, although over the last few years I’ve seen many more women getting into kiting. I’m hopeful for winging because a bunch of girls who were originally surfers learned to foil, and some transitioned to winging, when they never had any interest in kiting. I think foiling has been an unexpected but perfect entry into wind sports for a lot of surfers. Whatever happens, it’s already been great to see new female faces on the water on the windy days!

You’re obviously somewhat of a role model for young female wing riders yourself, but who else do you think has been leading the charge?

A couple of the girls I’ve been watching are Annie Reickert and Olivia Jenkins on Maui. They are totally killing it and it’s inspiring to see their commitment and fearlessness on the water. I’m excited to see where the sport will go with all the women who are charging these days.

While we’ve got you here… what’s on the cards for 2022? Any big travel plans?

I’m dying to go anywhere right now. I love home but I also miss being on the road and scoring new waves. I don’t have any solid plans as everything is still uncertain, but I’m watching the forecasts and can hopefully slip away somewhere soon!

STEFFI WAHL

Photos: Dominik Röckl (unless specified)

Firstly Steffi, you brave some pretty cold waters. What does it take to get into the northern seas in the winter months?!

I just love to be outside and do my favorite thing: play in the waves. It was always like that and living in the north of Germany means that you either adapt or you pack your stuff in the shed until May. That was never an option, and I never had a break during winter.

The only issue in winter is the daylight… sometimes days get kind of hectic if you want to squeeze a session in. But it’s all worth it and I always feel 1000 times better after a good wing session during winter. Cheeks are red, a cup of tea after and the day is an epic one!

How’s your year lining up… any travel plans?

I just returned from two weeks Christmas holiday in Italy. Next one will be in March, for sure we are going somewhere with the van. Until then some weekend trips to Denmark if there is a good forecast. As I live close to the beach, I almost have that holiday feeling every day outside of working.

In your opinion, do you think it’s important that there’s a balance of both male and female riders in winging? If so, why?

A balance is always good, basically everywhere. As women think, behave, act differently it would be nice if there is a balance. It influences everything if it’s not only men on the water. It’s a different vibe on the water and I love this.

What do you think female (or even male) wingfoilers could do to encourage other females to take up the sport?

Be open, show and let other girls try the sport without any hassles. We should communicate that it is not only about higher backflips and big jumps, it’s about being on the water and discovering how to play again. The rest will follow quickly if one goes at it for joy and fun.

And do you think the media or industry could do more?

We have an opportunity to make it a little bit different than other sports, as the sport is more or less brand new. So we shouldn’t take the same slow steps that other sports have taken, we should approach it with a modern mindset at every opportunity. There are a lot of examples: prize money in competitions should be equal, in fact there should be no discussion about that. Same effort, same prize money. As easy as that. I don’t like quotas, but if I see a video from a competition, I often see two minutes of men and 20 seconds of women. That needs to be changed.

MONA MUTZENBERG

Photos: Frankiebees

Hi Mona. How’s Maui?!

Hey! It’s been wonderful here! The winter brings in beautiful and fun waves and we’ve had a lot of days with no wind this winter.

How are you seeing the scene develop over there – have you seen more women take up the sport recently?

The scene has developed so much since the last season. Yes, there have been more women taking up the sport recently. I feel like the sport has gained popularity among a really wide variety of people.

And generally, are any spots getting too busy or is there plenty of space?!

There are a few spots that have gotten very crowded over this past year. Not only is the sport growing, but the population here is growing exponentially, so that’s a factor too.

You ride for a brand who seem to have a good level of both male and female riders and ambassadors. Do you think it’s important for a brand to have this balance?

Yes, I’m fortunate enough to ride for a brand that supports lots of male and female riders. Brands should always have this balance. It benefits all parties. It helps the brand improve their designs, and it assures riders that the gear will work for them.

Do you think the media could do more to tackle any imbalance?

I think the foil media has done very well at creating a balance. I think it just takes time for these things to become a part of the wider culture. 

What do you think female wingfoilers can do to encourage other females to take up the sport?

The thing about this sport is that you need access to it to start. Most people start by borrowing a friend’s equipment or renting from the store. At the rate this sport is growing, I’m sure there won’t be an issue with diversity in the longer term.

Last we heard from you back in issue #8, you were out of work but loving the extra time you had on the water! Still living the dream?

I’m working once again. It can be challenging getting out on the water with a busy schedule. Some days I just have the early morning free (meaning no wind). However, Naish has provided me with a variety of equipment. This means I have more opportunity to get out in the water. If I’m only free on a day or morning with no wind, I can go prone foil! Having options really helps…

JOHANNA-CATHARINA EDIN

Photos: Miriam Joanna

Hey Johanna-Catharina. You’re from Sweden but currently based in Cape Town. How’s the wing scene developing out there?

Hey! I have spent the last few months in Cape Town. To be honest it has been a slow start to the season, but since the start of the year more and more people have started to arrive and it’s busy with kites along Bloubergstrand once again. Despite the many kitesurfers and windsurfers you do see more and more people winging, mostly on days when the waves are more mellow or the wind is strong, catching swells out the back on downwinders. I can imagine it must be more busy up in Langebaan for winging in the flat water.

We got some really nice shots of you on a South African ‘vlei’. It looks like you’re the only one out there in nuking winds…

Yes, those shots were taken last year, but unfortunately shortly after that the lake closed due to water contamination. It’s a shame since it started to become popular for winging last season and therefore the reason more people are heading up to Langebaan this season.

Do you think the uptake of winging out there has been relatively similar between male and female riders? 

The sport is still so new which makes the question tricky but I do think the uptake has been higher amongst men compared with women. At the moment there is not much information out there about getting into the sport in the first place. Much of the media pushes the latest tricks, so there may be an element of the foiling aspect being off-putting at first to some. It is nice to see more girls beginning to push the sport now, I really hope there will be more interest among women to compete and raise the level in 2022 and onwards, but I also hope to see more magazines and brands push males and females more equally regarding commercial showcasing and salary. I believe this would help the most.

And how about back home in Northern Europe, what’s the uptake there like?

Winging is getting more and more popular in northern Europe. For people that come from a windsurfing or kitesurfing background, as I do, we don’t often get so many days of strong winds and good swell. I think for this reason many people have started winging to get more days on the water and you can enjoy it in light wind and small waves too.

You mention coming from a kitesurfing background. How do the sports compare in regards to being accessible to female riders?

I think winging appears in some ways to be safer because it’s more compact, whereas people who don’t kitesurf seem to be afraid of the long lines and the power of a kite. You can also practice winging in very little wind, and even start on a SUP board before you move on to the foil.

Do you think more could be done to encourage female wingers into the sport?

Yeah I do believe that if brands, magazines and social media platforms push men and women more equally, then more females will pick up the sport.

JO ALEH

Photos: Georgia Schofield

So Jo, how did you take up wingfoiling in the first place?

I had done some tow foiling, and actually had a SUP foil board that I had only used a few times as the conditions were never quite right. I remember seeing these new ‘wing things’ on a few videos online and managed to get one of the early wings to pair with my SUP and learn. After many days swimming I remember my first flight across the local lake and have been completely hooked ever since. The foil time per session had me convinced after a few goes! For me, the wing is perfect cross training for sailing, with balance, feel and strength gains, so much so that I have convinced most of the rest of the NZL sailing team to get out winging as well!

How’s the summer been in New Zealand?!

It has been a pretty amazingly warm summer here in Auckland, with plenty of perfect wing days at my local Takapuna spot… nothing beats a good session in a summer wetsuit with a bunch of other local frothers. There has been heaps of new higher performance kit come out in the last few months, and Armie (Armstrong) is always around developing new foils for us to test and play with! So it’s pretty perfect really.

You’re also an Olympic sailor. How do you think wingfoiling stacks up compared to sailing in terms of gender balance?

I was definitely an early adopter to the sport, and I was the only chick out winging for quite a while. But it has been awesome to see the change in the last year or so, and now I see other women out winging every time I go out. Olympic sailing is one of the few areas in the sport of sailing where there is actually a good gender balance as, at the end goal, the Olympics, there are equal medal opportunities for men and women. However, the rest of sailing as a sport still has a long way to go in terms of equality of participation and opportunity. 

What do you think prevents some women from taking up wingfoiling? And what do you think is the motivation for those that do take it up?

From what I have seen so far, women often need a little more persuasion to take up a hobby like wingfoiling, they are a little more hesitant, and don’t seem so comfortable to jump in the deep end as much as the guys do. Also the fact that, as women, it really helps to see other women out there ripping, and that hasn’t always been the case. I often get asked if it’s hard to learn, and I hear that hesitation around not believing they can do it, but the best advice is learn with a few friends and then you have so much fun laughing at the fails along the way that before you know it, you are doing it.

Who would you say is the best female role model for the sport and why?

Every chick you see out there at your local spot just giving it a go! I think the beauty of wingfoiling is its accessibility and the community we build as we all chase those perfect wind and wave days together.  

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