Catchin’ Big Waves

Wakeboat manufacturers are going to great lengths to give boarders and surfers a wake that's long, tall and strong.

Historically, boat manufacturers geared to the waterski market worked to design boats that produced small wakes, since smaller wakes are easier for a slalom skier to cross. That changed in the 1990s when wakeboarding became popular, and even more in the last decade with the rise of wakesurfing. Wakeboarders want the wake to look like a ramp they can launch off for easier airborne tricks, and wakesurfers want the wake to resemble an ocean wave. The challenge for manufacturers became developing a bigger wake. So in the late ’90s they began placing ballast tanks in the stern of the boat. Filling these hard or bladder-style tanks with lake water caused the boat to ride deeper in the water.

Before the ballast can fully have its effect, the first aspect builders have to consider is the hull. The wake reflects the hull design, principally the hull’s deadrise or V shape, so a boat with more deadrise will cast a bigger wake with sharper peaks, and a boat with less deadrise will cast a smaller wake with more rounded crests. Adding ballast puts the hull deeper in the water and amplifies the wake size and shape.

Boat manufacturers originally featured ballast only in the stern, with a capacity of 500 to 700 pounds. In the past two decades, however, ballast capacity in boats has increased dramatically, as pro wakeboarders and wakesurfers have raised the bar on performance. Today, manufacturers of specialized wakeboats are designing longer boats, from 21 to 26 feet, with ballast capacity ranging from 2,500 to more than 5,500 pounds. These specialized boats are being designed with tanks strategically placed below the boat’s floor, so they don’t interfere with storage or passenger space. Also, today’s ballast systems allow users to vary the amount of water in each specific tank, to customize the wake size and shape.



Basic Ballast

Waterskiers, riders and wakesurfers should use ballast to create optimal wake size and shape for their ability level and personal style. A beginner may only need the boat’s passengers as ballast. The number of passengers and where they sit will affect the boat’s wake size and shape.

For waterskiers, keeping the passenger count down will create a smaller wake. Competitive skiers never put more than two passengers beside the driver in a ski boat. For recreational skiers, the number of people will not greatly affect performance, since recreational skiers are not crossing the wake aggressively. Take care to distribute passenger weight so the wake is level and the same shape on each side. Before towing anyone, put the boat on plane and examine the wake. Even moving passengers just a few inches in either direction in relation to the gunwale can affect the wake’s size and shape.

Wakeboarding and wakesurfing require lots of ballast, so the more passengers the better (within the boat’s capacity). Wakeboarders want a symmetrical wake, so move passengers around until the wake is even. Wakesurfing is done on one side of the wake, so having more passengers on the surfing side will put the hull deeper on that side and convert the wake into a surf wave.



Now it’s time to strategically add ballast. Specialized wakesport boats come with ballast tanks, but any boat’s wake can be enhanced by adding after-market ballast bladders such as those manufactured by Fly High Fat Sac. These bladders come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be placed in specific locations on the boat’s floor or in storage sections, such as the stern, a midship ski locker or under-bow seating.

Beginner wakeboarders should start with minimal ballast and work up. No use filling the tanks and creating a wake that intimidates the rider. Wakesurfing newbies still need a wake big enough to give them the requisite level of push that will make it easier for them to let go of the handle and surf for the first time. Boat owners should develop a sensitivity to the wake shape and size and add or subtract ballast to create the ideal wake or wave for each individual as he progresses.

Fill the stern ballast first to see the wake it generates at the participant’s riding or surfing speed. When wakesurfing, place a greater percentage of ballast on the surfing side of the boat. With more weight in the aft, the stern will sit deeper in the water, which will create a bigger, steeper wake close to the boat.

However, today’s advanced riders are using a longer tow rope to generate more speed to the wake, and today’s advanced surfers want a wake that has a longer sweet spot. To create a wake that is longer but not as steep, add ballast and passengers to the midsection of the boat and then to the bow. Doing so will place more of the boat’s running surface deeper in the water and bring the bow down, which will create a longer wake or wave, though it will be less steep than with ballast only in the stern.

On most boats with built-in ballast tanks, adding or removing ballast is accomplished by electronic pumps, with each bladder or tank having its own pump. Filling the tanks with lake water can take 10 to 12 minutes with traditional pumps; however, Supra and Moomba boats offer six electronic pumps to decrease time it takes to fill and drain tanks. MasterCraft is offering bigger pumps on some models and promising to cut the time down to three or four minutes. Centurion features a system called Ramfill whose scoop-like inlets in the hull flood the ballast tank with lake water. Ramfill drains quickly while the boat is on plane, via large valves on the transom. The system can fill or drain 2,600 pounds in 90 seconds.


Sophisticated Ballast

Manufacturers continue to take ballast to the next level with innovative features and products. For example, Malibu offers The Wedge, a foil attached to the transom that swings down under the hull when in use and can be set at different angles to pull the hull deeper in the water to increase wake size.

Manufacturers have also developed various systems to redirect the water and create a surfing wave on one side of the boat. Malibu features Surf Gate, a rudderlike device located near the port and starboard sides of the transom. When not in use, the rudders stay tucked behind the transom. Adjusting one of the rudders to go wider than the transom causes the water going past the boat to be redirected. On the side of the boat with the Surf Gate system activated, the wake becomes smaller and turbulent, but on the opposite side it turns into a steep, clean wave. Chaparral surf boats that feature the Volvo Penta forward-facing stern drive also feature Surf Gate.

Nautique boats have a rudder-like device mounted at the transom; when activated it extends past the gunwale to redirect the flow of water. Boats such as MasterCraft, Tigé, Supra and Moomba feature large trim tabs mounted to the transom’s port and starboard sides specifically designed to redirect the flow of water. So do surf boats from sterndrive builders such as Regal, Four Winns, Monterey and Cobalt that feature the Volvo Penta forward-facing stern drive. Like the Malibu and Nautique systems, when the surf tab is activated, a steep, clean wave is developed on the opposite side.

No single setting is right for everyone or for every boat. Each owner needs to test and see which settings and ballast configuration creates the most desirable wave.

Owners whose boat doesn’t include specialized features that create a surf wave can go the aftermarket route, with devices such as the Mission Wake Surfing Shaper or the Ronix Wakesurf Shaper. They mount via suction to the side of the boat near the transom, and the wedge-like design redirects the water going past the hull to create a surf wave on the opposite side of the boat.


Smart Wake Shaping

On specialized wakeboats, ballast and other wake-shaping features are controlled from the dash of the boat via computer. Drivers can let the computer figure out the ballast and settings to achieve the best wake characteristics for the participant’s level, or they can test and adjust each feature individually. Also, without stopping the boat, they can adjust the wake or wave characteristics and even quickly change the surfing wave from one side of the boat to the other, allowing the surfer to transfer to the other side on the fly.



Ballast Safety Tips


•Driving with ballast requires extra care.
•Don’t overweight the bow. If ballast and other passengers are in the bow, another boat’s wake may come over the bow if the boat is slowing down.
•The driver, when slowing the boat down, should throttle down slowly, so the boat’s own wake doesn’t wash over the transom.
•Drain the ballast before heading back to the dock. Never place a boat with ballast onto a trailer or boat lift.
•Avoid draining the boat while sitting on the ramp. It is inconsiderate and makes the ramp slick.


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