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How Wakeboarding Works


Physics of Wakeboarding
Roll over, Sir Isaac Newton!
Roll over, Sir Isaac Newton!
Simon Cross/Stringer/Getty

Before you learn to jump, it's helpful to understand some of the principles of physics that apply to wakeboarding:

  • The center of gravity is the average location of the weight of an object. Manipulating your center of gravity while wakeboarding affects the speed with which you enter a wake and the height you can jump. It can also change the angle of the board.
  • The buoyancy of the wakeboard is its ability to float and is related to its density. The water beneath the wakeboard is more dense than the wakeboard itself.
  • Surface tension causes water molecules to stick together in a cohesive sheet, affecting how a wake or wave stays together and how a wakeboard navigates a wake.
  • Newton's Third Law of Motion  explains that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. As you lean back and bend your knees on the wakeboard, the angle of the board will change, increasing your speed as you approach your jump.

The two main forces that most influence the way a wakeboard moves are the resistance (drag) that the board encounters when moving through the water and the tension of your rope. Tension is a reaction force: It's directly related to how much force is applied to a rope. The harder you pull on a rope, the higher the tension and the more force the rope exerts on you. In order to keep your wakeboard afloat, you need the tension from the rope to counteract the pull of gravity and stop you from breaking through the water's surface tension. The rope's tension can also give you additional speed. If you lean back, causing the rope to stretch a little farther, you apply more force to the rope, and it simultaneously applies more force to you. You can use this force to get more power behind your tricks.

When you increase the amount of stretching, you increase the power of the tension's force. This is also called loading the line.

Growing in popularity throughout the world, wakeboarding draws thrillseekers for both fun and serious competition.
Growing in popularity throughout the world, wakeboarding draws thrillseekers for both fun and serious competition.
Paul Kane/Stringer/Getty

Now that you've got the science of wakeboarding under your belt, let's use it to jump off a wake. Lean back and toward the center of the board in order to lower your center of gravity. This motion increases the ropes tension and gives you some additional speed as you take off. A few feet before you hit the wake, slowly stand up. Bend your knees and slowly edge toward the wake while keeping the tension of the rope tight. Along with the tension of the rope, this motion helps you jump upward off the wake. The rope will pull you forward, also pulling up your center of gravity.

Next discover some great wakeboarding spots and who else out there's wakeboarding.

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