What is Wakeboarding?

A heady mix of surfing, snowboarding and waterskiing, wakeboarding is one of the most awesome extreme sports on the planet. It is to waterskiing what snowboarding is to skiing. The sport got its name because you ride in the boat’s wake on a board, nothing more complicated than that! It’s a fast, dynamic and often thrilling way to ride the water. Read on to find out about the history of wakeboarding and most importantly, what is a wakeboard!

8 August 2022

From beginners to seasoned pros, ask any one of them ‘what is wakeboarding’ and they’ll often tell you that it’s simply the best adrenaline rush there is!

The sport of wakeboarding can trace its roots back to the mid 1980s, and since that time it has become one of the most popular extreme water sports in the world. Here, we’ll answer the question ‘what do you need to wakeboard’ with ‘a spirit of adventure’ at the top of the list!

The History of Wakeboarding

The thrill of Wakeboarding (Photo: Patrick Orton via Getty Images)

There isn’t a definitive ‘place and time’ for the invention of wakeboarding, more like it appears that it evolved in the 1980s simultaneously in Australia and the USA. The pioneers were Australian Jeff Darby, Floridian Howard Jacobs and SoCal native Tony Finn.

The original name for the sport was ‘skurfing’ – a mix of surfing and waterskiing – and the first skurfboards were smaller than conventional surfboards with adjustable rubber foot straps that were designed specifically to be towed behind boats.

In its formative years, the history of wakeboarding looked like it might have been a very short story. The boards were thick and buoyant and it took a lot of strength just to get the board flat and ready to be towed. Texan Jimmy Redmond added bindings for far greater control, and by 1993 the World Wakeboard Association was founded to govern the sport’s rules, regulations and competitions.

The best amateurs turned professional and the sport of wakeboarding took off with big money tournaments all over the world and a debut at the X-Games in 1996.

Wake Up & Smell the Coffee…

A beautiful wakeboard turn throwing a spray of water (Photo: Rick Doyle via Getty Images)

What is wakeboarding? Put simply, it combines the best bits of –

Waterskiing – but using one board instead of two skis;

Surfing – you ride the waves but you’re holding on to a rope being towed by a boat;

Snowboarding – you use a single board with bindings to move across the water;

At first the object is to stay afloat and to manoeuvre across the wake of the boat (or jetski). As balance and control increases, you learn tricks and stunts until it’s time for you to pull an awesome backside boardslide with some serious double-up airtime!

What is a Wakeboard?

Trying to land a flip on a wakeboard (Photo: Sheryl McLain Photography via Getty images)

Over the years, wakeboards have evolved from essentially modified surfboards into highly sophisticated pieces of kit in their own right. The fundamental difference between a surfboard and a wakeboard is that a wakeboard needs no positive buoyancy, the lift comes from the engine pulling it along.

In addition, there are other obvious answers to the question ‘what is a wakeboard’. A wakeboard has fins on both ends of the board because an experienced wakeboarder will switch directions depending on the stunts he or she wants to pull off. They are much smaller than surfboards and many have a continuous curve – known as a rocker – from one end to the other to help with stability in the water.

What do you need to Wakeboard?

Velcro bindings for wakeboard beginners (Photo: Westend61 via Getty Images)

Wakeboarding is a fun, exciting sport that can be learned by anyone as long as you love the water and have a fantastic sense of adventure, but there are a few things you need before you get started.

As with any adventure sport, the most important element of course is training and professional guidance, and you should not undertake such an activity without it.

Beyond this, you’ll then need to know what your most comfortable stance is when you’re on the wakeboard. You’ll either be ‘regular’ (left-foot forward) or ‘goofy’ (right-foot forward). Most people will rent a board, but if you’re intent on buying, make sure you take advice from experts because there are hundreds of different boards on the market for beginners all the up to the pro ranks at prices to match!

The same goes for bindings. Most beginners will use velcro bindings but they are available as adjustable or high-back boots.

Perhaps the other answer to the question ‘what do you need to wakeboard’ is what you wear. Since most wakeboarding is done on lakes, a thin wetsuit will usually be suitable. It’s also vital you are safe, so you will need a buoyancy aid. This is different to a life jacket which keeps you afloat. A buoyancy aid helps you to swim so when you fall in – and you will, lots of times – you’ll be able to get back to your board.

So now you know the answers to the questions ‘what is a wakeboard’ and most importantly ‘what is wakeboarding’, you’re ready to take those first steps to learn the sport, let’s just hope you don’t stack it!


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