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Wakeboarding Vs. Wakesurfing: Which One Is Easier?
Published: September 9, 2021
Wakeboarding is a water sport during which a person rides a board that resembles a large skateboard with foot bindings while being towed by a boat. It is often also referred to as a combination of water skiing, surfing, and snowboarding.
Wakeboarding arose in 1985, when the “skurfer,” a combination of water skis and a surfboard, was developed by Tony Finn. Around this time, Jimmy Redman also decided to make and modify the ‘skurfer’ without being aware of Tony Finn’s design.
The sport of skiboarding slowly turned into wakeboarding when Herb O’Brien introduced a neutral buoyancy, compression-molded wakeboard that allows easier deep-water starts for riders of all ages. Some people kept referring to it as wakeboarding, eventually leading it to become the sport’s official name.
Wakesurfing, on the other hand, is a water sport similar to ocean surfing. The only difference is that the rider follows a boat and rides the boat’s wake without being directly pulled by the boat. A wakesurfer gets up by using a tow rope but drops this rope to be able to surf the steep face below the wave’s peak.
There is no concrete evidence that wakesurfing originated as far back as the 1920s. However, footage and print media from the 1950s and 1960s show that surfers were already riding surfboards behind motorboats at the time. This activity and its development continued through the 70s and 80s. The first U.S. design patent for a wakesurf was granted to Alfonso Corona in 1997.
Both wakesurfing and wakeboarding are fun and exciting sports that can provide many health benefits. Whichever is easier for you is based on how physically fit you are and which sport is harder for you to learn.
Overall, wakesurfing is easier than wakeboarding because it is generally more beginner-friendly, more mellow, and accessible to all. In wakeboarding, you need to hold the tow rope’s handle and get your speed and momentum from the boat. The goal is to carve and jump from one side of the wake to the other. In wakesurfing, the goal is to let go of the rope as soon as you get into the wave created by the boat, which is generally bigger than those you encounter while wakeboarding.
What is the difference between wakeboarding and wakesurfing?
Both wakesurfing and wakeboarding involve planing over the water using a towboat and a rope. However, the type of goal you wish to achieve, the accessibility, and the equipment used differ between the two sports.
In wakesurfing, your goal is to let go of the rope as soon as you are riding the wave right behind the boat and perform tricks and maneuvers similar to ocean surfing. Meanwhile, in wakeboarding, your goal is to carve or jump from wake to wake and perform some other tricks while being towed by the boat at all times.
Below is a chart that shows you more of their differences.
|Goal||Carve fast turns
Do wake to wake jumps
|Surf the wave behind the boat
Pump for speed
|Water Conditions||Relatively glassy water||Can be done in most conditions|
|Speed||15-30 mph||10-15 mph|
|Launch||Easier waterstart||Harder waterstart / prone towing|
|Rope||Towed by the boat continually||Use for getting up and into the wave only|
|Gear||Twin-shaped board with binding and smaller fins||Surfboard or skimboard-style board with no bindings|
|Boat||I/O or inboard, outboard, wake tower for rope elevation purposes||V-drive or inboard, heavy ballasts for big wake purposes|
|Physical Condition||Injury prone, shorter rides, harder on the body||Longer rides, accessible to anyone with back and joint issues|
|Injury Risk||Higher risks because of speed, wake crossing, bound feet, and extreme tricks||Lower risks because of subtle shifts, slow driving, and unbound feet|
It is the most essential part of your gear, hence why you have to choose a good-quality one. For beginners, it is best to use either a ‘twin tip’ or ‘double-ended’ board.
- Wakeboard Bindings
The binding is a piece of equipment that keeps your feet on the board. For beginners and those who plan on sharing a board, it is best to use sandal or bungee bindings that can easily be adjusted so that they can suit different foot sizes. You can always upgrade to more supportive bindings once you build up your experience.
- Wakeboard Boots
A pair of adjustable wakeboard boots is the best choice if you are looking for bindings that can fit different foot sizes. A high-back boot is said to be the most supportive design, which is best for tricks, spins, and flips. There are also snowboard-style wakeboard boots that come with tension straps to support one or two foot sizes. Remember to always seek advice from a professional regarding the size that best suits you.
- Wakeboard Rope
For beginners, it is best to have a shorter rope about 50 feet long. As you progress, you can upgrade to a rope 55 to 60 feet long. Adjustable, sectioned ropes are also a good option as you can easily change their lengths.
A wakeboard rope comes in two different types:
- No Stretch
This type of rope is made from spectra, which is extremely durable with practically no elasticity at all. That being said, it will not stretch, which is why it is ideal for wakeboarding. This type of rope has extremely low moisture absorption, which causes it to be lighter. Plus, it does not cause fatigue while you hold onto the handle. This rope is also best for learning tricks.
This type of rope is composed of polyethylene or polyethylene blend to provide more elasticity than no-stretch spectra while maintaining enough stiffness. Thus, it proves beneficial to recreational riders.
- No Stretch
- Wakeboard Handles
Handles on wakeboard ropes have a wider grip than those used for water skiing and range from 13 to 15 inches in width. The wider grips allow riders to perform tricks and pass the handle behind their backs. These handles have a neoprene foam float and often have features to make spin tricks easier. They are sometimes found in the form of a rope braid or come with a second, smaller handle built into the rope.
- Buoyancy Vest or PFD for Wakeboarding
It is essential for your safety when wakeboarding, hence why it is best to choose a vest designed specifically for wakeboarding. It should be able to provide a wide range of movement and be lighter than any standard buoyancy vest.
- Wakeboard Helmet
This equipment is also called a “crash helmet” and is another safety equipment that protects you from serious accidents.
- Wakeboarding Wetsuit/Drysuit
A wetsuit or drysuit can protect you from extreme cold conditions and extended exposure to the sun. That is why you have to choose a wetsuit with the right thickness, based on the temperature of the water. Although some thicker suits can restrict movements, some others are designed to still provide you freedom of movement. For extra insulation, you can always choose to wear an undersuit.
How it works
- The very first thing you have to do is float on your back. Your arms should be straight while holding your tow rope.
- Next, put your arms on each side of your knees and bend your knees so you can start.
- Then, put the board (which is strapped to your feet) in front of you and towards the towboat.
- Keep the board on its side and then allow it to plane on the water surface once you start being towed.
- Remember that you have to determine whether you ride with a regular stance, meaning with your left foot forward, or a goofy stance, with your right foot forward.
- Next, signal the driver or cable operator that you are set and ready to begin.
- Once you pick up speed, you should allow the boat or cable to pull you up in a standing position.
- Wakesurf board
For beginners, it is recommended to have a surf shape wakesurf board with a larger surface and a stable tri-fin setup to get the most stable platform to learn the basics on. Choose a board that is specifically designed for wakesurfing.
- Wakesurf Rope
A wakesurf rope is held briefly and tossed once the surfer is on the wave, which is why you do not need anything past a basic rope. However, it can be one of the most important tools to help you progress. For beginners, a wakesurf rope is initially used for balance and recovery, while for advanced riders, it can be used for learning how to perform tricks. Invest in a great wakesurf rope to make your maneuvers easier.
- Life Jacket or PFD
The most important item that could save your life is a personal flotation device or life jacket. It will keep you afloat and will also offer protection or cushion when you fall.
- Wetsuit or Rashguard
You should wear a swimsuit that is supportive and comfortable under a lifejacket. For more coverage, you can wear a rashguard or wetsuit to protect you from the cold water, the sun, and also from any falls.
How it works
- Start by sitting in the water with your heels on the edge of the board and your toes pointing up.
- Once the board starts moving, bring your knees to your chest as you dig your heels in.
- Keep your knees bent until the board flips up to your feet. Your weight should be over the board at this point.
- You should pressure your heel onto your board so that it flips up to your feet. Stay patient. Bend your knees and come to a crouched position.
- Gently stand up and plant your heels on the board.
- Get into the wave and drip the tow rope.
- Make sure you stand up straight and not bent over at the waist as you won’t be able to move around freely.
In wakesurfing, once you are up on the board, learning to surf is relatively easier than learning how to cross or jump from wake to wake, like you do when wakeboarding. Furthermore, your feet are not bound to the board like on a wakeboard, thus you can move freely. So, generally, learners balance more easily when wakesurfing as their feet are not bound to the board. Besides, wakesurfing requires a lower boat speed, which helps beginners feel more secure and confident while learning.
Fitness and Injuries
Due to the absence of boots and bindings, the release of the rope, and the generally lower boat speed, we can say that wakesurfing is much easier than wakeboarding.
Most people can wakesurf for a much longer time. Meanwhile, wakeboarding for just 30 minutes can provide a lot of strain on the arm and legs and many falls or crashes. For many occasional riders, this can result in three days of intense soreness afterward.
At some point, many riders switch from wakeboarding to wakesurfing due to back problems, knee injuries, and other joint injuries. Riding with bindings and a tow rope puts a lot of stress on your knees, back, arms, and shoulders.
Wakeboarding also tends to be physically demanding because of the tricks performed, such as kickflips, 180/360s, shuvits, and airs. And since your feet are tightly bound to the board, bad landings generally have a bigger impact.
- Benefits of Wakeboarding
- Strengthens your arm and leg muscles
- Improves flexibility in the hands and feet
- Improves reaction time and versatility
- Develops balance and hand-eye coordination
- Improves swimming skills
- Improves one’s mind and social life
- Benefits of Wakesurfing
- Gets your heart pumping
- Great core workout
- Strengthens the muscles
- Not hard on the joints and muscles
- Improves balance
- Improves body awareness
- Boosts confidence
Is wakesurfing easier than surfing?
Although wakesurfing and regular surfing are very similar, they are actually different in terms of approach. Indeed, when wakesurfing, a surfer uses the wake of a boat to ride the wakesurf board, while in surfing, a surfer uses waves to ride the surfboard.
When learning how to surf, a big foam surfboard will provide the most stability and make it easier to catch and stand to ride the waves. Wakesurfing, on the other hand, uses a very small surfboard because the rider uses a ski rope to get up on the surfboard instead of laying down to paddle. Once the rider is up, the rope is dropped to surf the wake or wave created by the boat.
The constant wake/wave that the boat creates means that wakesurfers can use smaller surfboards. Ocean waves, however, are very unpredictable and can be fast in some areas and slow down in others, so the rider must choose the proper size of surfboard to be able to catch and ride the current surf conditions.
For some, wakesurfing is easier than surfing because you do not need to paddle to catch a wave. You only need to hold onto the boat’s tow rope and ride the wave it creates. This also makes wakesurfing more accessible because the waves in the ocean are unpredictable. Some days, it’s pumping, while other days, it’s just flat. Surfing also requires you to surf waves according to your level. Hence, beginners cannot surf other areas because of massive waves.
Is wakeboarding easier than waterskiing?
Waterskiing is easier than wakeboarding because it is less complicated overall. In wakeboarding, your body is forced to adopt an unnatural riding position wherein your feet should be perpendicular to the board, turning your body sideways. This then makes it harder to control the board and perform tricks. In water skiing, on the other hand, your feet are parallel to each other and your body is naturally facing forward, which makes it easier for you to control the board and initiate turns.
What is the best speed for wakesurfing?
The best speed for wakesurfing depends on the boat’s setup, the make and model, and the amount of ballast. The boat speed generally revolves around 10-13 mph, and the best speed to form good waves is usually around 10 and up to 12.5 mph for pro surfers.
Is wakesurfing dangerous?
Wakesurfing can be dangerous if these safety rules are not followed:
- Do not surf behind a boat with an outboard or pusher stern drive power. Propellers should be safely buried under or in the hull.
- Do not tow surfers using a rope that is not specifically designed for this sport.
- Do not allow coaches or observers to ride anywhere but inside the boat. It is also illegal to let passengers sit on sunpads or gunnels while underway.
- Do not surf without an observer.
- Carry a charged and fully functioning mobile phone, so that the boat driver can call for help in case of emergencies.
- Always wear a PDF or life jacket.