Wakeboarding vs Water Skiing – Which Is Better?

Wakeboarding vs Water Skiing – Which Is Better?

Most people have limited time and funds, which prevents them from taking part in all the sports they want to do. Therefore, you may be contemplating which is better, wakeboarding vs. water skiing?

In this post, we will go through the similarities and differences, so you can decide which one you want to take up. You may even decide that you can find time to master both sports, so you can pick and choose, but you need to start somewhere.

If you are familiar with skiing and snowboarding, you may have had a similar quandary. This is pretty common, but your decision will often come down to your age.

Younger people tend to gravitate towards wakeboarding. The reason for this is that it is considered cooler, and younger people are more suited to performing all the tricks involved.

Before wakeboarding was invented, older people who got into watersports may have learned how to slalom on water skis. But, that doesn’t mean that your age should determine which sport you take up.

Water skiing and wakeboarding have a lot in common. They both involve being towed by a boat on planks.

With either sport, you cross the boat’s wake from side to side. However, the techniques, skills, and learning curves set them apart.

Before we move on, it is worth noting that you don’t always need a boat for wakeboarding; you can be pulled along by a cable at a wake park. The cable works in a similar way to a ski lift, but it pulls you around a set circuit around a lake.

The Differences Of Water Skiing And Wakeboarding

Whether you are on water skis or a wakeboard, you are skimming across water being towed by a rope in your hands connected to a boat.

A wakeboard is a large board that you attach to your feet with fixed bindings. You stand sideways on the board, in a similar way a snowboarder or surfer does.

The bindings hold your feet firmly, so you can perform a wide range of jumps and tricks. When you fall, the wakeboard will only come off in extreme circumstances.

A water skier has two options for their setup. They will either have a single ski on one foot or one ski on each foot.

The single water ski is used for slalom water skiing. A slalom ski is narrower than a wakeboard, and both feet point the same way when you stand on one.

On a slalom ski, only your front foot is attached with a binding. You slip your back foot into a strap behind your front foot.

If you opt for two water skis, your stance is similar to snow skiing, with both feet in bindings.

Depending on the brand and type, wakeboards generally cost between $200 and $500. You can buy twin skis for about $150 to $300, while slalom skis can range from $300 to $1500.

You can save yourself some money by buying used equipment or packages. For example, you can buy older used slalom skis online for under $100 and new entry-level wakeboard and binding packages for about $200.

How Do They Differ On The Water?

Wakeboarders usually get pulled by the boat at much slower speeds than water skiers. You can expect to go between 19 and 22 mph on a wakeboard depending on your skill level, while on skis, you will be traveling at 26 to 34 mph.

To get the most out of their skis, water skiers will load up the rope to get as much tension as possible. They will do this to pull hard turns, creating a massive spray of water rising up behind them like a rooster tail.

Wakeboarders go at a much slower speed, so they can focus on jumps and performing tricks as they clear the wake. Also, the extra width gives the wakeboard extra buoyancy, so they can ride at slower speeds.

However, this doesn’t mean that you feel like you are going at a snail’s pace on a wakeboard. You can really get some speed up when the boat turns and whips you around.

The boat driver makes a big difference to the experience of wakeboarding and water skiing. An experienced driver will know several elements that can make or break the water skier’s or wakeboarder’s time on the water.

For example, they will know the correct drive patterns to avoid chopping up the water and fighting the boat’s own wake. They will also be able to use steady acceleration to get the water skier or wakeboarder up and skimming across the water.

A good boat driver will also know how to drive in straight lines to create a steady wake. But, they will also know how to keep the water skier or wakeboarder as safe as possible.

When they fall, the driver should pull the throttle back as soon as possible and allow the waves to disperse. They will also know how to drive at idle speeds to pick up someone when they have fallen.

By reducing the boat’s speed, the driver can soften hard landings when a water skier or wakeboarder falls.

Water skiing and wakeboarding are best enjoyed on smooth water. The lack of waves makes it much easier and pleasant when out of the wake.

Flat water is more important for slalom water skiing on a single ski. The calm water makes putting in sharp turns much more manageable.

It is easier to wakeboard on rough water than on water skis. However, choppy water makes it more challenging and less pleasurable.

How Easy Is It To Get On Your Feet?

How easy you find getting on your feet on either a wakeboard or water skis depends on a few things. Your strength and coordination will play a big part, as will your ability to follow instructions from your instructor.

Most people find getting up on a wakeboard easier than on a slalom ski. This is mainly down to the wakeboard’s larger surface area, making it easier to rise out of the water.

Another reason a wakeboard is easier to get up on is the slower start. You just need to let the boat do the work as you stand up and turn your wakeboard, so it is pointing forwards at the right time.

To get up on a slalom ski, you need to also let the boat do all the work as you stand up. However, you need to do everything more quickly due to the faster start.

On the contrary, some people find water skis easier to get up on. The reason for this is that they find turning a wakeboard sideways challenging, or they yank on the rope instead of letting the boat pull them as they stand up.

When it comes to standing up on two water skis, you have to overcome the skis wobbling and them trying to move your legs apart.

If you have some experience with snowboarding, skateboarding, or surfing, you will find getting on your feet on a wakeboard much easier.

Which Is Easier Once On Your Feet?

If you are just hanging out behind the boat in the wake and turning across it, wakeboarding is easier than slalom skiing. You will probably find wake jumps on a wakeboard easier than carving out hard turns on a slalom ski.

Your ability and fitness level will make a difference to which one you find easier behind the boat. Being pulled along at 35 mph is a lot of work, and you will definitely be sore the following day.

When you carve perfect turns on a slalom ski, you get an incredible feeling. But, to do it properly, you need to develop your strength and learn some new skills.

Slalom water skiing is more challenging to learn than wakeboarding, as long as you are not attempting advanced wakeboard tricks. However, this doesn’t mean that wakeboarding is effortless.

Wakeboarding is still a big workout on your back and arms. But, one of the things all wakeboarders experience from time to time is an edge catch. Catching an edge while turning a wakeboard results in a harsh crash, which is an unpleasant shock when you hit the water.

Falls on a slalom ski are not as grim, as you generally fall sideways. A common unpleasant experience on twin skis is a wedgie as you fall backward.

Even though wakeboarding speeds are typically slower than when water skiing, the falls hurt much more. The slap from the water to your face can be hard enough to leave your ears ringing.

The pain from wakeboarding falls is an excellent incentive to maintain the correct posture and be aware of what your board’s edges are doing.

Which Is More Demanding On Your Body?

Wakeboarding stresses your body less than waterskiing, thanks to the slower speed and the board’s larger contact area with the water. This combination gives you less tension in your upper body.

People who prefer wakeboarding find the stance more natural than how you stand on a slalom water ski. The stance plays a big part in the amount of stress your body goes through on the water.

However, when you are wakeboarding, you mainly give one side of your body a workout. The reason for this is due to the sideways stance.

Your natural stance will mean that you either ride with your left or right foot forward. Over time, you will learn how to ride switch, so riding with either foot forward will feel reasonably natural.

Being able to ride switch is good for reducing the strain on one side of your body. You can give your natural side a rest by riding backward for a while.

Also, riding switch unlocks a wide range of tricks as you can take off and land leading with your back foot.

Which Has The Most Significant Risk Of Injury?

There is risk in everything we do, but when you add a powerful speed boat, a rope, and water into the mix, the risk is higher. The water feels surprisingly hard when you hit it at 30 mph.

In a study presented in the Journal of Sports Science Medicine, wakeboarders are more likely to suffer from head and neck injuries and dislocations. Water skiers are more prone to injuring their lower bodies, especially sprains or strains.

However, both wakeboarders and waterskiers commonly suffer from bumps, bruises, and scrapes.

Of course, there is the potential to incur severe injuries in both sports. For example, fractures and cuts are not unheard of. But, more serious injuries include spinal cord damage.

Wakeboarding accidents can cause knee injuries, cardiac issues, and head injuries. However, the risk of severe injuries related to wakeboarding is estimated to be 50% of the recorded water-skiing-related injuries.

It is common for slalom water skiers to fall on their rib cage during a turn while their arm is extended. However, the buoyancy jacket does a great job of absorbing shock from impacts with the water.

A wakeboarder with reasonable skills could easily ride the whole session doing jumps, grabs, fin releases, spins, etc., without falling badly. But, when they start to experiment with more advanced tricks, such as tantrums and whirlybirds, their risk of injury increases significantly.

Style Differences Between Water Skiing And Wakeboarding

Wakeboarders use the wake as a ramp, so they jump over the whole width of the wake behind the boat while doing tricks.

Often wake parks will have a range of features set out in the water. These will include boxes and rails to slide along.

Wakeboard tricks involve spins and grabs, very similar to snowboard tricks. However, when spinning on a wakeboard, the challenge is coordinating where the rope handle is around your body.

Standard waterskiing is all about crossing the wake as hard and as fast as you can. Skilled slalom water skiers will lay out, extending their bodies as much as possible as they turn, spraying as much water into the air as they can. When you ride a slalom water ski, the aim is to get through the slalom course in the fastest time.

You can also perform acrobatic-style tricks on water skis, and some water ski centers have ramps that send you high into the air.

Tips For Getting Into Waterskiing And Wakeboarding

Learning to wakeboard or water ski is great fun. Even though we have highlighted a few injuries you can get when it goes wrong, it is much more forgiving than snowboarding or skateboarding. The learning curve is also quicker, so you will be up on your feet behind the boat in no time at all.

Find An Instructor

The first thing you need to do is find some water that has either a watersports center or school. Getting lessons is essential, as you will progress much more quickly than if you get some tips from a friend.

One of the best things about wakeboarding and waterskiing is hanging out in the boat with your friends. By learning in a group, you can cheer each other on and laugh at each other’s failings. Take a camera and a few beers with you for a great afternoon on the water.

Cable Or Boat?

If you choose water skiing, you will need to learn from a boat. However, wakeboarders can learn at a wake park using a cable.

Being pulled by a cable is much cheaper than being pulled by a boat. It is also easier to learn due to the angle of the rope being more upward than horizontal.

Learning behind a boat is more challenging, but the instructor is always close by. They will be able to relay tips and encouragement to you as you need it.

Both wakeboarders and water skiers can start on the bar. This sticks out of the side of the boat, creating a stable handhold before you progress to the rope.

As the bar is attached to the boat, the instructor can easily talk you through the technique. By following the instructor’s feedback, you can get on your feet quickly with the bar.

Don’t Worry About Buying Equipment

All good watersports schools have all the equipment you need for wakeboarding and waterskiing. Wakeboards, water skis, buoyancy aids, and wetsuits should all be provided.

If you start to do it more, you may want to buy some waterski gloves, especially if you are in cold water often. These gloves give you extra grip and protect your hands, so you can hold on for longer.

Make It Part Of Your Holiday

There are lots of watersports holidays you can go on. These “camps” will have everything you need to become proficient at wakeboarding or water skiing.

It is much nicer to learn how to do these sports in warm, clear water than in murky and cold lakes.

You don’t have to dedicate your whole holiday to water skiing or wakeboarding. You can just book a session or two during your stay.

Don’t Try Too Hard And Listen To Your Instructor

Some people just cannot get to grips with wakeboarding or waterskiing. But this is mainly because they try to force it and don’t listen to what the instructor is telling them.

The key is to relax and pay attention to the instructions coming your way. The boat or cable does 90% of the work for you, so let it pull you out of the water.

Many people pull on the rope, which makes them more vulnerable to becoming unbalanced. But it also tires them out quickly, making each water start progressively harder.

Keeping your arms straight as the boat or cable pulls you means you have a more stable platform and use less energy.

Know When To Stop

Waterskiing and wakeboarding can be pretty demanding on your body. This is especially the case if you try new tricks or pull very hard turns across the wake.

If you start to feel tired, there is nothing wrong with letting go of the handle. Floating around in the water for a couple of minutes while the boat comes back around gives you time to relax and recuperate before going again.

Often the instructor will notice when you are getting tired and will give you a break, so you can go out again later in the session.

Expect To Be Achey The Following Day

As with any new sport or exercise, you will probably be using muscles that you don’t usually use. You will also be performing movements and holding positions you have never done before.

Therefore, you should expect some sore body parts and discover muscles you never knew you had. Some aches and pains will occur straight away, while others won’t make themselves apparent until the following day.

You can help relieve the soreness by stretching. But, if it gets a bit too much, try icing the affected areas.

Final Thoughts

Water skiing and wakeboarding are super fun sports to do. When the weather is nice, there is not much that can beat being behind a boat full of your friends.

Whichever one you choose, you will definitely have fun. But, it all depends on what you want to get out of your days on the water.

If you love the idea of pulling hard, satisfying turns, and spraying water high into the air, water skiing is for you. If you like the idea of challenging yourself to perform tricks and jumping from wake to wake, wakeboarding should be at the top of your list.

But, nothing is stopping you from trying both sports. You may enjoy both and have the time to master them.

By learning how to do both, you can pick and choose water skis or a wakeboard to suit your mood. Also, if the water is a bit choppy, you may want to opt for wakeboarding, while smooth days may be better for water skiing.

It is great to have options, but it is essential to get proper instruction whatever you decide. You will progress more quickly and therefore, find it more fun.

Also, an instructor with good boat driving experience will be able to make your waterskiing or wakeboarding much safer.

If you start wakeboarding or waterskiing at the start of the summer, you will be surprised at how quickly you progress. By the end of the summer, you will be very proficient at either sport.

Search for local waterski and wakeboard instructors or schools nearby online and get started. If you can get a group of friends to join you, you will have an even better time.

All images are from Unsplash

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Wakeboarding Vs Water Skiing - Which Is Better

Picture of Peter Salisbury

Peter Salisbury

Pete is the Owner of KayakHelp.com. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.

Welcome! I’m so glad you are here :-) I’m Pete. I am the owner of KayakHelp.com. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When I am not out on the water, you can find me skiing in the mountains, reading my favorite books, and spending time with my family.