Active SportsBoating

A Beginner’s Guide to Wakeboarding

Wakeboarding woman

Wakeboarding is one of the most popular warm-weather activities you can do. There’s nothing more refreshing than escaping the summer heat in the water. If water skiing isn’t your thing and tubing is getting old, give wakeboarding a try. Here’s what you need to know to get started or to brush up on rusty skills.

Gear Up

First, you’ll need some gear. Chances are if you’re already into watersports you’re likely equipped with basic essentials: a boat, waterski rope and handle, and lifejacket. If your boat doesn’t already have one, invest in a ski pylon. From there, you’ll need a wakeboard and bindings, which are sold separately. Bindings follow shoe sizes, so keep that in mind when shopping. Some beginners take comfort in wearing a helmet as an extra precaution in the event of a hard fall in the water at higher speeds.

Wakeboards are also sold as men and women’s, though there’s no real difference except weight and graphics. Generally, women’s boards weigh less. Since women often weigh less than men, they need less beneath them to ride the wake. Junior boards are designed for kids and their size and weight. Visit a Gander RV & Outdoors and ask a retail expert to help you find the perfect ride for you.

Woman wakeboarding
Women’s boards aren’t really different from men’s boards, except in graphics and weight.

Hand Signals

Next, you’ll need to learn safety hand signals. Though boating is a blast, it also has its dangers, particularly on crowded lakes and bodies of water. Before you head out on the water, have a brush up session with the whole crew so everyone stays safe out on the water.

If you ski or tube, you’re probably already familiar with signaling from the water, but, just as a refresher, here are the basics:

  • Thumbs up means “faster.”
  • Thumbs down means “slower.”
  • Moving a flat hand across your neck means “stop the boat.”
  • If you fall, tapping the top of your head tells the boat operator “you’re okay.”
hand okay in water
Learn common hand signals to stay safe out on the water. Image: Shutterstock.

 Strapping In

Get in to your wakeboard on the rear of your boat. Ensure you are firmly strapped in, but not so tight that you can’t wiggle your toes. Fully buckle up your lifejacket before jumping off the boat. Fall backwards off the boat into the water and paddle on your back toward the ski rope, circling your arms like the backstroke.

Once you have hold of the ski rope, the boat captain will position the boat to accelerate straight ahead. Hold on, you’re almost up!

feet in wakeboard off of boat
Prep your wakeboard on the boat before hopping in the water. Image: Shutterstock.

Getting Up

To stand up on a wakeboard, you’ll want to start by floating in the water with the bottoms of your feet facing toward the boat and your knees bent in a crouch. The rope should be centered on the board, and both hands firmly gripping the rope handle. When you’re ready, signal to the boat to build speed. Keep your arms straight, your knees bent, and your weight back. Let the boat pull you out of the water.  Do not push away the water with your legs–this jerks the rope out of your hand. Let the boat do the work, lean back and let it pull you out of the water.

As the boat pulls you to your feet, let your dominate leg (whichever you want in front) move into that position and stay low. Alternatively, on beginner boards equipped with a center fin, check which end of the wakeboard has the fin and ensure it is in the rear.

Wait until the board is pulled perpendicular to the boat as you gain speed, then stand upright, keeping a slight bend in the knees.

Wakeboarder on lake
Wakeboarder surfing across a lake. Image: Shutterstock.

Maneuvering and Completing Your Session

Once you’re up on the water, you can control yourself by leaning your bodyweight in the direction you wish to go. You can also steer by making small adjustments with your back foot. Start off with small movements and then as the boat turns around try going across the wake. Keep the bend in your knees and your eyes looking forward. Hold the rope low by your waist.


Wakeboarding can seem intimidating at first, but it’s a fun lake activity appropriate for almost any age. The thrill of feeling the wake beneath your feet can’t be beat. You may not get up the first, second, or even fifth time you try. Getting a feel for the board, water, and boat takes practice. Don’t give up, and soon enough, you’ll be cruising the lake with ease. What tips do you have for wakeboarding beginners? Tell us in the comments.

Bearded man holding wakeboard.
Wakeboarding is for the young and young at heart. Image: Shutterstock
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One comment

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    Over a 50 year period of skiing and wakboarding, one thing we have learned is to start off slow for beginners on a wakeboard and the MUST keep their arms straight. It is natural to want to pull back when one doesn’t get up right away, but this is a sure way to fall.

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