5.0M FREERIDE WING TEST 2021 : NEW AVENUES
Tris Best and his team look at a selection of the latest 5.0 freeride wings to come to market.
Editor: Tris Best// Second Testers: Maurin Rottenwalter, Scott Stallman, Joe North, Alex Green // Photos: Scott Stallman And Tris Best // Location: Portland Harbour And Weymouth Bay
Wing surfing is fast producing a wide range of gear and possibilities, as brands from varying backgrounds descend on the sport, and by its very nature wing surfing is accessible on waterways that had previously been rendered too small, isolated or gusty. And if you’re of the inclination that it certainly isn’t very cool, or for you … I’d encourage you to keep an open mind. Many of us were where you are now in the recent past. All I would say is that the act of actually participating in it will soon allay any innate inhibition!
So where to start your new pilgrimage into the winging wilderness? The first and most obvious place would be to invest in a wing, with 5.0m establishing itself in the last season or so as the go-to size for the initial one-wing quiver; and with that in mind, we dissect a cross section of what is available today.
It may be stating obvious to most, but humour me when I say that all the wings on test here use inflation technology, the sort that has been the mainstay of kitesurfing for the last two decades. And reliving much the same journey that kites and inflatable stand up paddle boards (iSUPs) have been on, the wing’s stiffness and structural integrity is vital. It provides the framework, the skeletal ‘bones’ upon which the ripstop canopy is hung. The inflatable structure ensures the wing’s overall weight is manageable and practical on the water, whilst its stiffness is largely responsible for stability, power response and pumpability. There are a number of techniques utilised in this group to improve wing rigidity, a higher PSI rating being the obvious solution, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. Wider strut diameters, stitched in reinforcements, dihedral leading-edge geometries … even tensioned Y handles – there are many different ways to achieve the goal. And as befits a juvenile sport, some techniques are more successful than others! A higher PSI rating will tighten and tension everything … but does it overstrain the struts’ internal bladders and threaten early failure? Years down the development pathway, there will undoubtedly be an agreed consensus amongst brand design directions, but for now, the most important thing you can do before going on the water is pumping your struts up to their assigned PSI recommendations to ensure you benefit from the wing’s true performance capabilities.
There are a number of other key considerations, which we will walk through here.
Strut inflation method: Whether the wing uses the default ‘bayonet’ air lock valve (used extensively in kitesurfing), a push in connector, max-flow connector or the surelock valve used in iSUPs, it’s important you have the right pump. Only a few of these wings come supplied with pumps as standard, so it is worth checking compatibility if you’re changing brands or going for a quiver of various makes. And whilst inflation is important, if time is precious, it’s also worth considering how quick the deflation process is too for a swift pack down and beach exit!
Canopy style: From loose to tight and everything between, there is some variety amongst the group here. It’s hard to isolate the exact performance derived solely from the canopy style and tension, as it works hand in hand with the strut’s framework. But in very general terms, a looser canopy provides easy depower and enables the wing to fly neutrally when desired, in the parked position. The counter to that is that it softens power delivery, which can be a great asset in strong gusty winds, but does tend to provide a power lag or deficit in marginal conditions. Tight canopies, at the other end of the scale, provide more response and crisper power delivery, particularly in light airs, but perhaps become too punchy, their predictability compromised as the wind increases.
Visibility: Windows or not? It’s a question you have to answer yourself and decide whether they are important for you. If you will be winging in a busy waterway, then from a safety perspective, any extra visibility they provide can only be a good thing. Just over half the wings here have windows, some using a conventional PVC option, whilst others have explored other material choices. Just bear in mind that some brands are aware of the vulnerabilities of window material when folded or used in cold climates – something that you should be made aware of too!
Handles: All the wings here possess a ‘neutral handle’ – a grip handle on the apex of the wing’s leading edge. It’s the handle to grab when lifting the wing clear of the water and turning it over; and it’s the handle to default to when you want to turn the wing’s power off, such as when surfing on the foil or during downwinders. Other than this handle, the variety in handle provision is vast. Long or short; tight or extremely loose to the point of being almost string-like; fat and thin; soft or hard … or no handles at all, using a boom instead! There is no right or wrong really at this stage in the sport’s development phase – everything goes. It all boils down to personal preference, so get out there and try as many variations as you can.
News of the Slick from Duotone was released in March and it’s been in high demand ever since. A hybrid design incorporating both boom and inflated central strut, it has a refined punchy power delivery and lots of stability, indicative of the wealth of its development heritage. At the other end of the scale we have the first generation Wing from Aztron – a price pointed wing for under the £500 mark, which performs admirably for those wanting to dabble on a budget. The Starboard Airush Freewing has been revised for 2021 and boasts easily the lowest PSI rating, which coupled with plenty of notable reinforcements, makes it quite a durable proposition. A great all-round performance, suitable for beginners to expert riders, it is much more refined than its predecessor. Naish’s Wing-Surfer is on its third iteration and has an incredibly easy demeanour, asking for little input and providing the soft, balanced power to ride. Switching off in an instant, it parks beautifully and becomes ‘forgetful’ when playing on the foil. The RRD Wind Wing W has a very finished, polished appearance, with plenty of detailing and neat touches. These, combined with its full-length leading strut, makes it one of the heavier in the group, yet bestows it with a robust, dependable nature for all-round use. The Poison from GA, by comparison, is minimalist and clean, with just three (particularly soft) handles and a light physical weight to boot. Straightforward to use, there is nothing to confuse the situation – just pump and go! And if we’re on the topic of minimal handles, we have to mention the Cabrinha here. Rich in innovation and performance, there is real potential in the dual strut and handle concepts here, and we suspect only the surface has been scratched so far. The Hy-Wing from Gunsails has real structure and performance in its wing, held by the rider on what seem like extended strings for handles. The handles certainly had their plus points and merit, but we just felt the top end control would benefit from a tighter style of handle control. And if you’re looking for an example, you need look no further than the Ensis Score, with its tight, well-formed handles, some found them abrasive initially, yet combined with the rigid frame and tight canopy, gave the Score a truly connected and controllable character, making it a hit with all. The FlyWing from Simmer has the highest aspect in the group, feeling big and bold and with the chunkiest handles to boot. With excellent range and control, it is a freeride wingers dream, with a soft and stable power delivery throughout. Finally we have the Dart from Slingshot – the most distinct of the group. Super low aspect with extremely thick struts and a mega dihedral leading edge geometry, it is unlike anything else on the market and had us coming back for more every time. Fast, energetic and inspiring, it gives us a snapshot of how the boundaries of winging are going to be challenged and pushed. Exciting times ahead!
THE LINE UP