MAUI WINGFOILING GUIDE updated 7/16/21
Written for the Maui Wingfoil and Wingsurfing members and visitors By Steve Elliott, edited by Ely Spivack
Wing foiling is a relatively new sport that is gaining wide acceptance, from windsurfers, kiters, and surfers to people who have had little or no water sports experience. 2021 could be the year wingfoiling really takes off as travel restrictions ease and people flock to Maui to test our waters. In an effort to head off inevitable growing pains, possible injury, misunderstanding, and bruised egos this guide will hopefully provide experienced visitors and newcomers to the sport alike with important and useful tips.
General Rules and Common Sense
Sharing the marine environment: Be aware that there are many other beach goers both on and off the water, and be considerate of them, at all times.
Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Starboard sailor/winger/kiter (right hand forward) has right-of-way. Before you gybe, tack, or alter your course, plan your path so as not to cut off another rider. Raise your wing over your head to see who is downwind of you. Look downwind and behind to see who is approaching if gybing, or upwind and behind if tacking. Be extra careful if riding a wave on foil, exhibiting your best surf etiquette at all times!
Avoid fishing lines or areas where people are fishing. Your foil is a fishing line magnet so don’t foil near them. When launching or landing plan your access/egress to prevent snagging lines.
Let the canoes pass. It’s hard for a paddler or a team of 2 or 6 paddlers to alter course, so when canoes are on the water, let them go by first. Remember, vessels propelled by oar/hand (canoes, SUPs, surfers) have right of way over sail powered vessels “wingers”.
Watch for swimmers, dive floats, downed foilers, kiters and windsurfers, as well as sea life. All vessels including windsurfers/kitesurfers/wingers, must keep 200’ clear from a dive flag or swimmer. Always be aware when winging!
Don’t leave your gear on the beach where windsurfers and kiters are entering or exiting the water. Tuck it away where it won’t be a hazard and where the wind is unlikely to flip it over and potentially injure anyone or harm someone else’s gear.
Typically wing sizes vary from 3 to 5 meters for an average size intermediate man, 2.5 to 4 meters for an average sized woman. You will seldom need anything larger than that. If you are light or want to sail the windiest days, a wing smaller than 3 meters may be appropriate for a guy 2 meters for a gal.
You can ride a 25” (65 cm) mast in the harbor, but you will be fighting the chop on a mast of that size at Kanaha or any area open to the ocean. Any tall mast will work, but read further on about reef avoidance in the Kanaha section. As for the foil, it is best to avoid high aspect ratio foils if you’re just starting out in the sport.
First things first - when you arrive at a new spot, always seek the advice of the locals. It’s always a good idea to have someone to point out obstacles, places to go/avoid, what to watch out for, etc...
Places like Ho’okipa, Maliko/south shore downwinders, Ka’a, and others are deliberately left out as they are for advanced to expert riders only and should be avoided unless you have local knowledge and the necessary skills.
Usually referred to as just the Harbor. This is an ideal spot for beginners to learn how to fly the wing, stand up on the board and get on foil. Intermediates can venture out farther into the harbor to reach stronger winds and practice tacks and gybes on the flat water. It is mostly sheltered from the ocean swells although on some winter days (Oct-Apr) when the swell is big, waves do enter the harbor. In fact, the west side of the harbor near the boat ramp is a popular surf and surf foil break, as well as the area around buoy #8 (see chart) and sometimes the winging launch itself. All can have sizable waves, in season. Wing foilers will launch on the east side of the harbor, at Ho’aloha Park upwind of the canoe clubs, and at the extreme north end of N. Puunene Avenue. Access to both launches is off of E. Ka’ahumanu Avenue. Look for parked cars and park legally. Do not park to the right of the gate entrance to the fenced Port area (Gate #14), you will get ticketed.
Rig on the grassy areas. You can tie up your wing to any of the tires on the ground or on the trunks of the palm trees. Although they do prune the palm trees, there may be times when they are loaded with coconuts. And since you are there for the wind, look up! At the end of your session you may use the hose at the canoe clubs. Make sure you give canoe club members priority, and re-coil the hose after use. There are no public restroom facilities nearby, except at the Maui Mall.
Beginners will want to carry their gear way upwind to launch, work their way out to the first buoy (#12), turn around and make their way back to shore, then walk their gear back upwind for another try. Many walk their gear in the water, some carry it on the beach. Think of this as the “triangle” or learning walk of shame.
More advanced foilers go out beyond the first buoy (#12) and spend the day out where the wind is clear. Note that on the outside (past buoy #12) you may want a wing a half or full meter smaller than on the inside. Expert riders often venture out to the mouth of the harbor to ride the incoming ocean swells. Warning: Do not come inside the area from the green buoy at the harbor entrance (#5) to the end of the inside pier, it’s a $25,000 fine!
There are a few obstacles to be aware of in the harbor. There is a large tractor tire submerged near the beach just upwind of the park, and just past the big boulders in the shoreline. It is visible at low tide. Downwind are two rock jetties, breakwaters, or groins. Each of these jetties extend far beyond what is visible above water, and it is easy to hit them while on foil. You don’t want to go there, and if you end up there, find safe access to the shore below the jetties and walk your gear on land back to safety. Concentrate on improving your upwind ability on port tack to avoid the jetties in the future. If you go past the second jetty, you will have to thread your way through a field of submerged rocks.
Please give all canoes right of way and plenty of room. Historically, the harbor is where teams go to practice, but due to Covid, they are not as active at the time of this writing. It is unknown when they will return (most likely August, 2021), but when they do there may have to be some restrictions to foil access. To avoid any contention, treat the canoe paddlers with consideration and respect.
When ship traffic enters or exits the harbor, do not venture out past any buoys (see chart below). Better yet, immediately get off the water during any commercial shipping activity. This is a strict rule. They will sound their horns before entering or exiting so plan on taking a break when they are present. Our presence in the harbor is contingent upon our reputation with the Harbormaster, if foilers obstruct commercial shipping operations in any way, we will lose the harbor for Wingfoiling.
“We can no longer go in the inner harbor where the boats dock even when there are no boats there. ($25,000 fine). And we must stay at least 100 yards away from all cruise ships, fuel barges and military ships. ($25,000 fine). We cannot go east of the line which extends from the small green house on the pier closest to the canoe hales (Pier 2) to the green buoy at the mouth of the harbor ($25,000 fine). We must be completely out of the turning basin (e.g. on the beach or wall side of the red buoys) whenever a ship/barge is entering or leaving the harbor.”
https://www.mauipaddle.com/save-paddlin ... ui-harbor/
Kanaha Beach Park is where you go to experience your first open ocean riding. You should be able to ride on foil consistently and stay upwind. You will either know or begin to learn how to ride through small breaking waves, and surf them on the way in. There is plenty of room to enjoy all to yourself. The main area shared by windsurfers and wing foilers is the last entrance at the very end of Amala Place. This is a nice beach park with lots of parking, room to rig, showers and restrooms. Weekends can be crowded with beachgoers of all types. A lot has been written about Kanaha as a destination for windsurfing. So seek out information online for more details. Also consider joining the Friends of Kanaha Facebook group if you plan on making this your preferred destination!
Observe how people park their vehicles and park so as not to take up too much space or block anyone in. Rigging is on the grass but be aware that the Kiawe trees shed shoe piercing thorns - bad for feet and wings!
Kanaha is off limits to windsurfers and wing foilers before 11:00 AM every day. Also, there is a roped off, designated swimming area that is also off limits. Do not violate these rules! The 11am rule and designated swimming are to allow spearfishing without concern for fast moving objects and to give families room to safely play in the water.
As stated, Kanaha is a destination spot for windsurfing and kiting, so keep your eyes open, make sure you are clear before you make any changes in direction, and observe all of the right of way rules. Raise your wing periodically to see who is nearby or is approaching at speed. Slalom windsurf racing is a big thing at Kanaha, especially in the summer, and these sailors move fast!
It is very important not to obstruct the launch area with equipment lying on the beach. An upended foil can do a lot of damage to a windsurfing sail so keep the paths and launches clear. Place your board in such a way that it is least likely to get blown over by the wind.
There are two main launches locally referred to as Uppers and Lowers. In between the two areas is the roped off swimming area and easternmost lifeguard station. Each launch offers wave riding, with a long well organized and sometimes crowded break off the Lowers launch and a less organized area upwind of the Uppers launch at the last, easternmost parking lot. If there are waves on the reef you are likely to notice a breaking wave between the two breaks of Uppers and Lowers that is devoid of any takers. This is known as “Weird Wave” and is to be avoided. It breaks generally directly into the wind due to a swift downwind moving current, and behaves like a standing wave. This causes two hazards, first the wave blocks the wind leaving you without any power to sail away. Second, the current pulls you back into the wave after the wave pushes you forward. Between the Lowers break and Weird Wave is a wide channel that provides access to the open ocean, Both areas can offer some nice waves - big waves in the winter and small waves in the summer - to ride on. If you go during a large swell event assess your skill level before entering the waves. Note that the aforementioned channel may disappear during a large swell event. There is plenty of room inside the reefs to foil without concern if you are skittish about waves. Outside the reef is deep blue water with ocean swell which is good for practicing small mini downwinders. You will encounter other foilers, windsurfers, kiters, downwind paddlers, turtles, and the occasional shark, manta ray or whale!
On the reef you need to be aware of your foil depth to avoid hitting the reef. Check the tides and if under 1 foot, consider avoiding the reef area altogether. Check the tides before you launch! However, in general when on foil you will be above the reef regardless of the tide level. It is when you fall in the reef area that problems can happen. Don’t be surprised at low tide if you get “boxed in” between some coral when you try and get back on your board. Unless you are confident with your gybes, look for deep water before attempting them. Turquoise or blue water is deep enough, brown patches indicate shallow reefs. Look for a wide area ahead of you before gybing, and especially downwind because you may end up over the reef if you do a wide sweeping turn. Realize that damaging the reef can incur hefty fines not to mention doing harm to yourself, and the health of our coastlines.
Thank you for reading this guide, following the rules, and staying out of trouble! Please remember that launch access for wingfoilers on Maui is a new worry for some, and if we lose beach access it affects the wingfoilers who live here far greater than for those who are just visiting!