Watersports: towable boat toys
If you don't know the difference between a wake skater and a wing tuber, this is the guide to towsports you need to read. Kim Koditek reports.
Disruption in sport is nothing new. Snowboarding, for example was once prohibited by the "old guard" that controlled the ski resorts – certainly in the USA. Nowadays, ski areas are very snowboard friendly featuring terrain parks with rails and other freestyle apparatus. A similar disruption occurred in the boating market in the 1990s when wakeboarding took the world by storm, eclipsing and reinvigorating the sport of waterskiing. Now, with the advent of wakesurfing, there is a new generation of boats devoted to creating as large a wake as possible at a much slower speed, with space for an entire posse of friends and family (see: Wake Tractor WT-1 review: breaking new ground and Four Winns TS222 video). So if you're out of the loop, read on, because there’s a full line-up of watersports for boaters to explore, from some of the classics like waterskiing and tubing, to the newest trends in wake sports and unique towables you might not even be familiar with yet.
Waterskiing, slalom skiing, barefoot skiing and hydrofoiling
Waterskiing: This is the granddaddy of the watersports family. Its invention proved to boaters that their boats could serve as more than just transportation or a fishing platform. From two skis, to one ski, to no skis at all, it’s a sport that can be challenging, fun and sometimes painful. But for those new to watersports, it’s a great place to start.
Basic waterskiing involves two separate skis, one attached to each foot. Start in the water, lined up behind the boat as you hold onto the rope. Keep your knees bent and your feet relatively close together. Once you give your driver the signal, they’ll take off at full speed, which is your cue to hang on and let the boat do most of the work.
Slalom Skiing: Slalom skiing is similar to regular skiing, minus one ski. The simplest way to get into it is to start the way you normally would with two skis, then eventually drop one along the way (side note: don’t forget to go back to retrieve that other ski). Once you’ve built up your confidence, it’s possible to do a full start on just one ski.
Barefoot Skiing: For a real challenge, you can lose the skis all together. Barefoot skiing is the most difficult form of skiing and it often requires some form of prior training before testing out your skills. There are multiple ways to ease into barefoot skiing, including starting directly in the water, standing up off of a kneeboard or wakeboard, or dismounting from a slalom ski.
Hydrofoiling: Last, but certainly not least in the skiing family, comes hydrofoiling. Hydrofoiling is an odd sport, and onlookers might view it as seated skiing. The hydrofoil is made up of three parts including the seat tower, board and foil assembly (which basically acts as a rudder to help with direction). To start off, riders strap into the seat and lean back, holding onto the rope while keeping the front tip of the board out of the water. Once the boat takes off, the foil assembly will lift the board off the surface of the water and elevate the rider up into the air.
For an excellent set of beginners' guides to all four of these disciplines, USA Water Ski has free downloadable documents.
Wakeboarding, wakeskating and wakesurfing
Over the past decade, wakeboarding, wakeskating and wakesurfing have taken the boating industry by storm, bringing with them a whole new layer of style, tricks, and gear.
Wakeboarding: Riders start in the water, directly behind the boat, with their feet strapped into the bindings attached to the board. Similar to skiing, you need to keep your knees bent with your elbows tucked close to your side as you hold onto the rope. Once your driver gets going, you’ll apply a little pressure with your feet to the board, letting the boat do most of the work to pull you up into a sideways standing position. Riders should always keep most of their body weight balanced on the back leg while riding. Check out boats.com USA: How to Wakeboard and 20 tips for instant wakeboard success.
Wakeskating: Throw on a pair of old sneakers and lose the bindings—there you go, you’re ready for wakeskating. Wakeskating is basically aquatic skateboarding. Since there are no bindings, your feet are free to move around, which helps when performing tricks. Instead of bindings, the board is covered in griptape or soft, traction foam. The board size is smaller than a wakeboard and just a little larger than an actual skateboard. Unlike wakeboarding and wakesurfing, wakeskating is the only wake sport where the ideal towing vehicle would actually be a PWC (personal watercraft), and not a boat.
Wakesurfing: The third and final sport in the wake sports trio is a monster all its own. Wakesurfing allows riders to actually surf the wake behind the boat—without being strapped into bindings on the board and without holding onto a rope as they ride. Wakesurfing must always been done on a boat with an inboard motor (although the Volvo Penta Forward Drive maybe changing that), due to the fact that wakesurfers stay close to the back of the boat as they ride. Getting up on a wakesurf board is similar to a wakeboard with riders holding the rope in between their legs as they float in the water behind the boat. You must rest your feet up on top of the board as it floats on top of the water. As your driver speeds up, usually only to about a nine to 13 MPH maximum, you’ll press your heels down onto the board so that it pops up and you can pull yourself into a sideways standing position.
Kneeboarding and watersports trainers
If you’re not quite ready to dive right into skiing or wake sports, a great way to ease into things is through kneeboarding or watersports trainers—both are also great options for introducing kids to their first watersports experience. Kneeboards are one of the simplest watersports for anyone to do, while watersports trainers can really help your kids learn the basics before moving onto other sports in the lineup.
Kneeboarding: The name really says it all: a board you ride while seated on your knees. Just like many of the other watersports we’ve covered, riders start off in the water behind the boat. Instead of strapping into any binding, you lay your body across the board with your head facing forward, holding onto the front edges of the board with your feet dangling in the water behind you. Usually most kneeboards have a small hook on the front of the board where you attach the rope; if not, hang onto the rope however if feels most comfortable until you’re able to get up. To get into a riding position, you’ll pull yourself up onto your knees as the driver slowly increases their speed. Once you’re up, place the strap across your knees and the rest comes pretty naturally.
Watersports Trainers: Trainers, sometimes referred to as “EZ Skis,” can help kids stabilise their balance as they learn the fundamentals. There are different types of trainers, including those used for ski training and others used for wake sports training. There are also EZ Skis that resemble inflatable tubes and others that are actually made with similar materials as skis or wakeboards. Regardless of what style EZ Ski you decide to test out, watersports trainers are a must-have for parents looking to give their kids a safe, fun entry into the world of watersports.
Tubing is one of the best watersports for all ages for a couple of reasons: 1) It requires no coordination or skill, and 2) If you have a good driver, you’re bound to have a great time. There are also so many different styles of tubes to choose from—flat deck tubes that you ride on while laying down on top of the tube, cockpit tubes where you are seated down lower in the tube, steerable tubes that allow you to move the tube around the wake, winged tubes that get so much air it will send riders sailing up off of the surface of the water, hotdog (or banana) tubes where multiple riders climb on to straddle the tube as it cruises, and the list could go on and on…
Of course, every boater has their own personal preference when it comes to tube type and riding style. For new and seasoned boaters, be sure to check out boats.com’s safe family tubing to make sure you’re being careful while out on the water.
Have fun, be safe and don't be afraid to wipe out
As you can see, when it comes to watersports your options are almost endless. Our Essential Tow-Boat Glossary can help you navigate as you begin to dip your toe into the world of watersports. There’s definitely something for everyone, so don’t get down on yourself if you try one sport and it doesn’t work out. While watersports are a lot of fun, they can also be very frustrating at the beginning. The key is to be patient—even the best of us have had a nasty wipeout every once in awhile. And hey, even the wipeouts can be fun.