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Learning How to Water Ski

Learning How to Water Ski
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Now that you have your ski boat, you are probably wanting to put it to use – for more than cruising the lake anyway. There are a plethora of water sports out there that you can do, however, one of the most popular is water skiing. Water Skiing is similar to its land counterpart snow skiing. Learning how to water ski requires a boat, a pair of water skis, a tow rope for skiing, and a life vest. Water skiing does take some time to master, but it is a fun sport once you get the hang of it.

Waterskiing 101: An Introduction to the Sport

As previously mentioned, learning how to water ski requires a pair of skis, a ski rope, and a life vest. There are a few other items that may be useful when skiing like a ski flag for the person in the water to hold up if it is busy or gloves to use while holding the rope handle.

When shopping for a pair of skis, it is important to make sure they are for the water and not snow. Water skis are made a bit differently than snow skis. First, you will want to figure out what size ski is desired. Combo water skis (skis that allow you to ride with two skis for slalom ski a.k.a single ski) range in size from around 59 to 68 inches long; while other skis can be up to 72 inches. For beginners, it is recommended to start with longer skis as they are more stable. Shorter skis allow the rider to go a bit faster, which may be preferred for a more experienced rider who can maneuver the water better and wants to increase the thrill.

Next, you will want to see if the skis have fins. While fins are not necessarily needed for beginners, as you get more advanced or even start to compete, fins will make it easier to move across the water. One thing to keep in mind is that fins will need to be replaced every so often as they wear out.

As a beginner, it is probably best to buy skis that are all inclusive – meaning they are combo, have fins, and come with bindings. Bindings are what your feet go into on the skis. Some skis do not come with bindings, in which case you would have to purchase them separately. This can be pricey, which is why we recommend beginners getting skis that include the bindings. It is important to get the right size for your skis and you. When you fall, you will want your feet to be able to come out of the bindings to prevent injury.

After you find the perfect skis, it is time to buy a rope. A good ski rope should be somewhat flexible to avoid too much shock on your arms while riding. It should be about 75 feet long and it is recommended for beginners to use a rope that has a long vee (the shape of the handle and rope attachment point) as they have more room to hang onto the handle. The “vee” is referring to where the two pieces of rope come together from the handle to make one rope. More experienced skiers can use a shorter vee handle if desired. Make sure the tow rope is made specifically for water skiing. For example, a tube tow rope would not work for this sport.

Finally, you will need to have a life vest that fits properly. This will keep you safe if you happen to hit the water – do not worry, beginners are meant to fall while learning how to water ski. Make sure to try on your life jacket and make sure it fits snuggly, otherwise it could come off of you in the water.

woman water skiing behind a boat

Mastering the Art of Balance and Stance

Now that you have the right equipment, it is time to put it to use. Water skiing can be tricky at first. It requires some strength and skill as it is not the easiest sport to master. Whether you are starting in the water or on a dry start, learning how to water ski takes some time. If desired, ski bars are made to attach to the pair of skis to help beginners learn how to keep their skis in the proper position. This is an attachment that can be easily added and removed when ready to ski normally.

One of the most important skills to learn and master for water skiing is balance. Even though you will be on two items instead of one (like a wakeboard), balance is just as important. If you do not have proper balance you will not be able to ride the skis as well. Much like starting on a wakeboard, water skiing will start in a similar position to sitting like you are in a chair in the water. As the boat starts to move, you will begin to be pulled up and out of the water. You will want to maintain your skis the same distance from each other and in parallel position while coming up on top of the water. You will want to stay in the chair position while up on the water – knees bent, arms straight and chin up. As you get more comfortable, you will be able to straighten yourself out on the skis. Eventually you can even maneuver and learn tricks on the skis and become a pro!

Pro Tip: Pro water skiers recommend practicing on flat land to get the chair position and learn balance.

Essential Maneuvers and Progression

Once you have mastered getting up on the water, you will start to be able to maneuver the water. If you want to turn, you will need to take the weight off of the foot in the direction you want to go. This redistributes your weight on the skis and initiates the desired turn. This is also why mastering balance is so important – any weight adjustment will influence the direction you head in. It is also important to lean your body the way you want to go to help guide your path.

Once you have mastered turning, it is time to learn crossing the wake. This is a more advanced part of skiing, so do not get discouraged if it takes a few tries. You will want to turn to go towards the wake and then maintain your balance and bent knees while crossing over the wake. It is important that both skis cross at the same time. When crossing, you will need to put pressure on the ski furthest away from the wave until safely across.

After becoming comfortable with turning and crossing, you can take on jumping. This is something that is for more advanced riders but adds to the fun. Start outside of the wake and cut into it at a sharp angle, then straighten your legs when you reach the wake. To land, you will want to get into the chair position mid air.

Safety First: Important Guidelines and Precautions

As always, safety is most important. There is more to safety than just a life vest. As mentioned above, there are ski flags that are for the rider to use if they fall. These are small enough to easily hold while skiing, and brightly colored to be easily seen by the boaters around you.

Additionally and most importantly, hand signals. Like tubing and wakeboarding, there are some hand signals that help the rider and spotter on the boat communicate. According to boat-ed.com, the following are universal hand signals for skiers:

  • Thumbs-up: This signal tells the driver to speed up.
  • Thumbs-down: Use this hand signal to tell the driver to slow down.
  • Index finger to thumb: Use the OK hand signal when the speed is right.
  • Point your finger in the air, make a circular motion and then point: You can use this signal to indicate to the driver which direction you want to go. The driver can also use this motion to warn the skier of an upcoming turn.
  • Pat your head: This tells the driver you want to return to the dock.
  • Flat hand out: Use this when you want the driver to stop.
  • Slashing motion at your neck: Use this signal to tell the driver to stop immediately. Use this for any emergency.
  • Clasp your hands over your head: If you fall off your skis but are alright, use this signal. You must use this signal after every fall to let the driver know you’re not injured.

Now that you know what you need, the how to, and how to stay safe, it is time to hit the water and put your skills to the test. Learning how to water ski is fun, but does take some skill and practice. Remember, practice makes perfect.

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