Communication between the driver and the rider especially is of the utmost importance when it comes to wakeboarding safety. This communication starts with a plan made aboard the boat, but has to continue even when the rider is at a distance behind the boat. That’s where hand signaling comes into play.
To make sure communications are clear, a standard set of hand signals have been developed which allow riders to clearly alert the driver of their needs. Whether you’re new to wakeboarding and learning for the first time or a seasoned wakeboard looking for a refresher, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about common hand signals for wakeboarding and other tow sports.
Hand Signals Every Wakeboarder Should Know
Faster / Slower
A simple thumbs up or thumbs down is used to signal the driver that the rider needs more or less speed, respectively. Riders can follow their thumbs up or thumbs down with a pinched thumb and index finger to indicate that they need to speed up or slow down only a little.
A rider can signal to their driver that the speed is good as-is by making an “ok” sign (thumb and index finger make a circle while the other three fingers are extended.) This lets the driver know that they can continue on at the current speed.
Turn Left / Turn Right
A karate-chopping hand motion to the rider’s left or right indicates to the driver which direction they should steer. Additionally, a karate chop motion in the boat’s current direction lets the driver know they should continue on this course.
If the rider needs the driver to turn around, this can be signaled by making a spinning motion with the index finger. Depending on the rider’s distance from the boat, a larger gesture may be needed. In this case, make the spinning motion with the whole hand/forearm instead.
After a fall it’s important that the rider communicate with the driver that they’re okay. In this scenario, the rider should raise both hands above their head and cross their arms at the wrist making an “X” shape.
There will come a time when a rider is down and is in need of help. In those moments, it’s critical that the driver knows clearly and immediately that they need to pick up their fallen rider. When this happens, the rider should lift their board out of the water and hold it up as a clear signal to the driver that they’re down and need retrieval. This also helps the downed rider be more visible to other boats in the area for added safety.
It's important for drivers to keep in mind that, in a worst case scenario where a rider is severely injured, they may not be able to signal that they need help. As a driver, if you don't see an "I'm OK" signal, you should be ready to take rescue actions.
Back to Dock / I’m Done
By repeatedly patting the top of their head with the right hand, the rider can signal to the driver that they’re finished riding and are ready to return to the dock.