Twenty-five years of kneeboarding have taught me many lessons, most of which have not come easy. Some trick attempts resulted in glory, high fives and new-trick ice cream, but more often such attempts ended with face-plants, sore muscles and frustration. The years have taught me 10 things that can help you avoid the latter and enjoy the new-trick ice cream and high fives.
1: STRENGTHEN AND STRETCH
The biggest misconception about kneeboarding is that it is hard on riders’ knees. Over my career I have never had or heard of anyone getting a knee injury from kneeboarding on a properly suited board with a good-fitting strap. Truth is, riders’ back and neck will take most of the abuse, so it is important to keep those areas strong and flexible.
Yoga poses such as the upward-facing dog (1A) and triangle pose are great for keeping the back stretched and flexible. Even folks who stretch before hitting the water often overlook their neck. Stretching before each session and finding stretches that work, such as the seated neck release and the clasping neck stretch (1B), will help keep pain at bay.
Focus on keeping a strong core and exercising those muscles. Doing so is essential to any waterskier’s routine, and it will translate into all facets of watersports.
2: PICK THE CORRECT BOARD
“What board should I buy?” That’s one of the first questions I get asked. My answer: “Pick the board that suits your skill level.”
Roto-molded boards are usually very thick and made of plastic. They are stable, forgiving, inexpensive and great for young kids. Compression-molded boards are for novice riders and are in the mid-range price-wise. They are thinner, lighter, more responsive, and better for wake jumping and tricks, but they are less forgiving.
New sandwich-construction boards are rising to the top in terms of performance and ridability. They are the lightest, fastest and most responsive boards, resulting in huge air and forgiving landings. These are well built and look like a true wakeboard.
3: PICK THE CORRECT ROPE
When it comes to ropes, there are two types: low stretch and no stretch. Low-stretch ropes are low cost and great for kids. However, riders who want to get serious need a no-stretch rope. Not only will it provide a solid, consistent pull, but it is much safer for attempting wake tricks.
Also, find the rope length that works best. Rope length comes into play when it’s time to start jumping the wake. Start short. Really short: 40 feet. If you can jump the wake easily, lengthen the rope until jumping the wake is a challenge. Top-level riders vary in rope length preference, from 45 to 85 feet.
4: FIND THE RIGHT SPEED
Speed goes along with rope length. Kneeboard speed ranges from 18 to 24 mph depending on skill level and rope length. Longer ropes generally require more speed.
5: MAINTAIN GOOD POSTURE
Good posture is key to successfully and safely performing wake jumps and wake tricks. Keep your back straight, shoulders back and elbows at your waist. Doing so keeps your center of gravity slightly back and prevents an ignominious face-plant during a hard landing. Upon landing, don’t let your arms out! Keeping your elbows at your hips and your back straight all the way through the landing makes the difference between landing safely or swallowing a mouthful of water. Being able to hold good posture constantly on every wake jump and every landing is the most important concept in learning any new wake trick.
6: GET YOURSELF A SEAT
To get serious about wake jumping, use a seat of some sort. A seat is a pad of sorts that goes under your rear and acts as a shock absorber, protecting your back and legs from hard landings. A few companies make them, and DIYers are building their own. A quick internet search should reveal a few different styles. I prefer the Everett Super Seat.
7: DON’T LOOK DOWN
In all watersports the mantra is the same: Look down, fall down! Anyone learning to jump wakes needs
to keep her eyes up and straight ahead.
Looking down to see how high one is
should be avoided. Yes, the water is still
down there, and yes, it is still wet.
8: DON’T BAIL OUT
Commit. Commit. Commit. One of the worst things to do when trying any trick is to let go of the handle. Doing so instantly eliminates any forward and rotational momentum. Even if you feel like you are not going to make it, hold on until the landing. You may be surprised.
9: KEEP TRYING AND DON’T GIVE UP!
Remember, kneeboarding is supposed to be fun. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Even some of the pros took years and years to land simple tricks.
10: HAVE FUN AND STAY SAFE
Ride with family and friends, and ride to have fun. That is what boating and kneeboarding are all about. When you ride to have fun, tricks and progression will come naturally. Push your buddies and let them push you. You will progress together and become expert kneeboarders in no time! Remember, don’t ride too far out of your comfort zone. Push to get better but stay in control. Injuries come with fatigue.