What are they doing out there ‘surfing’ above the flat water with that bright sail?
If you have visited Donner Lake this summer, you may have seen “wing foilers” racing back and forth across the water, most often starting and ending at the sailboat launch on the north shore.
A new community of wind enthusiasts from varied water sport backgrounds — windsurfing, kiteboarding, surfing — have taken up this new sport called “wing foiling” and it is moving into Tahoe like a weather-packed storm from the West.
“The rush is amazing! The wind, the water, the speeds …,” said Ruben Sanchez, a local electrician and Donner Lake wing foiler. “A windy day out foiling can be every bit as exhilarating as a powder day in the backcountry.”
Sanchez is a member of a growing group of North Tahoe residents who are passionate about this new sport.
The wing, or handheld inflatable sail, is used to harness the wind energy which in turn powers the wing foiler’s travel, seemingly magically, a foot or two above the water while standing atop a board. This magic is driven by the inverted T-shaped “foil” (hydrofoil), which is located below the board and gives the board lift much like an airplane wing by turning the water flow downwards and creating higher average velocities on its top surface due to Bernoulli’s Principle. With enough speed the rider goes up “on foil” and races at a crosswind trajectory above the lake’s surface.
Unlike Kiteboarding and windsurfing where the rider is attached by a harness, the wing is handheld and extremely free flowing. If the wind becomes too strong, which is a frequent occurrence especially in the High Sierra, the wing foiler simply lets go of the handheld inflatable sail to depower and minimize the danger of a fall.
Beginner boards are large and high volume so standing on the board is much like standing on a buoyant and stable stand-up paddle board. More advanced boards are smaller and partially sink allowing for enhanced performance including more technical tricks, higher speeds and even jumping.
The sport provides other advantages for water loving Tahoe adrenaline junkies. Most find it surprisingly easy to learn and safer than its sister sport, kiteboarding, as the power in a wing is nowhere near the power a high-flying kiteboarding kite generates.
A wing foiler simply walks down to the water’s edge and takes off without the need to clear an area of people and other dangers before attempting to launch a large powerful kite. There is also no risk of tangling hundred-foot kiteboarding lines in the plentiful pine trees as a wing has no strings and can be easily released and relaunched. The wing foiling gear is simpler (wing, foil, board) and affords the wing foiler easy access to high-speed travel above the water in lower wind conditions than is available to most kiteboarders.
Currently, there are very few resources for the sport available locally, and there is nowhere to buy equipment or take lessons in our area.
For this reason, Truckee wing foilers like Sanchez have found themselves traveling to places where the sport has a wider following. The Columbia River Gorge (Hood River, Oregon) and Maui’s KiteBeach as well as locations a few hours drive from Truckee such as Sherman Island near Sacramento (“The Delta”) and Crissy Field near the Golden Gate Bridge are popular wind sports locations where wing foiling has already taken off.
These places are known for the consistent strong winds and equally strong communities of people who love the sport. Increasingly though, as wing foiling continues to gain popularity in Truckee-Tahoe, more enthusiasts find themselves coming together, often at Donner Lake, to share stories, help each other with skill development or just hang out.
“I love the positivity in wind sports, the more, the merrier,” says Dirk Warner, a Lake Tahoe water sports veteran. “The wing has finally brought many newcomers with great enthusiasm to the windy beaches. Old guys cruising and young kids ‘going big.
“The hydrofoil gear has come of age, and on a good day on Tahoe my wing takes me upwind to countless waves begging to be surfed back downwind,” he added. “It’s just so much fun.”
If you would like to learn more about wing foiling, feel free to stop by the sailboat ramp on the east side of Donner Lake where you will find the local wing foilers to be a friendly and welcoming group.
There are also several useful websites and apps with instructional videos. Here are a couple of reliable resources if you’re interested in learning more about wing foiling:
— Duotone Wing Academy – app available through the apple App Store
— Complete Wing Foil Beginner Guide by Damien LeRoy – available on YouTube
HOW TO START
Foiling and winging can be done separately to start.
The two most common ways to start foiling are by being pulled behind a motor boat at slow speeds and by renting an e-foil. For both activities, choose a calm day with flat water to increase your chances of success. By eliminating the wing at first, it is easier to familiarize yourself with the dynamic motions of the foil.
The wing can be learned separately starting with lessons on land.
In addition to a wing and a board with a foil, the beginner wing foiler will want to have safety gear.
The following should be considered:
— impact vest
— face and eye protection
— knee guards and/or shin guards
New wing foiling gear costs between $3,000-$6000. Used gear is readily available especially in places with a high density of wing foilers as different gear is used at different ability levels, and people upgrade their gear as they become more proficient in the sport.
Boca and Stampede reservoirs
Lake Forest in Tahoe City
Joshua Kreiss, M.D., M.Phil., is a Tahoe Forest Hospital neurologist and Oxford-trained anthropologist. He is interested in the intersection between the human brain and culture and the ways we learn more about ourselves as individuals and as a society.