Wake & Waterski - An Introduction

May 07, 2015
Wake & Waterski - An Introduction

What is wakeboarding & waterskiing?

Waterskiing and wakeboarding are the two most popular recreational sports that are performed on calm bodies of water – being towed either behind a motorboat, or by an electronic cable device.

Wakesports are by nature group activities. So long as you have the right gear, someone to pilot the boat, and someone to act as a spotter (more on spotters later) you are good to go.

How do waterskiing & wakeboarding differ?

Waterskiing has been around since the 1920’s and has evolved to include many different styles and forms. The key area where waterskiing differs from wakeboarding is in the equipment that is attached to the rider’s feet. Waterskiers typically use lengths of wood (or composite material) attached to each foot. As the boat accelerates ahead of them they are pulled along the surface of the water by a tow rope and can perform turns and even aerial manoeuvres.

Originally referred to as ‘skurfing’– wakeboarding was developed after the advent of snowboarding, which was (funnily enough) at that time called ‘snurfing’. Wakeboarding nonetheless borrowed not only elements from snowboarding such as stance and technique, but the format of its original name as well.

Wakeboarders use a single piece of wood or a modern composite board that is attached to their feet by foot straps or adjustable bindings. Wakeboards are typically shorter and wider than snowboards to make them easier to lift out of the water and to perform aerial manoeuvres. Wakeboarding (like snowboarding) differs from its skiing counterpart in that it requires the rider to stand with either their left foot (regular stance) or right foot (goofy stance) forward in the direction of travel.

Where can I wake & waterski?

Wake sports can be performed on any calm body of water, be it the ocean, a river or a lake. A calm, flat surface of water is ideal for wakeboarding and water skiing as the boat’s engine is able to create a consistent wake. If the water is choppy it can be hard for the rider and the skipper of the boat to predict how the wake will form, leading to a bumpy ride and some spectacular wipe-outs.

As a general rule, the body of water you choose should be at least 60 metres wide, allowing enough room in either direction to ensure a skier won’t hit the bank or other structures or boats. The water should be adequately deep, so a big wipe-out won’t send the rider crashing into structures beneath the surface.

What do I need to get started?

One of the great things about wake sports is that they are by nature social activities. Although there are rivers and lakes that have infrastructure set up to allow skiers and boarders to ride on their own (using an electric cable towing system), most people will learn the sport being towed behind a boat. To get out on the water, you will need at least three people: a pilot to drive the boat, a rider, and a spotter.

The spotter has an incredibly important job. A spotter will communicate with both the driver and the rider signalling when the rider is ready to go, when the boat is about to accelerate, and when the rider has taken a slam. The spotter will feed rope to the skier and check all equipment is ready to go.

What about other kinds of wake sports?

Curious about giant inflatable bananas? Well, we’re not surprised. Although it was much more popular as a group holiday activity in the 80’s, you can still witness giant blow-up bananas towing excited holidaymakers behind large watercraft to this day. Banana boating is great fun for the whole family, and a unique way to experience being towed inside a wake for the first time.

banana boat ride

Look how much fun they're having!!!

Tubing is pretty similar to banana boating, except your mode of transport looks more like a donut than a banana. Sometimes referred to as ‘biscuiting’ in parts of New Zealand, tubing involves being towed behind a powerboat at high speed while lying or sitting inside an inflatable rubber ring. Tubes usually have a canvas or nylon floor that helps them skim and spin across the water. Tubing sends participants on wild rides and they tend to have just as much falling off as they do hanging on.

Still popular among wake sports enthusiasts, kneeboarding resembles water skiing and wakeboarding, but (as the name suggests) is performed on your knees. A short, wide board is strapped to the rider’s knees as they sit back on their heels. A kneeboarder is lifted out of the water in the same way as a skier or wakeboarder.

Deep water starts and how to do them.

If you have ever seen footage of professional wakeboarders and waterskiers on TV, you probably saw them jump off the dock in stylish fashion and land gracefully on the water as the boat accelerated them both away into the distance.

While this technique is one way of starting your run, most people start sitting in the water with the aid of a life jacket to keep them afloat.

Deep water starts are the easiest way to go from bobbing up and down to flying behind the boat excitedly fist pumping the air. The technique for water skiing goes something like this:

  • Dive into the water (or bomb, whatever is most fun) and wait patiently for your skis to be floated over to you by your spotter.

  • Slip your feet into your bindings/foot straps. This is usually easier once you are in the water.

  • Once your skis are on and you are bobbing with your ski tips out in front of you, try to remain in a sitting position with your knees up close to your chest, pressed against your life jacket.

  • Your spotter will throw you the tow rope handle, be careful not to catch it with your teeth.

  • The boat will slowly take the slack out of the line, your spotter feeding it out to you in coils from the rear of the boat.When all the slack is gone, sit back in your crouched position and keep your arms extended (but not locked) in front of you. Your ski tips should be held roughly 30 cm above the surface in front of you to ensure enough water flows under them as you accelerate.

  • Give your spotter a thumbs up when you are ready and try to lean back against the pull of the rope. It feels weird to lean back, but if you allow your upper body to go forward with the boat you will cop a mouthful.

  • As you start to lift out of the water, straighten your legs (but don’t lock your knees) while still keeping your weight on the backs of your heels so you don’t catch an edge.

  • You have done it, and now you can punch air all you want!

Note: The basic technique for wakeboarding is similar to skiing except, due to the fact you will be starting perpendicular to the direction you will ride in, you will need to rotate the board 90 degrees as you are pulled out of the water. Make sure you keep an edge above the surface at all times to make sure it doesn’t catch and create so much drag that you get pulled out of your boots.

Find a mate with boat or head to your nearest club or tour operator to give it a go!

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