WHEN PEOPLE COME TO RIDE with us at The Boarding School, the first thing we ask them is what speed and rope length they normally ride at home. The numbers can vary a lot depending on one’s skill level and boat of choice. So to help riders zero in on their rope length for wakeboarding and wakeskating, we put together this primer. Keep in mind, these are just starting points, which can vary a bit depending on the boat, the wake size and the distance between the wakes.
As a general rule, most of the wakeboard ropes sold today are somewhere between 75 and 85 feet in maximum length, including the handle section, which is five feet in most cases. Most ropes will have takeoff sections of two and a half, five or 10 feet, and have the lengths marked on them. The majority of riders — the exception being advanced riders — would never ride with a rope more than 75 feet long. All that being written, let’s figure out where most boarders should be.
I’m basing all of these lengths on wakeboarding. As a general rule, take five feet off for wakeskating.
We always have beginners on a longer rope, 70 to 75 feet, and at a speed between 17 and 21 mph, which is generally the opposite of what most people would think. The wake gets wider as the rope gets longer, which leads a lot of people to think they should have the rope very short, so they have a better chance of clearing both wakes when they try to jump from one to the other. There are several problems with such thinking. In the beginning phases, most riders will have quite a few bad habits, and even though they may be able to clear the wake at a shorter line length, they don’t have any time for recovery after they land. Or, even worse, they could be casing (landing directly on top of) the second wake, which is very hard to recover from and often results in some really hard falls. While learning, it is best to have the rope a bit longer, so riders can figure out their approach, takeoff, and landing and not have to worry about hitting the dreaded second wake. They can do their jump and land between the wakes — a much safer scenario. Once they can comfortably do that every time and land almost all the way to the second wake in control, they should be able to shorten the rope by five to 10 feet and jump wake to wake.
The longer-rope-slower-speed scenario is a very useful technique for learning most things wakeboarding or wakeskating. We use it for wake jumps, 180s, 360s and even inverts. There is no need to just “go for it” and take a hard fall if you don’t have to. The hard falls are the biggest deterrent for people first learning to ride, so keeping those to a minimum increases one’s progression, in most cases.
I would classify an intermediate rider as someone who is able to jump the wakes heelside, toeside and switch heelside, do grabs on all of those jumps, and comfortably do all of the frontside 180s. Most intermediate riders are just starting to do some 360s and basic inverts. Most riders in this range use a 60- to 70-foot rope and move at a speed of 20 to 22 mph (maybe even 23). Again, it will vary a bit from boat to boat and by personal preference. As I indicated previously, the wakes get wider the longer the rope is, so progression can slow if the rope is too long and the rider is having a hard time clearing both wakes. On the flip side, the rope shouldn’t be too short. The shorter the rope, the less time a rider has in the air, and moves can get choppy looking. I realize it sounds like there is some contradiction here, but I would say most riders at this level are going to have some preference of where they would like to be, instead of just blindly throwing the rope on the tower and hoping for the best. You may have to play with it a bit to get it just where you like it best. Be willing to give yourself a set or two to get used to a new line length. And start out by dialing in your cuts on your simple wake jumps first, so you can gauge things for the more difficult tricks.
I would call an advanced rider someone who is doing several 360s and 540s, all of the basic inverts, a Raley or some glides, and is starting on mobes (flips with full rotations). Most advanced riders are going to use a rope between 70 and 75 feet and will occasionally go a little longer. Usually, more advanced riders have more weight in the boat and increase the speed, with most of them between 22 and 24 mph. Remember one thing: Don’t get confined by five-foot sections. If your rope doesn’t come with two-and-a-half-foot sections, fold a five-foot section in half to fine-tune the rope length to your liking. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but a couple of feet can make a huge difference. And, to reiterate, give yourself a little time to get used to a change in length.
As you can see, the rope can change quite a bit from rider to rider. Make sure you are being cognizant of it for each rider, instead of just adopting a one-length-works-for-all philosophy. You will see both your comfort level and progression increase because of it.