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How Wakesurfing Works


The Physics of Wakesurfing

Wakes from motorboats create waves similar to those found in oceans plied by regular surfers. These waves tend to be on the smaller side; however, a four-foot wave on an otherwise calm lake is more than adequate to sustain a wake surfer for a few minutes' ride. And, like ocean waves, there's a break and a curl, which surfers can ride and use to perform tricks like dips, sharp turns and spins.

Because the boat is continually creating waves as it moves, there's a constant curling effect, which allows some wakesurfers to carve through a wake for several minutes. They're able to perform tricks and alternately move closer to and farther from the boat. The forward inertia created by initially holding onto the towrope helps the surfer stay afloat, along with the constant motion of an ever-churning wake and the water's strong surface tension. Add to this the buoyancy effect of the surfboard: The board is less dense than the water, and it distributes the surfer's weight widely, allowing him or her to skim along the surface of the water.

The surfer is on one side of the wake, surfing on it, cutting against it and slashing with the board to surf up onto the curl, allowing him or her to perform 360-degree spins and other stunts. If a surfer is to the right of the wake (in relation to someone looking at the wake from the rear of the boat), he or she is riding on the regular foot side, with the left foot forward. The other side is typically for goofy-foot riders, those who ride with the right foot forward.

A surfer may fall for a variety of reasons, including going too far outside the wake -- where the surface tension is lower -- performing a stunt inaccurately, or stepping too far forward on the board and causing the tip of the board to submerge. If the boat comes to a sudden stop, the surfer may also lose his or her balance.

Because wakesurfing also depends on the type of boat used to create wakes, surfing conditions can vary widely. Keep reading to learn what boats are best for wakesurfing.