Extreme Sports - 14 min read

Wakesurfing vs Wakeboarding: What’s The Difference?

Stacy Randall

Stacy Randall, Updated October 20, 2022

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If you love to be out on the water and prefer an active lifestyle, then water sports might already be a huge part of your life. But water sports go way beyond boating, water skiing, and surfing. Wakeboarding and wakesurfing are two popular water activities that provide ample opportunities for exercise and showing off your skills 

Both wakesurfing and wakeboarding involve using the wake created by a boat to ride the waves. Wakesurfing is easier to learn than wakeboarding since you release the tow rope and can then have a bit more control of the board. In wakeboarding, you hold the rope the entire time and attempt various stunts in the air. It can be much more challenging.

If you’re interested in learning how to wakeboard or wakesurf, it’s important to know what each sport entails. You might find you prefer one more than the other. Or you might find it makes more sense to master wakesurfing before wakeboarding or vice versa.

What’s the Main Difference Between Wakesurfing and Wakeboarding?

A rider continually holds the tow rope during wakeboarding, but while wakesurfing, they release the rope. Both sports involve riding the wake behind a boat, but wakesurfing is typically a bit more flexible in terms of difficulty level.

Also, you use boots for wakeboarding, but bare feet when wakesurfing. You also will normally go much faster while wakeboarding than you need to go for wakesurfing. 

Wakesurfing is also usually a bit easier on the body, making it more accessible for those with joint problems or other issues. However, wakeboarding can be very tough on the body. It carries a higher risk of injuries, especially if you aren’t in good shape or are unsure of what you’re doing.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the primary differences between wakesurfing and wakeboarding.

WakeboardingWakesurfing
Main PurposeJumping wakes, aerial stunts, various maneuvers — all while holding the tow line.Riding the wake behind a boat without holding the rope
Getting StartedEasier to get goingCan be more challenging to get up
Typical Speed15 to 30 miles per hour10 to 15 miles per hour
Foot CoveringsBindings (boots) that attach to the wakeboardBare feet
Risk of InjuriesCan be rough on the body and more prone to injuriesEasier on the body
How Long Can You Ride?Typically only for short ridesCan go for longer periods

A Closer Look At Wakeboarding

When wakeboarding, a rider holds onto a rope being pulled by a boat at speeds reaching 30 miles per hour. This watersport requires the rider to hold the rope throughout the activity, riding the wake behind the boat. The ultimate goal is to perform various maneuvers and tricks behind the boat, including aerial stunts.

Wakeboarding is, in many ways, a combination of water skiing and surfing, with a bit of snowboarding thrown into the mix. The rider uses a wakeboard and special boots designed for the sport (called bindings). These boots attach to the wakeboard.

Wakeboarding has been around for a few decades, but the most accepted beginning was in the 1980s in Australia. It was known as skurfing (combining skiing and surfing). 

However, in Florida, also in the 1980s, people attempted to tow their surfboards behind boats. No matter the specific origins of the sport, it’s safe to say that it is now considered a major watersport.

How Long Does It Take To Learn Wakeboarding?

You can learn to ride a wakeboard fairly quickly, but it takes a few months of consistent riding to perform tricks. Of course, precisely how long it takes you depends on many factors. 

You need to consider your athletic ability, strength, body condition, and how quickly you pick up on new things. Also, how often you practice and perform the activity plays a significant role in how quickly you’ll learn it.

If you opt for professional lessons, this is another point that can help you pick up the sport faster. But, if you want to learn as quickly as possible, keep these pointers in mind.

  • Decide which of your feet is your leading foot. If you’re not sure, run straight and stop quickly. The foot in front that you use to stop yourself is likely your leading foot.
  • Put roughly 60% of your weight on this front foot when you first try to stand on the board. Keep your body close to the board, and don’t stand up straight immediately.
  • Keep the rope low and short when you’re first starting out as a beginner. The shorter rope is easier to handle.

What Supplies Do You Need for Wakeboarding?

When wakeboarding, you need a wakeboard, bindings, gloves, a life vest, tow rope, and the proper clothing, like a wetsuit. It’s also important to wear safety gear like a helmet, although, unfortunately, you don’t see many wakeboarders wearing them.

Other important additions are sunglasses to keep the glare out of your eyes. Of course, you also need the right boat (but we’ll dive deeper into this a bit later).

Something to keep in mind is that when starting any sport, it can be expensive. Before you invest a lot of money into equipment and gear, consider renting. You should be able to rent most of what you need to try out wakeboarding (at least the board, bindings, and boat).

If you end up wanting to stick with it, then you can proceed to buy your own gear. 

Basic Wakeboarding Supply List

  • Wakeboards come in numerous styles. Just make sure you get a board specifically for wakeboarding. Also, some are more geared toward performing tricks, etc. So make sure to get the right fit for the kind of wakeboarding you plan to do.
  • Bindings (boots) attach you to your board. They come in a wide range of sizes and styles, depending on if you plan to do extensive tricks or keep things simple. Make sure they fit well and attach to your board appropriately.
  • A wetsuit is ideal for wakeboarding, but if you don’t use one, at least wear long sleeves (like a rashguard). You also need some sort of buoyancy aid, like a life vest, and a helmet and gloves are recommended for safety.
  • The tow rope is also an important part of wakeboarding. When starting out, use a nonstretchy short rope. As you get more experienced, you can use a longer rope.

What Are the Risks of Wakeboarding?

Common wakeboarding injuries include cuts and lacerations, concussions, sprains, fractures, and shoulder dislocation. The more experienced and careful you are, the less likely an injury will occur. However, accidents can happen to anyone, so always play smart.

Other factors that affect your risk of injury are the water conditions, weather, and lack of protective clothing and gear. (Remember those helmets, gloves, and life vests we mentioned?)

If you’re new to wakeboarding, you’re more likely to get injured during launch or takeoff. But experienced wakeboarders typically experience injuries due to a fall.

Lacerations account for most wakeboard injuries, while shoulder dislocations and fractures make up the least number of injuries. According to a study, roughly 11% of injuries are concussions, and about 10% are ankle sprains.

The best way to avoid injury is to pace yourself and know your limits. Keep yourself in good condition for the sport and know when to take a break. Stretch and warm up before and after wakeboarding and ensure you’re well-rested and alert.

Also, don’t wakeboard in less-than-ideal conditions and weather. And always wear the right gear.

How Much Does a Wakeboard Board Cost?

Wakeboards can cost between $200 to over $1,200. They come in many different styles and can have a variety of features. Most high-quality boards will run between $400 and $900.

Some wakeboards include bindings, while in other situations, you will need to buy them separately. BIndings can cost between $100 and $400, averaging around $140 to $200.

Before buying the most expensive wakeboard because you assume it’s the best, consider your needs. Don’t purchase something that is more than what you can handle or need. Before you buy your own wakeboard, try the sport out a bit and make sure you’ll stick with it.

A Closer Look At Wakesurfing

Wakesurfing involves riding the wake created by a boat after releasing the tow rope. It blends waterskiing and surfing, with the boat getting things started, and then the rider taking over. Once the rider gets going, they release the rope and attempt to stay upright on their board as they surf the wake.

Typically, the boat goes 10 to 15 miles per hour before the rider releases the rope. Then, they remain on the water. In other words, unlike wakeboarding, they won’t be performing many aerial stunts.

However, experienced wakesurfers do work toward performing their own set of wakesurfing tricks. These tricks can include jumping the wake, doing spins, and more. 

Wakesurfing has been around for quite some time, with pictures from the 50s and 60s showing people riding waves on surfboards behind motorboats. However, the specific origins of the sport are unknown. Although it’s been around for a while, it’s really gained popularity in recent years.

What Supplies Do You Need for Wakesurfing?

For wakesurfing, you’ll need a wakesurf board, rope, a life vest, and the right boat. As you can see, you don’t have as long a list of gear as you do with wakeboarding. However, getting the right kind of equipment is equally important.

Essential Wakesurfing Supply List

  • Get the right wakesurf board for you. They come in various styles and sizes. Look for a longer board if you’re a beginner.
  • Look for a rope geared toward wakesurfing; typically shorter, thicker, and knottier. Also, make sure the rope has a small handle. If the handle is too large, it increases the risk of injury. This is because it’s likely your arms, legs, or other parts can get caught in it during a fall.
  • A life vest is always a good idea for safety when you’re out in deep water.

We’ll take a closer look at the boat you need in a little bit.

Can You Wakesurf with a Wakeboard?

It’s best to use the appropriate board for your watersport of choice. Boards for wakesurfing and wakeboarding are very different. 

The boards handle and respond to water differently, plus a wakeboard has straps or other connectors so you can attach the bindings. These additional components can get in your feet’s way when wakesurfing.

Can You Use A Regular Surfboard to Wakesurf?

You can use a regular surfboard to wakesurf, but it won’t be as effective as a wakesurf board. Traditional surfboards are typically longer and larger. Therefore, they likely won’t respond as well to your needs as a wakesurf board.

It also won’t provide the same efficiency and stability as a wakesurf board. You should avoid using a surfboard to wakesurf unless you’re an expert surfer. If it’s your only option, at least ensure it’s a smaller surfboard (about 5 to 6 feet long).

Is Wakesurfing Harder Than Wakeboarding?

Wakesurfing tends to be easier to learn and gentler on the body than wakeboarding. You don’t go as fast when you’re wakesurfing. And since you release the rope, you have more control over the board.

Because it’s slower and not about performing aerial maneuvers, it’s also easier on the muscles and joints. A person can wakesurf for a lot longer than they can wakeboard.

How Long Does It Take to Learn to Wakesurf?

You could start wakesurfing in a few hours but will need to practice consistently for a couple of months to become skilled. No matter what sport you try to learn, how fast you pick up on it depends. You need to consider your overall abilities, strength, and how often you practice.

Also, do you plan to teach yourself or get professional lessons? All these factors will come together to determine if you’re wakesurfing like a pro in a few weeks or months. Plus, if you want to do various tricks, it will take a bit longer than simply riding the wake.

How Much Does a Wakesurf Board Cost?

Wakesurf boards can cost between $250 to $800, averaging roughly $390 to $520. They come in various styles, materials, and sizes, and these factors will influence the price.

What Kind of Boat Do You Need for Wakeboarding and Wakesurfing?

You need a wake boat for wakeboarding or wakesurfing. Use an inboard for wakesurfing and an inboard or outboard for wakeboarding. Inboard boats have a hidden engine, while outboard boats have the motor visible on the back.

When wakesurfing, ensure the boat doesn’t have an exposed propeller. Some wakesurf boats situate the inboard engine toward the back of the boat to add more weight. More weight means a bigger wake.

These boats for wakesurfing typically feature ballast systems that allow you to adjust the size of the wake. Wakeboard boats must have a wake tower that can elevate the tow rope.

Today, it’s even possible to wakesurf behind some newer pontoon boats. These new crafts feature designs that allow them to create the proper wake.

When shopping for a boat, make sure to do your research and let the seller know how you plan to use it. Also, ask trusted friends and family that also wakeboard or wakesurf for their recommendations. 

A boat is a big expense, so you want something that works for you without getting more than you can handle. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can consider getting a used boat to help reduce costs.

Can You Use Any Boat to Wakesurf or Wakeboard?

It’s important to use the proper wake boat for wakesurfing and wakeboarding. Using a boat not designed for these sports could lead to injury. Additionally, they might not allow you to perfect your skills or do as much as you could with the correct type of boat.

Safety Tips for Wakesurfing and Wakeboarding

If you’re planning to wakesurf or wakeboard, keep these tips in mind to stay safe.

  • Check the weather first. Don’t head out if things could get rough.
  • Use the proper equipment and safety gear, and make sure it all fits well.
  • Don’t overestimate your abilities. Know your limits and know when to take breaks.
  • Practice consistently and stay in good shape to reduce injury risk.
  • Start off slow and build up your skills over time.
  • Always wear a life jacket.
  • Check your equipment before starting every time.
  • Use signals to communicate with the boat crew and make sure everyone knows what they are.
  • Don’t go in shallow water.
  • Make sure to have more than one person on the boat. One should be in charge of driving while the other can keep their eyes on you.

Summary

Wakeboarding and wakesurfing are both popular watersports that many people enjoy. The main difference is when you wakesurf, you eventually drop the tow rope to ride the wake. It’s similar to regular surfing in this way; only the boat generates the power and the waves for you.

Wakeboarding mixes surfing with waterskiing and snowboarding. You hold the tow rope the entire time, reaching speeds up to 30 miles per hour. As you perfect your skills, the goal is to perform impressive aerial stunts.

If you’re looking for a more laid-back activity that’s easier on the body, wakesurfing is your better option. It’s also slower, going about 10 miles per hour compared to 30. 

Wakeboarding can be a lot tougher on muscles and joints, and riders can only participate for a short time before taking a break. No matter which you decide to try, consider renting equipment first. 

Make sure it’s something you want to commit to before you start buying pricey gear. You can learn both sports relatively quickly if you consistently practice and take lessons.

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