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Wakeboarding vs. Water Skiing

Wakeboarding vs. Water Skiing
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If you’ve been water skiing before, you might think wakeboarding isn’t so different. Both sports take place on the water, so it’s natural that a water skier would want to try wakeboarding. While there are many similarities between these two water sports, they also have their differences. Here’s everything you need to know about wakeboarding versus water skiing.

Similarities Between Wakeboarding and Water Skiing

Wakeboarding and water skiing are very similar water sports. You need a lot of the same boats, equipment, and even physical abilities. Find out what makes wakeboarding and water skiing so similar:


In order to wakeboard or water ski, you obviously have to have a body of water where a boat can get up to ideal speeds for a rider to get up on the board or skis. Both sports need the driver to bring the boat up to the proper speed to make it possible to stand up in the water.

A tow line, or rope, is used to connect the boat to the rider. One end of the tow line has a handle where the rider grabs on so the boat can take them around the water. The other end is connected to the boat and tied to the tow point or a wakeboard tower.


The equipment required for wakeboarding and water skiing are very similar. First and foremost, you'll need a boat that's equipped to pull riders along the water - most often this involves a wakeboard tower. Both wakeboards and water skis are designed for buoyancy and smooth gliding across the water’s surface. One of the most popular board bottoms is concave to easily ride over the water. Wakeboards and skis can have sharp or rounded edges, depending on what you want you want to be able to do on the water. Skis and boards can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. The way you decide what kind of board you need is the same between wakeboarding and water skiing. The weight of the rider equates to the length of the board or skis.

Riders should wear a swimsuit since they will be getting wet. Although wakeboarding and water skiing are considered summer sports, you can still do either during cold weather. You would just need a wetsuit to keep you warm. Riders should also wear a life jacket for when they fall off their skis or boards, preventing them from having to tread water and to stay safe. You will also need bindings attached to the skis or board to keep your feet in place while you ride. Some people may even want to wear gloves since they will be holding onto a tow line.

Physical Ability

Even the stances of wakeboarding and water skiing have similarities. Before you are up on the water, you will want to be crouching in the water with your knees to your chest and your arms stretched out. Riders won’t want to lean too far forward because they will fall on their face or lean too far back because they’ll fall backwards. Riders will also need strength in the same areas for water skiing and wakeboarding: core, legs, and arms.

For wakeboarding and water skiing, the rider holds the handle with both hands, palms down. If you are competing in slalom skiing, this is the only time you would hold the tow handle with one palm up and one palm down.

Differences Between Wakeboarding and Water Skiing

As you can see, there are many things wakeboarding and water skiing have in common. While these water sports have some similarities, they do have their differences too.


While both of these sports are performed on the water, wakeboarding requires a large board you stand on with both feet while water skiing usually requires two skis, one for each foot. Stance is also different between these sports. In wakeboarding, the rider stands perpendicular to the board with one foot in front of the other. Choose your stance based on which foot feels natural in the front. Water skiers stand facing forward.

Although the designs are slightly different, the bottom shapes of skis and boards make it easy to glide over water. Wakeboards can have concave bottoms to create lift and easily glide over water. Channels act like fins to break surface tension, and some have V-shaped spines to create soft landings and help roll edge to edge. On a wakeboard, the edge can be sharp to create an aggressive track for acceleration and speed, while a rounded edge smooths the ride and is better for doing tricks. Water ski bottoms can have narrow tunnels that provide stability with direction and handle rough water well. Beveled edges on skis control stability. Square edges help keep the skis stable and predictable, while round edges keep skis deeper in the water during turns for more control.

Boat Requirements

Before wakeboarding, water skiing was the popular water sport. Boat builders were designing boats around water skiing, ensuring they created as little wake as possible for a smooth ride. Then when wakeboarding became popular, boats needed to change to accommodate the different needs of the sport. The boat builders took the existing boat designs and added towers for height and found various ways to weigh the boats down to create wake. You want wake when wakeboarding because it makes doing tricks and getting up in the air easier.

The speed you need for these water sports are very different. Wakeboarding requires slower speeds than water skiing. The boat should average between 19 and 22 miles per hour with wakeboarding and 26 to 34 miles per hour with water skiing.

Tow Point and Rope

Another major difference between water skiing and wakeboarding is the placement of the tow point. Since wakeboarders want to be able to get up in the air, you want the tow point to be higher. To get the height wakeboarders need to do airborne tricks, the rope should be attached to a wakeboard tower on the boat. Water skiers rarely want to get in the air, so they can attach the rope to the boat’s central tow point.

Water skiers use a braided nylon rope which provides a little stretch to act as a shock absorber as they go over the boat wake. Wakeboarders don’t need stretch in the rope to properly do aerial tricks and will use a heavier cord instead of nylon. The handles on the rope are different sizes for these sports. Water skiing handles are shorter, around 11 to 13 inches, because you won’t be doing tricks like you would in wakeboarding. Wakeboarding handles are a little longer, usually between 13 and 15 inches to give the rider enough room to switch hands when doing tricks.

Transitioning from Water Skiing to Wakeboarding

If a water skier wants to try wakeboarding, he or she will be familiar with some aspects of the sport. Getting up on the board requires the same stance as if you are getting up on skis, knees bent towards your chest and your arms completely extended. However, instead of being on two skis facing forward, you will be standing sideways with one foot in front of the other. The difference in stance physically changes how you use your muscles from one sport to the other.

The tow point may also create a different feel. A water skier would be used to the tow point being low and rope being stretchy. When you wakeboard, the rope is not stretchy and is attached at a higher tow point. Another thing to keep in mind is the speed of the boat is typically lower in wakeboarding than water skiing.

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When you’re starting to wakeboard or water ski, it can be helpful to slow the boat down. When you decrease the boat’s speed, extra drag is created so the rider has an easier time getting up on their board or skis

Since you know the major similarities and differences between water skiing and wakeboarding, you’re ready to get out on the water! Look through our wakeboard towers to get started.

And if you happen to be more familiar with a different board sport, check our our guide to wakeboarding vs. other board sports.

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