By Brad Kovach
Read these 10 tips for choosing a wakeboard, because having the right piece of gear under you can make all the difference. Ask any experienced wakeboarder, and they’ll tell you one of the best ways to buff your skills is by getting the right gear — or more specifically, the right board. But in a marketplace crowded with “righteous rides” of all shapes and sizes, how do you find the one best for you? Boating World asks two guys who know a lot about the subject — Dave Briscoe and Mike Ballone — about the keys to selecting a wakeboard. Briscoe and Ballone are both veterans of the sport and have been teaching folks how to get on the good foot for years at their wakeboarding schools (see www.thewakeboardcoach.com and www.lines-end.com, respectively).
They offer these “Top 10” tips:
Bring Your Own Board
If you really want to excel, it’s important to have your own wakeboard. “Many riders try saving money by sharing a board with a riding partner,” says Ballone. “My experience with this method has been nothing but trouble. What happens is both riders compromise on what board characteristics they want, and neither of them get any better.” However, if you absolutely must have a single board for multipurpose use at your lake house or beach bungalow, you should get a good intermediate one.
Check The Label
Boards generally fall into three skill levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Each category differs by any number of characteristics — materials, rocker, fins, etc. — which are covered in the following tips. The main thing you need to know is, if you’re just starting out, you don’t need a tournament-level board. You’ll just end up spending more money for a piece of gear that’ll feel too fast and loose. “Beginner boards are a little slower and more forgiving, which will make the learning curve easier,” says Briscoe. “Advanced boards have the most aggressive materials and designs, while intermediate boards are usually old versions of advanced boards that have been tweaked for all-around use.”
Match Up Sizes
You need the right size board for your weight and height. “Too small, and the board will sink, causing the boat to pull you at faster speeds,” Ballone says. “This compromises wake size, making it smaller, and decreases the amount of control you have. Too big, and the board will be cumbersome and hard to spin and pop off the wake.” Most manufacturers have sizing charts for the proper weight-to-length and/or height-to-length ratios. If in doubt, choose the longer board; the shorter the board, the less stability in starts and turns. Plus, you can grow into a longer board as your skill level advances.
Get Under The Skin
Most wakeboards are built from fiberglass wrapped around either a foam core or a wood core. Boards made with foam are cheaper, lighter and more durable, whereas boards manufactured from wood flex better. While foam is more common than wood and will stand up to more punishment, wood is reputedly better for providing extra snap off the wake. “Another material being experimented with is graphite,” says Briscoe. “Graphite helps lighten the board and adds stiffness. This makes for easier control of the board in the air due to less swing weight.”
Know Your Style
Boards also vary depending on an individual’s particular way of riding. If you come from a slalom skiing background, where you always ride with the same foot forward, then you’ll probably want a singletip board. This design has a narrower front and a square back. On the other hand, if you’re a snowboarder or skateboarder, where you sometimes switch forward feet, you may prefer a twin-tip board, which is round on both ends.
Rock On (Or Off)
“Rocker” describes the amount of bend you see in a wakeboard’s profile, and it comes in two basic categories: continuous and three-stage. A continuous rocker offers predictable performance with a smooth curve from tip to tail. It’s faster and creates a consistent feel off the wake. By contrast, a three-stage rocker has two distinct bends — almost like a skateboard deck, but less dramatic — and it provides aggressive lift off the wake. When contemplating your wakeboard’s rocker, keep in mind that less/lower rocker means a flatter bottom and more control when going straight, while more/higher rocker makes it easier to land jumps.
Find The Fin
Fins are what keep your board going in the direction you want and prevent it from rotating freely on the water. There are all sorts of fins, from deep to shallow, fat to thin, and removable to molded-in. “Beginner boards have deeper fins,” explains Ballone, “while more advanced ones have shallower fins, which are either built into the board or removable. Exactly how fins work depends on what size and style of fin you’re using, as well as the size and style of your board. Ballone recommends riders try different removable fins and find the configuration they’re most comfortable with. “Many riders prefer just the molded fins built into the board and riding without removable fins,” Briscoe says. “This is called ‘riding finless.’ It forces you to learn to use the board’s rail for edge control, which will help you keep better posture and pay off as you advance.”
Investigate The Shape
“Wider boards will have more pop off the wake for bigger air tricks, but may not carve as easily while on the water,” says Ballone. “On the contrary, a board that’s narrower will carve nicely on the surface of the water, but it won’t pop off the wake as readily for extra air time.” Your board’s edges are also an important factor. On beginner boards, edges are squared off to aid in tracking, while more advanced boards have edges rounded to make landing tricks a little easier, since there’s less chance of catching an edge.
Don’t Skimp On Bindings
Both experts agree that bindings are vital as well. “Your bindings make you
a part of the board and can decrease the chance of injury by a huge margin,” says Briscoe. “The beauty is that all manufacturers make interchangeable bindings. Try on several and make most of your decision based on comfort.” You want your bindings to be snug but not uncomfortable. Beginners can use adjustable bindings, but as you move to bigger air, you’ll want to have your own fitted pair for maximum protection.
Try Before You Buy
Perhaps the biggest part of the board buying process is testing a few different styles and types to see what feels best. Wide board or narrow? Hard edges or rounded? Single-tip or twin-tip? The good news is that more and more board shops are allowing riders to demo boards prior to purchase. Sometimes there can be a fee, but if you end up buying the board, the shop will often take your testing fee out of the final sale price. “Don’t be afraid to spend the extra money to get the board you like,” Briscoe says. “Buy it from your local dealer. This will pay off if something breaks or a warranty issue arises. And choose a company that has survived the industry. These are the companies that have changed with the growth of the sport and have worked out all the bugs.”
Shared with permission of Boater’s World.