What exactly is Wakesurfing? In the world of watersports, wakesurfing has evolved into a popular activity widely enjoyed by those who love to ride across the water. To those who are unfamiliar with the sport, however, it’s often mistakenly viewed as being similar to wakeboarding when, in fact, there are some differences. While both wakeboarders and wakesurfers do use a rope to get up on the water and both do utilize boat wake for riding and tricks, wakesurfers eventually release the rope and simply surf the wake just as they would an ocean wave. An obvious benefit to wakesurfing is that riders can surf a lot longer than they can on regular waves that collapse in just a few seconds. Plus, this type of surfing isn’t limited to the ocean; this fun watersport activity is also perfect for inland lakes and rivers.
A wide variety of wakesurf boards is available to accommodate different riding styles and abilities. Though there are specifics to consider, the boards generally fall into three basic categories based on their overall shape: Thruster-Style Surf, Skim, and Hybrid. Measured in inches, these different shaped wakesurf boards vary in size. Bigger boards have more surface area and provide more flotation, making them ideal for larger/heavier riders and those who are attempting to surf for the first time. Smaller boards, on the other hand, are more maneuverable, so they’re better suited for lighter and more advanced riders. Various tail shapes, rail designs, rocker styles, and fin setups also must be considered since they affect the riding tendencies of a wakesurf board differently.
Though similar to ocean surfing, wakesurfing utilizes a boat's wake, which is smaller and less powerful than ocean waves. This means wakesurf boards need distinct shapes designed to accommodate the different energy level.
A thruster-style surf board is similar to a surf shortboard, so riding this shape feels like catching waves at the beach. Of the most popular wakesurf designs, this shape is usually the largest with extra volume that keeps the board more on the surface to generate speed and power. Beginners will usually find this style the easiest for learning, and advanced surfers will appreciate its explosiveness.
If you’re more interested in doing spins and taking on air, then the skim shape is for you. The skim board is smaller and less buoyant than the surf shape board. It’s designed to be more playful with a slippery bottom that’s typically uninhibited by a lot of fins or other hull features. These characteristics make the Skim board harder to control, so it’s usually ridden by more experienced surfers.
The hybrid shape wakesurfer combines both surf and skim-style features. This appeals to a multitude of surfers and a wide range of abilities. The hybrid wakesurfer offers the playfulness of a skim-style board and the high-speed maneuverability of a surf-style board.
A significant feature of all wakesurf boards is the tail shape. Some tail shapes thrive off monstrous wake sizes, while others are designed to maximize the surfability of the smaller wake. So, it’s important to consider your surf style and the amount of wake your boat is capable of producing.
Less surface area and a narrow width on the pin tail mean it sinks lower into the water. This creates more traction while surfing, but it’s more difficult to control on smaller waves.
A square tail has more surface area, which provides the wakesurf board with more flotation. This increased lift on the wake creates greater push, quicker acceleration, and generates more explosive pop.
Playful and stable, the swallow tail provides more holding power. Boards designed with a swallow tail maintain speed and are incredibly responsive while linking turns. This style tail is great if you’re seeking performance while surfing, but you’re faced with less than ideal waves.
The most common shape is the squash tail, because it’s very user-friendly and versatile. Designed to perform well on virtually any size wave, this nimble tail improves the board’s tracking ability, even at higher speeds.
An all-around shape for most conditions, the round tail provides the same grip as a pin tail, but because of its increased surface area, it delivers a looser, more playful feel. The round tail helps the board maintain speed and provides smooth turns.
A hybrid of the pin tail and the squash tail, the diamond shape is excellent for carrying speed through the wake. The shorter rail line makes it easier to initiate and control tight turns.
The half moon shape has less surface area behind the fins and maximized rail length, while also maintaining tail width. This tail helps wakesurfers execute controlled, balanced turns with ease.
Similar to a swallow tail shape, the bat tail is wide to provide more push on the wave and essentially make it ride faster. The corners increase edging and give more bite while turning.
The rail on a wakesurfer refers to the board’s edges and strongly affects how the board rides in and out of turns. Full, rounder rails tend to be more stable and consistent against the water flow, while hard, thin rails are more responsive and able to generate speed.
A full rail gives the board a stable, more consistent feel while riding. Its softer, rounded design makes it harder to catch an edge, so surfers can expect smooth turns while riding with a full rail.
Wakesurfers who are looking for the ultimate in performance will lean toward boards with a hard rail. A hard edge cuts through the water easily, increasing board speed and responsiveness.
Somewhere between a full rail and hard rail is this blended style. Overall, the blended rail provides consistent, stable riding, but it still gives riders the ability to bury the board through turns for that extra bite. This style is a good option for both beginners and advanced riders.
The bottom arc or curvature of a wakesurf board is the rocker. The rocker style and angle determine the maneuverability of a board and how much surface area on the bottom is actually touching the water while you surf.
With more of the board close to the water, a relaxed rocker lets surfers generate speed easily on smaller, more mellow waves. This is ideal for beginners who generally don’t attempt many tricks and just want a smooth ride with minimal drag.
Wakesurfers with more curvature or a heavy rocker have less contact points with the water, so they ride slower. However, a heavy rocker is great for larger waves and executing tight turns, so you’ll find this style on more advanced wakesurf boards.
The number of fins and their placement on the board affect the overall “feel” of the ride. Utilizing bigger and more fins, usually near the back, adds drive and acceleration, while smaller and fewer fins, in a more forward position, loosen the board on the water and allow it to break free easily.
A single fin on a wakesurf board acts as a rudder and offers stability, hold, and control. When using a single fin, riders must generate their own speed and harness more riding power from the water, so this fin setup is best suited for larger waves.
For surfers who really like a skateboard-type feel on the water, the twin fin setup will provide a fun, playful ride. Twin fins let riders hold deep through turns but still break free with ease. This design is a great performer in smaller waves.
Thruster fins are a popular choice because they enhance both power and stability. This three-fin setup includes outside fins to help generate speed down the line and a center fin to keep the board under the rider’s control. Thruster setups are suitable in almost all conditions because they can be modified to ride as a single or twin setup as well.
All about speed. Unlike other setups, quad fins effortlessly ride down the waves and give surfers a fast, loose feel. Great for bigger waves, this setup still lets surfers enjoy the control necessary for performing explosive surf maneuvers.
Five fins on the wakesurf board provides multiple options. This design allows surfers to choose between a single, twin, thruster, or quad-fin setup. However, riding with all 5 fins is not recommended because it will significantly increase drag through the water.
A wakesurf-specific rope and handle are must-haves for safety reasons. Typically around 25’ long, wakesurf ropes are designed to simply get you up and into the surfable wake. Since the rope will eventually be dropped, the handle design is smaller than those used for wakeboarding and skiing, usually around 6” wide. This helps prevent the rider’s arms and legs from getting caught inside. There are also knotted or woven rope styles in which the “handle” part is simply the rope woven with knots to give you something to grasp.
When attaching a wakesurf rope to the boat, consider two options: a wake tower or a pylon/transom on the boat. The effective rope pull from these two locations will be distinctly different, so weigh the pros and cons of each attachment as you set up your boat for wakesurfing.
Advantage: This is ideal for beginners as the upward pull from the tower makes it easier to get up out of the water. Disadvantage: Placement on the tower makes it possible for passengers to easily get entangled in the rope.
Advantage: There is little danger of the rope injuring others when it’s attached to the pylon or transom. Disadvantage: Because it offers less vertical pull, this placement does not ease the process of getting up. Plus, it’s more difficult for people on the boat to get the rope out to a fallen rider.
It is extremely important for wakesurfers to only ride behind Inboard Direct-Drive or Inboard V-Drive boats. These boats have propellers under the boat that are far less likely to make contact with wakesurfers, thus reducing the chances that riders will face serious injuries or even death. Never wakesurf behind a boat with an exposed prop.
Another option to consider is upgrading your inboard boat with a propeller designed for wakesurfing. These propeller styles are better equipped for steering boats that will frequently ride on their “side” during wakesurf sessions. This side-riding may also require other modifications so that your engine does not have a low-oil response or waste gas. Call your boat’s manufacturer for more information when making these changes.
To create good waves, most drivers accelerate to a speed around 9-10 mph. Professional surfers may reach speeds of 12-13 mph. It’s important to start out slowly and make incremental changes as the rider begins surfing. The ultimate goal is to achieve a thick high wave with a clean face and no whitewater on the lip. Another consideration is to ensure your speedometer is properly calibrated, especially if it will need to accommodate the moving water in a river or the ocean.
Ballast aids in floating stability and is essential to any floating vessel. Although most boats have some form of internal ballast inherent in their design, adding more ballast makes boats heavier so they sit lower in the water. This increases the wake behind the boat as it travels through the water, and more wake means better surfing.
The objective is to create a long wake with enough “push” or energy to allow riders to surf without a rope. Additional weight in the rear of the boat will yield a taller wake, but it doesn’t extend back very far. Meanwhile, more weight in the front of the boat will produce a longer wake, but removes some of the overall energy. The key is to find the proper balance of weight distribution that creates the ideal wake for your surfing goals or ability. Another important point to remember is that heavier riders and smaller boards will require more weight in the rear to create the necessary push, while lighter surfers or those on fast boards will need a longer wake, so additional weight in the front of the boat is recommended.
Many wakeboard/wakesurf-specific boats include ballast systems built into the floor. While this is a good foundation, it often doesn’t create a wake that’s large or consistent enough for ideal surfing conditions. Typically aftermarket ballast sacs will need to be added to this configuration.
Before you add ballast sacs or other heavy items, consider the number and weight of your passengers. It’s very easy to shift people around in order to create the wake effect you’re seeking, and it’s possible that by doing so, you won’t require the addition of other ballast bags.
Ballast bags or Fat Sacs are usually filled with sand or water and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and weights. After you determine how much weight you need and where you need it on your boat, choosing the right ballast bag becomes easier. Ballast bags are a great way to always have the proper amount of weight at your disposal when you’re ready to create that perfect wake for surfing. An optimal wakesurfing wake is generally produced when the majority of the weight is in a back corner, and smaller weight amounts are situated near the front. Using ballast bags or Fat Sacs lets you customize this weight distribution without having to rely on a certain number of passengers every time you ride.
One of the newest technological advances for conveniently creating surfing swells is the wakesurf shaper. Used in conjunction with your ballast option, these small devices help fine-tune and shape your wake. Compatible with most inboards, wakesurf shapers are easy to attach and adjust and can usually be moved from the port to the starboard side of your boat. Surf shapers are made of marine-grade materials, so they can be used in both fresh and saltwater.
It’s important to adhere to basic safety rules when wakesurfing. Knowing your state’s laws and regulations regarding watersport activity will help ensure you, family, and friends maximize fun and minimize risk. Some general rules include wearing a proper vest or life jacket to keep you afloat in the water and protect against injuries from impact. Beginning riders and children often need more safety equipment such as a helmet or gloves. Also, when someone is floating in the water nearby, it’s required in most places to display a safety flag to alert other boaters of his or her presence.
Special Note: Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause catastrophic injury, even death. It’s important for surfers and boat passengers to stay aware of their proximity to the boat and its exhaust system.
The list below details some of the most sought-after maneuvers in the sport of wakesurfing. Getting air, spinning, and performing shove-its are just a few of the common tricks that become goals for both beginners and advanced surfers
Getting air, spinning 180°, and landing switch stance.
Spinning just the wakesurf board 180° underneath your feet and landing with the board facing backward.
Spinning just the wakesurf board a complete 360° underneath your feet.
Spinning both the rider and the board 180° on the wake.
Spinning both the rider and the board 360° on the wake.
Spinning continuously 1-1/2 times until the rider is positioned switch stance forward.
Spinning continuously and performing two complete 360° turns.
Getting air while spinning 180° in the blind direction.
Launching off the lip of the wake, either heel or toe-side, with the board getting air and landing back in the wake.
Hitting the top of the wake with the board – the harder the hit, the better the cutback.
Grabbing both rails of the board while it’s in the air.
Placing one hand down on the board, while taking your front foot off the board.
Sitting or riding on the board while it floats on top of the wake.
Extending your front foot and toes over the front of the board.
Extending both feet and toes over the front of the board.
Floating on the board while it’s sideways on top of the wake.
Grabbing one rail of the board while it’s in the air.
Gaining speed by turning up and down the face of the wake.
Grabbing the board’s rail with either hand, or both hands, while the board is on the wake.
Making the water underneath the board explode while carving into the face of the wake.
Slowing down by applying pressure to your back foot.