AXIS have been leading the charge for many years now when it comes to big span wings and mega efficient foil setups - their pursuit of light wind winging, tiny wave surfing and pump foiling has put them in great stead for the downwind trend that is rearing up and showing its face in the UK for 2023. Their Pump and Glide wings made their name known for these exact disciplines and now return to the forefront of the AXIS range with their ease of use getting into the downwind discipline.
The higher aspect wings with their endless glide stood out when testing options for downwind, while the lower aspect ratio foil designs were far more suited for surf style carvy riding, which is far from what is needed to aid downwinding. Efficiency is king.
As winging increased in popularity, the focus shifted there. The power of the wind meant foils were required to travel at higher speeds and didn't need so much low speed lift. This lead to even higher aspect ratio wings and new thinner wing profiles. Enter the HPS (High Performance Speed) and eventually ART (AXIS Research Team) wings. When testing these out for downwind they worked well for more experienced paddlers, as they had the glide and speed, but required far more effort to get going in the first place while also having a higher stall speed. Re-enter the PnG family of wings. Super easy lifting and low stall speed, these make learning to downwind a doddle in comparison.
Downwind foiling expert James Casey recommends the PNG 1300 as the best all round wing for learning to downwind foil in the AXIS range. Anyone and everyone involved with this element of foiling around the world suggests going for the biggest and easiest kit you can possibly go for to begin with - failing to do so will result in a lot of flailing around in the water and very, very little actual productivity (you may as well buy a paddleboard, because you won't be foiling). Progression wise, James suggests going from the 1300 down onto the 1010PnG and then down onto the 1050HPS before you even consider the likes of the ART's. This progression - depending on skill sets - can take a few years to get to, and will not be a quick process.
The release of the high modulus carbon mast in the range unlocked the ability to more precisely control larger span wings such as the 1310, 1300 and 1150, while the Advance Fuselages opens up their turning ability.
While you may think a regular wing board with enough volume would suffice, this is generally not the case and will make for a very difficult, potentially impossible learning stage. The trend for wing boards over the last 2 years has been to reduce length and increase thickness to maintain volume, helping reduce swing weight while up and riding. We don't need the length to help with gaining speed to lift because the wing generates enough power to do this itself. As soon as we start depending on a paddle and our own skills to generate speed however, we run into problems. The downwind board shapes are based around a longer waterline length overall and a relatively thin waist. This 'gun' shape helps build speed fast, allowing for easier lift for quicker time up onto foil while also making it far easier to paddle in a straight line in choppy conditions.
These new downwind shaped boards also cross over nicely as light wind wing weapons, as they are designed to get going in such small conditions with very little power. Likewise we see a resurgence in the SUP Foiling discipline as the industry participators realises we need to build up better paddling skills. The best way to do this is on the flat water and in the waves, when the logistics of downwinding isn't an issue. The AXIS Hybrid shape has been a very popular board for this crossover option, while we're also excited for the Appletree Downwind shape to be released further into 2023.
The Downwinding space is ever expanding and evolving. For now, stay safe, buy big and give yourself the best chances of learning - you'll not regret it when you're bobbing around in the middle of the ocean in a storm wondering if you shoulda, woulda, coulda....