The Outer Banks of North Carolina was first a North American go-to spot for windsurfing, then kiteboarding was added to the mix, and now… wing surfing is beginning to catch on. Will winging be the Outer Banks’ next big thing? We caught up with local rider, James Jenkins, to get his take on the burgeoning wing-surfing scene in the OBX. James has grown up as a surfer in the Outer Banks and has traveled around the world as a surf guide in places such as Nicaragua and Fiji. As a multisport waterman, James doesn’t go anywhere without surfboards, foils, kites, and now… a wing!
Hey James, how did you get started in wing surfing?
I came from a traditional surfing background. I had never kitesurfed or anything before. I got a prone foil set-up and started doing that. I started doing it behind the jet ski at first. Then I started prone foil surfing on waves. I’ve done a good bit of sailing, but that was pretty much my only wind background.
Part of the attraction to wing surfing for me was just how simple it is compared to kitesurfing. You don’t have a bar. You don’t have lines. Just the whole cluster of gear, which can be intimidating with kitesurfing, all that was eliminated with the wing. That’s why I was psyched on it.
And my good friends at REAL Watersports, they have a great relationship with Slingshot and had a bunch of gear. Matt Nuzzo (REAL’s co-founder), was kind of spearheading the wing-surfing movement here in the Outer Banks. He lent me a wing set-up and then I got the V1 SlingWing from Slingshot and just started giving that a go. And I thought it was just so simple to get started. It’s just the wing. You don’t have all the extra set-up and all the extra gear.
Wing surfing is a fun way to get out on the water when it’s windy. We get a lot of wind here in the Outer Banks, and it just made sense to try wing surfing and figure it out. That’s how it all started for me.
What have you found to be the most difficult part of wing surfing?
The biggest challenge for me at the beginning was figuring out how to get up on a small board. I’ve got the foiling background, so once I’m up on a foil board I’m really comfortable. The hardest part for me—and I think a lot of other people struggle with it—is figuring out how to get up on foil on a board that just doesn’t have the volume of a stand up paddleboard. The more wind you have, the easier it is to get up on a small board. If it’s not that windy, I definitely ride a stand-up board since it is much easier to get up on foil. However, you eventually figure it out and wing surfing on a small board is way more fun. I would say the ongoing challenge for me in the Outer Banks particularly, is getting out through the shorebreak when there is a decent amount of swell in the water. We don’t have any channels or keyholes here since it is all sand-bottom beach breaks. So, navigating the shorebreak with a foil board and wing can get tricky. One wave could knock your foil into the canopy of your wing and your day is done.
What’s it like to wing surf in the Outer Banks?
It’s a really cool, unique place. The Outer Banks is a long barrier island off the coast of North Carolina… we have the ocean on one side and the brackish sound on the west side of the island. So fortunately, whichever direction the wind is blowing you have options. If it’s offshore on the ocean side, it could be kind of sketchy because if something goes wrong, you get blown out to sea. So when that’s the case, you can just go on the soundside. So we’re fortunate here to have two different bodies of water to choose from.
On the sound side, you’ve got flat water. It’s a great place to learn because you don’t have to worry about the elements of the ocean, such as swell. It’s three or four feet deep all the way out, so deep enough for a foil board to go. So it’s a great place to learn… a great place to practice going upwind and practice airs.
And then on the other side, we’ve got the ocean. We get a good amount of days on the ocean side that are really great for winging. It’s so much fun to whip yourself onto a swell line with the wing way out the back and then depower and just glide. Also, having swell in the water provides some nice ramps for blasting airs. For me, wing surfing is also a cool way to explore my home in a way that I haven’t before. I love doing downwinders with a sideshore breeze and just exploring 10-15 miles of coastline from the water.
Sound or Ocean? Which is your favorite?
For me, it’s definitely the ocean side, especially since Slingshot released the V2 SlingWing—it’s so good for wave riding and depowering. It works really well in that ocean environment for me. Coming from surf foiling, I love that feeling of riding a swell line. It’s like tow surfing behind a jet ski—with the wing you can literally pull yourself into a wave way out the back and just ride an open ocean swell line with the wing being your external source of power.
What are your tips for someone to progress in wing surfing? Any golden pieces of advice?
Really learning how the wing works, even if that’s standing on the beach on a windy day and just moving it around, trying different handles… kind of feeling out what the wing does when you hold it a certain way. The more comfortable you can be with the wing on land, the better off you’ll be once you get onto the water. When I was leaning that really helped me out. I was literally spending hours on the beach when it was really windy and seeing how the wing reacted to different handle positions and learning to depower and how to maneuver it for jibing or tacking.
Secondly, I would say get comfortable getting on foil on a stand-up foil board before moving to a small board. Take baby steps in terms of starting out on a big board first. Definitely don’t just leap from the beach to the small board. It can be really tricky and frustrating at first, trying to get up on 4’2’”.
Try to go with someone else that is also doing it and just get a ton of reps in—that’s what I was doing with Matt and it was really helpful to figure it all out together. It was helpful to be able to go with someone and see what they were doing, what was working, what was not working so well.
I spent most of the time learning in the flatwater sound side since there’s not much consequence as compared to the ocean. It’s a great way to set yourself up for success. If you get completely comfortable and confident in low-consequence flatwater and then take the wing to the ocean, you’ll be thankful you put in the time in an environment without three-foot shorebreak.
When you’re learning, one of the big things is you gotta learn how to stay upwind, how to get back upwind. Learning in the sound, I had my fair share of walks of shame: ending up three miles downwind of my car… gotta walk all the way back with the SUP, the wing, everything. It’s definitely a good idea to learn in a place where it’s okay if you get sucked downwind three miles and not getting stuck out in some inlet or in the middle of the ocean.
Everyone can relate to learning a new sport and having those awkward moments when you don’t have things figured out.
Exactly. That’s the beauty of winging, and flying in general. Learning puts everyone on the same playing field, whether you’re Kai Lenny or some Average Joe. Everyone’s got to learn at some point and it’s okay to be a beginner. And I surely felt that with wing surfing. But it does click and once it clicks, man, it’s something pretty great. The sport is really, really fun.
Check out James Jenkins in his REAL sports interview on the SlingWing V2.