The Whale Guy : Jason Breen tells us about his wingfoil encounter with a whale

16th November 2023

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It’s the video that’s been making the rounds on the internet in recent weeks: a wingfoiler being violently slammed into by a whale, before being dragged underwater. This wingfoiler is Jason Breen, and we contacted him to tell us about his misadventure. At 55, this Australian rider from Sidney has experienced the encounter of a lifetime: who can say “I was hit by a breaching whale during a wingfoil session”? I think he’s the only one! As luck would have it, that day Jason was filming his very first session with his new VAYU Aura II wing… and thus his collision with the whale! While everyone escaped well – Jason, the whale and his gear – the images captured of the incident are impressive. Jason tells us in detail about his encounter, and we also took the opportunity to ask him about his VAYU gear.

Photo : @jasonthejaw Jason Breen

Hi Jason! You’ve just recently become “The Whale Guy”, so, tell us, what happened?

So it was a Wednesday morning about 10:30, Northern beaches. I live on Newport Beach in Sydney. It was a beautiful sunny day and there was a suddenly wind that came up, so I went down to Mona Vale beach, which is about two beaches south of Newport Beach where I live, to go for a wing in the wild. So I literally just left the shore, gone out, winged out, turned around to come back into the beach, not very far off the beach at all, when all of a sudden, to my right hand side, I noticed a big object come out of the water. I knew it was a whale straight away. I knew it wasn’t a shark just by the size of it, it was pretty big. And then it just got bigger and bigger, as it came out of the water, and higher and higher. I knew there was only one place that was going to land, which was on top of me. So yeah, I was pretty lucky, it came down and hit my shoulder and my chest, and took a bit of wind out of me. Then the worst thing was it sort of got dragged around my leash, which was my wing leash, which was terrible. But yeah that’s pretty well much what happened, I’m pretty sure it was a juvenile humpback whale. We’ve had a lot around Sydney at the moment.

After the collision, you found yourself dragged underwater by the whale. What were you thinking at the time? How did you get back to the surface?

At the time I was really scared, I knew it was a whale and I knew it was big, and there was nothing I could do. When it got caught, I just felt it pull my wrist. Normally, I have my wing attached to my waist because we go on the waves, but I actually put it on my wrist just that day because I had the camera hanging out of my pocket and kept get getting caught. So look, it did drag me down, it sort of got tangled in it, and dove down which naturally a whale would do. Then luckily I felt a break and it actually ripped the webbing out. It had a stainless steel carabiner on the end of some dyneema wing leash, which I would never ever use again because it bent the stainless steel carabiner and it was never going to break, it actually ripped the webbing out. Without ripping the webbing out I think it probably would have ripped my arm out of the socket and then who knows after that. I was pretty lucky but I was very very scared.

Photo : @jasonthejaw Jason Breen

Once you’d managed to get back to the surface, did you manage to retrieve your gear and sail back to land?

When I got to the surface, I was pretty lucky my wing got a massive cut in it, my Aura 2, but it didn’t tear the bladder. Somehow it ripped the whole leading edge of the wing and the bladder had herniated out, but it didn’t pop the bladder. I was lucky that, one, my wing didn’t blow away in the southerly, because it was sort of 20 knots but it just sort of floated up next to me like a balloon because it had been dragged down as well. I was pretty lucky, one, to get my wing back, and two, to get it back. It was still enough that I could get in and then I was able to foil into the beach, where people came up to me, because they saw what had happened. They’d seen me, they saw the whale breach, and then they didn’t see me for a while, so they were quite concerned and ready to ring emergency services but luckily I made it in okay.

Photo : @jasonthejaw Jason Breen

Was the whale still there?

Whale pretty well much swam off, once it breached they go down for a fair way and then it might not come up for another 500 or 800m, so it was on the dive down when it got tangled with me and I didn’t see it again come up at all. Luckily and gratefully, it didn’t get harmed and it swam away.

Photo : @jasonthejaw Jason Breen

Are you used to seeing whales and other animals on your spots?

We get so many whales here, Sydney’s been really lucky, we’ve had a lot, maybe 40,000 they say go down the coast, and they come closer and closer in, I don’t know why but this year there’s been a lot of whales. A lot of whale mothers and calves, that have come in which is really nice to see because it means the oceans are really healthy and the whale numbers are great. Yeah we do get a lot of whales where we go out, we just try to keep away from them when we can.

Photo : @jasonthejaw Jason Breen

All in all, apart from the leash that broke (fortunately!), no other harm was done to you, the whale or the gear?

I was really lucky apart from my leash breaking and sore shoulder and sore arm, like my shoulders still sore now. I didn’t really have any major things happen, my wing ripped and that’s fine, but I was grateful mainly that the whale didn’t get hurt and I didn’t get hurt. I was really grateful I came up, missed my foil, and everything obviously came up in front of me and hit me, so yeah no big damage or anything and all good.

Photo : @kbreen19

Speaking of gear, if I’m not mistaken, you were riding the new VAYU Aura V2 at the time of the encounter with the whale. Can you tell us about this wing ?

Yes I was riding the Aura 2 at the time. Believe it or not, it was the first time on it, so it was brand new that morning that I took it out. Yeah it felt really really good but to be honest I was only on it for 5 minutes before it got cleaned up, and I haven’t been out since. It was really really good, it feels so light and so rigid, it’s probably got to be the lightest wing I’ve ever felt. It’s very light, very well put together. The VAYU World have done a really good job with their wings in improvements. This year, their wings are really 100% quality items, the V3 and the Aura 2 are just a step ahead, and they’re not afraid to go and find different products and materials to keep innovating. I can’t say enough about the VAYU World wings, they’re really good and I love using them.

Photo : @jasonthejaw Jason Breen

Can you take us on a tour of your VAYU wing quiver and give us your feedback on each one?

I use the Aura 2 in a 4m and a 3m and then the V3 in 5m and 6m. I use the V3 in the bigger wings because it has a shorter wingspan and more low down grunt. But usually, we’re in the waves, we use a 4 or 5m and the drift ability of the V3, I think is 100% fine. The Aura 2 drifts fantastically and if it’s a little bit windier then I use that. Anything sort of 25 knots and above, the Aura 2 flexes out nicely and feels really good.

Photo : @kbreen19

I’ll leave you with the last word?

I’m super grateful for the experience, I’m super grateful that the whale didn’t get hurt. As I’ve said before, not many people get to touch a whale, and let alone be hugged by a whale, and I’ve hugged it back! It was a pretty pretty surreal experience, but I’m okay and and I’m so grateful that I had that experience, and the whale wasn’t hurt and I wasn’t hurt. I’m still a little bit freaked out at the moment when I go in the water, because there still are a lot of whales around here, but I’m sure I’ll get over that and back to my normal self. But, for the moment, I have a few reservations when I see them out there I’m just a little bit scared but, yeah, as I say the main thing is I’m just super grateful that the whale didn’t get hurt and I didn’t get hurt, because, at the end of the day it’s their home, you know I’m only going out there to play but it’s their home, and they’re free to do whatever they want. I’m just lucky enough to be invited into their space.

You’re absolutely right – we’re grateful you’re still there to tell us the story! Thank you so much Jason!

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About the Author

Laurie Montagner

From SUP Racing to wing foiling, through windsurfing, wakesurfing and surfing, you will always find Laurie somewhere in the South-West of France. Passionate about watersports, Laurie spends her time surfing, whether on the wave... or online! Laurie is indeed a specialist in social media marketing and web development, from writing lines of code to making professional videos. Very much a competitor, you've probably already met her on one of the SUP and wing events all over France!

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