Sharing the dream of thousands of boardsports enthusiasts, Guillaume Colin has learned how to fly over water with wing foiling equipment that he adapted to his disability! He tells us about his beginnings.
Passionate about boardsports since he can remember, Guillaume Colin has long practiced windsurfing and kitesurfing in spots around his home town of Montpellier. Sportsman at heart, he likes to try everything whenever he gets the chance, be it to go to the Alps to ski or organize surf trips to challenge the famous beach breaks in the South-West of France. A relentless boardsports enthusiast who, following an accident rendering him paraplegic in 2015, had to find new ways to live his passion.
Since his accident, this search for sensations in boardsports has to be linked to the question of accessibility. A major question that Guillaume was quick to address by rapidly getting back into the water, first by reconnecting with waves through para surfing (on a waveski/sit surf), which he has been practicing with the French team for two years, and today with wing foiling.
For this interview, Guillaume was heavily jet lagged as he was just returning from Los Angeles where he participated in the world para surfing championships with the French team. Under the famous pier of Huntington Beach, Guillaume delivered top level performance and won the world title for best team!
Hi Guillaume, how does it feel like to be a world champ?
“Well not too bad, that’s for sure! Everything came together just right for us. We’re very proud of what the team achieved. We were able to perform at our best level and that’s what matters when you take part in a competition. Coming back with this gold medal is a magnificent reward for the group. Individually we also had great results even if I had a shocker in my final. I was never in the right position for the sets. My competitors were in rhythm with the Ocean. There’s not much I could do. Hat’s off to them. But overall it was a great event.”
You also stood out in social media in recent weeks for your free sessions, this time in wing foiling. How did you get started?
“Well, I must say it took me some time to convince myself into doing it. When wing foiling came out I obviously projected myself doing it. But I didn’t see anyone in my situation trying it out and no equipment was specifically developed for it. So the only way was to invest in equipment that I would adapt to my needs. After long months of hesitation, I gave it a go. I bought GONG gear, a Flint 5’10 for stability, an X-Over XXL foil for lift and a Droid 4’5 for its reduced wingspan.
Like many beginners, I did a first session on a SUP to learn how to handle the wing but it turned out to be quite complicated. I was simply seated on the board, I was sliding in all directions. I absolutely had to find a way to be securely attached to the board. I made a few holes in my brand new Flint to install screw inserts… I transposed the fixing system from my waveski to my wing board. I added footstrap inserts at the front for the feet, a raised seat and a strap to attach myself.”
How did the first sessions go?
“Well not that bad actually. It wasn’t the struggle I imagined. Each fall did cost me dearly in terms of drift but at the end of the day I had managed to understand how to handle the wing and above all to find a balanced position. I refined the settings of my fastening system from session to session and during my fourth session I flew several tens of meters. It was such a blast! I was stoked. The next session I was flying over long distances. It was crazy to rediscover the pleasure of playing with the wind. Feel the wind and the power of the wing in your hands. The sensations were great. I was over the moon.”
In what conditions did you get into the water?
“On inland bodies of water and at sea by calm weather, sometimes with very little wind, just to test the balance on the board and the handling of the wing. I also took lessons with an instructor who took me out to sea with his boat, which allowed me not to worry about drifting. Afterwards, I did sessions with buddies. We meet at the spot and they help me with launching.”
How much wind do you need to take off?
“Not being able to pump, and still being a beginner, I have only done a dozen sessions so far, I need to be a bit overpowered to get on the foil. So I am able to fly when the wind is blowing hard but I need to widen my low wind range. By refining my technique and testing out different equipment, I think of having a lot of room for improvement ahead of me. This is why I contacted GONG who responded positively by offering to test some equipment. Thanks to this first exchange I had the opportunity to test the Curve 3XL-H which I loved. The glide and lift of this wing allows me to comfortably fly in 15 knots and take off in just a bit more. More tests are coming now that I have returned from the Para Surfing Championships. We already talked quite a lot about equipment with GONG and I hope these tests will make learning easier for disabled people who would like to follow my example.”
What are the first lessons from your short experience with this gear?
“Concerning the gear I was able to realize the importance of rigidity. I had already observed that this was an important area of development for brands, particularly for the mast of the foil. In my case it’s really important because I can’t adjust my balance that easily. To be in control I need a perfectly balanced position and precise feedback from the foil. If there is any flutter in the foil or deformation in the mast, I lose a lot of control. For the moment I am mainly working on the foam of my seat to optimize the feeling. I must avoid wasting energy in a seat that is too soft. There are multiple development paths and GONG offered me an option that I hope to be able to test soon. Full feedback will follow.”
What are your next goals on the water?
“Nailing all my jibes! For the time being I still fall on half of my attempts. Which is not bad all things considered but if I could avoid coming off foil half the time it would radically change my sessions. But hey, I’m still at the beginning. I’m confident and I hope to make my first tacks soon. I am like any beginner, excited by the progress I do and the sensations I discover. Foiling is completely new for me so it’s quite a journey.”
Count on us to report your progress in our magazine as well as the evolution of your equipment.
“Thank you, that’s also what motivates me. I am apparently the first to take the leap. I hope that with my experience I will open the door for others. I think that wing foiling can be made quite accessible with good advice and suitable equipment. And it’s not just my case, there are all kinds of disabilities. I have friends with different disabilities who are also progressing on the same project. We all have our own constraints, but the progress of some can be beneficial to others.”