New To Watersports? Here's What You Need To Know

July 16, 2013

As much as we all enjoy a leisurely sunset cruise, part of the fun of boating is the opportunity to not only get out on the water, but also to get wet once in a while. And if you’ve got younger passengers, your boat will likely be decked out with a hefty collection of different equipment…some familiar and some not so familiar.

So, let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular watersports today. Please remember to ALWAYS wear a life jacket when participating in any of these activities.


Nothing puts a smile on the face of a kid like the freedom found clinging tightly to an inflatable tube as it skitters across the water. Although they come in a huge variety of styles, the basic idea is pretty simple. A bladder made of flexible PVC is inflated with air, and the tube is attached to a nylon towrope, which is then attached to a boat. The rider (or riders) then sits or kneels inside the tube or holds on to handles attached to the surface of the tube. One of the appealing things about tubing is that the boat driver has plenty of control over the experience the riders will have. Slower speeds and a straight track will be great for even the most timid children, while higher speeds and sharper turns add more thrill to the ride. For the best (and safest) ride, always make sure the tube is properly inflated.


Wakeboarding involves riding a fiberglass board over the surface of the water with your feet tightly anchored to the surface with a binding. You hold the handle of a ski rope (usually attached to a wake tower “pull point” that’s about 7 feet from the water’s surface) and criss-cross the wake wave at around 18-24 miles per hour. Enthusiasts can launch themselves into the air or perform a number of exciting tricks. Beginners who try these maneuvers will quickly learn what the term “face plant” means.


Wakeskating is an adaptation of wakeboarding that employs a similar design of board manufactured from wood or fiberglass. Unlike wakeboarding, the rider is not bound to the board in any way, which gives the sport its own unique challenges. Instead, the top surface of the board is covered with grip tape, (similar to a skateboard) or a soft, high-traction, foam covering that is kinder to riders in the inevitable wipeouts. Riders usually wear grip shoes while riding behind the boat at 16–20 miles per hour. However, this depends on water conditions, the weight of the rider and their proficiency in the sport.


It’s gone by a number of different names over its 40-year history (Knee Ski, Glide Slide and Hydroslide were pioneering styles), but no matter what you call it, kneeboarding is a blast. As the name suggests, you kneel down on a surf-style board, while holding on to a towrope handle and the boat pulls you along at about 15-20 miles per hour. Starts are pretty easy, and once you reach plane, you can pull a strap securely across your knees to hold you on the board. As with tubing, the driver has a great deal of control over the rider’s experience, adjusting speeds as needed as directed by a “spotter” on the boat who keeps their eye on the rider at all times. More advanced riders can perform tricks such as the Side Slide, Back Roll and Surface 360.


Waterskiing is the oldest and most familiar mainstream watersport. A skier slips his feet into rubber bindings, and is pulled up and out of the water while holding the handle of a towrope attached to a boat. With the skis under water pointing toward the boat, the skier signals the driver to accelerate, while a “spotter” monitors the progress and lets the driver know when to speed up, slow down or come around to pick up a downed skier. More advanced skiers sometimes “drop” one ski and ride with both feet on a single (or slalom) ski. Invented in 1922 by Ralph Samuelson on Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minnesota, the sport has evolved from two boards and a clothesline to modern fiberglass skis to suit any skill level.

Safety First

Watersports are a great way to enjoy your boat, but safety should always come first. Remember to check the towrope at the boat connection point (ski-tow eye, wakeboard tower, or ski pylon) and the tube itself. Replace the rope at the first sign of fraying because it could breakk under strain. Also, take up rope slack slowly to prevent knots and to avoid jerking the rider. Know the abilities of your riders, and start slowly...working up to a manageable speed. Check tubes for age and weight capacities, and always know local speed limits and regulations for tow sports. Never abruptly change your course when other boats are present, and always slow down when your riders are crossing the wake.