Ken Winner Slick Interview

We talk to designer Ken Winner about the SLICK, the latest Foil Wing in the Duotone range.

hear the full interview

hear the full interview

When did you first try the MiniBoom concept?
In November 2019 I received my first MiniBoom prototype and I immediately decided it was awesome, I then focused a lot of attention on that from then onward.

 

Your very early prototypes had booms, would you say you are partial to booms?
My second prototype had a strut and a boom attached to the strut, not too dissimilar to the MiniBoom. It was a piece of pic about two feet long that was attached to the strut with some aluminium fittings. So yeah I have been there and done that! As a new sport you don’t everything people are wanting to do with a product, it was so new I couldn’t conceivably anticipate all the things people would want to do with their wings, so that’s one reason we have evolved in this direction.

Two years ago it was almost just you and sky out there wing foiling and we take a look at today and the sport seems to be exploding in size, how is it to see the growth and interest?
It’s really great to see, I saw a video of Flash Austin with a homemade delta wing kite, not something that would float, not something that would be easy to assemble, but I saw a video of him riding this set up on a video from a local spot Kanaha and immediately thought to myself, what if we could do that with an inflatable? The inflatable has the advantage of being able to float. I went home and immediately began to design one and got the first prototype a week later. I took it out to the beach, stepped on my board, popped right up on the foil and sailed out to the reef, and then fell and turned around!

Seeing the numbers of wing foilers in spots such as here in Maui and spots like Tarifa, do you see people switching sports or it being an added toy to the quiver?
I see a lot of people fully converting, there are many people looking for a new challenge. Many people have been windsurfing for 30 or 40 years and they are keen for a new challenge and this is a good one for them. It’s incredible the range of appeal with the Foil Wing, especially viable for older people who have wind skills but don’t perhaps have the strength and resilience they once did. It’s much easier on the body, it’s great for kids, it’s not dangerous, it’s great for parents who have kids and want to do an activity as a family, and great for young athletic types that want to do tricks. It’s great for less athletic people who would enjoy cruising, down winding, or riding in the waves, or just getting out and flying over the water.

You mention you tried the combination of the strut and boom in an early prototype, what makes you come back around to this design again now?
After we spent some time with wings that only had booms and wings that only have struts we realized there is a benefit to having a strut. For example, the back of the wing will float when it has a strut and that’s a big advantage for people who are in the water a lot. The wing with a strut is more stable while luffing because the strut acts almost like a rudder to stabilize it.
One of the things that set me against handles on our first edition is that floppy handles are not comfortable, however, we are currently developing solid handles which I wouldn’t say are as good as the boom but a little more in that direction and for a lot of people this option will be very attractive.

What Wing foiler would be best suited to the Slick?
The best customer for the Slick is the rider who thinks they want to give every aspect of winging a try but isn’t really sure that will focus on just one area of wing foiling. It’s a really versatile wing and anyone who orders it won’t have any fear of missing out. 90% of the wing foilers out there will be happy with the Slick.

So it’s great for freestyle and waves also?
Right, it works really well in the waves and for freestyle. For Freestyle it’s clearly a better choice than any wing with handles, if you are not perfect on your hand placement, with the Slick you’ll be fine, you’ll get your hand back on the boom without looking.

How did the development go and were there any difficult points to navigate?
Developing the Mini Boom and the Slick was a really straightforward process, the difficulty was the pandemic which slowed everything down. There was one question, and that was overcoming tip twist. One of the goals with the Slick was to minimize the wingspan so the tips don’t drag or catch on the water as they might with other wings and that meant squaring off the tips quite a bit. Wide square tips are sensitive to twisting, if the tip doesn’t have enough twist then the wing stalls lulls and feels underpowered and if it has too much twist then it also feels underpowered, so getting the correct amount of twist at the wingtips was something I spent a lot of time on.
 

You have a community of friends who try your designs, how was the feedback on the slick?
I’m fortunate to live on a street where a number of my neighbours ride wings regularly. Sometimes we’ll go down to the harbour and swap wings and they give me feedback on what they like and don’t like and that’s really helpful.

Do you have a favourite size of wing?
Riding a 6 meter is really fun in light wind, as the wind is usually really smooth in 8-10 knots and you can really hang in a harness and just fly! Of course, being out on a day with 30 knots with 10-foot seas on a 2.5 (meter) is really fun as well in a completely different way. Given the wind we usually have here I’m often on a 4 meter.

Do you often have days with multiple sessions?
Yes, some days I might test kites from 11 am-1 pm and then wings from 2-3 pm.

What kind of riding on the wing foil do you most enjoy?
I like everything, I like wave riding, racing. I don’t do much freestyle because learning the moves take a lot of time. Julie (Ken’s wife) likes to downwind and so part of my job as a good husband is to do downwinders with her!

I thought that was your favourite part too!
Two years ago I was way into it and it’s still a lot of fun but I like the other aspects too.

Where do you see wing development going in the next several years?
With regards to wing development, we have some really great new wing designs coming along, not just materials but some fundamental changes in the geometry of the wing that I think will be a big improvement. But of course, it takes time to develop all of these things. 

And the sport of wing foiling?
In terms of sport participation, I think it’s going to be really popular. I think there is so much going for it as it’s fun to do in light medium and strong winds and there are people who can get out with their families on a lake and enjoy it as well as people who can go out in mast high surf and enjoy it.

Are you surprised to see it grow as quickly as it has?
I’m not, I had suspicions a year or two ago it would be popular; I can remember being out in the ocean on a downwinder and thinking that my wife (Julie) would like this, as it turns out she told me it’s the most fun thing she’s ever done, she related it to being like snowboarding in powder, only you don’t have to be cold, at least in Maui!

It took a bit of convincing within the company to get people on board with the wings.
Yes, it took a little bit to get the interest going, Sky took the first wing out to Tarifa but no one was interested, I took a wing to the Gorge for the AWSI and no one was interested and nobody paid attention, finally when Till was here in 2018 I taught him how to ride the setup and then he paid attention.
 

 

It then seemed to be an industry-wide scramble for the other brands to come out with a wing.
I think there were other brands watching and paying attention and they were pretty quick to get on the bandwagon.

 

Do you think having many brands bring a wing to market helped the sport grow as quickly as it has become already?
Well, what came first? Did these brands jump in before they realized it was a good sport or did people realize it was a good sport and then they jumped in? I think some people tried it and realized and thought this can be a lot of fun and people within the industry are very quick to see what other people are doing. I was really hoping one or two brands would come out with a wing to help popularise the idea, I didn’t expect 30!

Let’s talk about tuning, talk to us about the importance of inflation to the correct pressures?
Inflating your wing to the correct pressure is a really good idea. One thing about inflating fabric tubes is, that larger diameter tubes need less pressure to get the desired stiffness and smaller ones can tolerate a lot more pressure without breaking. So you could pump a 2.5-meter wing unto 9 psi whereas a 7 meter you should only pump unto 7 psi. We have the instructions on each wing with recommended pressures for the best performance. There is one extra thing to consider, a heavier rider will want to pump to higher. When the wing is pumped up to high pressure it is very lively and powerful and that is fine for a heavier person but I lighter person might prefer it with a pound less air pressure.

Are there other kinds of tweaks people can do?
There are two things, you want to make sure the back of the boom is pressed up against the back of the webbing and on the smaller three sizes a customer could cut the boom shorter to be the right size just for that wing if they wish to save a little weight but then you would need an additional boom for the other sizes. There is also the option to get a Carbon boom.


Let’s talk about the Carbon MiniBoom, aside from the obvious weight savings, what other performance benefits does it offer?
The weight of the wing is important at times when you are underpowered, in a lull or during gybes,  when the wind drops or during a gybe, this is when you’ll feel the weight of your wing, it’s nice to have a light wing in these circumstances. When you are on a reach or going upwind and you’re powered up you don’t notice the difference in weight.