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Essential Wakeboarding Hand Signals

By Shaun Murray

Communication is key in any relationship, and the rapport between a towboat driver and the rider is no exception. Since most of the time the rider and driver are out of earshot of one another, hand signals are the best way for them to stay in constant contact. Learn these essential hand signals to help ensure everyone has a safe, fun time on the water.

Rider Signals

Signal: Thumb up
Translation: Speed up

Signal: Thumb down
Translation: Slow down

Signal: Thumb up or down followed by pointer and thumb pinching
Translation: Speed up or slow down a little

Signal: OK sign
Translation: Speed is good

Signal: Karate-chop hand motion in a new direction
Translation: Driver, go that direction

Signal: Karate-chop hand motion in boat’s current direction
Translation: Driver, get it together and drive straight

Signal: Forefinger and thumb forming an “L” and then pointing to the left or right
Translation: Driver, please drive a double-up in that direction

Signal: Karate-chop hand motion on your other arm
Translation: T it up (drive a 90-degree double-up)

Signal: Smash an invisible ice-cream cone on your head
Translation: I’m done. Let’s head back to the dock

Signal: Smash cone on your head and point out to either side of the boat
Translation: I’m done so please turn in to me and pick me up

Signal: A simple wave after every fall, no matter how minor or severe, to signal the boat if you are OK
Translation: I’m OK. Only my pride is wounded

Signal: Cross your arms above your head, forming an X, after a fall if you are not OK
Translation: I’m not OK. Please help

Driver Signals

Signal: A quick thumb up, thumb down and then an OK sign
Translation: Is the speed OK?

Signal: A shake or hang-loose sign
Translation: Rider, that trick was awesome

Signal: Circular finger motion, like spinning a plate
Translation: Rider, the boat is going to turn, so shut it down

The Exception

Now that you know the essential water-sports hand signals, let’s talk about the one exception: When the rider must communicate to the driver that he’s ready to be pulled up. After all, letting go of the handle with one hand isn’t the best way to do a deep-water start. When you’re ready to go, don’t yell “Go” or “No,” because they can be mistaken for one another. Here are some good alternatives to “I am ready”:

“Hit it”
The classic. Also, the title of a great wakeboard movie from 1996 that you should check out.

“Make it happen, Cap’n”
Lets the driver know that you are not only ready to ride, but ready to have a good time.

“Yeeeeeup”
Some will catch on that you are giving a shout out to Storage Wars.

“Yaaaaaw!”
For the cowboys and cowgirls out there.

Shaun Murray has been a professional wakeboarder and wakeboarding coach for the better part of two decades. He’s a four-time world champion, the head coach at Aktion Parks, and the creator of Wake MD, a wakeboard instructional iPhone app.