For years, possibly centuries, the people of land-locked regions heard of the magical practice of boards riding on water. Travelers told tales of ‘flow,’ ‘epic cuts,’ and the dangers of getting ‘totally pitted.’ But in the 1970s, all that changed.
Traveling shredder dudes told tales of boards that rode on frozen water in the high mountains. Others brought reports of boards that rolled on four wheels. The renaissance had begun.
As legend tells it, some pals from the lakes Queensland Australia heard of these ‘snowboards’ and ‘skateboards.’ They then looked out over the calm waters to see attractive women being pulled on skis behind a motorboat.
Inspiration struck. Beginning with binding-less hand boards, these mavericks began the practice of what they called skurfing. After mastering their new sport, they brought their product to the market. Wakeboarding was born
Today, wakeboarders riding on waters around the world are as numerous as bubbles in a cold beer. There’s a good reason for the sport’s popularity: it’s wicked fun. If you’ve been considering upgrading your fishing vessel to a pleasure craft, we have good news for you. All it takes is a proper tow rope and a wakeboard. That’s where this article comes in. Read on, and find out how to select the right wakeboard for you.
How to Choose the Right Wakeboard
Future wakeboarders come in all flavors. One man’s wunderboard is another man’s chunder board. Here are a few things you need to take into account:
- Weight is the most important factor when determining wakeboard size (see chart bel0w). Height is not a factor.
- What’s your wakeboard riding style? Do you ride a chilled out cruiser longboard on pavement? Do you want to pop off the wake? Do you want to ride rails in cable parks? There’s a board for that
- Who’s going to ride it? Is it going to be your personal chariot, or are you hoping to take the whole gang out for a spin? Like most gear, there are some great products out there for general use, and even better ones meant to fit individual riders like a tailored suit.
- What’s your wakeboarding ability level? If you have some experience, there’s a good chance you have an idea of what you’re looking for. But for new riders, everyone brings something to the table. Maybe you’ve skated since you could stand. Maybe you studied Japanese calligraphy in college and seek to live a balanced lifestyle. Some boards are meant for pure beginners who have never slid sideways over any surface. Others are more difficult to ride at the outset, but serve you better as you progress in skill.
- What’s your budget? In terms of wakeboards, there’s everything from old beaters to Cadillacs.
- What kind of water will you be riding? Some guys save the wakeboarding for calm days on a smooth lake. Others like more choppy open waters. Others like both. But this should influence your choice
Wakeboard Sizing Chart
|Rider Weight (lb)||Rider Weight (kg)||Wakeboard Length|
|Up to 90lbs||Up to 41kgs||119 – 122cm|
|Up to 100lbs||Up to 45kgs||121 – 124cm|
|Up to 110lbs||Up to 50kgs||122 – 126cm|
|Up to 130lbs||Up to 59kgs||128 – 132cm|
|Up to 150lbs||Up to 68kgs||131 – 136cm|
|Up to 170lbs||Up to 77kgs||134 – 140cm|
|Up to 190lbs||Up to 86kgs||135 – 142cm|
|Up to 200lbs||Up to 91kgs||138 – 144cm|
|200lbs +||91kgs +||140cm +|
The wakeboard sizing chart is intended for beginning riders. As you progress, skill level, riding style, and board model will definitely play more into your decision. A beginner will find it easier to get up (out of the water) on a board that is longer because it has more surface area, but you want the proper size when you are riding. Example: Once you get up on a board, it’s like riding a bike! For a family board, look in the 135-139 range, as it is the most common for all body sizes.
Getting the proper sized wakeboard and bindings is very important when you are on the water. A wakeboard that is too big will feel heavy and hard to maneuver, while one that is too small will sink further into the water and feel somewhat unstable. Bindings are the most important part of your whole wakeboard setup. They are what give you the most comfort or the most pain. You want to find bindings that are not too loose and not too tight. We always tell people that you want them snug enough where your feet do not move around, but you don’t want them too tight where your feet fall asleep within the first 10 minutes of riding.
Style of Riding
Before we go any further, something should be defined. When newcomers think of wakeboarding, they often think about the kind where a rider is towed behind a rope. That is classic, that is awesome, that is totally fun. Wakeboarding is all about having fun. BUT it’s not the only kind. There are also cable parks. These involve (often) no boats. Instead riders hold onto a cable driven by a motor similar to a rope tow on ski hills. These spots are filled with rails, boxes, kickers, and occasionally super massive, aggressive, epic features. Wakeboards intended for cable parks involve all different kinds of wakeboard features. Keep this in mind as we move forward.
Wakeboard Camber and Rocker
If you hold a wakeboard flat on your hands out in front of your face, you will notice that it has a curve to it. This is the board’s camber or rocker. In the early days, wakeboards started out completely flat, but then designers remembered that humans have studied physics for millennia and they took a page or two out of Isaac Newton’s diary. They realized, along with surfboard and snowboard designers, that if you lift up the edges on the nose and they tail, the rider is going to have more fun. And wakeboarding is all about having fun. Accentuated cambers allow you to ride more easily on the water, go faster, generate more pop off the wake, and minimize the risk of face planting at high speeds.
But not all cambers are created equally. Depending on the type of riding you’re after and the type of wakeboard you seek out [see section below], the camber of a board usually falls into one of two categories. For general riding, the camber tends to be continuous. That means that you could trace it on graph paper, plot a couple points, plug them into a fancy Texas Instrument graphing calculator, and derive a quadratic equation from it all. In simpler terms, the camber maintains a consistent curve—there are no angles to it.
The other common camber shape you’ll find is known as the 3-stage. The three stage camber is more blocky than a continuous one. Instead of a steady curve, the nose and tail turn up abruptly from a shallow curve below your feet. Why, you might ask, would anyone design such a board? The answer is that, with a 3-stage camber, you can really maximize your air off the wake. A continuous camber tends to slide easily over it unless you’re traveling at high speeds. With a 3-stager, the impact with a wall of water forces you up. When you get more air, you generally have more fun. And wakeboarding is all about having fun.
There are, unfortunately, a few downsides to this design. For the carvers out there, you won’t be able to cut a graceful edge in the same way with a 3-stage camber. Instead of catching the passing water, it will turn into a messy slide and you’ll lose some speed. Speaking of speed, 3-stage camber boards don’t let you go as fast. They tend to plow instead of glide. Plowing means more friction, and friction means it takes more energy to hold onto that tow rope. Boards with a 3-stage camber also tend to be less forgiving. If you stumble a bit and your weight shifts too far forward, that nose will catch easier than a continuous camber, and if anyone on the boat is taking video, you will have an epic face-plant clip to show your friends.
With all this said, you don’t necessarily need to choose between a continuous camber and a 3-stager. Countless hybrid designs exist. These designs go under various names, such as blended 3-stage, hybrid 3-stage, hybrid camber, and abrupt continuous. It really all comes down to personal preference. If you go to bed at night and dream that, as you pop big off the wake, you release the towrope and transform into a glorious albatross with a 10-foot wingspan and then soar across the world at will, we recommend an aggressive 3-stager. If you like to impress the ladies with your laid-back easy-riding carving style, go with a continuous camber. Most of us fall somewhere in between.
When it comes to ability level, continuous cambers are easier to ride. If you have been blessed with wakeboarder friends, try out their boards to get an idea of what we’re talking about.
Wakeboard designers haven’t stopped at the teachings of Isaac Newton. The boards available today feature some surprising, even counterintuitive features.
- Concaves. On some wakeboards, if you flip them over on their belly, you will find small indents along the base. These are not manufacturing errors. They have been placed there for a reason. Isaac Newton might not understand this, but they aid in lift when you’re hitting the wake and also minimize the suction that can keep some riders glued to the surface. A whole article could be written on this subject.
- Fins. You guys have seen sailboats. You guys have seen surfboards. Like wakeboards, they also travel over the water. To keep a straight course, they rely on something sticking down below them. Wakeboards don’t necessarily need this feature. Like snowboards, they can rely exclusively on their edges to cut a turn. However, wakeboards with fins turn much easier than those without. For all the hardcore carvers out there, at least try out a board with this feature on it. It’s a strange sensation at first, but many prefer it. If your style is more quick and dirty, and especially if you’re hitting the cable parks, go finless.
- Channels. The opposite of a fin is a channel. These indents usually run the length of a board and cut a happy medium between something fin-equipped and a completely smooth base. They’ll help keep a straight course, break the surface tension of the water, and make for a truly smooth ride. We recommend channeled wakeboards for any riders who liked the sound of ‘hybrid cambers’ or whatever else they’re called.
- Spines. Not every wakeboard base is flat. Some have spines that run the length of the board, much like a keel on boats, but with a less blocky design. Like channels, these can take the place of the fin and they also soften landings if you’re popping off the wake.
- Edges. Yes, all boards have edges. But unlike any other board sport, they vary in terms of what kind of riding you want to do. Hard, sharp edges are for the carvers of the world. They slice through water like a knife through butter on a hot August day. At the other end of the spectrum, smooth edged boards are for those who’d prefer to leave the earth. They allow for sloppier landings and slide more easily over water, like spreading butter on a hot August day. One big plus for smooth boards is that they don’t catch an edge as easily.
Just about every wakeboard employs a combination of a foam core, fiberglass, resins and different plastics in their construction. Most boards (and for most of wakeboarding history, all boards) are built to be fairly still, allowing you to cut through choppy waters and get a solid pop off the wake. With these boards, the primary structural support comes from fiberglass that extends both along top and base but also on along the thin sides of a board. If you were to look straight at the nose with x-ray vision, you would see a rectangle of fiberglass.
Some board designers recently have given a nod to snowboard design and made their boards with more flex in certain areas. Instead of the rectangle of fiberglass, they instead laid two independent sheets of fiberglass on the top and bottom (with similar foam cores in between). This makes for a much bendier, flexier board. What are the advantages of a flex board? It all comes down to your style of riding. Flex boards for boat riding tend to have a rigid portion beneath the feet with a flexible tail and nose. This lets the rider maintain the pop of the board while also providing some ability to ollie off the wake (or over it for style points). In the cable park, one sure fire way to impress the ladies is with a massive buttered-out nose or tail slide by balancing on one flexed-out portion of the board while sliding over non-water.
Make no mistake, flex boards will sacrifice some stability and pop when it comes to boat riding, but they’re also super fun. Try one out if you get the chance.
With all this in mind, wakeboard designers have combined several of these features with general different types of riding in mind. The first kind is what all newcomers expect. It involves grabbing your board, grabbing your pals, and heading out on the afternoon for a relaxed session of riding smooth waters. These boards tend to have a continuous camber without much lift, and potentially fins, spines, or channels.
Then there are the cable park boards. These boards have been designed with grinds in mind. Their bases are slippery and durable. They likely have some good flex to them, a continuous camber, and they probably lack certain features such as spines and concaves.
Then there are the hybrids. Within hybrids, there are possibly infinite wakeboard types. These boards are for just about anything. They make sacrifices in certain categories, but what they lack in features, they make up for in adaptability. These boards likely have channels and hybrid cambers. For the boat-competent and cable curious, we highly recommend a hybrid board.
How to Set Up a Wakeboard and Proper Stance
When it comes to mounting your bindings on a wakeboard, most people have never been taught the proper way. It is important to start off with a wider stance when learning, and then adjust it once you are comfortable on the board. The reason we start off with a wider stance is because it gives more stability. For most people, it will feel weird, which is why you learn how to get up and ride a little – then adjust it from there. Most people usually ride one screw hole in from each side of the board, and their stance is a little ducked out. By ducked out, we mean the feet are angled outward just a bit.
If you feel pressure on either or both knees, or on the outside of your feet, chances are your feet are parallel or straight on the board and you need to angle them outward a little more. Try wakeboarding with several different stances to find out what works best for you. Don’t remain with your board set up the way it is because someone else set it up for you. You will find that a comfortable stance allows you to ride better.
Now that you have a solid rundown of wakeboard technology, you’re ready to hit your local body of water. At the end of the day, everybody needs to find their inner rider. Once you get a solid dialogue going with that voice inside your soul, he’ll speak to you far more eloquently than we can ever hope to. At the very end of the end of the day, no matter what wakeboard you choose, there’s a good chance you’re going to have fun. And wakeboarding is all about having fun. We wish you clear skies, favorable waters, and happy riding.
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