World of Waves Spotlights Foiling
Surfing.com takes a dive into the foilsphere...READ MORE
Finding himself amidst the crucible of wing foiling and those who are truly pushing it to the next levels, photographer Noah Andrews here documents the small but immensely talented inner circle of Maui-based young guns who are pushing the boundaries of the sport on a daily basis.
Words & Photos: Noah Andrews
One could say Maui’s north shore is a hotbed for water-borne innovation. Tough and gritty breaks pound the rocky shore with unrelenting power and the wind almost never lets up. Throw in the occasional terrifying Jaws swell to test your mettle, and you have some of the most talented and hardy watermen and waterwomen in the world. The one caveat to all this white water, however, is that almost all the action happens in the winter.
Maui summers, on the other hand, are supposed to be boring. Summer is for surf trips, suntanning, and shifty small south swells. Ridiculously strong winds followed by dark rain squalls punish the north and east shores with numbing chop. It’s mind-melting hot and the chances you’ll get to ride a shortboard on a clean face are about as good as traveling anywhere in the world right now. For surfing, it’s bearable on certain days, and for wing foiling, it’s good-to-epic. Every day.
When Ridge Lenny first saw the sport of wing foiling, he had a moment of realization: “Wow, that must be super boring.” Since he was home on Maui for the summer, he figured he’d give it a go anyways. At first, he was sure that his initial assessment of the sport was correct. He was going about three miles per hour downwind on a massive SUP foil board. Truly exhilarating, especially for a man who is used to finding himself inverted when riding a foil… However, progression in the sport quickly came for Ridge in the form of a small prone board. He ditched the weight and length of the SUP and added footstraps, which transformed the sport from weekend warrior activity to a fully-fledged watersport that had speed, height, and, most importantly for Ridge, adrenaline…
Sugar Cove, aptly named for the now-defunct sugar cane operation up the road, has become the home of elite wing foiling on the north shore of Maui. On any given day with wind, you’ll see massive airs, 360’s, tail grabs, loops, and a host of other wild acrobatics. The vibe is friendly and competitive, with screams and cheers for each other as they line-up their jumps in 25+ knot winds. When one athlete tries a trick, all the others have to try. This leads to some seriously quick progression and – more than often – ridiculous wipeouts. The cove is uniquely positioned on one of the windiest parts of Maui’s north shore and features a quick depth drop to deep waters, which makes it perfect for waterstarting small boards. Palm trees line private residences on either side, which happen to be perfect measuring sticks for jumps.
Annie (‘AKA Annie Starr) has a knack for all things water-related. She is the only female to have crossed the 32-mile Ka’iwi channel on a foil and took home a third place finish in her first ever WSL Big Wave Challenge at Jaws in 2019. During the summer, you’ll see her throwing big airs on her wing, competing in SUP races across the globe, or downwinding on her foil. During the winter months you’ll find her with a shortboard, big wave gun, or tow-board under her feet, depending on conditions.
ANNIE’S GO-TO SETUP:
Jeffrey is the first wing foiler to land a backflip. He has competed for Team Canada in surfing and has surfed just about every wave that breaks on Maui, and now with a foil, also every wave that doesn’t break as well. He enjoys creating new ways to foil such as running off of a dock or trying flips with the wing. He is lightning quick on a downwind foil run and has won multiple races around the world. When the conditions are right, you’ll find him merging wing foil tricks with elite prone foil wave skills.
JEFFREY’S GO-TO SETUP:
Finn is the younger of the two brothers, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he fearlessly boosts with his wing. Growing up just steps from the ocean, he’s truly a product of his environment. Finn has competed for Canada at the PanAm games in 2019 and has just about mastered every single foiling discipline. Did I mention he’s only 16?
FINN’S GO-TO SETUP:
Olivia is a professional kitesurfer by trade, but she has been eagerly sending it on the wing with the rest of the crew this summer. She would normally be somewhere in the southern hemisphere chasing barrels on her kitesurf board right now but due to present circumstances she is more than stoked to pick up a new sport. She often can be seen pulling a three-a-day with a morning surf, midday kite, and afternoon wing. She also spends a lot of time on the golf course. The jury is still out between her and Annie on who is the reigning queen of the local country club.
OLIVIA’S GO-TO SETUP:
Ridge, fresh back to Maui from college in windless Southern California, Ridge has reacquainted himself with his windsport roots in the form of winging. In a constant battle with his older brother to see who can land tricks first, you’ll find him tweaked and twisted on any given windy day at Sugar Cove. A co-founder of The Hydrofoil Company, he is constantly testing new concepts and gear to find the optimal foil setup for him and his friends.
RIDGE’S GO-TO SETUP:
It was about 4pm when we met up on the North Shore for the first shoot at Sugar Cove. At this point, the goal was pure height above the water with the wind absolutely blasting. Much of Maui’s shores have a current that runs east to west, so we agreed it’d be best for me to hop in the water a quarter mile up the shore so I could float with the current. The waves were small, the wind was angry, and a full moon sat perched in the clear sky above the palm trees. Shooting wing-foiling at a high level is a unique experience in that when the sport is filmed from shore it is really hard to gauge just how fast everyone is going. While in the water, you can hear the sounds of the foils humming and the wings luffing as each athlete zeroes in on a piece of chop to take off on. The jumps seem to be in slow motion, but the wipeouts definitely aren’t. “Soaring through the air powered by a foil and wing is such an incredible and free feeling,” says Annie Reickert, one of the common residents of the skies above Sugar Cove. “Growing up I was more into surfing than any windsports so I didn’t know what it felt like to fly. Wing foiling has introduced me to a new world of possibilities and I am hooked.” Some of these photos show the outrageous heights that these athletes reach, but it’s difficult to emphasize the distance they put between takeoff and landing. In no less than three seconds, Annie will traverse about 50 yards downwind at a height of 20 feet.
At first, we wanted to focus on the crazy sport and obsession that is wing foiling here on Maui. After all, any given day at Kahului Harbor is filled to the brim with beginner wingers getting into the sport. However, so much of the addiction from winging has come from prone foiling on the south side of the island. Before Jeffrey and Ridge were throwing backflips at Sugar Cove, they were doing it in straps on prone boards on two-foot backwash. Finn Spencer is of the opinion that “prone foiling allows you to ride almost all waves no matter what the size. With the foil you have the ability to do high performance maneuvers in one-foot waves. It’s been crazy to see how far surf foiling has progressed in just a few years from doing carves and pumping back out to airs and flips off the lip.”
Although this summer has been particularly lacking in surf, the group has found a way to get some prone surfing in on the smallest of bumps. Epic sunsets and a clear view of the West Maui Mountains make for the most scenic view while the crew are relentlessly playing merry-go-round.
Little did all of us know at the time, but elite winging was about to heat up even more. Jeffrey had just landed the first ever backflip at Sugar Cove a few days prior to the prone session and the video astounded the winging world. Here’s what he had to say about learning the backflip: “One day while trying a flip off of a wave with the wing in the water, I accidentally landed on it and popped it. This led to me thinking that I should try a flip while holding on to the wing instead, so later that day I put on a helmet and went out to try it. It was strange at first because no one had landed a flip before, so I wasn’t certain of how it was supposed to work but following several close attempts I realized it was definitely possible. The next day I went straight back out and after a few slight adjustments it worked! After practicing it for the past few weeks it has become my new favorite thing to do on the wing.”
Less than 24 hours after Jeffrey landed it, Ridge, Annie, Finn, and an assortment of other elite watermen including Kai Lenny, Ricardo Campello, and Otis Buckingham were out sending it. I chose to swim the Sugar Cove route again to capture some of the craziness, and I was not disappointed as Maui treated us with some golden afternoon rays and wild wind.
After countless jumps, flips, tweaks, and screams of encouragement, the wind seemed to die down and another day of winging was in the books on Maui. As the sun set, the crew gathered around the GoPro and hysterically laughed at epic wipeouts. Winging has brought them all together: prone foilers, kiters, surfers, watermen and waterwomen. No matter their ocean background, the sport is accessible enough and fun enough that with the right gear and conditions, anyone can learn. Winging will surely continue to evolve over time, but this crew will be ready to take it on and charge together.
Olivia notes that wingfoiling makes flat days exciting again. She states, “there is so much versatility in the sport, even on days with tiny waves. I can do downwinders, foil surf little waves, and finish it off with some freestyle.” As it turns out, this crazy franken-sport of kiting, winging, and windsurfing seems to be here to stay, and most certainly on Maui. Right now, everyone is looking ahead towards winter with light winds and large waves. Only time will tell if the sport will continue to thrive in a world of white water or if it will remain a summertime exclusive. Judging purely by social media, the Sugar Cove Crew are seemingly not alone in embracing the wing-driven foil action. The entire setup fits in the back of your car, rigs in minutes, and you can go cruise, boost, or downwind in minimal winds. What’s not to like?
This feature originally appeared in Foiling Magazine #6. To subscribe, head here.
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