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  1. Wake Surfing: Tips and Safety
November 08, 2023

Wake Surfing: Tips and Safety

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Since boating became one of the nation’s favorite pastimes, watersports have grown naturally along with it. The thrill and the fun of watersports just can’t be beat. Among those that have burgeoned in popularity is wake surfing – an exciting sport that allows you to ride the wake of a boat without being pulled by a rope. It’s fun to learn the flow of the water and show off tricks to your friends and family and, with some practice and the right equipment, it can be easy to get the hang of.



Wake Surfing Boat   


One of the most important pieces of equipment for wake surfing is the boat. If you don’t have the right kind of boat, you cannot wake surf. Any boat that has an outboard motor is completely unsuitable for wake surfing, as the nature of the sport has riders very close to the boat’s stern, presenting a very high risk of serious injury should the wake surfer collide with an exposed prop. In this particular case, outboard vs inboard is not a debate – it’s a fact.


Inboard Boat   


A boat with an inboard engine is your best bet for safe, fun wake surfing. Inboards provide excellent wake to surf by virtue of their powerful acceleration and deep hulls, and of course, they are the only truly safe option of engine configuration for a wake surfer. If you want to take up wake surfing, this is the kind of engine to get on your boat.


Outboard Boat   


As discussed previously, outboard boats are impossible to wake surf from. It is incredibly dangerous to do so due to the surfer’s proximity to the boat’s stern, where a fall or a sudden deceleration would have the surfer run into the engine and get seriously injured.


Inboard/Outboard Boat   


For some wake surfers, an inboard/outboard boat (or I/O) is a more gray area. But the same general rules apply – if the engine has any sort of prop that could be collided with or otherwise is exposed to the potential surfer, then it is a no-go. Inboard only is the safest bet.



How to Wake Surf   


Once you’re sure you have the correct kind of boat, it’s time to get out there on the water and try it! There are many steps to take to ensure success, chief among them being procuring the correct gear for the sport. Once you have a sense of the basics, from there it’s all about practice.


Wake Surf Gear   


The correct kind of gear for wake surfing is vital to both achieving success and having fun. It’s also, of course, necessary for safety. A proper wake surf life jacket should be one of the first items on the list. In wake surfing, there are two primary styles of jackets – the first is the Coast Guard’s approved life jacket, which will keep you afloat in the event of injury or unconsciousness. The second is what’s referred to as a “comp vest,” or a jacket that offers greater range of motion and impact protection, with slightly less flotation (these are not approved by the Coast Guard).


The second most important piece of gear is your board itself. There are several factors to consider, including your skill level and size. Like many other sports based on boards, a larger version is going to be more stable and therefore easier to ride. These are best for beginners. As you improve, you can move up to a smaller board that is more agile and allows for more advanced tricks. In terms of your size, it’s important to consider whether the board will be either too big or too small for you to easily control, similar to skis.  



How to Get Up Wake Surfing   


Although wake surfing is famously the watersport where the rider is not towed by a rope, the rope element is essential for getting up out of the water in the first place. Firstly, you start in the water facing the boat, perpendicular to the boat’s centerline and the board floating in front of you. Hold the rope so it’s centered between your legs. As the driver moves from idle into acceleration and the rope comes taut, bend your knees and press down with your feet against the board. Let the boat gently pull you up – try not to lean back as you would while waterskiing. The board will pop up so it’s positioned flat on the water. From there, slowly stand up and turn so the nose of your board is pointed forward. You’re up! As the rope goes slack, shift your weight to move into the wake. Resist the urge to pull on the rope – once you can consistently ride with a slack rope, toss the handle toward the boat for your spotter to retrieve.


Hand Signals   


A vital element of safety is a line of communication between the surfer and the boat. This can be the driver, but it is easier for the driver to focus on that task if there’s an intermediary – a spotter. This person can watch the surfer closely and communicate their needs to the driver. Simple hand signals are best – a thumbs up or down to indicate speed changes, a directional gesture for turning, a cutting motion to indicate wanting to return to the dock. It doesn’t matter what the signals are as long as the driver or spotter and the surfer agree on the motions.


Driving the Boat   


If you’re the one driving the boat for a wake surfer, you have a big responsibility. It’s similar in some ways to other watersports, and different in many others. One similarity is the need for wide visibility, and taking great care to know where your rider is at all times. Unlike other sports, most wake surfing is done between 10 and 12 miles per hour, depending on the boat. Help your surfer pop up by starting them in clean water and accelerating gently. Once they’re up, keep the boat straight and your speed even. Try to be courteous of other boaters and people on the water. When your surfer eventually falls, you want to be wary of your own wave as you complete a wide turn to come alongside them and pick them up. Overall, safety is the key to ensuring a fun day. 



Wake Surf Tips & Rules   


Practice makes perfect, as they say – or at least better. Once you stand up for the first time, you may feel ready to take on the wake surfing world, but there’s always more to learn. Here are some easy tips and tricks to make the most out of your new sport. First tip: don’t be afraid to fall! It’s part of the learning process. Just keep getting back up. 



Controlling Your Speed   


Because wake surfing is all about riding the wave under your own power, it’s important to learn how your positioning and movement changes your ride. Try to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your weight centered, which will help you maintain balance and control. To turn the board, shift your weight opposite the direction you want to go. This can help you move into or out of water that’s pulling you along too fast or too slow.


Wake Surf Tricks   


One of the primary draws of wake surfing is the potential to perform neat tricks. Once you have a good grasp of the basics and you feel comfortable, moving into simple tricks will feel natural. Simple ones include a riding the top of the wave for a time (a floater), jumping with the board off the surface of the water (an ollie), or a spin. These tricks will lead to even more complicated ones down the line!


Follow Wake Rules   


Because of its rapidly growing popularity and its potential for risk, many states and municipalities have instituted rules and regulations around wake surfing in recent years. These are usually based in common sense, such as maintaining safe distances from other vessels, avoiding excessive wake, and prohibiting wake surfing in dangerous conditions (like at night). But it’s important to be aware of any guidelines you might have to follow, just in case!


Keep Proper Distance from Shore   


This is more a tip for the driver – stay away from shore. The waves kicked up by wake surfing can be irritating to other people, particularly those on a beach or otherwise enjoying the water from land. If you keep your distance, not only will you avoid a higher concentration of potential obstacles (people, other boats, docks, etc.) but you will be respectful of others’ use of the outdoors.



Wake Surf Tips & Rules   


Obviously, wake surfing is not the only fun thing to do with a boat. There are numerous other watersports out there – wakeboarding, water skiing, even tubing. Once you get a taste of one, you’re sure to want to try it all!