Interview with a brilliant inventor


Obvious, the marine kite ? Not really. On skis, on a boat, on a catamaran, but with how many kites? The relaunching remains till today the biggest difficulty for the manufacturers. There is no secret, these brothers did not hesitate to sweat it out, to be able to advance ignoring the mocking of the people with narrow ideas. A bet won by Bruno and Dominique Legaignoux. And why not a mini-catamaran to assure stability ?

PM : How did you get the idea of Traction wings ?

I had bought a sailboat to make a world trip. My brother too, he left with a friend, and I with my wife. We did a good trip till Dakar, and we began thinking about sails. Jacob’s Ladder had the world record in 1983-84; he went fas=ter than the others on his Tornado pulled by kites, even without foils. We knew that we could go up-wind, but we had never flown a kite before.

PM : And you threw yourself into the manufacture of wings…

We made a prototype, just to learn the theory and then several wings. We slowly got interested in the structure; it wasn’t too complicated. We made a stack of kites (several, one behind the other). We tried out a tender and then a windsurf board but it was incontrollable. We made a second stack of kites, instead of 12 wings of 1/2 m² each; we used 3 of 2 m² each, made rigid by carbon battens. We made water skis, it seemed simpler in the beginning, but the wings couldn’t re-launched. In the autumn of 1984, the solution was clearer; we needed just one kite! In large size, a rigid wing is too heavy and thus can’t re-launch, so we went towards an inflatable structure. We couldn’t make one in Senegal, so we went back to France end 1984 to get a patent.

PM : What are the terms of the patent ?

It’s a wing with a frame that is inflatable, adapted to nautical use thanks to its shape. Naish has bought a license. They prepare a design program to generate plans more easily. It’s the same principle for the windsurfing sails: we find the same resemblances. When the concept works, we work on the profile, the materials…

PM : What do you think about the evolution of flysurfing ?

It’s the boom, that’s good. Of course, there are opportunists, but as a whole there’s awareness on the problem of security, especially with the riders, so it’s pretty good. And regarding the race in high techs, I always say the same thing: be careful of not going the windsurf way!

Exactly, how can we improve security ?

That’s our permanent worry. That’s why we created Wipika Club International, a concept of affiliated schools that has begun to work well. People are realizing that it’s better to learn through a school. Our instructors automatically obtain the FFVL equivalence if they want to teach in France. There are other ways: the 4-line kite, but they do not concern the debutants (yet), more the intermediate riders. We will be releasing our 4 lines bar soon. The short lines also need to be developed. We are developing the VARC: Variable Aspect Ratio Concept. Each wing has an aspect ratio which gives it the appropriate speed depending on wind speed. It’ll be the end of the large wings that are too slow and the small ones that are too fast and thus dangerous.

PM : Could the flysurf become a sport as popular as windsurf, or is it reserved to a certain elite ?

The question that I ask myself is that: will it become more popular? It has the potential; it interests quite a large number of people, and a bigger market too. We still need to democratise it and make it more accessible. If we can’t, the market will be relatively limited, I agree. How to get there? For me, we need to make high buoyancy boards, as the water start is not easy for everyone. Moreover that’s the only way to decrease drastically the length of the lines, an essential parameter to practice the sport on the beaches in summer.

Last essential element: the prices need to decrease sufficiently and we are actually testing some promising solutions. There will remain one obstacle: the divide between the average Joe and the elite. There shouldn’t be a qualification of the riders from the general public as “buffoons” by either the media or the public, as was the case in Windsurfing. It’s a risk if the gear is very different in terms of look and performance.

Origin of the name Wipika: The small inflatable catamaran was called WIPICAT for “WIng Propelled Inflatable CATamaran”, we just took the first letters to get Wipika.

Ingenious brothers attracted by the sea.

First symptoms:
Dominique was more into surfing, Bruno more into windsurf.
1979 ! Bruno French junior champion in 420.
Autumn 1984: the solution comes : just a single kite, and not several ones in a stack.
March 1985: a run at 17 knots on skis, at the Brest speed week. Prize for Ingeniousness
1986; equipped with a wing of 17m2, they are faster than windsurfers in light wind, with a run at 15 knots, when the windsurfers were reaching 10 knots.
1993-1994; first commercialisation of a kite with a small inflatable catamaran for the general public. A flop, before success.