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Father and son team Ronny and Pietro Kiaulehn founded Wingman in early 2022, producing bespoke products specifically for wingfoiling. Ronny has a background in windsurf harness design, all the way back to the 90’s working on innovative products with the Fanatic R&D team. Pietro rides for Naish internationally, and is no stranger to a sewing machine, initially making his own impact vests to protect himself during his progressive freestyle and race riding, as well as helping his dad’s bad back. It was immediately clear to them there was a gap in the market.
Sometimes a new sport requires a fresh approach to the soft goods that support it, and with wingfoiling spreading its (erm…) wings into race and freestyle disciplines, it’s clear that the most natural and practical position of the spreader bar on your harness is far higher than waist height, particularly if you want to minimize the amount of harness loop attached to the wing, which can prove irritating and flappy when pumping.
The solution to the conundrum is the Wingman Vest and Harness combo.
The system comes in three distinct modular parts, the basis being a neoprene waistcoat with a large EVA and carbon plate that slots neatly into the back providing near motorbike-level armor protection. Internally a large slick skin panel which houses the plate grips well to your wetsuit to prevent lift; the same material is used for the lower half around the front of your waist. A small Dyneema loop is sewn into the base of the external carbon plate for potentially leashing to.
The second key ingredient to the system is a single-piece chest plate, which is another flexible carbon with neoprene inner and comes in various sizes for different body shapes. It has a white line to indicate the center of the plate, to make it as easy as possible to line up with the high-end dive suit style zip, which runs up the front. This Velcros internally to the inside of the waistcoat and has plenty of room for adjustment up and down. Once you have the position settled, you can leave this attached to the waistcoat for quick and simple entry and exit.
Part three is the harness hook and back strap system. This slips under another piece of carbon which sits vertically on the rear of the jacket and Velcros firmly in place with plenty of adjustment up and down available to allow you to set your perfect hook height. The wing of the back strap then Velcros onto the front of the harness around your pectorals to firmly locate the spreader. Again once this is all in place it can all be left as one unit. The spreader bar is a low profile, tough 3D-printed hook sat on another flexible carbon plate. The wings on the back of the plate slide back into a sleeve under your arms and then lock in place with an adjustable buckle system. One side is a hook, and one side is an ingenious magnetic self-locating buckle which really eases entry and exit. Don’t be tempted to crank this too tight like a kite harness, there’s no need. Breathe out to expand your chest and take up any slack in the webbing. Under the spreader bar is a PU leash point and the optional leash is a stealthy looking piece of high quality Dyneema with some shock cord run inside. A carabiner sits on the end which is well covered with neoprene.
At the wing end, Wingman provide various lengths of center handles to attach their bespoke mono-harness line to. This simple square profiled strap locates the mono line at a perfect 90 degrees to the strut, and tightens with a steel buckle. We tested across a range of wings from various brands with soft webbing as well as hard handles and nothing proved a challenge to fit the handles to. This means you can locate the mono loop in exactly the correct position to balance the wing with and it makes the 3D printed hook small and easy to hook in and out of.
Wearing the full combo, everything feels slimline compared to a standard impact vest, and the hook feels like it’s been grafted to your chest. It’s also light weight at 1.47kg wet on our scales. The close fitting and minimal nature means there’s very little interference or restriction on your body movement. Carbon plates at the front and rear spread the load of the hook very evenly across your shoulders making it extremely comfortable even when very overpowered.
As more of a freeride and wave-focused rider, traditionally I’ve been best described as harness resistant; whilst I could see the application in certain circumstances for my riding I enjoyed the simplicity of not having an accessory. After testing various systems, the Wingman vest has finally changed that.
The penny really dropped for me on an overpowered session at a Cornish point break with strong downwind current. In forty knots with hail storms, clawing my way upwind was made immeasurably less stressful by hooking in. The harness loop attached to the 3.5m wing didn’t hamper its flagging ability and at no point was it annoying. The lack of fatigue also extended my session beyond that of others, who understandably spent most of the session clinging on for dear life. For a wintery session like this, the vest definitely provides some extra insulation, particularly on your back. Its crossover into wingfoil racing is obvious for reduced fatigue, better posture and enhanced upwind ability, and perhaps what initially pushed the design direction. The other delightful bonus was that because the load of the wing wasn’t all through my fingers, it didn’t stop the blood flow to them in the ultra-cold UK January conditions, so they didn’t go numb.
Hooking in aside, the level of impact protection both front and back that the vest provides is impressive; the modularity in the system means the harness hook and Velcro wings are easily removable from the system, leaving you with a very slimline carbon shelled impact vest, ideal in bigger wave conditions and any other scenario where you don’t necessarily need to hook in.
Occasionally in the genesis of a sport, something truly innovative comes along and the Wingman harness system is it. Its ergonomic and functional hook position, slimline and effective impact protection and minimalistic form should tempt over even the most harness-resistant wingers. Such is the level of stealth most people didn’t even notice I was wearing a harness. RB