In the summer of 1922, Ralph Samuelson became the first person to waterski, using makeshift equipment. Nearly a century later, waterskiing has evolved into multiple wakesports, including slalom, wakeboard, wakesurf, barefoot and others. Pros and amateurs continue to raise the bar and define what is possible behind the boat. And manufacturers are responding by designing equipment that fits the unique needs of each wakesport.
Samuelson used a simple metal ring, only large enough for one hand, attached to a rope as a handle. Today, handle choices abound. While any handle will work for any of the wakesports, using a handle specific to one’s favorite sport will enhance her performance, enjoyment and safety.
While we’ll look specifically at handles here, the handle section is 5 feet long and can easily be looped to a mainline, which has a loop at each end. Handle sections may be sold separately from the mainline, or together. Most handle and line packages allow participants to easily interchange handles.
Waterskiers prefer a 12- or 13-inch-wide handle. A majority are 13 inches, since they give adults more room to hold the handle comfortably. A 12-inch handle works well for kids and smaller hands. Waterskiing handles are primarily 1-inch in diameter and are round. However, manufacturers make handles with a slightly bigger or smaller diameter too. Some handles may be elliptically shaped rather than round. As skiers progress, they should test various handles to see which works best.
Though traditional handles are straight, manufacturers also make handles that have a slight curve to them. The handle curve allows skiers’ elbows to be positioned away from their hips; some skiers think this design gives them more strength to hold the handle. Also, the curved design works well for waterskiers who have wrist and elbow pain, because the position of their hands and arms on the curved handle takes some of the pressure off their elbows, and that makes starts on a slalom ski easier on their arms.
Since slalom skiers can place a significant load on the handle when they cross the wake, handles for waterskiing feature a hard rubber surface that increases their longevity. The harder material also provides a firm surface to grip. Since the surface is firm, gloves improve skiers’ grip and comfort. Most proficient slalom skiers wear gloves.
Some handles are designed to help people get up on a slalom ski. These handles feature a long V section from the handle to the end of the section. The longer V allows users to put the tip of a slalom ski through it, which helps to minimize the amount of ski wobble during the start. These “Easy Up Start” handles come in widths of 12, 13 or even 15 inches. The 15-inch handle is ideal for use with a wide-body slalom ski.
Wakeboard riders prefer a 15-inch handle, which makes passing the handle from hand to hand during a spin trick easier. Also, wakeboard riders don’t like to wear gloves, because riding without gloves gives them a better feel for the handle during handle-passing spins. For that reason, manufacturers design handles for wakeboarding with a softer surface that features EVA foam. Pricier wakeboard handles will feature even softer materials and elaborate patterns in the handle that give riders an excellent grip without gloves.
Since riders are in the air much of the time, handles for wakeboarding are designed to be lightweight. Such handles are often made with Spectra line, which offers strength, minimum stretch and very little weight. Some wakeboard handles feature a T-bar, which is placed a few feet away from the handle. This feature allows the rider to hold the T-bar with one hand while he holds the handle with the other hand behind his back. In the air, the rider releases the T-bar and the rider unwraps to do a spin trick.
The wider wakeboard handle is also ideal for wakeskating and kneeboarding, since these activities feature spin tricks. Barefooters also prefer the wider 15-inch handle, and though the wakeboard handle works perfectly for barefooting, manufacturers make barefooting-specific handles.
Trick skiers use a 12- or 13-inch slalom handle, with a strap just forward of the handle that allows the skier to put one foot in the strap, so he can do various tricks while being towed by a foot.
Even wakesurfers need a handle and line, at least to start. Handles for wakesurfing are only about 9 or 10 inches wide. Like Samuelson’s makeshift handle, this short handle allows room for one hand. Some lines for wakesurfing don’t feature a handle. Instead, the end section the rider holds onto features a very thick braided section. These designs are purely for safety, to minimize the danger of a rider falling into the handle during a fall.
While each handle is designed for a particular application, the fact that most handles easily detach from the mainline allows riders to switch handles quickly, to give wakesports enthusiasts the best handle for their sport, size and ability.