If you are looking for a board sport that will give you that buzz of adrenaline without the need to spend hours under instruction, wakeboarding might just fit the bill. Unlike many water sports, wakeboarding has such a gentle learning curve that, with a bit of confidence and the right fitness levels, you could be pulling some great moves on your first time out!
So, what is wakeboarding?
Wakeboarding is the younger sibling of waterskiing, and has now overtaken it in popularity. Both sports involve a person being towed out behind a boat, but wakeboarding has evolved from other board sports, so rather than standing on two skis, you stand on a board that is wider than a snowboard, larger than a skateboard but smaller than a surfboard.
Where do I wakeboard?
You have the option of being towed out by a boat or by a jet-ski, ‘surfing’ and pulling stunts on the wake, and you can do this on lakes, rivers, the sea or any other body of water that allows enough room to be towed. The UK is home to many wakeboard and waterski schools that run courses for beginners.
The alternative to the boat or jet ski is the use of overhead cables to tow. These have developed from the same technology and engineering used by drag lifts in ski resorts and they provide a cheaper, more environmentally-friendly option which is preferred by some wakeboarders.
The two main types of cable used in the UK are:
4/5 tower or full length cables - usually located by a lake and used to pull riders around in an anti-clockwise direction at a steady speed. You will start on the dock and the cable operator will give you the handle. Full cables may tow multiple riders - once you fall, grab your board, swim to the side and start all over again.
2 tower cables - These are now hugely popular, particularly for first timers. One length of cable runs between two towers with the towing handle operated by an instructor who goes back and forth to pull the rider at different speeds. As you are the only rider, the handle will wait for you when you fall. The main benefit of this system is that it can be used in a very small area of water, and it is the easiest and safest way to learn.
What kit do I need to buy?
The answer is ‘not much’, at least to start off with. Most centres will hire out equipment so that you can try out the sport without making a big investment. As you get more involved and your confidence grows, it will eventually save you money and make sense to get your own gear. This is what you will need to get started:
A wetsuit - most people opt to wear a wetsuit to keep their body warm in the water, particularly as you may spend time waiting around. You will be able to hire one for a small fee, but when you do decide to buy one, go for a good quality wetsuit made by a trusted brand, as a cheap suit is a false economy.
Impact vest or buoyancy aid - it is vital to have help staying afloat in the water, particularly when you are starting out. Impact vests have padding to protect you from falls, whilst buoyancy aids do not give much protection from being winded, but will offer greater buoyancy while waiting in the water receiving instructions. As you get more experienced, you can go for less float and more protection.
Helmet - a helmet is particularly important for cable riding, since there is plenty of opportunity to hit your head. Most centres supply these for free, but when you decide to get your own, do go for a good brand.
Board and bindings - It is a good idea to use rental boards when starting out, as they can be very expensive. When you are ready to buy, you could opt for last season’s range and perhaps find a bargain. Your board must be of the correct type for either cable or boat-riding, with those meant for use at cable parks having very shallow, detachable fins, or no fins at all, so they will not be damaged by obstacles.
If you decide to look for a second-hand board, do your research first, as the design of wakeboards has advanced hugely in recent years and an older one can make it more difficult and less enjoyable to learn.
Then it’s time to take the plunge!
Now you have your kit and board ready, it’s time to have some fun. If your first try is on full cable, you will start on a knee-board straight out from the dock, but on a system 2.0 or with a boat, you will start in the water. Expect it to be pretty cold in the UK, particularly in early spring. Take a few minutes to relax and take your time. Let the board float up in front of you and use your buoyancy aid to help you stay afloat.
Then listen to your wakeboard instructor and off you go. Listen closely to what they say, as they will have good advice to help you learn. Beginners often start with a short rope as it is easier to hear the instructor! Do expect your arms to hurt and for it to come as a shock the first time you hit the water - you will soon get used to both.
The best way to find out more about wakeboarding is to give it a go yourself - there is lots of information online on how to find your local club, such as the website of the sport’s UK governing body, British Waterski and Wakeboard. Most clubs offer special sessions for those wanting to try out the sport for the first time. This is a fun activity that can be tailored to suit any ability - so what are you waiting for?