Modern motorboats are able to create a wake that mimics a never-ending natural ocean wave.
While some boats might produce a large enough wake to ride behind without a rope, the forward pushing momentum, aka push, that a wake surfer experiences is the key to having a great ride.
To get more push while wake surfing, the boat needs to be sufficiently weighted with ballasts correctly distributed front and rear. The boat should be cruising at low speed. The wake plate and wake shapers need to be optimally set up. The wake surfer must also be correctly positioned in the pocket.
Great push can generally be achieved more easily with a wakesurf-specific boat featuring a shallow hull, inboard propeller and wake plate and ballast technology.
However, older wake boats can also produce wake of a surfable size and energy.
What is push in wake surfing?
Simply put, push refers to the energy and power made by the boat wake. It’s the forward pushing motion generated by the force of the boat.
When a wake surfer experiences good push, it simply means that the wake is providing a forward propelling energy.
As a boat navigates its way through water, the bow of the boat pushes water around the side of the boat and (depending on the hull depth) under the boat.
Behind the boat, gravity then pulls the water to re-level itself with the natural water level.
In this sense, the boat displaces water from the hull, forcing it to the back to form a set of waves behind the boat.
The water is essentially filling in space behind the boat as the boat travels through the area that it is displacing water from.
As the wake pushes against the wake surfer, it lifts the back of the wakesurf board up into an inclined position, allowing gravity to do its thing and propel you down the face of the wake.
As you ride down the incline of the wake, the incline continuously moves up towards you, working in a similar way to a treadmill or standing wave.
As a wake surfer, you’ll constantly be pushed backwards and up towards the curl of the wave, forcing you to use your own skill and forward pushing momentum to remain in the bowl of the wake.
Speed can also affect the push you experience as a rider. The faster the propeller spins, the shallower it digs into the water – as the boat starts to plane, it travels on top of the water as opposed to digging into it.
While speed creates a longer wake, it reduces the size of the wake in the sweet spot needed for wake surfing, as water can only rush back up to water level so fast.
What affects push when wake surfing?
The size and design of the boat you wakesurf behind has a big effect on the amount of push you get from the wake.
The weight and shape of the hull impacts how it directs water around the boat and underneath the board of the surfer, offering more or less push for the rider.
The weight of the boat, the passengers on board, and added ballasts (water tanks filled up to weigh down certain areas in the boat) affect the wave push a rider experiences.
Getting more push from the boat
Boat weight and lean for wave push
If you look at a moving boat, you will see two equal streams of water rushing around the hull, colliding with each other behind the boat and creating equal amounts of wash on both sides (the wake).
Without the right setup, the boat can create turbulence and an undesirable surf wake.
However, when you add weight to only one side of the boat, you disengage the wave from one side and redirect it to the other.
While positioning passengers can help, modern wake boats let you use built-in weighted ballast tanks. Adding weight to the stern helps increase the height of the wave and naturally gives a wake surfer more push.
You want to concentrate this added weight to lean towards the side of the boat that the rider will be wakesurfing on.
For example, depending on the size of your boat, adding two 75% full 810lb bags or tanks in the rear lockers of the boat can help get more push in the wave.
You might distribute as much as 2000lbs across the boat e.g 750lbs in each rear locker and 400lbs in the bow. The setup can of course vary depending on how you distribute passengers across the boat.
Once you’ve created a basic wave with your ballasts, you can work on lengthening the wave and increasing its size by changing your boat speed and wake plate positioning.
Boat speed for push
Ideal boat speed varies depending on boat size, rider size and weight as well as ballast weight and passengers on board.
In general, lower speeds tend to create a bigger wave with more push, while faster speeds produce a longer wave.
More length is better to gain speed and pop, so more speed makes it easier to do tricks and spins. A bigger wave works well for cruising up and down and actually surfing the wave.
If the boat is heavily weighted or carries a lot of people, you’ll want to slightly increase your speed to make up for the weight.
Speeds between 10 and 11mph are generally best for a typical wake surfer. Some riders with extra buoyant boards, however, may prefer faster speeds above 12mph.
On the other hand, for some boat setups, trading in speed for push and staying at around 8.2mph can result in a tall wave that’s really fun to surf.
Water depth and wave push
Regardless of the body of water you are navigating through, the depth of the water will always vary according to how far you are to the land.
Ideally, 13 to 20 foot depth is best for wake surfing as depth allows for water to move underneath the boat without encountering the lake or river floor, which naturally interrupts the flow of water.
When riding in shallower water e.g. < 8 feet, you may feel the push dissipate and fall out of the wave if riding ropeless.
Wake plate position for wave push
A wake plate increases the size of a wake by pushing the stern of the boat deeper into the water. It has a similar effect to placing extra weight and ballast at the stern of the boat.
A wake plate is a fixed plate with a hinge and hydraulic shock system joined to the transom of a boat. It sits above the propeller and shapes the wake by directing the water flow under the boat.
They are designed to intersect and redirect water flow, allowing you to choose the size and shape of your wake.
This allows you to manipulate the waveform without having to move people and ballasts around to redistribute weight. You redirect the flow of water and create the wave shape you want on a specific side of the boat based on rider preference.
Setting your wake plate to a lower position, on the other hand, lengthens the wave but reduce your push, making the wave more mellow and suitable for a lighter or skim style rider.
Trim-tabs, ‘wake shapers’ or Auto Flows (Moomba boats) surf systems also use manually or automatically adjustable plates that extend outwards and down from the port and starboard sides of a boat’s transom.
Learn more about the best wake shapers for Mastercraft boats.
Rider wave positioning for optimal push
The positioning of the wake surfer on the wake also impacts the push s/he will experience. The sweet spot is the point closest to the bottom of the wake, just where it starts to lift up.
By shifting your front foot to direct the board into a slight downward angle, it can feel like you’re riding down the face of a never-ending wave.
If you get this right, you’ll get a slight lift at the back of your board and constantly have enough momentum to ride down the wake like a treadmill.
In contrast, if you sit too high on the wake and aren’t in the pocket of the wave, you might experience added lift pressure under your front foot and struggle to direct your board down the wake, losing momentum and falling back off.
In the same vein, if you are too far ahead of the pocket (in the flat zone) you might lose speed and sync with the wave. You typically get pushed into a nose dive or fall behind the wave with no power.