Newbies and water skiers often ask how hard wakeboarding is. Like in all board/action sports, the learning curve is different for each person, depending on their previous experience, age and gender, natural skills, but also water conditions, boat setup, and boat driver.
So, in short, is wakeboarding difficult?
The hardest part of wakeboarding is getting up, as about half of new riders don’t get it the first time. After this stage, riding switch and jumping wake also take skills and practice. Faceplants and hard landings add to the challenge of wakeboarding. Having boardsports skills can make it easier.
That being said, the challenge of getting up on a wakeboard can be significantly reduced by following some very simple tips. Likewise, learning jumps and tricks can be much faster practicing at a cable park.
If learning behind a boat, having a driver with the right experience and the right boat setup can also make getting started in wakeboarding much more straightforward.
Keep reading to learn how these aspects can impact the learning curve for wakeboarding.
The hardest part of wakeboarding is getting up
When learning to wakeboard, getting up on the water the first time is not guaranteed. Whether you get it right away or not depends on many factors and is different for everyone.
Wakeboarding instructors know that only about half of the learners they teach get up on their first try. Many learners are still unable to get up behind the boat after over and over, e.g. 6 to 10 attempts – some eventually give up.
Getting up on a wakeboard can be challenging because there are a lot of things that need to occur with the right time and sequence. But the main issue is that learners typically try to pull themselves out of the water instead of letting the boat pull them.
As a result, after a few tries, your arms get tired and you may get a bit discouraged. But successfully getting up on a wakeboard is all about technique and does not involve strength – female learners tend to succeed quicker as they typically don’t put force into it.
Key tips for easily getting up on a wakeboard
To get up easily, you must start by positioning yourself in the water like you’re sitting in a chair leaned back, with the board pointing out of the water.
Bring your knees into your chest as much as possible, and keep them this way while the boat starts pulling.
Pushing on your legs with your knees straight and fighting the water against the rope pull will make it much harder to get up, and may even cause you to give up.
Stay squatted with your butt as close to the wakeboard as possible until the board is fully planed. Otherwise, you’ll try to stand up too early, sink your board, and let go of the rope.
If you’ve tried getting up a few times by fighting the pull, you may already feel tired which makes popping out even harder. If so, take a rest before trying again. When you do, let the boat do the work this time.
After it clicks and you succeed once, getting up on your wakeboard will become straightforward, and you’ll likely get it right on first try every time.
Starting at a cable park is easier
If you start learning wakeboarding at a cable park vs behind a boat, you’ll likely be launching from a starting dock (a floating deck that’s level with the water). This allows you to start off sitting down on firm ground which can make getting up and running much easier compared to a deep water start.
Is riding a wakeboard behind the boat easy?
Once you’ve mastered getting up on top of the water on their wakeboard, the next challenge is to get comfortable getting, and riding, sideways!
For some people, the body twist involved in a surf-style stance is not a natural thing. So when grabbing the handle with both hands, your upper body faces forward toward the boat, while your hips are slightly sideways at about a 45º angle from your moving direction.
Learners with a history of board sports (snowboarding, skaeboarding, surfing, kiteboarding) have an edge here as the stance will come naturally to them.
Learning to balance in your natural stance (left foot or right foot forward, aka “regular” or “goofy” stance”) while the boat tows you is the first challenge you’ll face in wakeboarding.
In the beginning, your arms will likely get tired and start hurting after riding for a while. Wakeboading can be hard on the arms, but most learners build up the right muscle fast.
Keeping the handle low to your hips, and avoiding pulling on the rope, will reduce the load on your arms and also reduce the likelihood of catching your edge or diving your board nose – leading to faceplants.
Cutting and riding switch – tough skills
Next, you learn to use the tension of the rope along with your hips to lean on the edges of your wakeboard for cutting side to side across the wakes. Backside turns (pressing on your heels) are typically harder to master than frontside (toeside) ones.
Another challenging technique you need to master in wakeboarding is riding switch, that is in your non-natural, reversed stance – right foot forward is you’re “regular”, left foot forward if you’re “goofy”.
Switch riding is an essential but tough skill to master in wakeboarding for tricks.
Cable park riding challenges
If learning at a cable park, the rope is a lot more elevated than on a boat – including one with a wakeboard tower – so you get much more of an upward pull. For some learners, this can make riding harder as it causes them to lean further backward, which can result in a wobbly ride.
So while a cable park can help get you up and riding quicker, it will also have its share of learning challenges compared to learning with a boat.
How challenging is learning wakeboarding tricks?
Most learners find trying new wakeboarding jump and flip tricks challenging, as they require a lot of practice and involve quite a bit of crashing and getting picked up by the boat.
Cutting hard and jumping high across the wake is not easy. More advanced tricks like backflips, tantrums, Superman’s etc require strong commitment and some degree of boldness.
Most learning wakeboarders will not be able to attempt such harder big airs and flips until they have at least a dozen “regular” riding sessions – e.g. going back and forth side to side and doing small jumps – under their belt.
Wakeboarders who ride in cable parks typically seek to practice jump tricks on park ramps. Even though advanced boarders in parks make such tricks look easy, they are harder than they look. As a beginner, you should always start with simple tricks on beginner sections, initially riding at low speed.
Difficulty of wakeboarding vs water skiing
Most people will agree that getting up on a plane is easier on a wakeboard compared to ski(s) due to the larger contact surface of a wakeboard. Wakeboarding speed is also significantly lower than in water skiing.
Once planing, however, wakeboards don’t have a direction fin skis do. For most riders, turning and balancing on a wakeboard is more challenging. Also, the jumps and tricks are harder on a wakeboard, and the falls are harder than on water ski(s) even though you’re going slower.
That said, wakeboarding is generally not as demanding on the body as slalom skiing, again due to the slower speed and greater contact area which results in less traction on the upper body.
See my other post for an in-depth comparison of wakeboarding and water skiing.
Is wakeboarding as hard for riders of any age and gender?
Younger riders have a different perception of the difficulty level of wakeboarding compared to older riders. The former often view it as relatively easy, often resulting in quicker progress, while the latter often oppose mental blocks.
Children also have an easier time getting up on a wakeboard than adults – about 4 out of 5 typically succeed getting up on a wakeboard on their first attempt.
Physical condition is also important: new riders who are fit will have a much easier time getting up, edging and carving, and jumping wake compared to less athletic beginners with the same age.
As mentioned, getting up on a wakeboard is typically easier for girls than guys, particularly stronger men, because they don’t fight the water and pull with their arms as much, and wait for the boat to pull them up.
Risks of injury make wakeboarding harder
Once you master going wake to wake, learning advanced wakeboarding maneuvers like spins and inverts is particularly challenging due to the risk of injury they carry.
The higher boat speeds and longer rope these tricks require add to the chances of getting hurt. Falling hard at high speed, including head first, can result in various fractures, concussions, and/or whiplash.
Closed bindings can also lead to broken legs e.g. following a bad twist and fall. The rope is another potential danger and can strangle, burn, or cut a wakeboarder.
For those riding at cable parks, there is the added risk of hitting the jump/slide park elements with your body or your head, causing potentially serious trauma.
A good boat driver & setup can make wakeboarding easier
Wakeboarding results from the collaboration of the rider and boat driver. The way the person at the helm operates the throttle and manages the boat speed and turns can make wakeboarding much harder or much easier.
See this post about how to drive a boat for wakeboarding.
Having the right boat setup, including a wakeboarding tower to elevate the rope and the right rope length (30-50 feet for a beginner) to keep the rider in the narrower section of the wake, also can help reduce the learning curve.
Can you wakeboard without a tower? See this post to find out.
Although wakeboarding is generally not considered a hard sport, it can be more challenging for those who:
- Don’t have any board sports experience
- Are advanced water skiers
- Use excessive strength to fight the boat pull
- Are towed by someone with little boat driving experience
- Are in suboptimal physical shape
- Are afraid of getting hurt when trying jump tricks
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