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Wing Sailors Catch Ship to Ride the Endless Summer

While shooting for the recent Rolex Big Boat Series, photographer Sharon Green caught a couple of shots of one of the latest ways wing sailors are riding California’s endless summer. The objective is to line up and snag the bow wave of incoming ship traffic and ride the wave as far as it takes you.

Catch a Ship
David and Goliath go buddy boating.
© 2021 Sharon Green

The wing gets you up on your foiling board, and once you are foilborne you can one-hand the wing and focus on surfing the wave. It doesn’t take much but practice and skill to stay on a wave and surf until the wave runs out. As with any California beach break, you may have to wait your turn to get into the lineup.

Ship surfing
Winging your way to the endless wave.
© 2021 Sharon Green

Then, when you’re done, you just wing your way back to the beach or the next ship coming in the Gate.

If you want to see more about wing sailing, see our earlier story about the exciting new sport that’s storming the Bay.

9 Comments

  1. Captain Curt Taras 3 weeks ago

    Wing Boarding in shipping channels on the bow wave of containerships is dangerous, and will provoke a Coast Guard closure of all sailing sports in US Harbors when safety or security is at risk. Mariners should keep a safe distance from other vessels. The actions of these wing boarders will result in closed access for all sailors, just like when skateboarding was banned in parks because of a few arrogant stunt junkies.

    • Tim Henry 3 weeks ago

      Curt — For years now, we have been amazed at how close some windsurfers, kiters and wingers get to huge ships. Frankly, we can’t believe that there haven’t already been several accidents. In the end, we neither condone nor condemn this behavior. (The windsurfers on our staff admittedly wouldn’t come within a mile of a ship.) But if, god forbid, there was a fatality, we can’t imagine that the Coast Guard would — or conceivably could — close all sailing sports. Not even the most conspiratorial among us believe that.

      And, oh yeah, it’s true that a lot of public places have banned skateboarders, or created architectural features that discourage skating. But this push-out has led, directly or indirectly, to the proliferation of municipal skateparks, which are awesome. And, oh yeah, this kind of skating made its debut in the Olympics this year, and it was awesome.

  2. Steve Zevanove 2 weeks ago

    I am going to have to agree with Curt on this one. As it is, bar pilots have their hands full bringing giant cargo ships into the bay. They don’t need this type of distraction and potential hazard. It is just plain unsafe. Recreational boaters (power, sail or foil) have no business getting this close to commercial traffic navigating the crowded windy bay (not to mention currents) There is no way I would support a bunch of guys on jet skis coming this close to a cargo ship just to play in their bow wake! The men and women operating these ships are doing a difficult and important job. Their purpose is not to provide recreational boaters with a thrill ride.

    It’s like riding dirt bikes on a construction site while workers are trying to operate heavy equipment and do their jobs. Frankly, it’s just plain disrespectful of the job these people are doing. Finally, this doesn’t help advocates for reasonable boating regulations that are constantly defending our sport against new onerous laws and restrictions.

    My two cents.

  3. Mark Wincent 2 weeks ago

    Captain Curt – You are absolutely correct concerning the arrogance of many windsurfers along with jet skis and a host of other stunt junkies.

    To Tim: For you and any related organization not to condemn this type of behavior is irresponsible and to me borderline criminal. The fact that you don’t “condone” the behavior doesn’t relieve of any responsibility should an accident occur. How do think the captain or pilot of any vessel would feel if someone is killed? That nightmare would be in their thoughts forever. Putting skateboarding in the same category as as interfering with commercial ship traffic is amateurish.

    • Steve Zevanove 2 weeks ago

      Agreed. A more responsible editorial comment might have been: “Getting close to commercial traffic is fundamentally unsafe and a bad practice. It is especially dangerous inside our busy wind and current swept bay. We all should give shipping a wide berth.” Just common sense.

      Most sailors would be appalled if they saw a group of jet skiers pulling this stunt.

  4. Irv 2 weeks ago

    Soon we’ll see warning text on the bows of ships: “Wing Boarding is dangerous. Do so at your own risk.”

    • Tim Henry 5 days ago

      Irv — Shouldn’t anyone stepping on a ‘Wing Board’ already know that it’s dangerous, and that they should do it at their own risk? If they’re just learning that information from a sign painted on a ship, then lord help us.

  5. Eugene 2 weeks ago

    Yo Guys —

    The fact that there has not been an incident in how many year speaks volumes. Getting sliced up in a ship’s prop as a result of foiling the bow wave is a physical impossibility. If you want to stop everything that is dangerous then we will all end up wrapped in bubble wrap and never leave home!
    How many cyclists have been hit by trucks or trains . . . yip! . . . but cycling is still allowed. I could come up with a hundred other examples. Just because you do not understand what’s happening, know the sport, are too scared to do it yourself or are simply are jealous that they are out there having fun, it does not mean you should try and stop them! They not bothering you in the least, and I can promise you they are not in the least bothering the ship’s captains or the pilots.

    Plenty of yachts have been hit by ships, and guess what, yachts are still around!

  6. Tim Henry 5 days ago

    Curt, Mark and Steve — You are outraged and indignant on behalf of people that, to our knowledge, have said nothing on the subject in question. The Coast Guard hasn’t issued any Public Service Announcements regarding wingers and ships, which is something they would do if they thought it was a problem. We also haven’t heard any professional mariners (let alone a plurality) state that wingers are “interfering” with ships, or that it’s a “distraction and hazardous.” (If anyone has heard differently, please let us know.)

    With that said, we share your concerns, and we’ll repeat what we first said: We would never, ever get that close to a ship. It does seem unsafe to us, but to Eugene’s point, other activities are, statistically speaking, more dangerous. There are lots of things we would never do — like the Volvo Ocean Race, or a singlehanded non-stop circumnavigation — which other sailors accomplish with a relatively high rate of success. This is exactly why we’re careful to take a stance on things that we don’t understand. 

    While we acknowledge that a foiler-vs-ship accident could absolutely occur, we hope we can all agree that there’s been a bit of an overreaction here. Curt said that wing boarders will “provoke a Coast Guard closure of all sailing sports in US Harbors.” Mark said not condoning the wingers in question was “criminal,” and that we will bear responsibility in the event of an incident.  

    There are a handful of people who believe that if Latitude so much as mentions something that seems to them even remotely unsafe, then suddenly, droves of hapless, unwitting sailors will march — like so many moths into a flame — to their preventable (had we just intervened) doom. If anyone reading this comes to the conclusion that because we did not tacitly condemn getting run over by a ship, it must therefore be perfectly fine to do so (and that if you do get run over by a ship, someone else is to blame) . . . to that person we say, Please don’t ever go sailing, please don’t leave the house, and please don’t reproduce. And just so we’re clear, please do not get run over by a ship.  

    Mark — Fair point, our writing about skateboarding was a tad “bro-y,” if you will, but we obviously weren’t comparing that sport with wingers foiling near ships. Our point was that a sport which was once reviled and in some cases outlawed is now celebrated. 

    Note the judgement and indignation used when describing the wingers: They’re “arrogant stunt junkies.” Keep in mind that this summer, St. Francis Yacht Club held their first-ever wing regatta, which had a massive turn out. There is a large and growing community of sailors, race-committee members, chase boats, etc. on the water daily amongst the Coast Guard, professional mariners and other sailors. As much as we wince when someone gets closer than we are comfortable with to a ship, we trust — or at least hope and pray — that the community will ultimately take care of itself.

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