The Ultimate Guide to Answers to Your Questions About the Best Sport on the Water
Answers to Your Questions About the Best Sport on the Water
Imagine a perfect day at the lake. The weather is warm, there is not a breath of wind, the water is not too crowded with boats, and you are about to go wakeboarding. You slip your feet into the bindings and scoot yourself off of the platform and into the water. As the boat starts to pull forward, the rope slides through your hands until you have a grip on the handle. You keep your knees bent while the backside of your board is submerged and yell to the driver that you are ready. The boat roars to life as you hold on to the rope and rise out of the water to glide gracefully across the water at 20 miles an hour. You cut out and swing back to hit the wake at break-neck speed and impress your friends who are watching in awe from the boat as you complete a back flip over the entire span of the wake to land safely on the smooth water on the other side.
Sounds like fun, right? It is. That’s why wakeboarding has become so popular since its inception in the late 1980s. The sport has become so widespread that it rivals water skiing as the most popular water sport. Wakeboarding is so great because it is accessible to people of almost any age or ability. Boards are available for riders of different heights, weights and levels of skill. Most new wakeboard riders can learn to get up on the board within an afternoon. It is also a great social sport as groups of family and friends can spend time together at the lake and in the boat taking turns riding the wakeboard. For those who enjoy a good rush of adrenaline there is really no end to the number of tricks flips and grabs that you can perform with a wakeboard.
If wakeboarding sounds appealing to you, keep reading. This book will provide answers to all the questions you may have about this awesome sport. You will read about wakeboarding techniques that will help you get up every time. You will learn how to choose the right gear by taking into consideration important factors like rocker, bindings, stance and fins. You will also find valuable information about wakeboard safety and how to avoid injuries while you are starting out with the sport. Last but not least, this book reveals the secrets and techniques of the most fun parts of wakeboarding: jumps and tricks. So, welcome to the world of wakeboarding. You’ll be glad you came.
What is wakeboarding?
Wakeboarding is a young water sport that was developed from of a combination of surfing, snowboarding and water skiing techniques. Similar to water skiing, a wakeboard rider holds onto a rope and is pulled behind a motorboat. The shape of a wakeboard is very different than a water ski, however. It is much shorter and wider than a ski, and a wakeboard rider looks much more like a snowboarder because his stance is similar with his feet shoulder-width apart on the board facing to the front.
A brand new wakeboarder’s first challenge is to learn to get up behind the boat. It usually takes a few attempts before the new rider understands which way to lean and how to keep his balance as the boat pulls the rope and the rider rises out of the water. When he has mastered a deep-water start, his next task is to learn to move around behind the boat by using his weight to cut and shift his board to the left and right. When a wakeboarder has learned how to get up and cut he can start working on tricks, and there are many spectacular wakeboard tricks from jumps to flips to grabs to spins.
Wakeboarding has become a very popular sport in the United States. You can even buy boats that are specially designed just to accommodate wakeboarding. They have special weights in the back to create an ever-bigger wake, which means even more air on every jump and stunt for the rider behind the boat. There are professional wakeboarding circuits as well as tournaments and competitions for riders of every level. Wakeboarding even has an entire magazine devoted solely to the sport, Wake Boarding Magazine.
How was Wakeboarding developed?
The exact history of wakeboarding is a little hazy. We know that it came into existence in the late 1980s and evolved from the sport of ski boarding. Ski boarding was done with a board called a “skurfer” which was developed by surfers in California to ride behind a boat rather than in the open water. Ski boarding was a pretty difficult sport because the skurfer was very buoyant and it took a lot of strength and practice to get up behind a boat. Also, there were no straps or bindings on the board so the rider had to figure out where to stand in order to stay balanced.
One breakthrough that laid the groundwork for modern wakeboarding was when straps and bindings were developed for the ski board. This gave riders much more control over their board. Herb O’Brien, the owner of H.O. Sports, developed the first true wakeboard called the Hyperlite. This board was different from a skurfer because it had neutral buoyancy, which means it could be pushed mostly underwater, allowing riders to get up behind a boat much more easily than they had before. The Hyperlite made wakeboarding accessible for people of different ages and abilities, which helped to create the popularity that the sport enjoys today.
As more people started to wakeboard, the boards improved even more. The shape changed from a pointy tip on the front side and fin on the backside to a twin-tip design that was symmetrical on both sides of the board. In the early 90s wakeboarding gained even more recognition as professional wakeboarding events were held and Wake Boarding Magazine gave the sport more credibility.
How many people do it now? It is impossible to say exactly how many wakeboard riders exist in the world. However, one quick search on the Internet will show a vast number of websites, contests and organizations devoted to the sport. There are more than 20,000 wakeboarding video clips on YouTube, alone. By simply flipping the channel to ESPN or ESPN2, you will commonly find wakeboarding clips and tricks being broadcast. You only have to visit any local lake where water sports are popular and you are sure to see dozens of boats pulling wakeboarders. There are no official polls to prove it, but it would appear that wakeboarding has become just as popular as its early predecessor, water skiing. Who are some of the greats in wakeboarding?
From the early pioneers of wakeboarding to the current giants of the sport, a few great riders have helped to shape the sport into an international phenomenon. Herb O’Brien, the owner of H.O. Sports, created the first true wakeboard with straps and bindings to hold a rider’s feet in place. H. O.’s first wakeboard was called the Hyperlite and the quintessential Hyperlite rider was Darin Shapiro. Shapiro was one of the first professional wakeboarders and was responsible for developing new tricks and advancing awareness of the sport. Reportedly, he was the first to land an Air Raley. Shapiro has not wakeboarded professionally since 2004, but he is considered to be one of the most winning wakeboarders ever. He currently runs a wakeboarding camp in Orlando, Florida called Ride the Spot.
Parks Bonifay is heralded as one of the greatest wakeboard free riders in the world. He grew up in Florida and became a professional wakeboarder at the age of 13. He won the wakeboarding event at the ESPN X-games at the age of 14 and sealed his fate as an unforgettable wakeboarder. He holds the top spot on the Pro Wakeboarding Tour for both 1999 and 2000. He was the first rider to successfully land a 1080 at a photo shoot. He also invented various wakeboarding tricks including the half cab double back roll, heelside double back roll, temper tantrum and the half cab double back roll mobe. Danny Harf is originally from Visalia, California and grew up surfing and skateboarding. He moved to Florida, took up wakeboarding, and became so good that he became a professional wakeboarder in 2000. His first year on the tour was extremely successful and Harf was named the Pro Wakeboarding Rookie of the Year. He has consistently performed at high levels on the tour, placing in and winning multiple tournaments every year. He won the X Games Wakeboarding titles 3 years in a row from 2001-2003 to become the only rider to three-peat X Games titles. He is known for switch heelside 900s and is one of the few riders who have landed a 1080.
The United States was the birthplace of wakeboarding, but the sport has expanded and gained worldwide appeal in its short life. One of the most popular and successful international riders is Jeff Weatherall from New Zealand. Jeff was a snowboarder first and then got into wakeboarding during the summer months when he couldn’t snowboard any longer. With his background in competitive sports, he started wakeboarding professionally right away. His most recent title was first place in the Australian Pro Tour in 2006.
One of the most winning wakeboarders so far in 2008 is Phillip Soven. Soven is currently 19 years old and grew up in Longwood, Florida. When Soven was only 11 he started his stint on the pro wakeboard circuit. He won his first pro event in 2004 and has continued to rip it up ever since. It looks like 2008 will be his biggest year yet. He has taken first place in Acworth, Fort Worth, the Twin Cities, Phoenix, Reno and first place overall on the Pro Wakeboard Tour.
Wakeboarding is not just for men. Dallas Friday is one of the most successful woman wakeboarders in the sport’s history. Like many of the men, she grew up in Florida, starting wakeboarding young and joined the pro wakeboard circuit at the age of 14. Every year she has consistently won competitions and awards for her wakeboarding prowess. In 2004 she tied for first in the Pro Wakeboarding Tour rankings and has won multiple medals in X games wakeboarding competitions.
First time up on a wakeboard? General Questions
How safe is wakeboarding?
It goes without saying that wakeboarding has some inherent risks. Any time you are being pulled across the water by a motorized boat you have to be aware of potential dangers. There are several things you can do to make your wakeboarding experience fun and safe at the same time, however.
First and foremost, you must wear a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) that is approved by the Coast Guard, in good condition, fastened correctly, and rated properly for your height and weight. There are many great water-sport life vests that allow plenty of freedom of movement and will still keep you safe. Choosing a PFD that is brightly colored will help your driver to find you in the water easily after you fall.
You must also be sure that you trust your boat operator. Driving a boat is not as easy as pushing on the throttle to make it go. A good driver is alert to all other activity in the water near the boat, aware of his rider and the towrope, and diligent about following the rules of safe boating. If you have any question about the ability of the driver, don’t get on the wakeboard. This is doubly true if you suspect the operator may have been drinking. It is just as dangerous to drive a boat while impaired as it is to drive a car, and you don’t want any part of it.
Be sure you and your driver have a means of communicating through hand signals. If you want to go faster, you will usually give a thumbs-up sign, and point your thumb down for a slower speed. Discuss such things before you begin, however, so that you and your boat operator are on the same page during your ride. Also be sure there is an observer in the boat that can tell the driver if you fall or get in trouble. The lookout can also raise an orange flag when you are in the water before or after your ride to warn other boaters that you are there. In most states it is illegal to tow a boarder without an observer and a warning flag, but it’s a good idea to have both regardless of the law in your particular area.
How common are injuries?
The vast majority of wake boarders enjoy their sport without any injuries more serious than some very sore muscles the next day. And because water is a more forgiving surface to fall on than pavement, or snow, or cement, you are less likely to get seriously hurt while wakeboarding than if you are skateboarding, snow boarding, roller blading, or skiing.
Still, injuries do happen. A survey of physicians done in 2004 and published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that the most common injuries were ACL tears in the knee, dislocated shoulders, and fractures. You can minimize your chances of being hurt by following a few simple rules.
First, be sure your equipment fits you properly. If your board is too big for you to handle, you are asking for trouble. Likewise, your life vest must be the right size and the bindings on the board need to stay on your feet without cutting off the circulation. Be sure your towrope is no more than a year or two old and in good condition. Ropes wear out, and a frayed rope can snap and fly into the boat without warning. When you are in the water and the boat has returned the rope to you, be sure you keep it in front of you and let it slide gently through your hands until you can reach the handle. Never let any part of the rope get behind you, or around your neck or any of your limbs. Don’t put any part of your arm through the handle of the rope while you are resting during your ride. It may be a tempting way to catch your breath, but if you fall while your arm is wedged in the handle, you are asking for a nasty break.
Consider using a water sports helmet. They can be especially valuable when you are practicing a new trick and will protect your head from a possible concussion. Wakeboarding helmets are specially designed to let water drain out after a fall and are adjustable to fit many different riders.
If you use some good common sense, you should be able to enjoy wakeboarding with a minimal chance of getting hurt. And remember, you can break a leg just by tripping over a curb while walking down the street. So don’t let fear of injury stop you from trying a great sport.
Does wakeboarding require a lot of strength?
You don’t have to be a weightlifter to succeed at wakeboarding. If you are basically fit, you will do fine. If you are really nervous about getting up the first time, there are a few things you can do to get ready.
- Use an indoor balance trainer. These are shaped kind of like a skateboard and allow you to practice the balance you need to stay up on the water while you are indoors. They also help you build up that all-important core strength.
- Work out on a rowing machine. You can develop just about all the muscles you need for wakeboarding on a rower. They build your arms, legs, back, and core all at once.
- Try an exercise ball during your lunch hour or while watching TV. These are fun to use and can help build ab strength and develop your balance.
How expensive is wakeboarding?
You’ve got to expect to put some money into wakeboarding if you really want to get involved in the sport. Of course, the biggest expense is a tow vehicle. A boat is obviously a huge investment. Lots of people ride behind a jet ski, so that might be an option. But, you don’t have to buy your own watercraft to become a wakeboarder. Some lakes have rental services that will provide a boat, driver and equipment for a day. Because wakeboarding is a great family activity, and most water-sport fans like to help beginners, see if you can hitch a ride with some friends or acquaintances. If you hang out at the lake, chances are you’ll get an offer of a pull. This is doubly true if you volunteer to do some of the work like helping to launch the boat, take care of equipment, build a campfire, wipe the boat down afterwards…you get the idea.
So, that leaves us with the expense of purchasing your own gear. If you’ve tried boarding enough to know that you are going to like it, you really ought to consider buying your own board. That way you can get one that fits your height, weight, and skill level. You are looking at an investment of several hundred dollars here, so take time to do some homework. (Check out the next chapter as well.) You will also need a life-vest that fits you correctly, and that’s about it.
Where can I find cheap wakeboarding gear?
Wakeboarders often like to upgrade their boards as they learn more and more skills. That means there are often used boards around that may be just right for you. Check want ads, consignment shops, and 2nd hand sporting-goods stores for deals. Some stores or clubs organize swap meets that can help you out. You should also consider shopping at the end of the wakeboard season. Brand new boards are often sold at a considerable discount to make room for other products. It might mean that you have to wait until next summer to use your new board, but the price difference could be well worth it.
What about wakeboarding cable parks?
Cable wakeboard parks have been popular in Europe for several years. They are less common in the US, but their number is growing. These are water-sport recreation areas that do not involve boats. Instead, a motorized cable that is high above the water pulls you. There are coaches on staff to help you get started and teach you some tricks. If you live anywhere near one of these facilities, you will find it to be a fun and fairly inexpensive way to spend the day. You can rent equipment and get an all-day pass for around $50-75. Most places have lower rates on certain days of the week, offer group discounts, or have season passes available that can make the experience even more affordable.
Is wakeboarding easier than water skiing?
Well, it depends. A lot of people say that it is easier to control one board in the water than two skis. You don’t have the problem of your feet wanting to separate causing you do the splits when you are on a wakeboard.
On the other hand, the sideways riding position on a wakeboard seems to mess some people up. They would rather use skis that let them point both feet straight ahead at the boat.
Other sports that you participate in may make a difference in which one you think is easier. If you are already a skateboarder or snowboarder, wakeboarding will probably feel really natural to you. If you like downhill skiing or roller blading, you might prefer water skiing.
Can children learn to wakeboard?
They sure can. The age that a child might be ready to start varies a lot with his or her maturity, but for the most part, any youngster that is not afraid of the water and has a desire to learn can become a wakeboarder. If you are thinking of getting a child started, try to find a boat driver that has some experience pulling beginners. Since kids are generally lightweights, they can be pulled out of the water much easier than heavier folks. The boat operator needs to accelerate gently but steadily to avoid pulling a child clear over the board. It’s also a good idea to have an experienced rider get in the water with a kid the first few times he or she tries to get up. It’s much easier to show the child the proper starting position and give pointers if you are right there behind him, than it is to shout directions from inside the boat.
How do I find a good lake for wakeboarding?
Just about any lake where people participate in motorized water sports will work for wakeboarding. If you are lucky enough to live in a place where you have several bodies of water to choose from, you should take these factors into consideration. Getting ready for a first attempt.
- The lake needs to have a decent ramp for launching and loading your boat. It makes your whole day easier when you don’t have to wonder whether you’ll be able to get into or out of the water without a lot of hassle.
- A less crowded lake is obviously preferable to a very busy one. You’ll be able to ride in a straight line farther before you turn and have fewer wakes from other boats to bounce you around. Any lake that provides some shelter from the wind has advantages. Smooth water is always the most fun to ride on, so if the day is breezy, a lake that has a windbreak like a row of trees or a line of hills along some part of the shoreline has a better chance of providing more flat water.
- Be sure you know the depth of water in the lake. This is especially true if you will be boarding on a man-made reservoir. The water level may often drop during the later parts of the summer when people pull water out of the dam to use for irrigation or other purposes. That means that sand bars and shallow areas can show up in places that were safe a week earlier.
- Be aware of floating debris. If you go to the lake right after a severe wind or lightning storm, you may find large tree branches or other obstacles floating in the water that were dislodged by the storm. Keep a sharp lookout to avoid injury or damage to your equipment.