What do hits of adrenaline, the fresh spray of water, and big air all have in common? Wakeboarding. What we see as the modern-day sport of Wakeboarding has its roots in wakesurfing. Surfers looking to get their turns in on days when all that was out there was glassy waters. By the mid-1960s surfboards behind boats in the bulk of North America’s waterways could be seen, it was turning into a full-blown phenomenon. Wakeboarding had some slow tech adjustments over the next 30 years with the invention of the first modern styled board called the “Skurfer” from Tony Finn. Years later innovations like the first compression molded board dubbed “Hyperlite” and the first twin tipped board - The Wake Tech Flight 69. Since then, Wakeboarding has become one of the most popular watersports with many professional riders competing for cups and titles the world over. Today, Wakeboarding is still largely performed around the globe and continues to draw new people to the sport. We hope that this post can help make the transition a little easier.
How Can I Get on the Water?
Behind The Boat: There are several ways to get out on the water and try wakeboarding for yourself! The first and main way that many people get introduced to the sport is behind a boat. This is the way that Wakeboarding is traditionally practiced and what lead to its evolution. In fact, the towers that you see on many boats were built for Wakeboarding! Depending on the funds available for a new sport some may opt to buy a Wakeboard Boat, or purchase an old ski boat and retrofit it with a wakeboard tower and ballast bags. This path can be costly depending on the year, make, and model of boat, but for those who love to own their own gear this can be an exciting opportunity. Others who wish to explore the hobby before making a large investment might consider renting a boat with a wakeboard tower. Many local marinas either have dedicated wakeboard boats or retrofitted pleasure craft that are a little less expensive but can serve the same purpose. This can be a more cost-effective option for many who might only get out on the water a few times a season.
Riding at the Cable Park: The other way to get into Wakeboarding is through a cable park. These cable parks take advantage of many open waterways and large ponds. With cables suspended between 20-30 feet above the water, these cables create a different type of wakeboarding that allows quicker turns and bigger airs. These cable parks are also very popular with riders that continually push their limits as many of them come equipped with ramps, rails, and jumps that really let people explore what’s possible with the sport. Even though these parks were built to push the limits of the sport, they are still an awesome place to learn the ropes. Many of them offer beginner courses to help get people out on the water. These cable parks are growing in popularity in the United States and hundreds of these exist throughout Europe.
What Gear Do You Need To Start Wakeboarding
Every good Wakeboarding kit starts out with the same essentials. Firstly flotation! I get it, in a lot of cases they are bulky, can limit movement, and can be plain uncomfortable. This is why picking out the correct Competition Vest or Life Jacket is of such importance. We here at WakeMAKERS have a huge selection of vests available to suit every need from swimming to catching the biggest airs. If you get one that suits your needs properly, you are more likely to wear it. Pick one with a fit you like, that's snug and doesn’t prevent movement, and then wear it every time you hit the water!
Up next is the thing we all came here for, the Wakeboard. While second-hand purchases and renting can provide an affordable choice, they can lead to other issues. Improper board sizing, board cracks, and fractures that can create further issues down the line can cause this to be a large money sink. We recommend our Beginner Wakeboard Package starting around $300. These give you the reliability and performance of modern wakeboarding tech without breaking the bank! While looking at these options, opt for a board with a continuous or hybrid rocker. 3 stage boards are great at generating pop but aren’t the easiest for someone to learn on. The other consideration is fin-setup. If you intend to hit rails, jumps and other solid objects then consider a finless setup. If obstacles are not something you intend to ride, find one with fins, these act as traction devices in the water and can help bring your carving to the next level. Most beginner boards come with molded fins on the tips and tail as well as a molded center fin, this allows the board to track easier.
Regular: Riding with your left foot forward.
Goofy: Riding with your Right foot forward.
Wake: This is what the boat gives off as it travels through the water, generally extending far back behind the boat in a V shape, this is what people cross to catch air.
The flats: Area outside of the wake, water is flatter due to there not being any interference from the boat.
Wake-to-wake: Using one side of the wake to catch air, clearing the middle and landing on the other side of the wake.
Bail: To fall - Intentionally or unintentionally.
Set: This is your turn to wakeboard. When you finish riding, you finished your set.
Getting up on a Wakeboard!
Getting up is one of the most intimidating things that face new Wakeboarders. It might feel that no matter how hard you try on your first day, you might not get up and experience the exhilaration of Wakeboarding. This is going to be the first of many parts of the sport that you are going to perfect, and once you have it nailed down, you will be home free! Here is a step by step guide to getting up on your Wakeboard, follow this and you will be up on the water in no time!
Once you have gotten yourself strapped into your Wakeboard, it's time to get into the water. Hop off the swim deck of the boat and turn around, so your chest is facing the boat. From here, you will use the flotation provided by your life jacket and sit there relaxed. Your feet and wakeboard should be facing the boat, and you should have the tow rope gripped with your hands facing the water. From here, we want to move into the starting position. Your knees should be bent all the way to the chest with arms extended forward. Here's a useful thing to remember, if you treat the boat pulling the tow rope as an excuse to do a bicep curl, you will overexert yourself and become fatigued a lot easier. Instead, let your arms relax, utilizing your skeletal system to take the tension of the rope. Once the towboat has tension on the rope, the wakeboard is going to start to plow through the water. By design, these boards want to ride out of the water, so it’s your job to let that happen. Let the tip of the board ride higher out of the water than your back foot. Continue to keep your legs bent as much as you can, and your arms relaxed - this will get you up and out of the water. Once you are out of the water, begin slowly standing up, keeping your arms extended out in front of you. From here all you have to do is rotate your torso and arms, so they’re facing the boat. Remember, arms almost always stay extended when getting up!
Body position is the next part of the equation when learning to wakeboard. Once you are up and riding, many new riders tend to lock out their front leg. At the time, this movement feels right, but over time you will notice that it kills a lot of your ability to adjust to changing wakes.
We recommend practicing your stance on dry land before hitting the water. Imagine you are already out of the water and being pulled behind the boat. Standing with feet slightly wider than hips, bend at the knees until you are in a quarter squat. Now, lean back onto your back leg, putting the weight on your rear leg will help prevent you from catching an edge leading to a crash. The next thing to consider is going to be where to hold your arms. As I mentioned above, it's important to use your skeletal system to take the brunt of the force. However, there is an ideal place for your hands, still imagining your hands are on the bar, pull them down to the area right in front of your hips. As you are in your athletic stance this will help keep the pull consistent and prevent you from getting pulled over. When you are in the water, you will want to change this movement to bringing your hips up to the bar instead of pulling it down to you. This stance will help improve your progression and help prevent frustration.
The big focus for wakeboarding is moving between heelside and toe side edges. Thankfully the idea of heel/toe edges is relatively straightforward. The key here is to maintain tension on the rope, which creates the power needed to steer. While maintaining tension on the rope, you want to drive your toes or heals down based on the direction you want to travel. As you progress with your turning, you will find out that there is a transition period between when you finish your turn to when you start your next turn. If you do this transition phase too quickly, you will lose that tension on the rope, and when that tension is regained it will manifest in the form of a large pull of energy that can cause you to fall. Try to make these transitions fluidly and consistently.
Communicating With The Boat
The next consideration is how you communicate between the boat and yourself as you are riding. The following is a list of hand signals that are valuable to keep in mind.
Thumbs Up: Speed up
Thumbs Down: Slow down
“Ok”: Things are alright
Hand raised with fingers out-stretched: Stop
Arms crossed above head after fall: I’m alright
Tapping on the head with the palm of hand: I’m done
These are the most common of the hand signs, and will likely work for a long time to come. Practice these a few times before getting in the water, so they become second nature.
Now that you have armed yourself with all the information you need to get started, all that’s left to do is get in the water! As with all things skill-based, give yourself a few hours to learn the ropes and become familiar with it before passing judgement. Now, get out there and have some fun!