The first thing you need to do is figure out which foot forward you are. That is, which foot do you feel most comfortable having at the front of the board. If you skateboard, snowboard, kiteboard or surf, you may already know what is most comfortable for you.
If not, one way to determine this is to stand with your feet together and have a friend (a very good, kind friend in whom you trust) stand behind you and give you a gentle push. Whichever foot naturally moves forward to break your fall is usually the one you want to put toward the front of your board or run and jump to touch something high, the foot you push off with is usually your back foot. However, there are no hard and fast rules and, in reality, the earlier you start riding both regular and switchstance, the better.
So choose which foot you want to start out forward, but don’t neglect to switch it up and try the other foot as well, it will feel strange at first but practice this often to become comfortable and confident with it. Eventually you will want to be as comfortable riding one way as the other. Regular or natural – ride left foot forward, Goofy footers – ride right foot forward.
Most riders have their bindings set centered on the board, shoulder distance (or wider) apart with both feet slightly ducked out about 10 to 15 degrees. This allows you to ride comfortably both regular and switchstance. Always wet your feet and bindings before putting them on, use a little soap to help your feet slip in, bindings must be secure when on, if too tight, adjust size to fit.
The technique to getting out of overlay type or tight fitting bindings, is to grab the board above your toes and pull the edge towards your shins while pulling out one foot at a time.
Communication is important so confirm hand signals for ready, wait, faster, slower, bumpy water, boat has reached desired speed, I’m ok – after a fall, I’m finished my session, double up and whatever else may be useful.
Never wave your hands frantically about in the water if you’re excited. People on the boat might think you’re in trouble.
Never exceed your limits or safe speed, it’s better to go too slow than too fast. Normal wakeboarding speed is between 30-35 km/hour but beginners can start out at about 28 to 30km/hr. Falling off at this speed won’t hurt too bad.
It is strongly recommended that you wear a knee brace, suitable for wakeboarding on at least your leading knee and/or any knee that may have suffered a previous injury for any reason.
This sport like many others has an element of risk and danger, be responsible and keep safe, always use the proper equipment, be aware of any warnings and the regulations of the equipment and area.
Beginners also often find it difficult to keep the board pointed at the boat, especially if their rear foot is pointed away from it. The tendency is to let the back of the board slide forward so that the rider is now in a side slide that could result in a vicious eye-peeling face plant should the front edge of the board dip too low and catch on the water. Try letting go with your back hand and, this will help to get the board tracking straight while you get the feel of it. Concentrate on keeping the board parallel to the boat and wake, twist your hips toward the boat and have your chest & shoulders facing the boat.
Your board most likely came with a set of fins. Make sure your fins are tightly secured with the wider end to the outside of the board. The longer the fins, the easier they will track in the water giving you a more stable feeling on the board. The shorter the fins, the easier they will release from the water, giving you a looser feeling on the board. Deep fins will result in a more predictable and stable track through the water, shallow fins are helpful when learning surface spins as the board will release its “grip” and slide on the surface more easily.
You will need to use a non stretch line so when you are “steering” your moves with the handle, you will have control moving with the handle and with the boat. The correct type is a spectra fusion line. Your rope should be secured to the pylon or tower at 16 -20 meters depending upon your boat’s wake. The closer you are to the boat, the smaller the wake will be, and the shorter the distance to clear it which may be beneficial in the beginning. However, you don’t want to be so close to the boat that you are hit with the spray of water that shoots up at the start of the boat’s wake, also known as the rooster tail. After all, this is wakeboarding, not Chinese water torture. Once you feel comfortable, you can start extending your rope length so that you are hitting the wake where it is larger and further apart, you may need a slightly increased boat speed to clear the wake. Later, a longer rope also enables you to take a longer cut at the wake and produces a more profound pendulum effect, allowing you to get bigger air.
Please, don’t forget your most valuable piece of equipment, your approved life vest/jacket for floatation. No one wants to see a fun day at the lake turn into tragedy and, most likely, no one in the boat wants to jump into the water to drag your silly butt back into the boat. So ride smart, ride safe, ride with your vest.
Train or Strain?
You think you’ll take a ride to ease your way back to the water, but you forgot that the guys and girls you see on TV looking as limber as Gumby are also just about young enough to carry lunch pails with his face on ’em. Fact is, there are as many serious injuries in wakeboarding as there are in slalom and barefooting.
Some of the world’s top riders are now using pre-season routines more strenuous than pulling on the handle to the refrigerator door. They know that 30 to 35 km/h is plenty easy until you start jumping, landing, grabbing, yanking and flopping. If you don’t feel it right away, wait until tomorrow morning.
Knees, shoulders and ankles. Most common problems after a long layoff, coming out stiff puts the knees and ankles at risk. Easy stretching gets the blood flowing and helps lubricate the joints. Cold shoulders get wrenched from the frequent jerk of the rope. Loosen them up before you ride. Riding a wakeboard is so casual that it’s tempting to try something new right off the bat. You’ll wipe out, guaranteed. Surfing the wakes is as radical as you need to be for now.
Run stairs two at a time to develop explosion and leg strength. Wall squats will build stability in the legs and could help prevent knee injuries. Do slow crunches for abdominal strength, five seconds up, five seconds down, with shoulder blades off the floor.
For tournament riders
Don’t give in to the temptation of landing a new move the first week back. Look at how many riders have aggravated old injuries because they came back too soon.
The cut is the key
Don’t equate big air with speed. In wakeboarding, you don’t need to go that fast. When wakeboarding, beginners tend to be in too much of a hurry to generate speed. You see you’re only 4 meters from the wake and you’re going 32 km/h. You think to yourself, “There’s no way I’m going to get any air going this slow,” so you dig in hard. Problem is, you dig in so hard that you can’t hold it through the wake, and by the time you are at the critical zone, you have no edge or rope tension. You are going fast, but you have no power. Consequently, you barely get any air.
Almost everything you do on a wakeboard should be based on the progressive cut and loading the line (with tension), having good edge at the wake and getting a little pop off the wake. The progressive cut, or “edge,” you need to have the board on edge when you reach the wake and have maximum tension on the rope as you pull through the wake. You must build your cut from a drift in at the beginning.
So for the proper cut, pull out moderately wide, maybe half as far as you would for a full cut, and then let the board drift in toward the wake. Once you start coming in, gradually increase the pressure on the rail and rope until you get through the wake then use the shape of the wake to pop you in the air. The instant before you are through the wake, stand up tall and rigid while pushing down on the handle. This will give you that big pop off the wake without causing you to lose speed.
Progression essentials for 180’s and beyond
I know what you want to do. You’re looking for three easy steps to complete your first invert. We’re getting there, but first you need to be doing clean 180’s in all directions, paying particular attention to good handle position. Correct handle position will make bigger tricks like inverts and 540’s much easier.
Start your 180 just like the two-wake jump by pulling outside the wake about 3-4 meters. Make a slow turn and come at the wake with the same momentum as you would if you were simply jumping the wake. As you come off the wake, make sure your hips are up and your handle is low, and bring the handle across your body to meet your opposite hip (left foot forward: right hip; right foot forward: left hip).
Turn your hips. This will bring your upper body around. The motion should be smooth and continuous with no extra movement.
Allow the board to rotate the entire 180 degrees. Land soft – with knees bent – and smoothly on the transition of the second wake. If it feels more comfortable when you’re landing on the second wake, release your rear hand and let it fall by your side to help keep your board in what is called the switch-stance position.
Merely doubling back over your boat’s original wake has propelled riders 6-plus meters into the air. Despite how difficult these incredible maneuvers may look from shore, the double-up is easy to hit and just as easy to drive.
Begin hitting double-ups by starting with a small approach. As your timing improves, you can take a larger approach by starting out wider. As the boat makes its final approach towards the rollers, edge out into the circle created by the boat’s path. Pick a trough to get into; beginners should follow the first trough to where the wake and rollers converge. It won’t give you the biggest potential air, but it will allow you to practice timing. As with everything else in wakeboarding, timing is key. More advanced riders should follow the second trough for optimum air. Just as you are propelled twice as high, it is twice as important to remember the basics of edging, handle control and body orientation when hitting the double-ups.
Getting up and riding for the first time
So you’re out in the boat and ready to get in the water. But before you can start, you need to get your board on. There are a vast number of binding lubes out on the market today that will ease the struggle of getting into your bindings and are environmentally friendly, so I recommend you use one. You can also opt for shaving cream or common dish soap, but neither of these are very ecologically sound choices, and if that weren’t reason enough, some of these may actually deteriorate the rubber that your bindings are made of.
With your feet firmly installed in the bindings, lay back in the water with your knees bent and the board parallel to the water’s surface, floating naturally. The bottom of the board should be facing the boat. The rope goes over the top of the board and the handle should be held with both palms facing down (sorry slugger, no baseball grip) and your arms should be straight. Let your knees fall open so that your arms are resting between them. Pull your shoulders back and keep your chest up.
Once you are ready, communicate this to the driver audibly and clearly, use go and wait. When you feel the boat starting to pull, concentrate on maintaining your body position; strong bent knees, arms straight, shoulders back and chest up, at this point you should point your toes forward and being pulled up in a squatting position. As you start getting pulled out of the water, don’t try to “muscle” your way up with your arms. Let the boat do the work. When it comes to a tug of war between you and the engine in that boat, unless you’re Superman, you aren’t going to win.
The board should begin to plane on top of the water. Once the board is above the water, straighten your legs to a standing position as you bring the rope to your lead hip. Twist at the waist so that your shoulders are facing the boat and your feet are facing sideways. Keep the handle at your lead hip, your shoulders back, twist at the waist, your chest up and back straight as though you were standing on solid ground, with knees slightly bent.
There, wasn’t that easy? If it wasn’t, you’re probably a victim of one of the many common mistakes getting up.
Standing up too soon causes the board to sink. Keep in mind that you really can’t stand up too late. If you want to ride around the whole lake in the original crouched position in which you started, you can certainly do that. Always err on the side of caution and stand up later rather than sooner. If you’re working hard to stand up, it’s probably too soon. Turning the board too soon will also often make the board sink. Remember, wait until the board is on top of the water before you stand and turn the board.
Muscling your way up often results in the “bungee-effect,” where the rope suddenly becomes a weapon that you use to nail your friends in the boat with (It’s not that funny when you’re the friend in the boat. I lost a pair of Oakleys to a confrontation with a 13″ handle). When you start pulling against that rope, and the tug of war begins, the boat is going to win, because, again, I don’t see you wearing blue tights and a big ‘S’ on your chest. When you finally give up and let go of the handle, or rather the handle is ripped from your soft little hands, two things happen; One, the aforementioned bungee-effect and two, you’ll probably have started the development of some nice rough callouses. So keep your arms straight and shoulders back, and let the boat pull you up.
Plowing through the water is murder on your back and you’ll feel it the next day. When you’re hanging on and all that seems to happen is that water is pushing against the bottom of the board, thus stretching out your arms, there’s a simple solution – slightly point your toes. You see, what’s happening is that no water is getting under the board to lift it up. By pointing your toes, the board is put at a slight angle, allowing for water to rush under it and, as a result, lift it up.
Being pulled out the front can result from one or both of the following; weak shoulders and weak legs. If you don’t hold your shoulders back, they will roll forward. When they roll forward, you’ll lose leverage and get pulled right over the board. Similarly, when you don’t maintain strong bent legs, the pressure of the water on the bottom of the board will only make you bend your knees more and more until they’re up in your chest. If you don’t push with your legs against that force to stand up, you’ll just be yanked forward till you plop right over the front of the board. So, hold your shoulders back and maintain strong bent legs.
Common mistakes staying up
What if you got up alright, but just can’t seem to stay up? The uncontrollable side slide is a precursor of the dreaded face plant. When the tail end of the board comes sliding around so that the front tip is no longer pointed in the direction of the boat, but rather both your feet are pointed at the boat, it is most often a result of not twisting at the waist or not keeping the handle at your lead hip. Twisting at the waist keeps your shoulders facing the boat while your feet face the shore.
The orientation of the handle is also critical in keeping your body in the correct position. Should you pull the handle to your center, in front of your bellybutton, rather than maintaining it at your lead hip, it will pull your lower body around so that you find yourself in the side slide. Should this happen, you better keep your weight on your heels, thus keeping the front edge of the board out of the water, and get the board back to the correct position by twisting at the waist and putting the handle where it should be, on your lead hip. If not, when the front edge of the board gets caught by the water, you will find your face hurtling at light speed towards the water and you may experience a definition of pain that you otherwise never knew existed.
Being pulled out the front may also result in a migraine-inducing face plant. The cause? Improper weight distribution and/or leaving your arms straight out in front of you. If you find that you are constantly being pulled forward, consider putting a little more weight on your back foot. Ideally you’ll want equal weight on both feet, but in the beginning, until you are more comfortable on the board, you may want to think of placing 70% of your weight on your back foot, and 30% on the front. Also be aware of where your arms are. If you hold them out straight and the boat begins to pull you forward, you have nowhere to go but forward. But if your arms are slightly bent and the boat begins to pull you forward, you have a little bit of room to work with. You can pull back with much more ease and with a much quicker response time. Straight arms work when you’re getting up out of the water, but once you’re on top of it, they can sometimes cause you a great deal of pain.
The Neanderthal Plunge looks kind of like the Nestea Plunge performed by a caveman. You may have seen it. The beginner who is hunched over, looking down, maybe poking their rear end out excessively. Your mom always told you to stand up straight. You just never thought her advice would help you out in your wakeboarding. Remember that if you look down, you’re going to fall down, so keep your eyes up on the boat or out on the horizon. Keep your knees slightly bent so that should you go through some choppy water or over a roller, you can absorb it with your legs, not your whole body. Tuck that tail in and puff your chest up with pride because you are wakeboarding now, my friend
Deep water start
Get up and going on the board from a floating position in deep water. While floating in the water, keep the board horizontal and in front of you while facing the boat, let the boat take up the slack of the rope, keep your arms straight or slightly bent, not pulled in to your chest, and keep your knees bent, when you feel ready shout GO or READY, do not shout NO as it sounds like go and it may be difficult for the people on the boat to hear, if you are not ready, rather shout WAIT. As the boat accelerates, keep the board horizontal and at an angle so your toes are pointing toward the boat, then as you feel yourself coming up onto the board, move your leading foot slightly forward to point the board towards the boat.
Shallow water / shore start
Get up and going on the board from a sitting position in shallow water. Sitting on the bottom with most of your body out of the water, the board horizontal and in front of you while facing the boat, the board’s bottom edge may be touching the bottom too depending on how shallow it is, let the boat take up the slack of the rope, keep your arms straight or slightly bent, not pulled in to your chest, and keep your knees bent, when you feel ready shout GO or READY, do not shout NO as it sounds like go and it may be difficult for the people on the boat to hear, if you are not ready, rather shout WAIT. As the boat accelerates, keep the board horizontal in front of you and at an angle by pointing your toes forward toward the boat, then as you feel yourself coming up onto the board stand up and move your leading foot slightly forward to point the board towards the boat.
Stand on board
Stand up and ride on the board for at least 5 seconds. Keep your arms slightly bent and close to your front hip. The proper handle position is at your leading hip so when you start getting comfortable on the board get used to this, spread your hands out to use the whole handle with both palms down. Keep your knees bent like shock absorbers to ride out any waves but without sticking out your butt. Focus on twisting your hips so that your upper body is facing the boat and your lower body is keeping the board pointed in the direction of the pull.
Ride one handed for at least 5 seconds. Now that you’re getting more confident, take a hand off the handle and wave to the boat or to those watching from the shore. Doesn’t matter which hand but make sure you are at least smiling!
Cross one wake
After you’ve gotten used to your board we’re sure you will want to cross the wakes. Remember that a key element when learning is how you position your hips. Focus on twisting your hips so that your upper body is facing the boat and your lower body is keeping the board pointed in the direction of the pull. In order to turn the board to head in either direction, it’s just a matter of turning your hips and looking in the direction you want to cross the wake turn the hips to the left and your body positions the board to turn left. Same thing when you turn your hips to the right, keep the forward edges up and out of the water by pressing down with your heels or toes on the backward edges to avoid the forward moving edge digging into the water otherwise – “Face Plant”! A painful lesson you will no doubt experience.
Cross both wakes
Crossing one wake or two, it’s all the same, use your hips! In order to turn the board to cross in either direction, move your hips in the direction you want to go. Rotate the hips to the left and your body positions the board to turn left. Same thing when you rotate the hips to the right. Keep your legs bent to absorb the bumps without sticking out your butt.
Heel side and toe side
Cross both wakes in your natural stance (leading foot forward) then turn back towards the wake and cross it again. Cross both wakes, then cut out by continuing straight outwards, then turn the nose of the board towards and past the boat, back towards the wake, this is called a transition, as you get to the turning point, rotate your hips in the direction you want to turn while flattening the board out at the apex of the turn and moving the board over to the other edge as you start cutting in from heelside to toeside.
Crouch down and touch the water. Test your balance as you learn to ride. Keep your upper body upright and bend at the knees. You don’t want to have your legs straight and band over to touch the water, you could end up head over heels and flat on your face.
Surf the wake
Cut up and down the wake as if you were really wanting to tear it up. The shorter and harder you make the cuts, the cooler it looks! Cut out from the wake, you don’t need to go far, then turn back towards the wake, as you start to go up the wake do a sharp agressive turn on the wake creating a huge spray and cut away again.