How Do You Wakesurf? Drop-In to Learn the Ropes

First, there was water skiing, a fun way to get a rush on the water. Wakeboarding and tubing followed, with everyone after that same thrill. The newest kid on the block is wakesurfing. It involves the use of a board with the boat acting as the source of the wave. Your next question is probably, how do you wakesurf?

Things You’ll Need

You have to have the right gear. Most of these items are specific to this sport and usually aren’t interchangeable with ones you’d use for water skiing or wakeboarding. Since it’s relatively new, you may have to scout around to find them. The things you need include

  • Personal flotation device (PFD)  
  • Tow Rope           
  • Wakesurfing board        
  • Powerboat         
  • Flags

PFD or Life Jacket

Sure, wakesurfing is cool, but don’t be tempted to skimp on safety by ditching the PFD. Not to be a buzzkill, but over 75 percent of boating accident fatalities were drownings. Besides, you can find some rad-looking ones out there, instead of the old-fashioned orange life jackets.

It’s a smart idea to opt for a PFD that isn’t all black. It will help when you wipe out—and you will—to find you and keep yourself afloat.

Tow rope

The rope you use for wakesurfing is different than other types. It’s both longer and thicker to match where you’re at in relationship to the boat and to give you a handhold for stability. The handles are thicker for cushioning your hands.

Wakesurfing Board

You’ll see two styles available, surf or skim. The former is larger with two or more fins, making it suitable for beginners. The latter is sleeker with only one fin for optimal maneuverability. It’s the one you spring for once you’ve learned the ropes. While surfing is part of the name, you shouldn’t use a regular surfboard. You won’t be riding waves big enough for one.


There are two basic types of boats, inboard or outboard motors. The term describes where the engine is. With the former, the action end sits under the hull and out of harm’s way. The latter rests on the end of the craft. The best choice is the inboard engine.

You should go wakesurfing behind a boat meant for this purpose. Part of the reason lies with the ballast. You’re going to need the distribution of the weight in the craft to support you and provide the best waves. Some power boat manufacturers have a system baked into the design of the craft. Others have extra bells and whistles with electronics to manage everything for you.

The other option is to use ballast bags or fat sacks to get the job done. You can also go old-school and just have your passengers move around to the side from which the surfer will go. The position matters too. More weight up front or toward the bow means longer and shorter wakes. The opposite is true for the back or stern.


Brightly colored flags held up by a passenger in the boat signals other boaters of the presence of someone in the water. While not mandatory in all areas, it’s a wise idea to have one on board, especially if there are beginners. Even if you don’t use a flag, you’ll need a spotter in the stern. This person will keep an eye on the wakesurfer while the pilot stays focused on the water. In many states, it’s a requirement.

How to Wakesurf

The process of getting vertical is similar to waterskiing and wakeboarding. It requires good upper body strength to pop up and hold onto the towrope. The differences also lie with speed, the distance from the boat, and the ability to drop in first. This wave is all yours, bro.

Begin by getting suited up and attaching the towrope to the end of the boat. It’s a smart practice to check it for any damage or fraying before jumping in the water. Then, let the boat float on the surface on the side where you want to go wakesurfing. That will depend on which foot you’re going to place forward.

Often, it’s your stronger leg in back. In surfer lingo, you’re regular-footed if it is the left and goofy-footed if it is the right. The former should stick to the port or left side of the boat, facing it from the rear. The latter should aim for starboard or the right side. Position your feet about 1.5 feet apart on the board, near the edge or rail. Keep your heels dug in with your toes pointing to the sky.

The trick to getting up—and staying—is to let the powerboat do the work. That tow rope is for you to hang onto but not to pull yourself into position. The next steps happen quickly. Make sure you understand what’s happening in the boat and what you need to do in response.

Signal to the pilot when you’re ready to go. Unlike water skiing or wakeboarding, he shouldn’t take off headed for the other side of the lake. Instead, he should go slower at around 9 to 12 mph to get on a plane. Remember that you’re floating close to the boat.

Stand up slowing, keeping your knees bent as you keep your heels into the board. Now, you’ll need to get into position to ride the wake. You should continue to face it and stay parallel with the boat. Take your time to get used to the feel before moving on to wakesurfing. You can slow down by putting more pressure on the back and more by going toward the front. Use your toes to get it right.

Ideally, you’ll have most of your weight up front with about 40 percent in back. Then, get ready to release the grip from your weaker hand and using it for balance in the back of you when you feel comfortable on the board. Move toward the wake pocket and let her ride. You’ll know you’re there if it takes over moving your onward and the towrope goes slack. When you’re ready, let go of it.

Now, you’re taking off, so enjoy the ride. Once the wake loses momentum, you’ll likely grub or wipe out as surfers say. With practice, you’ll feel more confident and stronger. You’ll learn to recognize the pocket and how to use your legs to keep yourself upright. Those noodle arms will even go away too.

Making Adjustments

You may find that changing the ballast can make a significant impact on your experience. You might have to tweak how much weight goes in the bow and stern of the boat. You can also consider buying a wake shaper to attach to the back of your powerboat. They will create a bigger wake that you may find it easier to ride. You can move them to find your ideal sweet spot.

Making the Most of Your Sport

An individual piloting a boat has a responsibility to his passengers to keep everyone safe. As a wakesurfer, you should make sure that your captain is experienced and knows the rules of the water. Driving while someone is in the water is a serious task. It’s not the time to fool around and take chances. The same precautions apply to your spotter.

You should also follow up every outing with proper care for your gear. Allow everything to dry out completely before storing them to avoid mold and mildew, which can damage them and increases the chances of equipment failure.

Wakesurfing offers a new challenge for individuals who want to get close to the water in a new and exciting way. Like other sports, it takes time to master. However, boat manufacturers have responded to the demand with watercraft that are better suited to this activity. It may not be Cocoa Beach, but it’s certainly a rush you’ll want to experience again and again.