Wakeboarding is possibly one of the coolest water sports out there. With wakeboarding, you can experience riding the edge of adrenaline and water, where gravity is your friend and the wakeboard is an extension of your body. This extreme water sport is perfect for thrill-seekers and water sports enthusiasts who would like to hone their skills and perform gravity-defying maneuvers.
In this article, we delve into the heart-pumping world of wakeboarding, tracing its history, learning about the equipment needed to wakeboard, and getting some helpful tips and tricks that are essential for wakeboarding.
What is Wakeboarding?
Wakeboarding is a water sport that involves riding a wakeboard over the surface of the water while being towed by a boat or a cable system. It’s a combination of water skiing, surfing, and snowboarding –creating a thrilling and dynamic experience. The rider stands on a wakeboard, which is a board that looks like a snowboard but is specifically designed for wakeboarding. This board is typically shorter and wider than traditional water skis and features bindings or boots to secure the rider’s feet.
As the boat or cable system moves forward, it creates a wake or a series of waves behind it. The wakeboarder uses the wake as a ramp or obstacle to perform different tricks and maneuvers – like jumps, flips, spins, grabs, and slides on specialized features like ramps, rails, and sliders. The rider’s movements and balance control the direction and speed of the board.
Wakeboarding requires a level of physical fitness to sustain the activity places huge demands on the arms and shoulders, so it’s best to build up arm strength before your first wakeboarding session to prepare your muscles for the activity.
Wakeboarding can be a little scary at first, but once you get to perform the basics, it becomes easier and more fun to do. And once you have learned how to ride it, there’s a good chance you’ll be addicted. It offers a unique blend of adrenaline, skill, and creativity, making it a popular and exhilarating water sport.
History of Wakeboarding
Wakeboarding, a popular water sport known for its exhilarating maneuvers and impressive tricks, has a rich and fascinating history that spans several decades.
Origins from Water Skiing
Wakeboarding can be traced back to the 1920s when water skiing emerged as a recreational activity. Skiers, seeking new ways to enjoy the water, experimented with various equipment and techniques. At that time, the emergence of motorized boats opened up a world of recreational possibilities on the water. Water skiing took center stage and was pioneered by Ralph Samuelson in the 1920s, earning him the title of the father of water skiing. Samuelson ingeniously crafted two wooden planks to serve as skis and utilized a rope connected to a motorboat to propel himself across the water. The sheer thrill and excitement of water skiing quickly captured the attention of many, leading to its rapid rise in popularity.
The growing enthusiasm for water skiing sparked a demand for boats tailored specifically for this exhilarating sport. In its early stages, water ski boats often comprised modified versions of existing boat models, like runabouts. However, as water skiing evolved into a more competitive pursuit, boat manufacturers recognized the need for purpose-built vessels. These specialized boats featured distinct characteristics, including a V-shaped hull and a robust engine, carefully engineered to deliver the optimal blend of speed and stability essential for successful water skiing endeavors.
As water skiing flourished and attracted a devoted following, the sport reached a pivotal milestone in 1949 with the inaugural official water ski tournament. This significant event marked the formal recognition of water skiing as a competitive discipline, further solidifying its status as a beloved pastime enjoyed by enthusiasts worldwide.
In the 1940s and 1950s, water skiing progressed, and riders began using wider boards, similar to those used in surfing, for added stability and control.
But the birth of modern wakeboarding can be attributed to the invention of “skurfing” in the 1980s. Skurfing combined elements of water skiing and surfing, creating a new hybrid sport. Surfers, such as Tony Finn and Chuck Barfoot, are credited with introducing skurfing, using custom-made boards resembling surfboards with foot straps for increased control.
In Australia and New Zealand, surfers who wanted a different experience used to create boards that would be used for wakeboarding. Jeff Darby and Tony Finn (owner of Liquid Force, one of the best wakeboard brands) were among some of the most notable early skurfers in the region. In Florida, Howard Jacobs designed the early skurfboards in the area. Eventually, wakeboards with straps or bindings were sold under the name McSkis.
During that time, the sport also went by the name “skiboarding,” but it wasn’t until the establishment of the World Skiboard Association in 1989 that it truly started to gain widespread attention.
However, it was the innovative contributions of Paul Fraser and his brother Murray that would bring about significant changes. In 1991, Herb O’Brien from HO Sports, a close collaborator of Fraser’s, introduced compression molded boards specifically designed for a water sport called skurfing. These boards revolutionized the sport, leading to its transformation and the adoption of the name “wakeboarding.” Jimmy Redmon also designed innovative skurfing boards that played a crucial role in shaping the sport.
As wakeboarding gained popularity, organized competitions started to emerge in the early 1990s. The World Skiboard Association (WSA) held the first official wakeboarding tournament in 1990, marking a significant milestone in the sport’s progression. These events showcased the skills of talented riders and attracted a growing fan base. Eventually, as several competitions were held regularly after the release of compression boards, the WSA changed its name to World Wakeboard Association in light of its change in focus.
An alternative to traditional boat rowing also emerged in the 90s. Known as cable wakeboarding, this sport sparked the establishment of cable parks with overhead cables that pulled riders across the water, allowing for continuous riding without the need for a boat. This innovation opened up wakeboarding to more people and provided additional opportunities for riders to practice and showcase their skills.
Wakeboarding’s inclusion in the ESPN X Games in 1996 brought the sport into the mainstream spotlight. The X Games provided a platform for top wakeboarders to compete and showcased the sport’s adrenaline-pumping tricks and aerial maneuvers to a global audience. This exposure led to increased recognition and helped elevate wakeboarding’s status as a professional sport.
The establishment of professional wakeboarding circuits, such as the Pro Wakeboard Tour (PWT) and the Wakeboard World Series (WBWS), provided a platform for elite riders to compete at the highest level. These circuits showcased events worldwide, promoting the sport’s growth and attracting top talent from around the globe.
Today, wakeboarding has transformed into a widely embraced and inclusive sport, captivating individuals of diverse ages and proficiency levels across the globe. As technology continues to advance, both wakeboards and boats have undergone remarkable enhancements, enabling riders to explore newfound capabilities and transcend the boundaries of waterborne athleticism. This dynamic progression has ushered in an era where the pursuit of exhilarating feats on the water knows no bounds.
Equipment Used for Wakeboarding
Before you get started on wakeboarding, make sure you’re using the right equipment. Here’s what you need for wakeboarding:
The primary piece of equipment is the wakeboard itself. Don’t go for pro boards just yet – the best way to start is to use a wakeboard that’s forgiving for riders who are new to the sport or are still developing their skills. For beginners, a wider and larger wakeboard with one or more large rear fins is ideal to give the board more direction. These types of wakeboards often have a flatter rocker profile, which provides a more predictable and stable ride.
Wakeboards are classified into different types based on their rocker design. The rocker is the curvature of the bottom surface of the board from tip to tail, which affects the board’s performance, including speed, pop, stability, and maneuverability. Here are the main types of rocker designs commonly found in wakeboards:
- Continuous Rocker – Wakeboards with a continuous rocker have a smooth and consistent curve from tip to tail. They provide a predictable and flowing ride, ideal for riders who prefer a consistent pop off the wake and a stable feel on the water. Continuous rocker boards generate a controlled and more mellow ride, making them suitable for riders of all skill levels.
- Three-Stage Rocker – Wakeboards with a three-stage rocker has distinct flat sections near the tip and tail, with a more pronounced upward curve in the center. This design creates a “kink” or “break” in the rocker profile. Three-stage rocker boards deliver more explosive pop off the wake, making them popular among riders who enjoy aggressive aerial maneuvers and tricks. They also tend to provide more lift and a looser feel on the water, allowing for better release of the wake.
- Hybrid Rocker – Hybrid rocker wakeboards combine the best of continuous and three-stage rockers. It provides a balanced ride, blending the smoothness and predictability of a continuous rocker with the increased pop and responsiveness of a three-stage rocker.
2. Rope and handle
These are used to tow the rider behind the boat or cable system. Wakeboarding ropes are typically longer and stronger than regular ski ropes. The handle is designed with a comfortable grip and often features a non-stretch section for better control and consistent pulls.
3. Boat or cable system
You will need a boat or a cable system to be towed. If you own a boat – great, but there are cable parks that offer a cable system that tows riders without requiring a boat.
4. Proper wakeboarding attire
You may be tempted to flex that toned upper body of yours, but if you’re a beginner (and for safety, whether you’re a beginner or not), you have to wear proper wakeboarding attire. Here’s what you need to wear:
- Wetsuit or board shorts – The choice depends on the water temperature and personal preference. In colder conditions, a wetsuit provides insulation and helps maintain body heat. But in warmer climates, board shorts or swim trunks are more suitable for freedom of movement.
- Rash guard or water shirt – A rash guard or water shirt can protect your skin from chafing and sunburn. It also provides an additional layer of insulation in colder waters.
- Life jacket, buoyancy vest, or personal flotation device (PFD) – Safety should always be a priority, so wearing a US Coast Guard-approved life jacket or PFD is essential. Besides keeping you afloat in case you fall down, it can also keep you warm while waiting for the launch and save your energy when crashing into the water. When wearing it, make sure it fits snugly and is properly fastened.
- Helmet – While not necessary, wearing a helmet is highly recommended, especially for beginners or when attempting tricks and jumps. A wakeboarding helmet can protect against head injuries.
- Wakeboarding shoes or bindings – Wakeboarding shoes or bindings are specifically designed to provide support, control, and traction on the wakeboard. They must be secure and comfortable fit to enhance performance and avoid injuries.
- Sunglasses or goggles – Protect your eyes from the sun’s glare and water spray by wearing sunglasses or goggles designed for water sports. Look for polarized lenses for better visibility and reduced glare.
Additional accessories such as board racks, equipment bags, waterproof phone cases, and impact vests can enhance your wakeboarding experience and provide convenience and protection for your gear.
How to Get Started on Wakeboarding
To get started on wakeboarding, check out these tips you must keep in mind:
1. Choose the right wakeboard size
The first step towards improving your wakeboarding skills is choosing the right-sized wakeboard. This decision is crucial for achieving stability, control, and balance on the water. Factors such as your height, weight, and skill should be considered when determining the appropriate wakeboard size. The size of the wakeboard can make or break your experience. As mentioned earlier, beginners are encouraged to get larger and wider wakeboards while they are still starting.
2. Tie the rope short
Beginners are usually given a shorter rope, as it gets them closer to the boat and it gives off a bigger wake. It’s much easier to control the wakeboard in a larger wake, as they allow the rider more speed to edge through. A shorter rope positions the wakeboarder in the narrower section of the wake, aiding in balance and control. Also, it allows for an easier transition to a standing position. Beginners are recommended to use a rope that’s between 30 to 50 feet.
3. Get started with the proper stance and footing
Ensure that your wakeboard is set up correctly by positioning your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly turned out. This stance provides stability while gliding through the water. Stand facing outwards towards the back of the boat, so you can sit on the swim step and gradually lower yourself into the water by squatting.
When standing on the wakeboard, it is important to determine which foot should be positioned in front. If you have experience with activities such as skateboarding, snowboarding, or surfing, you may already know whether you are “goofy” (right foot forward) or “regular” (left foot forward). If you’re unsure, try what feels more natural or have a friend give you a gentle push from behind and observe which foot you instinctively land on first – that foot will be your front foot.
4. Master how to start
Each wakeboarding facility may vary, but generally, there is a floating starting block that offers two options to begin. The first is a sit start, where you sit on the block with your legs dangling in the water alongside the board. The second option is a jump start, where you stand on the block and leap off.
The sit start is the easier choice. To initiate the start, slightly lift your front leg out of the water and hold the handle at hip level until you feel the pull from the line. Once the line tugs, you will be effortlessly lifted out of the water. Now, it’s crucial to build up body tension, maintain your arms close to your body, and bend your knees.
It may take some time to achieve a smooth launch initially. The most challenging part of wakeboarding is the start, but once you master it, everything else falls into place naturally. It’s common to be able to do the first few laps on the very first day!
5. Learn hand signals
Hand signaling is also a crucial part of wakeboarding. You must be able to signal to the boat as a form of communication because shouting at the boat driver would be inefficient. Your wakeboarding instructor will explain how to tell the boat to stop, turn, or slow down.
Even if you’re not being towed by a boat and are using an alternative method, you will still be taught specific hand signals to indicate various actions, such as when your turn is complete.
6. Do not pull on the rope
It’s a natural tendency for beginners to pull on the rope – but it will only wear you down. Wakeboarding isn’t about pulling yourself up, but it’s about letting the boat pull you to your feet. If you tug on the rope, it may make the nose of the board dig into the water, causing you to fall flat on your face. Keep your arms straight, and hold the handle low to your hip.
7. Always look straight
Avoid the temptation to look at your board skipping across the water. Focus straight ahead, as gazing on your feet may put too much pressure on that front foot, causing a faceplant.
How to Get Up on the Wakeboard
Getting up on the wakeboard is a bit tricky, but here are the steps so you can do it properly:
1. Tie the rope as short as possible. This maximizes the upward pull from the boat, helping you to stand up.
2. Set up the board properly. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, with a slight outward turn. This positioning provides optimal stability. Face towards the back of the boat, allowing you to sit on the swim step and gradually lower yourself into the water. Avoid jumping into the water, as it may lead to an uncomfortable collision with the boat.
3. Align yourself with the boat. Position yourself in line with the boat, with your arms straight and resting on your knees. Maintain a slight bend in your knees.
4. Let the boat do the work. As the boat begins to move, allow your knees to bend as much as possible, while keeping your buttocks close to the board. Maintain this crunched position until you feel centered over the top of the board.
5. Stand up gradually. Once you feel balanced and centered, begin standing up slowly. Avoid the temptation to rush this step, as it is a common mistake made by beginners. Take your time and find your balance.
6. Adjust foot position. After standing up, gently rotate your dominant foot towards the back, away from the boat. This repositioning allows you to transition into wakeboarding mode.
How to Turn the Wakeboard
Turning on a wakeboard involves two main techniques: toeside and heelside turn, similar to snowboarding. Understanding and practicing these turns is essential for navigating and riding the wake effectively.
- Heelside turn – In a heelside turn, exert pressure on your heels, driving the back edge of the board into the water. This allows you to initiate the turn. It’s a familiar technique for most riders.
- Toeside turn – This can be more challenging. Stand up straight and lean into the rope, focusing on pressuring your toes and digging the front edge of the board into the water. To increase leverage and pull, arch your back slightly. Avoid the common mistake of leaning in the direction you want to turn. Instead, lean back into the rope with determination. Remember the mantra, “Lean back into the rope hard, and you’ll be ripping in no time.”
Most wakeboarding facilities mark turns with two buoys. As you approach the turn, bend your knees, shift your weight slightly backward, and look in the direction you want to turn. These actions will facilitate a smooth and controlled turn. Practice passing through the buoys to refine your turning technique.
Basic Wakeboarding Tricks
Once you’ve mastered the basics of standing up, maintaining a proper stance, and turning, you’ll be ready to perform a wakeboard trick in no time. Here are some popular wakeboarding tricks:
Crossing the Wake
Once you have gained comfort and control on your wakeboard, and have become familiar with surfing the wake, it’s time to practice crossing the wake. By leveraging your toe and heel edges and pulling the rope away from the boat, you can start the turn and feel your wakeboard respond. The key to a successful cross is maintaining fluidity, allowing you to carve through the water with grace.
As you ride along, look in the direction you wish to go and turn your shoulders and chest towards the boat. Move the handle from the outside of your front hip to the inside and simultaneously transfer your weight onto your heels.
Focus on executing slow and controlled movements, ensuring that your wakeboard consistently glides over the water’s surface. Keep your knees bent and avoid steering with the rope, as this can lead to instability and falls.
If you’re eager to cross the wake in the opposite direction, push your knees towards the water, press onto your toes, and turn your shoulders and hips to face your desired path. If you find yourself directly behind the boat, change direction by following the other wake.
Jumping the Wake
Jumping the wake is where the real excitement and thrill of wakeboarding lies. It’s the perfect opportunity to showcase your air tricks and unleash your skills. As you progress, you can start by cutting and pulling from your wake.
To initiate a wakeboard jump, position yourself towards the top of the wake and gradually increase your speed as you approach it. Keep your knees bent, and with the handle at your front hip, stand tall and begin straightening your legs as you near the wake. This will give you the pop that you need.
Hopefully, you will clear the wake and feel yourself get some air. Finally, load the line or pull the rope a few inches to the front hip area to keep the rope tight and keep your arms in for the landing. When you land, you must bend your knees as always, gliding outside of the wake.
The ollie, also known as the bunny hop, is a basic wakeboarding trick. It serves as the foundation for many other tricks, including jumping on obstacles. Practicing and perfecting the ollie allows you to do more challenging tricks.
Start by forcefully pushing down on the tail of your wakeboard to compress the water beneath it. Then, lift your front foot to create an upward force against the wakeboard. This propels you back up out of the water. The deeper you push down on the tail, the stronger the upward propulsion will be.
Focus on the tail of your wakeboard and practice pushing it down into the water, allowing the water’s resistance to generate the desired pop. Concentrate on the rhythm of bouncing down to bounce up, harnessing the energy created. As you become more comfortable with the ollie, you can experiment with manipulating the nose of your wakeboard by pulling it upward, adding another layer of control to the trick.
One of the most rewarding tricks for beginner wakeboarders to master is the surface 180 spin. This maneuver allows you to rotate your wakeboard 180 degrees without leaving the water’s surface, making it an excellent introduction to wakeboarding tricks before delving into jumps.
To start, keep your elbows locked into your body and maintain a slight bend in your knees. Rotate your wakeboard by shifting your hips or applying additional pressure on your heels. As the wakeboard starts to point in the opposite direction, you will find yourself riding in what’s known as a “switch” or backward. Switch riding has two variations: frontside (toeside) and backside (heelside). When doing a frontside spin, turn your chest toward the boat as you rotate. For a backside spin, move your chest away from the boat.
The best time to practice the surface 180 is when being pulled out of the water when the boat isn’t up to full speed. While the boat is going slower, you can slide your wakeboard around easier without catching an edge.
Once you have mastered the Surface 180, it’s time to challenge yourself with the Surface 360. This trick involves performing a full 360-degree rotation on your wakeboard without leaving the surface of the water. While similar to the surface 180, the surface 360 needs you to advance your hips more to complete the full rotation. Try to keep the tension in your shoulders so you don’t fall back towards the motorboat.
If you have tried and mastered the ollie (and can perform other wake jumps), it’s time to add another trick up your sleeve: the tail grab. You can attempt a tail grab once you popped up from the jump and are in the air. This advanced maneuver adds flair and style to your jumps. Here’s how to execute it:
To do this, approach the wake jump with your handle and hips positioned forward, keeping a controlled and balanced stance. As you ascend into the air, bring your wakeboard closer to your body, targeting the tail or back tip of the board with your backhand.
To grab, bend your knees and pull them toward your chest area, allowing you to reach and securely hold the tail of the wakeboard. This adds an extra element of creativity and finesse to your jump. As with any grab trick, it’s crucial to release the grab before preparing for landing. Make sure you have enough time to let go of the tail grab and reposition your hands for a controlled landing.
From its humble beginnings as a combination of water skiing and surfing to its current status as a global phenomenon, wakeboarding has pushed the boundaries of what is possible on the water. It has challenged riders to conquer their fears, hone their skills, and embrace the sheer joy of defying gravity with style and finesse. And there’s no reason to not try it for yourself, too! Just make sure that you follow safety tips for beginners, build up your strength, use proper equipment, and take heart – you’ll be ready for the thrill of your lifetime.