Wakesurfing vs Wakeboarding: What’s the Difference?

Wakesurfing vs Wakeboarding

When you think of wakesurfing and wakeboarding, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re the same thing. The names look similar, and both involve following the wake behind a boat. Despite that, they’re actually two completely different sports. Let’s go over the differences between wakesurfing and wakeboarding.

Wakesurfing vs Wakeboarding History

Between the two sports, wakesurfing is believed to be the oldest. There are accounts by some that people riding waves behind boats may have started as early as the 20’s. There’s no evidence of this, so it’s more likely it started in the 50’s.

A member of the Cypress Gardens water ski show recalled seeing other people doing it, and that it was called “inland surfing”. Though it would be a long time until the sport picked up in popularity. It only started having world championships in the early 2000’s.

Wakeboarding started in the 80’s when a skurfer was invented. Tony Finn and Jimmy Redman invented it at the same time in different places. Both had foot straps on the boards and they took it out in the water to ride waves behind boats.

Though Finn made it popular with skurfer championships, with one actually being televised on ESPN in 1990. By 1999, a world wakeboard group was formed as a way for wakeboarders all over the world to connect with each other. World championships began being held, and the sport is continuing to grow fast in popularity.

Wakesurfing vs Wakeboarding Equipment

At a distance, it would look like wakesurfers and wakeboarders use the same exact equipment. But when you see the equipment up close, you can notice the difference between a wakesurf board and a wakeboard.

On a wakeboard, a person has their feet strapped into boots connected to a board. If you’re familiar with snowboards, it’s very similar to that. When wakesurfing, your feet are free to move around the board, like surfing.

The board sizes are also different between wakesurfing and wakeboarding. Wakesurf boards tend to be longer or shorter. For example, the surf style wakesurf board is longer than a wakeboard. The skim style wakesurf board is shorter than a wakeboard. In general, most wakeboards have a snowboard like shape to them.

Rope Usage and Rope Length

wakesurf and wakeboard rope

Another difference is the use of the rope attached to the boat. Wakeboarders have to hold on to the rope at all times to keep moving forward. In contrast, wake surfers start off holding the rope, but they can actually choose to throw it back on the boat after gaining balance. With wakesurfing, you’re able to keep moving forward by surfing the wakes produced by the boat.

In addition to how the rope is used in each sport, you should know that the rope length is different as well. For wakesurfing, the rope length is about 10 to 20 feet. Because the rope doesn’t have to be utilized so much, it’s helpful for the rider to be close enough to throw the rope back into the boat. The rope being left in the water could be troublesome if the rider falls and gets tangled in.

With wakeboarding, the rope is much longer. The length can be anywhere from 65 to 85 feet long. As mentioned earlier, with wakeboarding, you hold the rope at all times, so you don’t need to be that close to the boat. It’s also necessary for jumping over wakes, which is a part of the fun of wakeboarding. You jump over one, and land on the downside of the second wake.

Boat and Boat Speed

wakesurfing and wakeboarding boat

Speaking of boats, it should be noted that an inboard or V-drive boat is recommended to use for wakesurfing. The propeller is safely under the boat so there’s less risk for any accident for the rider. You can see more information we have on what boat you can wake surf behind. For wakeboarding, a rider is much further from the boat, so you don’t necessarily have to get an inboard or V-Drive boat

The speed the boat goes when wakeboarding and wakesurfing are slightly different. When wakeboarding, the boat should be going about 15 to 25 mph. This helps make the wake firm and clean for the rider. It allows them to have more comfort to jump and try out tricks. Though for beginners, wakeboarding two or three miles below 15 mph is a good place to start.

When wakesurfing, you don’t really need too much speed. The boat should be going about 10 to 14 mph. The driver should go slow and gradually pick up speed. One other thing to note, skim style wakesurf boards perform best on the low end of boat speed, and surf style boards perform best on the high end.

Wakesurfing vs Wakeboarding Questions

We have some frequently asked questions relating to the two sports. Nonetheless, we believe that both of these sports have several advantages and appeal. As far as wakeboarding or wakesurfing, whichever one you choose, both will be a lot of fun to learn. If you decide to go wakesurfing, check out the best wakesurf boards you can use to shred the waves.

What’s Easier?

wakesurfer riding the wakes

It could be argued that wakeboarding is easier than wakesurfing. With wakeboarding, your feet are in the position they need to be in, and all you have to do is hold the rope. Only jumping and trying tricks is a little challenging.

For wakesurfing, you don’t have any boots on a board holding you in place. You have to balance yourself and move your feet on different parts of the board in order to ride the waves well. That can be pretty challenging, but it can certainly get easy with time spent practicing.

What’s More Fun?

Both sports can be really fun in their own ways. It all just depends on what you find more exciting. When the boats go faster with wakeboarding, you can do really high jumps in the air. The air time can allow you to pull off some cool tricks.

If you go wakesurfing, while the speeds are lower, you have more freedom to move around with your feet not attached to the board. Your arms are free not having to hold the rope to keep moving forward. All of this helps you to do some twists and turns, go up and down the wake, and pull off all kinds of cool wakesurf tricks.

Is Surfing Like Wakeboarding?

Other than riding on a board, surfing and wakeboarding probably couldn’t be more different. Surfing involves riding natural waves made by the ocean. You have to paddle, get up on the board, and balance yourself in order to catch the wave in time.

With wakeboarding, there’s no paddling. You’re strapped to boots on a board and holding on to a rope attached to a boat. Instead of following the ocean waves, you follow the waves created by the boat.

Is Wakesurfing Dangerous?

It’s only dangerous if you don’t take the necessary precautions. Remember to use a boat that has the propeller under it. The driver should drive at only 10 to 15 miles per hour. Also, make sure that the rope handle is small. That way when you fall, you don’t accidentally get tangled in it and dragged in the water.

Is Wakeboarding Easier Than Water Skiing?

That question can depend on who you ask. Some would say that it takes less effort to wakeboard than it does to water ski. The speed of the boat goes faster when water skiing, so it might be a harder task learning how to balance in the water.

But some have said wakeboarding is harder because you’re riding sideways when you’re on the board, as opposed to riding forward on water skis. But everyone finds different things more challenging. You can determine which sport feels easier for you by trying them both out.

Wakesurfing vs Wakeboarding Tips

To get better at both water sports, it comes down to practice and watching professionals in action. The huge difference in wakesurfing and wakeboarding is the length of the rope and the board. Like we mentioned earlier, wakesurfing board doesn’t have a foot strap which means your feet are free.

On the other hand, the wakeboard is similar to a surfboard as it has boots attached to the board to keep your feet strapped and locked in for the ride. Let’s go over the final tips to wakesurfing by checking out the boating magazine video.

Right below is a video that depicts the correct technique and instructions for wakeboarding.

The lesson that comes with trying out anything new is that it takes time and practice to get better. You’ll fall more often but you’ll need to have perseverance to get back up and try again. Once you find your balance then it will be much easier to ride the wakes and you’ll feel more confident going out to the beach.

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