Water Skiing Vs. Wakeboarding: Which Is Harder?

Water Skiing Vs. Wakeboarding

Wakeboarding appeared in 1985 when Tony Finn developed the skurfer, a combination of a water ski and a surfboard. Around that time, Jimmy Redman also decided to make and modify a ‘skurfer’ without knowing about Finn’s design.

Skiboarding, as a sport, gradually developed into wakeboarding when Herb O’Brien introduced a compression-molded, neutral buoyancy wakeboard that allowed easier deep-water starts for all ages. Some people continued to refer to it as wakeboarding, which eventually became the sport’s official name.

Water skiing, on the other hand, was invented by Ralph Samuelson in 1922, using a pair of boards as his skis and a clothesline as his tow rope. He was towed by his brother, and with whom he experimented for several days, until Ralph discovered how to successfully water ski. He then innovated and successfully spent over 15 years performing ski shows and teaching people how to ski. Ralph Samuelson became the world’s first water ski jumper. In 1925, Fred Waller of New York patented the first water skis and was credited as the inventor of the sport, as Ralph Samuelson never patented any of his equipment. However, clippings in Samuelson’s scrapbook and files on the Minnesota Historical Society were beyond debate. Thus, in February 1966, the AWSA officially recognized Samuelson as the “father of waterskiing.”

Both water skiing and wakeboarding are fun and exciting sports that offer a lot of health benefits. Whichever is harder for you will be based on how strong your body is and on which sport is easier for you to learn.

Wakeboarding is harder than water skiing in general. In wakeboarding, you have to ride with your feet perpendicular to the board and your body is sideways, which is unnatural and makes it harder to control the board and perform tricks. Meanwhile, in water skiing, you are riding with your feet parallel to each other and your body facing forward, which makes it easier to control the board and make turns. However, once you get a hang of wakeboarding, it is incredibly fulfilling. In addition to that, once you know how to properly waterski, learning wakeboarding is easier.

Read along to find out which of these two water sports is harder.




1. Wakeboard

  • It is the most essential part of your gear.
  • Choose one made of good quality.
  • For beginners, it is advised to use either a ‘twin tip’ or a ‘double-ended’ board.

2. Wakeboard Bindings

  • Bindings will keep your feet on the board.
  • For beginners and those who are going to share a board, it is best to use a sandal or bungee binding that can easily be adjusted and suits different foot sizes.
  • Upgrade to a more supportive binding once you build experience.

3. Wakeboard Boots

  • Adjustable wakeboard boots are the best option if you are looking for a binding that fits different foot sizes.
  • High-back boots provide the most supportive design and are best for tricks, spins, and flips.
  • There also are snowboard-style wakeboard boots with tension straps that can support one or two foot sizes.
  • Always seek advice regarding the right size to suit you.

4. Buoyancy Vest or PFD for Wakeboarding

  • It is essential for your safety when wakeboarding.
  • Choose a vest that is designed specifically for wakeboarding.
  • Wakeboarding vests can provide a wide range of movements and are lighter than any standard buoyancy vests.

5. Wakeboard Helmet

  • It may also be called a “crash helmet.”
  • This safety equipment protects you from many serious accidents.

6. Wakeboarding Wetsuit/Drysuit

  • This will protect you from extreme cold conditions and extended exposure to the sun.
  • Choose a wetsuit’s thickness based on the water temperature.
  • Thicker suits can restrict movements more, although some are designed to still provide you freedom of movement.
  • You can wear an undersuit for more insulation.

7. Wakeboard Rope

  • For beginners, a shorter, 50-foot rope is best.
  • As you progress, upgrade to a rope that is 55 to 60 feet long.
  • Adjustable, sectioned ropes are also a good choice as you can easily change their lengths.

A wakeboard rope comes in two different types:

  • No Stretch
    • It is made from a material called spectra, which is extremely durable with practically no elasticity.
    • It will not stretch, which makes it ideal for wakeboarding.
    • It has extremely low moisture absorption, which keeps it light and does not cause fatigue while holding on to the handle.
    • It is best for learning tricks.
  • Low-Stretch
    • It is composed of polyethylene or polyethylene blend.
    • It provides more elasticity than a no-stretch spectra rope and maintains enough stiffness.
    • It proves to be beneficial to recreational riders.

8. Wakeboard Handles

  • They offer a wider grip than water skiing handles as they are 13-15 inches wide.
  • Wider grips allow riders to perform tricks and pass the handle behind their backs.
  • They have features that make spin tricks easier.
  • They often come in the form of a rope braid or a second smaller handle that is built into the rope.
  • They have a neoprene foam float.

How it works

  1. Start by floating on your back with your arms straight while holding the towrope.
  2. Put your arms on each side of your knees, and then bend your knees to start.
  3. Place the board, which is strapped to your feet, in front of you and toward the boat.
  4. Keep the board on its side and allow it to plane on top of the water once you start.
  5. Determine whether you ride with your left-foot or right-foot forward (regular or goofy).
  6. Signal the driver or cable operator that you are ready to begin.
  7. As you pick up speed, allow the boat or cable to pull you up in a standing position.

Muscles Used

Wakeboarding requires leg and chest strength, and because you have to balance both legs on the wakeboard, it also takes more core strength. Wakeboarding feels similar to surfing and skateboarding, so if you are familiar with one of these board sports, it is easier and more comfortable to learn how to wakeboard.


Nowadays, there are a lot of activities that can be enjoyed in the water. One of the said activities is wakeboarding. Some consider this watersport as a dying activity, but is this really the case? Is wakeboarding a popular or dying sport? Read our article to find out. 


Water Skiing


1. Skis

  • It is the most important equipment you need.
  • For beginners, start with combo skis as they are wide in front and have a large surface area, making them more stable.
  • Buy the best skis you can afford so they will last even if you advance, and they can come in handy if you want to teach family and friends.
  • Pick the size of the ski based on your body weight and athletic ability.
  • You may also want to choose a longer ski because it is slower and more stable.

When you advance, you may choose from any of these three:

  • Slalom skis
    • Those have wider tails and flat bottoms.
    • High-performing models have concave bottoms, narrow and tapered tails, and highly beveled edges.
    • They are designed for sharp turns and faster speeds.
  • Trick Skis
    • Those are shorter.
    • They are more maneuverable.
    • They are made for performing stunts.
  • Jump Skis
    • Those are longer and wider.
    • They are made for skiing or jumping over a ramp.

2. Bindings

  • It is important to keep your feet secured to the skis.
  • Choose comfortable and supportive bindings.
  • Adjustable bindings are best for skis that are going to be used by many other skiers.
  • If you have a personal pair of skis, it’s best to have custom bindings that can provide more support as it is tailored to your foot size.

3. Tow Rope/Water Ski Rope

  • It is essential to keep the skier connected to the boat.
  • The standard length is 70-75 feet, including the handle.
  • A rope should be one-quarter-inch diamond braid polyethylene or polypropylene and with a breaking strength greater than 800 lbs.
    • They are made from polypropylene that can stretch up to 2 to 3 percent of its length in normal conditions.
    • These ropes have a slight elasticity that provides ‘give’ when the skier changes speed and goes from one turn to another.
    • This ‘rope give’ can absorb shock when the skier goes side-to-side and cuts through the boat wake.

4. Life Jacket or PFD

  • It is a very important safety gear for water skiers.
  • Whether you can swim or not, a life jacket is still recommended.
  • It should fit securely and snug and will not fall off easily when traveling at high speeds.
  • Choose a life vest that will allow for freedom of movement.
  • A type III PFD is lightweight and comfortable to wear for extended periods. That is why it is usually used for water skiing.

5. Gloves

  • Those are optional but can be helpful.
  • Competitive skiers wear gloves to help them grip the tow rope’s handle.
  • Wearing gloves can help prevent the skier from losing control of the rope, and thus, fall.

6. Boat

  • It is important to be able to have something to tow the skier.
  • In competitions, a tow boat with short, flat bottoms is specifically used to decrease the waves that it produces behind.
  • Boats for water skiing have higher horsepower engines and are allowed to travel between 13 to 118 mph in competitions.
  • Boats that are not used for competitions vary. Those do not need high horsepower engines and are only allowed to travel around 20 to 25 mph for adult skiers, and 15 to 20 mph for younger skiers.
  • Make sure the boat you use is safe and driven by someone with a valid boating license.

How it works

  1. While submerged in water, get into a cannonball position.
  2. Let the skis float in front of you while the rope is dangling between the skis.
  3. If you are ready, signal the driver to start the boat.
  4. While you are slowly being pulled out of the water, change into a chair position.
  5. Let the boat do the work.
  6. Do not tug on the handle and do not force yourself up as you will lose your balance.
  7. Stay in the chair position.
  8. Once you are comfortable, put your hips underneath your shoulders.
  9. Keep your arms straight and your ankles and knees bent.
  10. Look straight ahead.
  11. Bring a bit of downward force on the handle.
  12. Avoid pulling yourself forward with the rope.
  13. Avoid straightening your knees.

Muscles Used

Water skiing requires strong leg and hip muscles. However, like wakeboarding, you also need core strength to stay standing for longer periods. It also helps you balance on the water while your legs are holding you upright.


Wakeboarding is a good workout for the whole body and mind, but it also poses some risks of injuries. To avoid accidents on the water, the best thing that you can do is to be prepared for the worst. Read our article to discover everything you need to know about wakeboarding dangers


What’s the difference between water skiing and wakeboarding?

Both water skiing and wakeboarding involve gliding over the water while being towed by a boat or cable system. However, the type of workout that both offer, the skills and learning curves required, and the equipment used differ.

In water skiing, you use twin skis or a single ski to cut through wakes, race, or do sharp turns. Thus, you need strong legs and hip muscles. Meanwhile, in wakeboarding, you use a large snowboard or skateboard-style board to jump over ramps, do aerials, 360 flips and tricks, which requires you to have a strong core, legs, and chest to balance yourself.

Here is a chart that shows the differences and similarities between water skiing and wakeboarding.

Water Skiing Wakeboarding
Twin skis or single ski (slalom ski) Wide snowboard-style board
Towed by a boat or cable system (cable skiing) Towed by a boat or cable system
Ride with feet parallel to each other and facing forward.

In slalom skiing, you ride with one foot behind the other.

Ride with feet perpendicular to the board
Easy to learn if you have prior experience with board sports Using twin skis makes it easier to learn for anyone without prior experience with board sports
The boat moves at a higher speed, around 26 to 34 mph The boat moves at a slower speed, around 19 to 22 mph
Puts as much tension on the rope Cruises at lower speeds and does not pull as hard against the boat
Wake cutting, slalom racing, high-spray turns Wake jumping, aerials, 360 tricks, flips
Injuries primarily involve hip and lower extremities Injuries most likely involve head and neck
75-foot rope with minimum stretch 65-foot static rope

In terms of equipment:

Wakeboarding involves the use of a large snowboard-style board that you strap to your feet using fixed bindings and that will remain strapped to the wakeboard even when you fall.

Waterskiing, on the other hand, involves a pair of skis, or a single ski in the case of slalom water skiing.
When using twin skis, attach each of your feet to one ski, and on a slalom ski, your front foot is attached while you tuck your back foot into a strap on the rear.

In terms of stance:

On a wakeboard, you ride with your feet perpendicular to the board, similar to when skateboarding or snowboarding.

In water ski or twin skis, your feet are parallel to each other and facing forward, similar to snow skiing. When skiing on a single ski (slalom), you ride with one foot behind the other and the slalom ski is much narrower than a wakeboard.

In terms of speed:

When wakeboarding, you get pulled by the boat or cable system at a much slower speed than when water skiing — around 19-22 mph against 26-34 mph for water skiing.

In terms of physical exertion:

In water skiing, you try to put as much tension on the rope to put up a wall of water. Wakeboarders, on the other hand, cruise at lower speeds and do not pull as hard against their board. The pull speed and the boat driver’s experience can impact how difficult or easy your water skiing or wakeboarding session will be.

Wakeboarding puts less stress on the body due to the lower speed and larger contact surface, which is more gentle on the arms and shoulders. For most people, the wakeboard stance is also more natural than the slalom position. However, wakeboarding makes your body work in an asymmetrical position.

Most people find slalom water skiing much harder than wakeboarding because it is more physically demanding. You will also most likely deal with the skis shifting away from each other and wobbling. However, younger children seem to get up more easily on a wakeboard than on twin skis.


Can you ski from a wakeboard tower?

When your rope is tied to a boat, it is most likely at a point that is fairly close to the water. This low tie-off point may constantly pull you down when you jump because the rope is at a downward angle, which will pull you back down almost immediately. Being towed by a boat can also make it harder to get up on a wakeboard and do tricks, and the rope is likely to get caught in the turbulence.

A wakeboard tower raises the tie-off point to allow you to jump higher and have more freedom to do tricks and flips. The rope is also above the water so there is no chance of it getting caught in turbulence. A high tow point will also help you get up on your board much more easily. A wakeboard tower can also be used for other water sports, including water skiing, wakesurfing, and kneeboarding.


Can you use a wakeboard rope when water skiing?

Low-stretch, wakeboard ropes are the best option if you enjoy both water skiing and recreational wakeboarding as these types of ropes provide enough elasticity, which is good for water skiing while maintaining enough stiffness for wakeboarding. However, for an optimum experience, it is advised to use the type of rope recommended for the sport.


Properly tying your wakeboard rope to your boat is one of the important skills that a beginner must learn when they first start wakeboarding. You have to do this task correctly so that you will be able to wakeboard safely. If you don’t know how to do it, check out our article for a step-by-step guide to tying a wakeboard rope


Can you wakeboard behind any boat?

No, it is not possible to wakeboard behind any boat because it creates endless waves as a direct result of the boat’s hull, and wakeboarding behind a boat that has an outboard or inboard motor can increase the risks of injury.

Not all boats can be used for wakeboarding and many measures must be put into place to safely wakeboard behind a boat. Knowing what you can do to your boat to be able to pull a wakeboarder can improve your wakeboarding experience. Some wakeboarding boats and inboard-engine ski boats are more ideal than any type of outboard. If you are an advanced skier or wakeboarder, you will want a boat that can produce larger wakes.

You also have the option of adding a towing rope to a boat. Some ropes are specifically designed for wakeboarding and water skiing, and work well for advanced tricks and jumps. Non-ski boats tend to have attachments close to their rears, while ski boats have a pylon next to the boat’s sides and extending over the boat with the rope attached at the top in the center. If you are not using a pylon instead of a tower, you can opt for a nylon extender. This extender can raise the rope attachment up to 4 to 5 feet to allow for a better takeoff.


Which is harder: water skiing or wakeboarding?

In general, wakeboarding is considered harder than water skiing. But at the end of the day, the answer to this question will vary depending on who is asking the question. Although both sports involve gliding over the water while being towed by a boat or a cable system, the difference in equipment requires different skill sets that make use of different muscle groups. 

If you are someone who has strong legs and hip muscles, you will find water skiing easier to master than other people. Meanwhile, those with a strong core, legs, and chest will definitely enjoy wakeboarding more. Depending on your strengths, the water sport that you find difficult to do will vary. 

If you have not figured out your strong suits yet, just give both sports a try. This will allow you to make an informed decision about which water activity you should focus on more since you have experienced both options. If you enjoyed both, then you should prepare for one heck of a summer. 

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