Wakeboard Boating Tips: Towing Speed, Rope length & Weighting Your Boat Properly
HOW TO: TOW SPEED, ROPE LENGTH, WEIGHTING AND FOR WAKEBOARDING AND WAKESURFING
Seattle, WA: Wakeboarding season has arrived. It has been a long, cold, awesome snowy winter, but it is time to reunite with the H20. Greg Young, the owner of Northwest Riders Clothing, sat down with evo for a refresher on some of the most commonly asked questions about achieving the perfect pull, like: What speed do I pull a wakeboarder at? What is the optimal wakeboard rope length? How do I weight a boat for wakesurfing? Below, Greg answers all your questions and more with his wakeboard boating tips.
By Greg Young at Northwest Riders: In my 9+ years of teaching wakeboard lessons, one of the most common questions I seem to get from clients has nothing to do with how to land a certain trick, but rather how to properly set up their boat for wakeboarding or wakesurfing in the first place.The question of how to “set up” your boat properly takes several factors into account: towing speed, rope length, and weighting your boat. I hope to answer all your questions with these wakesurfing and wakeboard boat tips.
The easy answer to that question is to make sure that however you’re doing things, you’re comfortable. Or at least close to comfortable. As they say, you’re never going to progress if you’re not pushing yourself at least a little bit outside of your comfort zone.
Tow Speed For Wakeboarding:
Let’s start with speed. This is the area where you’re going to need to push yourself outside of your comfort zone the most. Most people equate slower speeds with safety, which is true to a point. Crawling along at slow speeds may keep you from getting hurt, however, it will also keep you from the most rewarding part of the sport: learning new tricks.
When I’m teaching beginners, and by that I mean truly first-timers, I drive really slow… like 12-14 mph. Nothing will end a person’s future in wakeboarding faster than catching a toe-side edge their first time out. Towing someone at almost painfully-slow speeds their first couple of times out will allow the rider to start to get comfortable with their edges and at least allow them to start picking up the concept of turning and avoiding the most painful way to crash.
Speeds that slow should only be driven once or twice, or until you as the driver aren’t constantly cringing in expectation of the impending doom of a toe-side edge being caught. Once the rider is at least starting to get the idea, it’s time to start bumping the speed up to about 18-19 mph. That doesn’t need to happen in one day on the water, but make a conscious effort to throttle 1 mph faster each time the rider falls until you’re at 18-19 mph. If the rider is screaming at you to slow down, listen to them. But, as soon as they’re comfortable, start to sneak in a few more rpm’s until the needle on the speedometer starts creeping up again.
You’ll know a rider is ready for a bit more speed once he or she starts taking some cuts at the wake and trying to jump. As long as they’re not crashing hard enough to call the paramedics each time, you should start to slowly approach speeds of 21-23 mph.
Advanced riders will usually exceed 23 mph… pros usually ride a lot faster than that. But, chances are there aren’t any pro riders reading this article (they’ve probably figured out how fast to ride), so if you’re reading this, you probably shouldn’t be riding any faster than 23.
The bottom line when it comes to speed is that the faster you go, the cleaner and more firm the wake gets, making it easier and more consistent for riders trying to jump or learn new tricks. At slow speeds (below 21 mph), wakes tend to be mushy (that’s the white water crumbling over where the rider is hitting the wake) and soft, and will swallow the tip of the riders’ board rather than acting as a ramp when they’re jumping.
Once a rider is consistently jumping the wake, they should be able to tell you how fast to go as they’ll be able to feel when the wake is helping them get more air as opposed to swallowing their board on takeoff.
Another important thing to remember is that every boat is different. One boat at 23 mph might feel like 21 mph on another. As a driver, you need to work with the rider to feel out the optimal speed for different skill levels for your specific boat. It’s not uncommon to be driving a boat at a wakeboard contest and have a rider in the novice class tell you that they want to get towed at 23 mph. However, that may be the speed they ride at behind their Bayliner at home, and they’ll pee their pants once we hit 18 mph on our Tige RZ2. It’s all about getting to know your boat and figuring out how it should be driven.
Rope Length For Wakeboarding:
Once you’ve figured out your speed, calculating how long your rope should be is a pretty easy process. The idea for wakeboarders is to be just in front of where the wake turns from a clean ramp to a white-washed mushy mess. You want to be hitting the wake at a spot that’s clean, solid, and doesn’t have a lip (that’s where the wake is cresting over on itself).
The general rule of jumping is that you want to be landing most of your tricks right on the downside of the second wake. Landing past that every time (called landing in ‘the flats’) will take its toll on your knees and likely cause you to bounce when you hit the water on some tricks. Just like watching a snowboarder or motocross rider, you’ll notice that they land on a downhill transition every time. If they were to land flat, they’d either bounce when they landed or their knees would buckle. Use the rope length to make sure that you’re always landing on the nice, gentle, downside of the second wake.
If you’re landing in the flats every time, let the rope out a length. If you’re coming up short, pull it in a few feet. Rope lengths for beginners are usually about 65 feet, for intermediate riders typically 65-75 feet (the longer you can manage, the better), and for advanced riders generally a rope 75-85 feet in length.
One thing to note is the importance of having a good, non-stretch rope for wakeboarding. Based on the cost, a lot of people question whether they’re worth it. Trust me, they are worth every penny. A rope with any stretch to it will destroy any hope you have of becoming even a halfway decent rider as the rope will stretch during your cut into the wake and then snap back to it’s original length in mid-air, throwing you off balance at the worst possible time.
With wakeboarding you can use rope length to your advantage if you’re looking to cheat on new tricks. If you were to look at your wake from above, you’d notice that it fans out from the back of your boat like a ‘V’. The further you are away from the boat, the further you have to jump in order to clear the second wake. Likewise, the closer you are to the back of the boat, the easier time you’ll have clearing the wake. When I’m teaching people how to jump the wake toe-side, I usually pull the rope in 5-10 feet to help them learn. The same strategy can be used to help someone who’s constantly coming up just shy of clearing the wake. Pull the rope in 1 length and see if it helps.
Weighting Your Boat
Weighting your boat is a whole other beast that could easily have a 30 page manual written about it. On a basic level, just be sure that your wake is even from side to side. You don’t want one side to be clean and the other washed out. If that’s the case, have one of your passengers move to the side that’s washed out until the two sides are even.
Most people think that the bigger the wake, the better rider it’ll make you. While there’s no doubt that good riders will do anything to make their wake as big as possible, for beginners, a big wake can hurt more than it will help. When learning to jump, there are enough things to think about already, but if you’re only focusing on a huge wake and how high it’s going to send you, chances are you’ll screw something up on your approach. I always recommend starting with an empty boat and adding weight only when you’re comfortably and confidently clearing the wake every time.
When deciding how to weight your boat and where to put ballast (be it stock ballast or additional fat sacks), whether for wakeboarding or wakesurfing, I’d recommend starting with an empty boat and a lot of passengers. Start with everyone spread out and evenly distributed throughout the boat, and slowly ask one, then two, then three (and so on) people to shift to another spot in the boat. Have people shift from left to right and front to back until you have a super clean, really big wake on one side for surfing, or a super clean, even, consistent, and large wake for wakeboarding.
Doing this with people is a lot faster than having to fill and drain ballast over and over. Once you have an idea of where your weight is best distributed, remove the people, substitute ballast as best you can, and see where that leaves you. Then, if you want something even bigger, start adding people back in once ballast is filled and repeat the process of moving everyone around.
Just like the topic of speed, weighting a boat is different for every make, model, and year. What works for one boat doesn’t necessarily work as well for others. Some boats need more weight up front than others, and vice versa. For wakeboarding our Tige RZ2 has a bigger, cleaner wake with stock ballast than it does with a ton of extra ballast (one of the reasons I love the boat so much, and it’s a lot less expensive at the gas pump), while other boats need a lot more ballast than comes built into the boat.
There are plenty of other theories out there on the topic of dialing in your boat for wakeboarding or wakesurfing, but in my experience, all of the tips I just mentioned are the best place to start. Just remember that you should always be sure the rider is comfortable and that if something doesn’t seem to be working, it’s OK to play around with your setup a little bit to find something that will. Nothing will freak out a beginner more than towing them at 23 mph when they should be doing 18 mph, but you also don’t want to be the kid I had out for a lesson one time whose mom forced me to tow at 12 mph with huge goggles and a boxing helmet strapped to his head. There’s a line between playing it safe and trying to push yourself, and you’re not going to get better (or have fun) unless you’re pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.
-What about boat speed and rope length for wakesurfing?
Wakesurfing Boat Speed
When people ask me about wakesurfing speeds, every boat (and every speedometer at that speed) is pretty different. Generally between 8 mph on the low end to 13 mph on the high end is about right, but it all depends on what your wake looks like.
Wakesurf Rope Length
For wakesurfers, you want to be right at, or possibly just behind, where the wake is curling over. If you’re too far in front of the curl, you’re in front of the sweet spot. If you’re at, or slightly behind, the curl, you can easily shift your weight forward or even pull yourself forward into the sweet spot. You should buy a surf-specific rope that will give you about 15 feet of length to work with, although you’ll likely only need about 10 feet.
Just Say No To Chop. Save Gas.
Since I’ve been given the opportunity to write this article, I’m also going to go off on a short, but important tangent. If you’re driving the boat, whether you’re pulling a wakeboarder, wakesurfer, or waterskier, when the rider falls, PLEASE stop the boat immediately (without turning), wait to slow down (1 or 2 seconds), and THEN (and only then), turn the boat around SLOWLY, and idle back to the rider. If you immediately power into a turn without slowing down to get back to the rider, not only do you look like a kook, you’re throwing rollers down the lake in a 360 degree path and destroying the water for yourself and everyone else on the lake.
People always complain about how choppy my home lake is, but what they don’t realize is that it would stay WAY calmer for WAY longer if everyone just slowed down before they turned around. Now that you’ve been warned, I give myself full authority to slap you across the face if I see you doing power turns ever again.
About the author: Greg Young has been teaching wakeboard lessons professionally for about 9 years. He’s one of the owners of Northwest Riders Clothing Company based out of Seattle (FYI: You can buy it at evo Seattle and evo.com), and operates a wakeboard lessons business on Lake Washington as a promotional tool (but mostly an excuse to be on the water every day) for Northwest Riders. His company is sponsored by Tige Boats, Hyperlite Wakeboards, Lynnwood Motoplex, Sunstream Boat Lifts, Diecutstickers.com, and the Seattle Boat Show. He is also one of the owners of Woodmark Waterfront Adventures, a boat and waverunner rental business based out of Carillon Point Marina in Kirkland, WA.
Thanks Greg and thanks to Tige Boats for letting us use some photos!