Maybe you've always secretly wanted to be part of a festively clad human pyramid of water skiers. Or maybe you just like the idea of gliding gracefully along the water behind a friend's powerboat, with the sun on your shoulders and the wind and the spray in your face. Either way, before you can learn to enjoy the popular pastime of water skiing, you need the right equipment.

Back in 1922, Minnesotan Ralph Samuelson, the father of water skiing, simply took two 8-foot-long (2.4-meter) pine boards from a lumberyard, boiled the tips in a kettle to make the wood curve, and attached some pieces of scrap leather to keep his feet on the skis [source: AWSEF]. Since then, some improvements have been made in water skiing technology. For one thing, modern skis are made out of composite materials like carbon fiber.

And of course there are different styles of skis for slalom skiers, who use a single ski to navigate a course of buoys at high speeds, for trick skiers who perform fancy gyrations and for skiers who perform jumps off ramps [source: Britannica]. But unless you're an aquatic prodigy, start with a pair of combination or combo skis. As five-time world water skiing champion Camille Duvall explains in her popular guide to the sport, combo skis are best for beginners, because they're wide in the front with a large surface area that makes them more stable [source: Duvall]. Some beginner models come with trainer bars to connect the skis. You also can buy a platform trainer, which basically is a single U-shaped ski that enables even the least athletically gifted novice to develop confidence in the water [source: Waterskis.com].

Online retailers sell combo skis for roughly between $100 and $300, but Duvall advises you to buy the best pair you can afford, so they'll last. Even if you quickly advance to single-ski slalom skiing, the basic combo skis will come in handy for teaching friends and family members. Look for a compression-molded set of skis rather than the cheaper, less durable injection-molded type, and get the kind with the slight tunnel on the bottom, which are more stable than flat-bottomed skis. [source: Duvall].

On the pages that follow, you'll find additional advice on water ski bindings, ski length and fins.