Whether they waterski, wakeboard or barefoot, the pros know two basic keys that keep them at the top of their game. Beginners and recreational enthusiasts rarely get coaching on them, but mastering these two skills will accelerate participants’ learning and dramatically reduce falls:
1. Balance: distribute weight perfectly over their feet.
2. Control: master the handle.
Both are critical in waterskiing, wakeboarding and barefooting but also apply to kneeboarding and wakesurfing. Even though a rider is on his shins on a kneeboard, having his weight balanced over the kneeboard and controlling the handle are important keys to quicker learning, and although the rider isn’t being towed by a handle in wakesurfing, having his weight perfectly balanced over his feet will give him optimal control of the board.
Most beginners and recreational wakesport enthusiasts place too much body weight on their heels. This occurs because when they are first learning a wakesport they are tentative and adopt a defensive posture that includes pushing their feet in front of their knees, slouching at the waist or squatting excessively. All these body positions place weight on the heels and make the waterski or board ride unbalanced.
For example, if a rider has weight on his heels:
• A slalom skier will feel the ski bounce up when crossing the wake.
• A wakeboarder will get less air time when jumping the wake.
• A barefooter will experience a lot of spray in front of his feet.
Several simple tips can help riders achieve a body position that centers their weight over their feet. Visualize a “stacked” body: head and shoulders over hips, and hips over knees/ankles. Imagine a vertical line running from your shoulders through your hips to your ankles.
Often when I’m coaching I encourage students to raise their seat higher to achieve a taller position. I hear many armchair coaches say riders should push their hips forward, but this is not the answer. Try it on land and feel how pressing your hips forward actually places more pressure on your heels. Instead, use your legs to raise your seat and hips higher, until they are in line with your back; you should feel your weight focused on the center of your feet.
Next, flex your ankles. You might be told to “bend your knees,” but doing so forces you to squat with the weight on your heels. Flexing your ankles forward causes your knees to flex forward, keeping your seat over the center of your feet.
Behind the boat, ask yourself where you feel the pressure on your feet. When your ankles and knees are flexed forward, you should feel even pressure from your heels to the balls of your feet. This will allow for better control no matter the behind-the-boat activity.
Once you are balanced over your feet and gliding effortlessly over the water, the handle will feel “light,” since your feet are supporting your body weight and the handle is just connecting you to the boat rather than supporting you. Balance means less upper body fatigue. Now you can concentrate on key two: handle control.
A common mistake most wakesports participants make is they grip the handle with their arms outstretched, which causes the pull of the boat to come through their shoulders. Such a mistake often happens because beginners are apprehensive when they’re learning, so they commonly pull on the handle, which causes them to fall back.
Letting your arms out does relax your hands and arms, and that keeps you on top of the water, but it also leads to poor control of the handle. When the handle is high and away from your body, you are vulnerable to being pulled forward over your feet … and onto your face. In wakesports, it is better to keep the handle low and in near your waist, which allows the pull of the boat to go through the center of your body, resulting in a strong body position with less chance of the upper body being pulled forward.
To position the handle lower, bring your elbows in toward your body using your biceps, triceps and back. Don’t rely on hand strength; bend your elbows slightly into your waist. Once this feels comfortable, bring your forearms down, which places the handle near waist level. If you have been waterskiing/riding with your arms stretched out, this may feel awkward at first, but work on this handle position and soon it will feel very natural.
These two basics work hand in hand. You can’t have optimal balance over your feet when your arms are stretched out, and you can’t have great handle control when your seat/hips are behind your feet. Each time you start a session on the water, think about these two keys. Be aware of where your weight is on your feet and of your handle position.