Wakeboarding. Waterskiing. Tubing. All three watersports peg the fun needle for thrill-seeking boaters. What is so fun about watersports is anyone, regardless of age, gender or skill level can find a ride that suits their boating fancy.
Which watersport is best for you? Don’t let a lack of skill hold you back. Like any sport all it takes is some learning and practice to get started. Of course, there’s no better place to learn than behind a boat on a sunny summer day.
This list of ideas can get you started in deciding among the three most popular towable watersports. Before you know it, you’ll be smiling, laughing and daring your friends and family to jump in and join the fun.
What it is: The original watersport was invented in 1922 when Ralph Samuelson used a pair of boards as skis and a clothesline as a towrope on a lake in Minnesota. Today you can choose between combo skiing with a ski on each foot, or slalom skiing with a single ski. You can ski on any type of water, but the calmer the better. Skiing can be learned at any age and enjoyed into the senior years. Even then, you can remain active as a spotter or the boat driver.
What you need: Kids can get started on trainers, which are two skis bound together with a tow rope and a handle that is held by an adult. Trainers help develop balance and teach how to keep the skis together. This setup assures the child is not dragged underwater during starts or in case of a fall. Combo skis are great for families and all-around use. Beginners can use both skis for easier starts and more stability, and adjustable bindings—or foot holds—fit a variety of skiers. Ski size is determined by skier weight and ski shape. Shaped skis are wider and therefore provide more stability than narrower slalom skis. Lastly, a quick rule of thumb for sizing up skis—160-pound skiers generally use a 66" ski. For every 20-pound difference, add or subtract 2" of length.
How you do it: Skiers hold onto the handle of a tethered tow rope. As the boat slowly accelerates and takes up slack rope, the skier allows the boat to pull them out of the water. By leaning back and keeping the legs slightly bent, the skis will plane out and the skier will start to glide over the water. Turning occurs by shifting body weight right or left. Get limbered up with some basic strength and muscle conditioning exercises before you go. You will be glad you did on the morning after the trip.
Beginner tip: The USA Water Ski & Wake Sports Foundation has an online how-to guide with skiing basics and safety tips. Find it here.
What it is: A surfer came up with the idea for a cross between a water ski and surfboard in the mid-1980s. Ski companies refined the idea into what is the fastest growing watersport in the world. Wakeboarding takes a lot of balance and flexibility—even more so than water skiing. Kids, teens and younger adults are the ideal candidates for learning and enjoying this power watersport. The surface 180, triple up and a 360-degree spin called the “mobe” are slang terms coming to mind. You get the idea. Be young, or think young. The sky’s the limit.
What you need: For starters—a boat wake! The fun comes as the rider crosses the wakes and attempts to do tricks. For some, simply jumping the wave and staying on the board will do. Boat, park and hybrid are the three basic types of wakeboards. If keeping on the board is the main goal, a boat board is your ride. They have heavy-duty construction for greater stability when landing or chasing a wake. Park boards are made for riding at landlocked wake parks. The hybrid is designed with combo features of both.
How you do it: Get a jumpstart on the balance and flexibility needed to master wakeboarding by first learning to water ski. You will be ahead of the curve and more agile on the board. Wakeboarding is a cross between skateboarding and surfing with an emphasis on maximum airtime, or staying airborne above the surface. Correct body position is the first step. Riders should start with tow rope in hand, arms out and knees relaxed. As the rope tightens, extend the arms and push knees to the chest to give the board an incline angle. The driver should slowly accelerate to between 10 and 15 mph for kids and up to 20 mph for smaller adults.
Beginner tip: The USA Water Ski & Wake Sports Foundation has an online how-to guide with wakeboarding basics and safety tips. Find it here.
What it is: The easiest of all watersports to learn. Agility, strength and balance are not prerequisites like they are for other watersports. All it takes is hanging on and having fun. Tubing doesn’t require making a wake or traveling at high speeds. You can set the pace and either go for the side-to-side slinging action of a fast ride, or take it slow and glide along with the kids in tow.
What you need: An inflated truck-sized innertube tethered by a tow rope was the original towable tube. Today, there are more streamlined options. Towable tubes come in single or multi-rider versions and in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Examples are donut tubes, deck tubes and sit inside tubes. Check the product labeling and follow recommendations for tow rope sizes.
Learn the difference here.
How you do it: Climb onboard and hang on. Depending on the tube type, you might have grab handles to use and can even sit inside for a more comfortable ride on some models.
Beginner tip: The Water Sports Industry Association specifies that tube ropes must be at least 50’ in length and no longer than 65’. Single-rider towables require rope rated at 1,500 pounds, with tensile strengths increasing with tube size.
Personal flotation devices for watersports must protect the wearer from the impacts of hitting the water at high speed while remaining intact and attached to the body. Belted vests with strong belts encircling the torso work best. Here are examples.
Now, for the boat. There are specialized sport boats powered by inboards and adorned with tow pylons and all the cool go-fast amenities from stem to stern. Truth is, you don’t need all that bling to enjoy watersports. Most bowriders, deck boats and even pontoons can do the trick. Here is a breakdown of which boats perform best for towable watersports.
The classic V-shaped hull provides a smooth, stable ride in a variety of water conditions. Wide-open cockpits, spacious seating and abundant storage give bowriders the nod for all-around watersports functionality and performance. Swim platforms and ladders make boarding and getting in the water easier and safer. Choose between sterndrive and outboard power, depending on your budget and boating needs.
The interior layout of a pontoon with the hull design of a runabout describes the original concept of the deck boat. They have open deck spaces with the speed capabilities needed for pulling towables, skiers and wakeboarders. Compared to bowriders, you get an even more open interior for entertaining guests.
The party barge has grown far beyond the slow-moving boat from the past. Pontoons can hold their own with bowriders. Tritoon models can get quickly on plane and ride high on the surface for a smooth, stable ride. Horsepower is no longer a handicap with an abundance of ranges available. On top of it all, you can still enjoy the abundance of seating for entertaining when taking a break from the watersports fun.