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Learning to wing foil was my goal during the summer of 2021. With a few extra dollars to spend, being grounded from travel during the pandemic, I went all in and bought my own wing foil gear without ever having actually tried it. It was a credit card down, close your eyes, press accept, style of purchase from a local surf and wind sport shop.

I had watched neighbors on the Sunshine Coast, where we have a cabin, playing with new foil boards and wings out on the water. It looked so fun and freeing. As a former windsurfer, I really wanted to try it.

Learning to wing foil becomes an obsession

During the summer of 2021-2023 I made steady progress. But with my husband tiring of down winder boat rescues, I figured it was time to ramp up the progress. A quick Google search for “learning to wing foil” brought up Swell Surf Camp in Cabarete, Dominican Republic. I was intrigued. Would a little warm water Caribbean practice during the winter months do the trick?

Cabarete is a wind sport paradise

Cabarete has earned its reputation as a wind sport paradise. Located on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, this quiet fishing village transformed into a mecca for windsurfing in the 1980s, then kitesurfing in the early 2000a, and now wing foiling.

With white sand beaches, a reef protected bay, and consistent trades winds year round, it is an ideal destination for this fast growing sport.

Learning with Swell and Liquid Blue

Swell has offered wing foiling lessons to clients since 2021, in cooperation with Liquid Blue who provide the instructors and gear. While clients typically partake in surf lessons with shuttles to Encuentro Beach each morning at Swell, trade winds rise in the afternoon for wind sports, making it easy to coordinate both activities.

Learning to wing foil in Cabarete: Two foilers learning on water.

Learning to wing foil involves mastering two pieces of equipment: the foil board, and the wing sail. A bit like windsurfing with upwind and downwind sail direction, but utilizing a much shorter foil mounted board enables riders to glide and turn through waves suspended above the water. Wing foiling is gaining popularity quickly. It requires less strength than windsurfing to master, and is less dangerous than kite surfing.

Day one of wing foil lessons

With two surf sessions under my belt earlier that morning, I arrived tired but excited. My instructor Miguel, spent the first 45 minutes on the beach, playing with the wing in a stiff wind, largely correcting some bad habits I had acquired. The balance of our two hours was spent out on the water.

Mary Charleson on Day 1 of learning to wing foil

Mary Charlson on the beach with wing foil equipment and instructors

Mary Charlson with her instructor on the beach in Cabarete while learning to wing foil

After clearing some breaking waves on shore, I got up on a starboard tack heading out towards the outer reef. I was immediately triumphant, but mindful of staying within the reef break of Cabarete bay, so I soon turned back towards shore. Placing my less dominant foot forward, and rolling with some surf waves, I couldn’t get standing with the foil engaged sailing back. I was a bit defeated, but Miguel was undeterred. One of the benefits of learning in Cabarete is the large reef protected bay lends itself to safely being blown down wind, and offering the ability to then walk back up the beach to launch again.

What success looks like after learning to wing foil!

We did a couple repeated rounds with Miguel sailing the rig up wind, and me walking the beach to meet him. This exercise seemed to provide much amusement to the retirees in lounge chairs on the beach – cheering me on, with each successive margarita rendering an improved performance in their eyes!

You need to be mindful of not running the foil into the sand navigating the breaking surf in Cabarete, both exiting and entering the water.

Mary and her instructor giving the "Hang Loose" after a day of learning to wing foil

Day two lesson

After the initial lesson, we had a couple days where winds barely touched 12-15 knots, so I took a few days off and focused on surfing. Consistently 15-20 knots is ideal for wing foiling. I got back out for a second session several days later, with more success. Progress was made, but will it be enough to allow my husband to sip gin and tonics on shore, knowing I can return safely on my own without boat rescue? Time will tell this summer!

Liquid Blue

Charles, the owner of Liquid Blue, estimates 8hrs to take someone from pure beginner to a level of competency to sail and engage the foil. A couple 2hr afternoon sessions over two days is great to push you along if you have previous experience, or want to tune up technique and correct bad habits.


A couple other guests at Swell were there to wing foil too, so it was fun to talk shop with them about where they wing foil at home, and types of gear they use. It was also helpful to commiserate with others who understood the exhaustion of surfing in the morning and wing foiling in the afternoon!

Swell provides a luxury surf vacation in the Caribbean with boutique accommodation, healthy food, and a friendly social vibe for working professionals who want to learn to surf – or wing foil! Link to this article, Surfing Cabarete Dominican Republic – Young at Heart, for a full run down on what to expect at Swell.

Why is it so fun to wing foil?

  • You fly over the water as the foil cuts through waves. It’s a fast and smooth ride – not rough.
  • Wing foiling is like skateboarding on the water – you cut and turn direction. But unlike falling from a skateboard on cement, the water is ever forgiving.
  • You use the wing to help power, but not necessarily sail in one direction like windsurfing. The result is something much gentler in execution – graceful in fact.

What are wing Foil benefits over windsurfing or kite boarding?

  • Learning to wing foil requires less arm strength than windsurfing. Where windsurfing requires power and strength, wing foiling requires balance and finesse.
  • There are no lines to tangle like there are with kite boarding. Launching a wing foil can be done solo, unlike kite boarding which requires two people to launch safely.
  • With no unintended air born flights which you can get with a kite, it’s much easier to depower a wing, and safer too (although you do need to be mindful of not falling into the foil)
  • Wing foil gear is compact. The sail folds away and the board is small, making it infinitely more portable than windsurfing. And if you use an inflatable board from F1 to wing foil, you can transport your gear anywhere – including airplanes

How is learning to wing foil challenging?

  • Getting comfortable balancing on board once it raises out of water on the foil can be difficult, and a little unnerving at first.
  • Changing direction and foot positioning requires even more mastery of balance when the foil is engaged.
  • Dealing with waves and surf that can expose the foil to the surface will cause you to fall. Learning to pump and ride the board without exposing the foil can be a challenge.
  • When you’re learning to wing foil, you are perpetually being pushed down wind. Until you master being able to point up wind, or to change direction upwind, or pump the board to keep speed going, you will require rescue to return to your launch location.

What are some safety precautions when learning to wing foil?

  • Ensure you fall away from the board, so you don’t risk falling on the foil. That’s likely the biggest hazard.
  • I would recommend an impact vest, which also provides floatation. I personally prefer a waterski style PDF which additionally meets floatation regulations.
  • Protecting your head from a fall on the board or foil, with a helmet is also important.
  • Sailing within a rescue area is critical while learning. A walkable beach, having a vehicle that can drive you back upwind, or a boat and driver on hand to retrieve you all can work.
  • Since beginners spend considerable time kneeling on the board while learning to get up, knee pads are beneficial.
  • I’d recommend a wetsuit or shorty for colder water. The light padding that a wetsuit provides also protects knees and other body parts from bruises when contacting the board or foil.
  • Surf booties are great if your shore launch area is rough. They can also protect you from accidently hitting the foil with your foot while treading water beside the board getting on it – something beginners seem prone to doing.
  • Don’t forget the sunscreen of course
  • You can get visor hats to fit under your helmet to reduce sun reflection, and protective glasses that are flexible and wrap around like ski googles to protect eyes from the glare of sun on the water. And of course, don’t forget the sunscreen!

Swell promo on wing foiling

Learning to wing foil videos

Charles, from Liquid Blue, put together a series of instructional videos that summarize well what I learned in the lessons. It’s also an awesome reminder to review now back at home!

Learning to wing foil videos

Wing foil beginner set up – ideal beginner equipment (28 min)

On the land, sail fundamentals (33 min)

On the water (19 min):

Jibbing, tips and tricks (12 min)


Hurley – surf and wind short gear, wetsuits, rash guards, bathing suits, board shorts and more!

Body Glove – wetsuits, surf shorties and lots of other surf gear

Pantagonia – outdoor clothing built to last

Oakley – sunglasses and sports eye wear for on the water

Ready to book your next learning to wing foil holiday?

Be sure to mention that Mary Charleson, the carry-on queen sent you!

Swell Surf Camp

Liquid Blue

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