While you’re wakeboarding, you may want to jump straight into kicking tricks, but before you start rushing into things, you need to start with the right setup, from rope length to tow speed, to the distribution of weight in your boat. Why? The way you balance your boat determines the size and shape of your wake. Adding ballast bags, or weight lowers the boat down in the water to produce more displacement, or, in other words, a greater wake. Having the right tow pace, meanwhile, will help you learn and move forward safely. And finally, riding the right wakeboard rope length will help you learn new tricks and get the most out of the amazing wake you’ve set up. Read along, and we’re going to get you ready to launch.
How to Weight Your Boat For Wakeboarding
Start with the passengers, then calculate in the ballast. Passengers are quicker to transfer than ballast bags. Start moving passengers around the boat before you spend the time filling and emptying the ballast. This will help you feel the boat and the impact that weight shifting around can have. Plus, with many modern vessels, you may not even need additional ballast, particularly for beginner wakeboarders.
Weight the vessel equally from port to starboard. Holding weight and ballast on the boat from one side to the other ensures that the wave is symmetrical, allowing both normal and crazy riders to enter the wake from both sides. If one side is washed out, consider adding weight or shifting passengers to the other side.
Find the balance of the bow/stern. The distribution of weight from bow to stern can vary from boat to boat, and it is very important to form your wake. When putting more weight in the bow of the boat, this would usually make the wakeless steep as the stern of the boat lies shallower in the water. Putting more weight in the stern, however, will make the wake steeper as the rear of the boat lies lower in the water. Note: Having your boat ‘wheelie’ in the water will not help to build a strong wake-start with the moderate distribution.
Trial & Error. Every kind of a boat is different, so it’s going to take some time to find the perfect boat set up for wakeboarding. Remember these basic ideas, and go playing on your own. Boat weighting is something that wakeboarders are constantly tweaking, so have fun playing and trying out different configurations.
Most people believe that the bigger the wake, the better the rider that’s going to make you. Although there’s no doubt that good riders are going to do whatever they can to make their wake as big as possible, a big wake would hurt more for beginners than it would help. There are enough things to worry about as you learn to ride, but if you’re just focused on a massive wake and how far it’s going to take you, chances are you’re going to mess something up on your path. We always suggest beginning with an empty boat and adding weight only when you’re safely and easily clearing your wake every time. Don’t even think about the wake size for inexperienced wakeboarders. Instead, concentrate on understanding how your board feels and responds when you cut and rotate on the water. Before trying to go “high,” it’s important to learn the basics.
Boat Weight & Ballast Bags for Wakeboarding
When determining how to weigh your boat and where to place ballast (be it stock ballast or extra weight) for wakeboarding, start with an empty boat and a lot of passengers. Start with everyone spread out and dispersed equally around the boat, slowly ask one, two, then three (and so on) people to move to a different position in the boat. Have people switch from left to right and from front to back before you have the super clean wake you’re looking for. Doing this with people is a lot easier than filling and draining ballast bags over and over. When you have an understanding of where the weight is the best spread, remove the people and add the ballast bags.
Then start bringing people back in when your ballast is finished, if you want an even bigger wake.
The ballast comes in various sizes, from devices built into the ships, to water-filled ballast sacks, to old gym weights. If your ship has an internal ballast system, that should be your first move. If this isn’t enough weight to give you the perfect shape and size of the wake, it’s time to add additional ballast. The ballast bags can be quickly filled and drained to varying degrees to give the perfect wake. Strong weights, such as the gym or lead weights, may also be used. They’re smaller, but they can harm your boat, and they can be annoying if you take your boat in and out of the water after each session.
Tow Speed For Wakeboarding
How fast you tow a wakeboarder depends on a variety of factors, including the degree of capability and the boat. The optimal speed of a wakeboarder tow is usually between 15 and 25 miles per hour.
When it comes to speed – the faster you go, the smoother and firmer the wake gets, making it easier and more stable for riders to hop or learn new tricks. At slow speeds (below 21 mph), the wake appears to be mushy (that’s the white water crashing over where the rider reaches the wake) and sluggish, which can swallow the riders’ board instead of serving as a ramp when they jump.
Most people associate slower speeds with protection, which is true to a point. Crawling along at slow speeds can protect you from getting injured, but it will also keep you away from the most exciting part of the sport: learning new tricks. A very slow speed is recommended for true first-timers – nothing will end someone’s future in wakeboarding quicker than catching a toe-side edge their first time out on the water. Towing someone at a very slow pace, about 12-15 mph, for the first few times out, will make it possible for the rider to get comfortable with their edges and at least encourage them to start picking up the concept of turning and preventing the most painful way of crashing.
At least as soon as the rider begins to feel relaxed, it’s time to start bumping the pace up to around 18-19 mph. That doesn’t have to happen in one day on the lake, but make a deliberate effort to throttle one mph faster every time the rider falls until you’re 18-19 mph. If the rider asks you to slow down, listen to them. But, as soon as they’re relaxed, start slipping in a few more rpm’s before the needle on the speedometer creeps back up again.
You’ll know that a rider is up for a little more pace as soon as they start taking a few cuts at the wake and attempt to jump. As long as they don’t crash hard every time, you can start reaching speeds of 21-23 mph slowly.
Advanced riders can typically reach 23 mph (but not more than 25 mph). When a rider is actively jumping in the wake, they should be able to tell you how quickly they’re going to be able to go when they wake lets them get more air instead of swallowing their board at the start.
An important point to note is that every boat is different. One boat at 23 mph could feel like 21 mph on the other. As a pilot, you need to work with the rider to find the optimum pace for the various ability levels of your particular boat.
Rope Length For Wakeboarding
The correct wakeboard rope length places the rider just in front of the point where the wake turns from a clean ramp to mushy white water, generally between 65′ and 85′ depending on the capacity, pace, and size of the wake.
If you were to look from above at your wake, you would find its fans like a ‘V’ from the back of your boat. The further away you are from the ships, the further you’ll have to leap to clear the water. Similarly, the closest you are to the boat’s back, the easier time you’ll have to clear the water. Rope lengths are normally around 65 feet for beginners, typically 65-75 feet for intermediate riders (the longer you can handle, the better), and generally a 75-85 foot long rope for the experienced riders.
The general rule of jumping when wakeboarding is that you want to land on the underside of the second wake most of your tricks. Landing beyond that will take its toll on your knees every time (called landing in ‘the flats’) and possibly cause you to bounce when you hit the water. Much like watching a snowboarder or a motocross racer, every time you’ll note they’re landing on a downhill turn. If they landed flat, they would either bounce as they landed, or bend their knees. Use the length of the rope to help ensure you are still landing on the wake’s sweet, gentle, downside.
With wakeboarding, if you are trying to “cheat” on new tricks, you can use the rope length to your advantage. Any time you land in the flats, let the rope out for a stretch. Push it in a few steps, if you’re coming up short. Pull the rope in 5 to 10 feet to shorten the hop and help them understand while showing people how to hop the wake on the more challenging toe-side. You can use the same technique to motivate someone who’s always coming up short of clearing the wake-pull the rope in to see if it helps at all.
One thing to remember is the value of wakeboarding with a strong, non-stretch line. A lot of people question whether they are worth it, based on the cost. During your cut a rope with some stretch to it will extend into the wake and then snap back into the mid-air to its original length, throwing you off balance at the worst time possible.
We hope you enjoyed this post, you can read more of our wakeboarding posts by checking out the other articles on our blog.