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FreeWing PRO 4m + AK Durable Supply Co. Ether Low Back Harness

The FreeWing V3 enters its third year and this year the PRO version is released alongside it, pitched quite firmly in the performance race wing sector.
It differentiates itself quite starkly from the standard FreeWing in both materials and shape. The canopy is a full X-Ply construction, a tough, clear laminated material utilized across aerospace, automotive and sports industries. This outperforms standard ripstop in terms of stretch and day-to-day toughness. As we’re all painfully aware, a hydrofoil will punch through a standard nylon canopy like a knife through butter; with X-Ply there’s a good chance it will just glance off. Two clear windows are situated in the front quarter above and below the strut and the X-Ply material is clear in any case, so you get a decent awareness of what’s going on around you, which in a race scenario could be make or break. Sensibly, they’ve provided a decent sized backpack to make it a simple procedure to get the wing in the bag avoiding having to fold it tightly.

Battens sit in the trailing edge to control flutter and are neatly integrated into the canopy segmentation, which runs leading edge to trailing edge. The angle of dihedral is relatively gentle, presenting plenty of canopy to the wind without compromising the flagging ability too heavily. The handle system comprises of two wide webbing straps with plenty of scope for different arm lengths; perhaps there’s been an intentional steer away from rigid handles to help smooth out feedback from a very stiff airframe and canopy.

The PRO is perhaps closer to the hyper lightweight Nitro from last year in terms of shape, with a deep canopy with the peak of the profile set further back. Tube diameters are what we’d describe as mid-size for a 4m, and aspect ratio is also increased for a more efficient wing. The wingtips have been firmed up for increased control where the wind spills off. As standard the PRO comes with a wrist leash, with a small neoprene covered stainless swivel located close to the leash point, drastically reducing any bunching on the Dyneema. The front handle is fairly rigid and a sensible size to grab, allowing decent control when flagged.

The frame is comprised from Ho’okipa cloth from Challenge, allowing relatively high inflation pressures – 13PSI for the 4m. This is handled by a large volume Boston-style valve linked to the strut, with an isolator in the tube, and a dump valve on the strut to ease deflation. Having been used for a season or two now, it’s proven a stable and hard-wearing material, which isn’t as complex to manufacture with or repair as some of the more complex composites now at market.

In practice we found this wing extremely powerful in the hands, driving power through your front arm and producing as much grunt as anyone could require. The stiffness built into both the airframe and canopy, combined with the deep centralized profile gave it more of a wait for a gust and sheet characteristic rather than lending itself to generating power with reflex and pumping. Once on foil, that forward drive instantly translates into speed. You’ll want to be on a thin profiled foil with a decent top end to get the most out of this wing. Around the triangle, crosswind and downwind are noticeably fast and efficient, upwind takes a little more persuasion, and this is where the harness use comes in as described later.

Through tacks and transitions the X-Ply makes a pleasing thump as the canopy re-engages. It’s also nimble enough to handle well around the bends, preferring to be kept high and flat through transitions.

The FreeWing PRO is primarily for those that like to ride powered and fast, although it shouldn’t be written off completely for sportive wave and freeride use and is perhaps more versatile than expected. From a weight perspective, savings are made with the Ho’okipa cloth used in the tubes; this balances the weight gained in the X-Ply and, once added up, more or less breaks even with a wing from standard Dacron and ripstop, with the 4m sitting at 2.1kg. This results in a wing that still flags capably on the wave, and loves to ride behind you on your hip once your board speed exceeds the wind.

As you’d expect for a race-derived wing, we found the FreeWing PRO most practical for use with a harness. It’s optimized for this with two robust webbing loops built into the handle, allowing simple attachment of a harness loop. Critically, this is also located in the perfect spot on the strut to balance pleasantly and alleviates the front arm pressure. It also allows you to access more angle upwind, potentially important when racing. We found this equally as useful riding a longer point break with a long return upwind. Hook in, chill out and make the angle with ease.

We paired it with the Ether low back harness from sister brand AK Durable Supply Co. This is a wing-specific, lightweight and minimal low-slung harness which sits nicely in the small of the back. The backplate is comprised of a mixture of mesh and EVA which hugs well around your upper hips. Initial placement is an elasticated waist belt with Velcro, and the final closure is a simple plastic buckle and seatbelt-style webbing. The smooth texture to the webbing strap allows the small stainless spreader bar to slide along with ease and allow easy riding toe side with one handed control. The rear of the harness has a PU-coated Dyneema line attached by two stainless D rings, much like a kitesurf handlepass system, but in this case it’s an ideal spot to attach your wing or board leash. RB

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