Wakeboarding is to waterskiing as snowboarding is to snow skiing, and it has been one of the fastest growing recreational sports in the U.S. since it first came to prominence in the 1980s [source: USA Waterski]. The wakeboard rider, who holds a rope apparatus as he is tugged along by a speeding boat on a relatively calm lake, bay or gorge, takes a sideways, profile stance and surfs the tumultuous white waves -- or "wake" -- stirred up by the boat as it cruises along. The wakeboarder then takes advantage of the boat's speed to get lift, allowing him to become airborne and jump, twist or turn.
If you can swim, you can probably try wakeboarding, and you might even find it easy compared to some other water sports. While wakeboarding is similar to waterskiing in that the rider crests boat-generated waves, it differs in that the wakeboard offers more physical stability, because both of the rider's feet are affixed to one shared object. This can make it easier to attempt some of those dazzling (and very fun) twists, turns and jumps -- if you have the right board.
Wakeboards, of course, are very different from the equipment you use to water ski. However, past waterskiing experience can be an important factor to consider when choosing a wakeboard, as are your body type and size. In this article, you'll learn how to take all of these details into account and find a board that suits you. This will keep you safe and make learning easier, so you can get to the fun tricks that much sooner.
There are hundreds of wakeboards on the market, with countless options in terms of length and width -- not to mention the variety available in other board features, including fins and rocker. But the first things you should look at, even before the board, are the bindings that will hold you to your board. Read on to find out why these are so important.
As their name suggests, bindings secure a rider to his wakeboard. It's important that they're tight enough to keep you affixed to the board so you can safely perform jumps and spins, but also loose enough in the right places so you have the flexibility and maneuverability needed to attempt those awesome tricks.
There are many different elements that make up the binding/boot interface. Unlike bindings on snow skis, which are screwed into the skis and separate from the boots that users wear, wakeboarding bindings and boots are one, interconnected apparatus. Each part of a wakeboard binding has an important role:
- The overlay secures the toe and the heel in place. It also provides some secondary ankle support. The overlay is most often made of thick, molded plastic which provides stability, but should move just enough to allow the rider some give.
- The underlay holds in and covers the top of the foot and Achilles tendon. (Just to reiterate -- the overlay goes on the heel, which is underneath part of the foot, and the underlay goes over the top of the foot. Confusing, but true.) The underlay is most commonly constructed of ethylene vinyl acetate [source: Dick's Sporting Goods]. A stiffer underlay, though it can be difficult to get on and off, offers more security and support to the foot. This type of underlay is usually recommended for beginners.
- Hardware keeps all of the other pieces of binding together. Cupping around the heel and curving into the natural arch of the foot, hardware also provides additional support to the sides of the foot. This part of the bindings should offer the least amount of give and freedom -- if the foot slides on top of the hardware while you're out there cresting waves, you'll come down hard on the hardware and probably bruise your feet pretty badly.
- The footbed is where the feet should properly rest. This is the shoe- or boot-like part of the binding, and likewise, should feel about as comfortable as a high-top athletic shoe. One major difference from a shoe, however, is that the heel should sit higher than the ball of the foot to provide proper security and the necessary stance to get airborne.
- The baseplate is where the binding screws into the board.
Now that your bindings are squared away, it's time to look at the other parts of the board. On the next page, learn what you should consider when looking at a wakeboard's fins.
Wakeboards aren't just objects that float on the top of the water, moving you haphazardly wherever you steer them with your feet. They have components called fins, which are affixed to the underside of the board and act as a pair of (usually plastic) "claws" that grip -- or at least inhibit the flow of -- water as the board travels. Fins are a lot like a boat's rudder in that their placement keeps the board moving in a controlled, forward manner, which is the way you want it to move. Without the fins, the wakeboard would be much more likely to wildly and freely rotate on the water's surface, which would make riding the board, let alone attempting tricks, extremely difficult.
There are all sorts of specialized fins available, but in general, they come in two types: wide and thin. While both serve the same general purpose, a wide fin is better suited to beginners and intermediate wakeboarders. It moves more water around the board to create drag, which offers some additional stability. But even experienced wakeboarders opt for a wide fin sometimes -- in choppy water, for example, they're good insurance. Otherwise, the more advanced or adventurous wakeboarder may go for a thin fin [source: Discover Boating]. The thin fin pushes less water, and thus offers less drag. This might mean that the board will rotate on the water a bit more, but it also means the advanced rider will have more user-generated control and freedom to perform stunts.
You now know how the various elements of the board function, so there's just one more thing to consider -- the board itself. Keep reading to find out how size comes into play.
Similar to a surfboard, a wakeboard begins with a core constructed out of foam or polyurethane. It's then wrapped in a mixture of fiberglass and graphite -- the same lightweight, buoyant and difficult-to-break composite used to make water skis. Length-wise, wakeboards range from around 4 feet (1 meter) to 5 feet (1.5 meters). Their width can be anywhere from 15 inches (39 centimeters) to 17 inches (43 centimeters). As the board gets longer, its width increases too [source: Dick's Sporting Goods].
So how long does your board need to be? Basically, the bigger you are, the longer your board ought to be, no matter what your experience level is. This is because, quite simply, extra board provides additional support for your frame. However, no matter if you're a big person, little person or medium person, if you're new to wakeboarding, choose a longer board. That extra board provides more stability, especially when starting and turning. It also makes learning easier. As you gain experience and hone your skills, then you can opt for an increasingly shorter -- and less forgiving -- short board.
For more information on wakeboarding and other water sports, follow the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffworks Articles
- Kalman, Bobbie. Extreme Wakeboarding. Crabtree Publishing Company. 2006.
- Dick's Sporting Goods. "Wakeboard Buyers Guide." (Accessed December 16, 2009)http://www.dickssportinggoods.com/info/index.jsp?categoryId=222798.
- Kovach, Brad. "10 Tips for Choosing a Wakeboard." Boater's World, use by permission on DiscoverBoating.com. (Accessed December 16, 2009)http://www.discoverboating.com/resources/article.aspx?id=378
- Tomlinson, Joe and Leigh, Ed. Extreme Sports: In Search of the Ultimate Thrill. Firefly Books. 2004.
- USA Waterski. "USA Wakeboard: History of Wakeboarding." (Accessed December 23, 2009)http://www.usawaterski.org/pages/divisions/wakeboard/WakeboardHistory.htm
- WaterSki Magazine. "How to Choose a Wakeboard." (Accessed December 16, 2009)http://www.waterskimag.com/features/2001/06/14/how-choose-to-a-wakeboard/