CHATHAM – Jerry Evans is no stranger to the water, having spent a decent amount of time windsurfing, kiteboarding, surfing, and paddlesurfing, but these days he’s happiest just winging it. Evans, owner of Chatham Wind and Time, is among the first people on Cape Cod to give the sport of wingsurfing a go.
Wingsurfing, for those not familiar, is something of a water-oriented combination of wingsuit technology, hydrofoil surfing, and kiteboarding, and according to those that take part, way cooler. For Evans, the foray into this new watersport started last September when he bought his first wing.
“I was over at [Inland Sea Windsurf Co.] and saw it and was like, ‘Oh, man, I gotta have that,’” Evans said. “It just looked too cool.”
Attracted by the Cape's near constant winds, kiteboarding and wingsurfing devotees are taking to the water in greater numbers these days.
“It is without question the most exciting thing you can do on the water,” David Steele of Chatham said of kiteboarding.
Evans had seen wingsurfing online and had watched videos before deciding to give it a go. Philip Mann, owner-operator of Inland Sea in Dennis, he bought the necessary equipment – a six-foot paddleboard onto which he attached a hydrofoil, which is sort of like an underwater wing, and the wing itself, shaped not unlike a bat’s wing that, like kiteboarding kites, has an inflatable edge to help keep the wing expanded yet still flexible while on the water.
One of his first forays was at Forest Beach, where friends convinced Evans to try out his new gear. Unfortunately, the day was far too windy for a first timer.
“Let’s just say I didn’t have a good time,” Evans joked.
Because he was already familiar with a variety of watersports, Evans had some idea as to what was needed to improve his wingsurfing, immediately appreciating the difference in assembly compared to both windsurfing and kiteboarding.
“With windsurfing, you rig a sail. You put the mast in, attach the boom, and put the right amount of tension both on the downhaul, which puts tension on the mast, and the outhaul, which puts tension on the boom,” Evans said. “You actually have to know how to do it.”
With kiteboarding, the process is still somewhat lengthy, and involves inflating the sail or kite and attaching the lines properly before maneuvering yourself and your board to the water. With wingsurfing, you inflate the sail to a specified pressure, hop on your board, and go. Because the wing is symmetrical, there is no mast, and the underwater foil acts like an airplane wing, helping to steer and soar, especially during and after coming about, or jibing.
Folks watching from shore will notice that the hydrofoil actually lifts the board out of the water, with the underwater wing becoming the center of steering and cutting through the waves.
“It’s really a new challenge,” said Evans. “You don’t have a ton of equipment. I don’t even use a harness. To me, that’s one of the things I like about it, that you don’t have to wear one. It’s addictive.”
What wingsurfing isn’t is easy.
“When people ask me if it’s difficult, I like to tell them it’s like trying to windsurf on a unicycle. Does that sound easy?” Evans quipped. “You have to have that wing under the water. The hydrofoil is another wing underneath the water giving you lift, allowing you to lift the board up above the water. When you pump it, you get this glide.”
Evans said that unlike surfing, which requires a certain amount of weight on the back foot to keep the front of the board lifted, even subtle movements once atop the wingsurfing board can make a major difference. If you put too much weight on the back of a hydrofoil board it will shoot right out of the water.
Jibing is also challenging since it means properly rotating the wing so that it catches the wind in time to keep your momentum up. Evans said it has taken him until this season to really get the hang of jibing.
So, what about the downsides, such as sharks?
“This is allowing me to have fun in the inner waterways without having to worry so much about the sharks,” Evans said, adding that there is a concern. “I worry about when I’m in the water with a foil. If you actually hit a shark with the foil, you’re going in the water. If you hit them with a fin, you might bonk them in the back, but with the foil you’re definitely going in.”
That’s why Evans typically sticks to Oyster Pond, Pleasant Bay, and similar locations, remembering well the time a shark buzzed by him at Marconi while he was paddlesurfing.
“I could have reached down and touched it with my paddle,” he said.
Though Evans still delights in an array of watersports, right now wingsurfing is a favorite.
“I love the simplicity of it because it’s just the wing and the board,” he said. “I love the silence of it. Once you’re up on the foil, you don’t have any of the slapping of the water. It’s peaceful.”
While Evans enjoys winging it, David Steele of Chatham appreciates the excitement of kiteboarding. As a child growing up in England, Steele was active in many watersports, including sailing, kayaking, and even kayak polo. He’d seen kiteboarders while kayaking and thought it looked like way more fun, so he contacted Mann for lessons.
“I struggle to think you could ever get bored kiteboarding,” Steele said.
That said, Steele emphasizes that there is a learning curve, and that lessons are strongly encouraged.
“You absolutely have to take lessons,” Steele said. “This is not a sport you can just try. It’s not even a sport you can give a go on the first day. The kite is a big, powerful machine to pull you along on the water.”
Steele said it takes at least 10 to 12 hours of instruction to learn how to properly power the kite, which includes lines for steering, stability, and to depower the kite should trouble arise. But putting in the effort, Steele said, is worth it.
“It takes quite a bit of time and effort to get there, but once you do there are all sorts of things you can do,” Steele said. “Tricks. Jumping is like flying. When you first learn to jump it’s very very exciting and I don’t think the stoke of jumping ever leaves.”
Like wingsurfing and windsurfing, there’s a certain amount of equipment involved in kiteboarding. There’s the kite itself, the size of which depends upon the wind speed – smaller kites for gustier days – and then the lines that attach to various points on the kite, and then to a harness worn by the kiteboarder for safety. Boards are similar to wakeboards but with a flatter bottom, better for skimming waves, and wetsuits and a helmet are recommended.
“A lot of people ask, how dangerous is it? It’s about as dangerous as downhill skiing,” Steele said. “The biggest risk is getting pulled by your kite onto something hard. Most accidents tend to happen on the beach while you’re launching or landing.”
The Cape is an excellent place for kiteboarding since those into the sport can almost always find wind to carry their kites. But where to go depends upon which way the winds are blowing. Popular spots include West Dennis Beach, Harding's and Lighthouse beaches in Chatham, and First Encounter Beach in Eastham, which often have designated areas for kiters.
“I have traveled abroad to kite, but the Cape is world class,” said Steele. “It’s absolutely fantastic.”
There’s also a strong connection among those in the kiting community.
“The camaraderie on the beach is awesome,” said Steele. “Everyone’s super encouraging and super helpful. Plus, it’s much easier to launch and land with a partner. Everybody’s gone through the learning process and everybody knows how hard that learning process is.”
Whether soaring solo or joining a group, Steele just loves being on the water.
“Every time I go kiteboarding, I have a great big grin on my face basically through the whole session,” he said.
For more information on wingsurfing and kiteboarding, contact Philip Mann at Inland Sea Windsurf Company in Dennis at 508-398-1333 or online at inlandsea.com.