Wingfoil Racing: World’s best wingfoilers take to the skies in Abu Dhabi

Wingfoil Racing: World’s best wingfoilers take to the skies in Abu Dhabi

Wingfoil Racing: World’s best wingfoilers take to the skies in Abu Dhabi


25/03/2023 - 09:15

Held at Al Mirfa Beach, one of the best watersports venues in the UAE, reigning World Champions Paula Novotná (CZE) and Mathis Ghio (FRA) arrived ready to begin their defence of the women’s and men’s titles.

Since the concluding event of 2022, the professional riders had been working closely with the wing and board designers to produce more efficient equipment for this season. Abu Dhabi was the moment of truth to see who has made the best use of the brief off-season to improve their take-off speed and top-end speed.

And so it proved as both Novotná and Ghio set the early pace. Novotná won 11 of the first 16 races with Poland’s great hope Karolina Kluszczynska taking four and Orane Ceris of France claiming one victory to briefly interrupt the Czech superstar’s march to victory.

In the men’s, Mathis Ghio was in similar form as he went on a run of six straight bullets in the qualifying rounds and followed it up with six more from the first eight rounds. Italy’s Luca Franchi and Mateo Dussarps of France held on as tightly as they could, but Ghio was in inspired form.

Racing on the final day had to be cancelled due to a lack of wind, meaning honours went to the leaders. Paula Novotná took the win in the women’s competition ahead of Kluszczynska, Ceris and Montse Sole Roses of Spain who had all advanced to the final.

Ghio won the men’s competition while Franchi ended the event in second and Mateo Dussarps in third.

This year’s five-stage World Cup now heads to Europe for the next three stages. Next up is the to Campione on Lake Garda in Italy from 31 May-4 June – which doubles as a qualifier for the ANOC Beach Games taking place in Bali in August.

The opening Wingfoil Racing World Cup event of the season
The opening Wingfoil Racing World Cup event of the season

Ones to Watch

This season’s Wingfoil Racing World Cup is packed with talent, bringing together standouts from the 2022 season and the Olympic windsurfing circuit in both the men’s and women’s competitions.

In the women’s competition, Paula Novotná will be the one to beat. The Czech star was the stand-out talent of the 2022 season in all disciplines after becoming both Freestyle World Champion and Wingfoil Racing World Champion. Last season’s runner up, Orane Ceris of France managed to narrow the gap in the final stage last year and will now try to get even closer.

Another French rider, Kylie Belloeuvre (FRA), was also one of the fast-improving riders of the past season, taking third place at the final event of the 2022 circuit in Jericoacoara, Brazil.

Italy’s brightest female hope is Margherita Barro, third overall on the 2022 circuit, is also a talent to keep an eye one, as is Karolina Kluszczynska of Poland, who is competing at her first wingfoil racing event after making the switch from the Olympic windsurfing circuit

Last season’s men’s circuit was dominated by riders from France and Italy. Mathis Ghio of France got the edge over Italy’s Francesco Cappuzzo on the final day in Brazil back in December to take the overall title ahead of teammate Bastien Escofet, who finished a close third in Jericoacoara. Italian Alessandro Tomasi finished third overall last season and was looking very fast in the final rounds will also be a threat this season.

The opening Wingfoil Racing World Cup event of the season
The opening Wingfoil Racing World Cup event of the season

New finals format for 2023

Competition this season will take place across a range of course formats and will incorporate upwind and downwind starts.

The Medal Series has been designed to make it possible for anyone in the top 10 still to win overall, although the riders further down the rankings will have to sail an exceptional final series to overcome the front runners from the qualifying series.

In the men’s competition, where there are more riders competing for places, the top two in the Gold Flight advance straight to the final, leaving the remaining six plus the top two from the Silver Flight to compete in a semi-final group stage. The winners of each group also advance to the final.

The women’s competition at Al Mirfa had seven competitors, meaning the top four advance to the Medal Series.

Each stage is decided over six races on the final day of competition.

The opening Wingfoil Racing World Cup event of the season
The opening Wingfoil Racing World Cup event of the season

What is Wingfoil?

There’s still enormous diversity in the equipment used on the wingfoil racing circuit, with the top riders are always learning new waterstart techniques to enable them to stand on smaller boards powered by ever-smaller foils. The smaller the equipment, the less hydro and aero resistance for better top-end speed – but all at the expense of more difficult take-off techniques.

Alan Fedit raced for France last year but represents Germany this season. He will be using a 52-litre board which carries him across three different disciplines in wingfoiling and offered insight into the technical aspect of the sport.

“I’m moving between freestyling, waveriding and racing, and you can’t take multiple board bags around the world with you on the plane, so my board works pretty well for me across all types of winging,” he said. “My board is quite square, which is good for take-off, but maybe later in the year I’ll go to something longer and thinner which might be better for [reducing] aero drag.”

The choice of which wing and which foil is an ever-stressful one for all the riders, and Novotná is no different.

“I put my smaller foil on for the afternoon because I want to be faster, but I won two races in the afternoon and I crashed in the other two. I hate light winds, but I realised I need to get better in light winds otherwise I will never become No.1. Where I live in Cabarete there is a lot of light wind, so that is what I need to work on.”

The opening Wingfoil Racing World Cup event of the season
The opening Wingfoil Racing World Cup event of the season

Conditions play a huge role in deciding how to race, too.

Light winds are the hardest work for a wingfoil racer. When there’s not much wind, you have to keep pumping the board with your legs to stay flying above the surface. It’s a massive cardiovascular workout, as New Zealand rider Jeremiah McDonald explained.

“If you want to win, you’ve got to pump really hard with your legs to keep the board moving in light winds. I think people are coming ashore exhausted because their energy reserves are down and they’re not necessarily getting the result they want.

“If you make a mistake, it’s brutal. I came off the foil after one tack, and I was down for just 10 seconds but you’re just watching as two or three people go past you,” said McDonald.


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