Wakesports Basics

You don't have to be a pro to have fun behind a boat. Know a few basics and put them into practice.

There are plenty of ways to have fun and get a great workout behind a boat. Each wakesport offers a different experience, but wakeboarding, wakesurfing and waterskiing (two skis or slalom) all share certain technique basics, both for getting up and body position once a rider is on top of the water. Participants who understand these basics will progress quickly.

Know that these wakesports are all lowerbody sports. That means participants are working their lower body — hips, legs, knees and ankles — while their upper body stays quiet and balanced over the center of their feet. Of course, wakesports do require a boat to provide the pull, so one’s hands and arms will take the pull via the line’s handle. Even wakesurfing requires a line and handle to get started.

To make successful, consistent starts on skis, a wakeboard or a wakesurf board, follow these basics. When starting, hold the handle palms down as the boat idles forward and make the line taut. Bend your knees and use the strength in your legs to bring the ski or board in front and close to your chest. Keep your back straight. Your natural reaction will be to pull against the handle, but then you are not using your lower body. Often, riders who pull against the handle during the start will fall backward or to the side. So relax your hands and simply hold the handle instead of squeezing it. Gloves will improve your grip and allow you to relax your hands even more.

It is important to maintain ankle flex. If you lock your ankles and push on your toes, the ski or board is pushed away and you will fall forward. So, as the boat accelerates, keep your knees and ankles bent and flexed, which should keep the board close to your chest. This compact position provides maximum control and minimizes wobbling during the start.

It’s helpful to have someone with experience get in the water next to you, to help you relax and ensure correct positioning. Or if deeper water starts are challenging, practice the starting position near the beach in shallow water. Just put the skis or board on, get into position and let someone pull you along manually while you hold the handle.

You can do the same exercise behind the boat. With your arms and shoulders relaxed and legs engaged, let the boat pull you along at idle, without accelerating. Being able to follow the boat when it is in idle is the sign you understand how to relax the upper body while working the lower body. And that you are ready to get up.

As the boat continues to accelerate to your desired speed (see How Fast?), be patient. A common mistake is to try to stand up too quickly. Instead, keep your knees and ankles tucked in while your shoulders, arms and hands stay relaxed. The pressure of the water will build under the board or ski(s) to make it go on plane. As this occurs, simply rise up as if you are getting out of a chair, using leg strength exclusively and keeping shoulders, arms and hands relaxed.

Once up, use your lower body to direct the board, ski or skis by applying pressure through your feet. Smile. Breathing normally and remaining relaxed will eliminate tension throughout your body, allowing you to focus on the flex in your knees and ankles. That flex allows your legs to act as shock absorbers over any bumps in the water. Think of a plié in ballet. Having weight distributed over your feet provides greater balance and control. As a warm-up, spend a little time on land before each set working on ankle flex.

Continue to keep your back upright and arms and shoulders relaxed. Imagine a straight vertical line running from your shoulders through your hips and ankles. You should have a slight bend in your elbows, so the pull of the boat is initiated at waist level. With some practice, you will understand the role each part of your body plays and get the feel of directing the ski or board.


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