A Beginner's Guide to Wakesurfing

October 01, 2015
A Beginner's Guide to Wakesurfing

Take two great extreme sports, smash them together and create a new one. That may or may not be how wakesurfing first started, but one thing is for sure, wakesurfing is cool.

Riding a surf board on the wake created by a boat provides keen surfers and wakeboarders the opportunity to practice techniques associated with both disciplines. Surfers benefit from a near perpetual wave and wakeboarders cross-train, perfecting board handling skills. It’s difficult to say who was the first person to ride a boat’s wake on a surfboard, but it most certainly started out as a bit of a gimmick and wasn’t considered as a genuine sport until the 90s when surf and wakeboard manufacturers began developing equipment that was suited specifically to wakesurfing.

Wakesurf Principles

Wakesurfers use equipment necessary for performing both surfing and wakeboarding at the same time. In order to start wakesurfing, a rope must be used to help pull the rider out of the water and up onto their board. Once they are up on their feet, they can drop the rope and use the forward momentum of the rolling wave in order to keep surfing. They will tend to stay close to the back of the boat providing the spotter and other riders with a good view of the action.

Difference between wakesurf boards and surf boards

Originally surf boards were used as improvised wakesurfers, but as the sport developed, manufacturers and skilled riders realised they there was demand for a specific product that would outperform surf boards on the wake.

You can certainly use your surf board behind your boat, you may find that it feels slightly sluggish, and struggles to keep you in the wake; you may even need to use a rope the whole time you are surfing. Wakesurfing is a great alternative to waterskiing and wakeboarding

Wakesurf boards are designed to be typically lighter than ocean surf boards and have less rocker – that is, the amount of curve from tip to tail. This allows that board to maintain contact with the wake over a greater surface area, maximising the amount of push that it gets from the wake. Wakes generated by boats might be as tall as some ocean waves, but do not generate the same amount of force (or push) as ocean waves, so this can make it hard for heavier surfboards to stay with the wake as they are usually weighted more at the tail and tend to be narrower.

See also: Learning to waterski with Pete O'Neill

Wakesurf boards come in a range of shapes and sizes to fit every type of rider. You will need to choose a wakesurf board based on your induvial body size and shape, and based on the type of riding that you are doing.

What to look for in a wakesurf board

There are three main types of wakesurf boards suited to different styles of riding and to different sized wakes.

The most popular type of wakesurf board is the thruster style: based on surf boards of the same configuration, a thruster wakesurf board is lighter, shorter and wider than its oceanic counterpart. They are typically very responsive and are suited to a bigger wake created by a boat that is set up correctly for wakesurfing (see wakesurfing boats below).

Some wakesurf boards are more reminiscent of wider longboard style boards that are designed to be slightly slower, for a more chilled out ride. Longboards are typically thicker than thrusters providing more buoyancy. They are great for surfing smaller wakes and for those who are just getting into the sport.

Skim board style wakesurfers are light and wide and usually have less rocker than other styles and less fins enabling riders to flick and spin the board on the wake, making for a fast loose style of riding.

See also: Pete O'Neill pretty much learnt to waterski before he learnt to walk


What about all this talk of rocker? The shape of your board from tip to tail is called the rocker. Your board can be shaped in a number of different ways; its rocker will drastically affect its performance on the wake. The more rocker your board has (the more curved the bottom is) the more it will dig into the wake, making for a slower ride, but also making turns feel (and look) more theatrical.

Less rocker means more manoeuvrability, but also means that your board can be harder to control. Experienced riders may choose boards with different shapes in order to perform different tricks or enable them to ride wakes of different sizes.


The rails of your board are the edges. Like your board’s rocker, the thickness of your board’s rails will affect its performance on the wake. Thinner rails will make for a faster, more aggressive ride, whereas thicker rails will help you stay on even if you stuffed up that heel side turn. Now that you have sorted out your board, you are going to have to work out how you are going to not only create the wake, but how you’re going to get into it also.

The Boat

All power boats create a wake, but not all wakes are created equal. In order to make your boat’s wake bigger, you are going to have to weigh it down at the stern. This increases the angle at which the force from your motor hits the water, kicking up more water. Wakesurfers increase their boat’s wake in a number of ways. Some boats are built with internal ballast that helps the boat sit lower in the water towards the stern.

If you don’t have the option of adding additional ballast, you can always improvise. Get all your mates to sit at the stern towards the side that you are trying to create the wake. You will be surprised by how much you can affect the form of your wake just by adding some weight in the form of a few mates and a full esky.

Just make sure everyone is secure and seated, and any additional weight is stored properly…no one wants an esky on their toes.

Your boat needs to be inboard driven as well. Wakesurfer + prop = a bad day out on the water.

The Rope

While wakeboard and waterskiing tow ropes have been used in the past for wakesurfing, they are not effective for a number of reasons. The main reason is that they are not thick enough. Wakesurfers will often pull themselves up a rope, almost like they are climbing it in order to help get out of the water and onto their feet. Wakesurf ropes are too thin, making them hard to hold, and can be dangerous having a tendency to wrap around the surfer.

Ropes are also shorter to account for the fact that you are surfing on the inside edge of the wake as opposed to in its centre further back from the boat.

Other things you might need

Wakesurfers sometimes wear gloves to protect their hands from blisters developing. In cold conditions, a wetsuit can be worn, and it is a good idea to wear a personal flotation device at all times helping you to float when you wipe out until the boat can come back and get you.

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