You’re consistently getting up and have gained a firm grasp of wakesurfing fundamentals. You understand that your front foot is the accelerator and your back foot is the brake. Also, you now realize that drifting too wide/far from the “sweet spot” causes you to lose push and consequently wave goodbye to spectators in the boat. Bottom line: You are dropping the rope with relative ease and can now enjoy the benefits of the endless wave.
But your friends in the boat are urging you to “do something!” And you aren’t sure where to begin. I teach wakesurfing globally and often find that people hit a roadblock because they don’t know exactly what wakesurfing progression looks like. To remedy that, I’d like to provide a roadmap surfers can use to become what I’d describe as a well-rounded intermediate wakesurfer.
Yes, I had a solid foundation from my 15 years of being a professional wakeboarder, but I can tell you these goals are realistic and attainable within the upcoming season. Plus, they’ll add some novelty and fun to your wakesurfing experience, and your friends will find you a lot more exciting to watch.
Speed Control: Find Neutral
Once you’re ready to drop the rope, you need to find neutral, which is essentially the position where you feel relaxed and can stay in the same spot on the wave. Zone 1 on most boats is typically 6 to 8 feet behind the swim platform. The goal when searching for neutral should be to maintain a constant distance relative to the swim platform, which is often easiest in Zone 1. In terms of weight distribution — weight on front foot vs. back foot — the neutral position will vary depending on your weight and the board’s speed.
However, what’s important is that you begin to understand how to control the previously mentioned variables. The operative word here is “control.” Until you can stay in the same spot, or at least limit your movement to 1 to 2 feet forward or back on the wave, you’re not ready to start carving up and down the face of the wave. Also, keep in mind you can find neutral with the rope in hand. It’s a lifeline. Don’t drop it until you have enough control to stay in the sweet spot (aka, home base). Too often, beginners get anxious and drop the rope too soon. Take your time, find neutral, and gain control and confidence while you still have the rope.
Use All the Real Estate
Surf waves continue to evolve. A surfer’s max distance from the platform used to be 6 to 8 feet, but I’ve collaborated with engineers at MasterCraft to design a wave that can be surfed as far back as 25 feet from the platform. The point being today’s surf boats create a lot of room behind them on which to play, and you need to learn how to capitalize on it.
Now that you know how to maintain position on the wave, use that skill to drift forward or back on the wave and then make minor adjustments to your weight distribution in order to return to home base. Make that your first goal: Move back on the wave and see how much distance you can create between the nose of your board and the platform while still being able to recover and return to home base.
Once you’re comfortable doing that, start carving up and down the face of the wave, from top to bottom. Movement up and down the face is created by placing pressure on your toes (up the wave) or your heels (down the wave). This assumes you are surfing frontside, or facing the wave, which is much easier than surfing with your back to the wave. Not comfortable shifting your weight from your toes to your heels? Work on it with the aid of the rope. Though it’s a bit counterintuitive, holding onto the rope longer to drill these basics will actually accelerate your progression once you drop it.
Remember, think of the wave real estate in two dimensions: front to back (distance from platform), and top of the wave to base of the wave. Once you can cruise around all of this “surfable” area, you are ready for the next step.
Front- and Backside Slides
Here’s when wakesurfing starts to get a bit more challenging and a lot more fun. Backside and frontside slides will teach you how to break the fins loose and create the foundation for more refined edge control, which is necessary to progress toward advanced wakesurfing that includes the coveted surface 360 and airs.
First, work on breaking the fins loose frontside, and use the rope to do so. If your left foot is forward and you’re surfing frontside, gently pull the handle from your left hip toward the center of your waist. Use both hands at first and the handle should stay at waist height with your arms fairly straight and relaxed. Basically, you’re turning your chest toward the boat with a frontside slide and then returning back to your normal surf position.
The mechanics of the backside slide are similar but with a couple of nuances. Using only your left hand on the handle, push the handle behind you (to your left) and let your body rotate so your back is facing the boat. If you have trouble releasing the fins — often the case on the backside slide — a skim-style board with smaller fins and less traction will certainly help. You will fall several times while trying to determine how much to lean over your toes when your back is to the boat. That’s fine — and precisely why we wakesurf at 10 to 11 mph.
Once you’re comfortable doing these slides with the rope, try them without it, and you’ll be well on your way to that first 360.