Outer Banks: ON A WING AND A PRAYER

From black lava to black underwater shadows, Fabian Muhmenthaler likes to venture places where many wouldn’t. Here’s his tale of one particular session on Gran Canaria…

Photos: Leo Hochgrassl


As a wingfoiler, there are lots of places and spots which are new to all of us. This summer, I spent some days on Gran Canaria, my first time there, and the island really surprised me…

Gran Canaria offers a wide variety of spots and wind is blowing full on, all day every day. But some of these spots are definitely not easy places to get in and out of. Imagine having to get into the water, carrying your wingfoil equipment, walking over black lava rock while you’ve got 35 knots of wind blowing from the left and a two-meter shorebreak wave that is anything but friendly… It’s not the place where you want to screw things up and fall, because you know all your gear will be destroyed in seconds. Fact. 

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The good thing is that, once you’ve passed that test and you manage to get into the water, the satisfaction of being there, riding in such a wild place… it’s well worth it. You feel totally connected to Mother Nature and safe from any danger. That’s why I love the Canary Islands, because normally the good spots are a bit sketchy at the beginning and maybe not suitable for all riding levels, but once you get used to them, it’s all about enjoying the perfect steady winds and the great swells.

One of my favorite places in Gran Canaria is “Playa de Vargas”. This beach is famous for being the home of one of the greatest windsurfers ever, Philipp Koster, and now that I’ve been there I can understand just how he got so good. Imagine having perfect jumping and surfing conditions right in front of your house, every single day. Another must-do for all wingfoilers visiting Gran Canaria is the downwind run from Playa de El Burrero to Playa de Vargas. It is a short downwinder, but super fun to do with friends, and you will be surrounded by flying fish that make the session pretty magical as they soar into the air next to you.

One day I was riding there, and of course I wanted to look cool for the photographer… so I decided to jump into the water in just my boardshorts. Everything was going pretty good, till the moment I fell during one jump and a big wave snatched my board away from me. At first, I was swimming after it like crazy (yes, I admit I had no leash on) but the powerful swell quickly took my board too far away from me and I had no chance of getting anywhere near it. Not too many people were riding there that day, and because I was very far upwind from the main spot and far from the beach, nobody could see me. The waves were powerful and big, and with my wing attached to my wrist, swimming back was definitely not going to be an easy task. 

So, I decided to chill on my wing, and there I was sitting on the leading edge watching the deep blue ocean when suddenly I saw some big black shadows underneath me and got that very particular sensation. They were deep and far from me, I couldn´t see what it was clearly and didn´t know what it could be. I remembered that some locals told me a couple of days before that that area was famous for being home to a hammerhead shark. I got a bit nervous because the shadows came and went every now and then…

Luckily for me, the current was slowly bringing me closer to the shore and to where other people were riding. I took one last look down and saw no shadows or anything strange, so I decided to start swimming back to the beach. Just as I started to swim I heard a strange noise, I got goosebumps because didn´t know what to expect, but I looked back and to my surprise I  saw about a dozen flying fish ejecting from the water. It was a very special moment, and it gave me the energy to get back to the shore, where my board was waiting for me.

For me, this is what the sport is all about… discovering new spots, being in touch with nature and enjoying the ocean in what I believe is the purest and deepest way to do it. There’s nothing like learning to understand the sea the way foiling allows you to do it. 

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