Wakeboarding is like an art where you have two key contributors – the wakeboarder and the boat driver. Having an experienced wakeboarder is essential for advanced tricks, but for riders at any level – absolute beginner to wakeboarding legend – having someone who knows how to drive a boat safely for wakeboarding is key. Part of knowing how to drive the boat for wakeboarding means being familiar with the required driving patterns. Ultimately, the boat driver wants to make sure the rider can pull off their tricks for a good experience, but there are a lot of different things to pay attention to when you are towing a wakeboarder out on the water.
This guide is going to give you the basic foundation you need to understand how to tow a wakeboarder with different drive patterns while keeping your rider, yourself, and anyone else on board, safe.
Safety First - Know the Water
Before you start learning any driving patterns, you first need to know the rules of the water. We have a full guide on boat driving safety and etiquette, but here are some key takeaways that you need to know when towing a rider:
- Always be alert to your surroundings.
- Drive in a predicted path – some states may have requirements for this, so be sure to check.
- Do not follow other boats too closely.
- Avoid close passes.
- Look before you turn.
- Stay at least 150 feet away from shore or structures.
- Stay away from other boats while your rider is performing tricks.
- Avoid busy areas when wakeboarding.
Once you know how to stay safe, you are ready to learn how to drive the boat and tow your wakeboard rider with some of these more popular driving patterns.
Boat Driving Patterns for Wakeboarding
When it comes to towing a wakeboarder, you have some driving pattern options to choose from. Which one you choose will depend on the goal of the wakeboarding session and your location as these will determine how the rider needs to be pulled and how much freedom you have to drive your boat in certain ways. First and foremost, it should be noted that that no matter how which driving pattern you choose for your session, there are three main objectives that these patterns are designed to meet:
- Create a straight, clean wake for your rider
- Avoid bringing your rider into messy, choppy and potentially dangerous waters
- Help the rider stay in control of their speed throughout turns
First, we will talk about how to run a straight line, a basic driving pattern that you will be using consistently during every wakeboarding session. Then, we will go into turning the boat to help your rider work their way into calm waters. Finally, we introduce you to two popular driving patterns: the dumbbell-shape course and wide oval course.
Run a Straight Line
Running a straight line is pretty much as straight-forward as it sounds. You want to do this as much as possible while towing a rider. To do it, wait until your boat and the wakeboard are planing, then look out ahead into the horizon, pick a spot, and drive towards it in a straight line. That’s all there is to it! Your rider can now do what they want with the wake from there because going straight will keep the boat steady to make a clean, consistent wake. Just remember to maintain a constant speed or you could throw off your rider and cause them to wipe out.
Turning the Boat
Once you can run a straight line, you are ready to learn how to turn the boat while towing a rider. If you have driven a boat before, the concept is essentially the same, you just need to pay closer attention to how you turn to keep your rider safe from harm.
First, here’s what you do NOT want to do: a power turn. A power turn is when you hit the throttle and turn around at high speeds. This is often a driver’s instinctive reaction when a driver goes down, but this poses more of a safety hazard if you approach the downed rider going that quickly. Instead, you should follow these best practices on what to do in the event that a rider goes down.
To turn the boat, start with a pre-turn in the opposite direction. Then draw an ellipse. When you are turning you want to accomplish one of two things:
- Pull the rider into calmer waters and away from the wake. You can do this with a wide turn.
- Go through wave rollers as you get into the turn. This will break them apart to allow your rider to cross.
After you have mastered these two basics, you are ready to take on these popular driving patterns.
The dumbbell-shape is a popular driving pattern. First, you start by running a straight line, getting ready to turn the boat around. Here’s how to drive the boat in a dumbbell-shaped course:
- Make a quick pre-turn in the opposite direction of where you want to go (if you are turning right, your pre-turn would be left, and vice-versa).
- Steer in the direction you want to go at 180 degrees, drawing a broad arc.
- Once you are out of the turn, drive back toward the wake you just made.
- Slow down a little bit as you go through the rollers.
- Run a straight line in the opposite direction, back where you started.
- Do another 180 degree arc to complete the course.
Our last driving pattern is the wide oval, which is exactly what you think it is. You drive your boat in a slight turn in one direction until you create an oval shape. This sends rollers toward the center of the oval, creating messy waters. This is a fun pattern for wakeboarders, but one that is not necessarily recommended for beginners. If you’re looking for an even greater thrill, check out our guide to learn how to drive a double-up! Otherwise, with these four driving patterns you should be ready for an epic wakeboarding experience.
Watch Our How-to Video
We teamed up with Freedom Wake Park to learn how to drive a boat while pulling a rider. For more information and a convenient how-to video, be sure to check it out! It’s a great resource for learning how to control your boat and what you need to do when your rider falls. And to learn more about driving boats for wakeboarders, check our out full driving guide.