Wake Up Call
When Minnesota-native Ralph Samuelson paired two boards and a clothesline to invent waterskiing in 1922, he probably never envisioned how popular the sport would become or just how it would evolve in the decades to follow.
Though traditional skiing still pairs essentially a set of planks with a towrope, the latest generation of towsports often share more in common with surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding. Riders stand sideways on single wide boards, and rather than simply cross the wake, use it to propel them across or over the water.
Boat manufacturers have had to adapt to keep up. Once designed to produce as minimal a wake as possible, current towsports boats often do just the opposite, pumping up wake volume to allow riders to both surf and soar. Brands like Nautique have long been at the forefront of this movement, producing cutting-edge designs that have allowed riders to take their passions to the next level. Supreme Boats provides the same fun at an even more accessible price point.
Wondering what you—and Ralph—have been missing out on? Here’s an overview of the latest generation of tow sports.
Arguably the hottest of the last two decades, wakeboarding mixes the feel of skiing with the sideways stance of skateboarding or snowboarding. The board’s generous surface area typically allows riders to get atop the water with little struggle and at slower speeds. Once up, you can learn to slash the wake like a surfer, or better yet, fly above it like an acrobat.
Wakeboarding has had the most profound effect on boat design. While nearly any boat can satisfy the recreational rider, serious enthusiasts demand bigger and shapelier wakes to serve as their ramp to the heavens. Today’s latest generation of wake-oriented boats typically feature deep-V hulls with onboard ballast systems to settle the boat deeper into the water and pump up the volume of the wake behind. Overhead, towers have replaced simple tow eyes or pylons, anchoring the towrope higher off the water to allow riders powering up those watery ramps to fly ever higher.
Prefer a true “skate” feel to your riding? Consider wakeskating. An early spinoff from wakeboarding, wakeskating eschews bindings, linking riders to the board solely by the friction between their sneakered feet and the board’s grippy surface. While talented wakeskaters can perform similar tricks to their wakeboarding peers, more fun is often had mimicking the same maneuvers you’d find on the street, with riders spinning, rolling, or twisting the board underfoot.
Those same big wakes that thrill wakeboarders also prove, with a little tweaking, to be pretty darn good for bringing the feel of ocean surf to landlocked lakes. And as the Beach Boys theorized, if everybody had an ocean, well, you know what we’d be doing. By adding external hardware that disrupts the convergence point of water running down the hullsides, inboard and V-drive boat manufacturers like Nautique and Supreme have created a surfer’s dream — the endless wave. The wake on the surfer’s preferred side gets boosted in size and shaped to perfection. The below-the-hull location of the prop allows riders to surf in close proximity to the boat essentially worry-free. Think you’re too old to try wakesurfing?Think again. With its low speeds and soft, gentle falls, wakesurfing has proven an activity that the entire family can enjoy.
Though wake sports currently hog most of the spotlight, there’s still room for the old standbys we all grew up with. Waterskiing may evoke a certain “vintage” feel in today’s era of adrenaline-filled activities, but it’s still arguably one of the best ways to introduce your kids to tow sports, as well as just great fun — and exercise — for those who are just kids at heart. Skimming across the water on a pair of combo skis was almost a rite of passage for most of us growing up. Today, many of us have passed that milestone down to our children and grandchildren.
Never tried skiing? Start with a pair of all-purpose combo skis with adjustable bindings. (For younger kids, look for designs that add a removable stabilizer bar toward the tip to prevent those dreaded splits.) Combos make it easy to get up, offer a stable platform underway, and yet still allow plenty of maneuverability so that you can start cutting in and out of the wake. When you have “ski legs” and get bored with two skis, make use of your combo’s included slalom ski and drop that other plank. It’s a natural progression, and easier than it looks. And nothing beats the feeling — or the visual spectacle — of a slalom skier carving up a glassy lake. Ask MarineMax Executive Chairman of the Board, Bill McGill, he still does it nearly every morning.
The most popular form of tow sport, however, remains the humble “tube.” Inflatables don’t require tremendous athletic skill, nor do they discriminate against size or age. Hop on, tell the boat driver to hit it, and simply hang on for the ride. Today’s designs have evolved far beyond Grandpa’s old inner tube, with innovative styles and shapes that can steer, jump, even spin. In short, the resulting ride can be as wild – or mild — as you desire. Just remember as you soar, surf, skid, or slash across the water to give a nod of thanks to Ralph and his planks and clothesline. Without them, we’d all be having a lot less fun.
Nail The Wake Start, You Can Learn How To Do It Too!
The prospect of learning a trio of new “wake” sports may seem daunting, but in reality the starting process for all three is nearly identical. Whether you plan to ride, surf, or skate, start by positioning the board perpendicular to your body, with knees bent into your chest, and arms extended holding the towrope. Wakeboarders will have their feet strapped into bindings; surfers and skaters should place their heels atop the board shoulder-width apart and toward the closest edge. Once the boat idles forward, the pressure of the water will pivot the board up against the soles of the feet... just like a wakeboard.
As the boat accelerates, resist the urge to haul yourself out of the water. Instead, relax, maintain your position, and let the boat do the grunt work. Should you feel excessive resistance, try pointing your toes toward the boat to minimize drag. Once the board has planed atop the water, pivot it 90-degrees into the forward riding stance following the advice of Nautique pro Shaun Murray. Bring your front hip to the tow handle, keep your chest up, arms straight, and lean slightly back.
When you’re comfortable riding and want to steer the board from side to side, don’t try to point the nose or rely on your fins. Proper board control comes from shifting your weight toward your toe or heelside edge. This will sink the rail and cause the board to travel in the appropriate direction.