Wakeboarding… Pure Liquid Pleasure

By Chris Costigan

All work and no active play will:

A) Turn Jack into a drooling vegetable locked into a catatonic business trance. B) Parallel Jack’s blood pressure with the force needed to blast a rocket into space… or C) Enslave Jack as the herald of the doldrums.If I had to answer this question for myself, I would opt for D)” All of the above.”

It’s not uncommon knowledge that a delicate mixture of work and pleasure must exist to keep the money rolling and the mind sound. So, the real question to be asked (not referring to any sexual innuendoes) is, “As patrons of Lake Champlain, what’s your pleasure?”

On Friday, July 30, Just Sports of Mallets Bay hosted a HO sports demo. Under rare blue skies and a thriving sun, I found bliss via the wakeboard—pure liquid pleasure.

Wakeboarding is essentially snowboarding behind a boat. With this in mind, it should come to no surprise that wakeboarding is the perfect crossover sport for its winter counterpart. As an avid snowboarder barreling into his eighth season of slope-side riding and years of jumping around on the concrete on a skateboard under my belt, the transfer to water felt just about as natural as getting off the chair lift—with a couple of its own idiosyncrasies. Getting out of the water was effortless. As with water skiing, you relax and let the boat do the work. Once up, it’s easy to stay up. You bend your knees, keep your back straight, keep the handle in your grip and just kind of hang out. However, you’re cruising across a substance that is more forgiving in its summer state than in its frozen mold. As a result, cockiness spawned from the feeling of invulnerability invites aggressiveness. As you begin to make some turns and venture outside the wake you might feel a sensation that could be described as pseudo-carving—for lack of better description. Carving on water, although akin to snow, is uncanny. You have to deal with being pulled by the boat and the buoyancy of the board. To avoid falling and skipping across the water on your butt or engulfing an undesired drink, it’s important to keep your arms and back straight and use your legs extensively. If my memory serves me correctly, cutting outside the wake on a wakeboard is similar to slalom water skiing. You need to lean back to get enough speed to project the spray and execute an effective cut outside the wake.

I guarantee you’ll grow restless outside the wake and begin to eye the lip with the air of a Spanish conquistador. The act of becoming airborne on a wakeboard struck me as a bit odd. You have to jump straight up and let the forces of inertia carry you with the boat. Despite the oddity of physics in motion, it didn’t take long to get used to this concept.

This was my first crack at wakeboarding; hence I wasn’t ripping out inverted tricks and various spin maneuvers. However, prior to getting out onto the boat I was given the opportunity to check out a wakeboarding video. As I alluded to earlier, wakeboarding and snowboarding share similarities in trick execution. I watched professional wakeboarders pull off methods, melancholys, stiffys, mutes and a number of other styles with which you’d see snowboarders grabbing his/her equipment. Tricks that involve rotation look a little more difficult behind a boat. Unless your joints have evolved past the modern day understanding of man’s natural anatomy, you’ll have to execute a hand transfer to stick a 360 or any other rotation of a higher degree. This transfer is done behind the back. Each time a 180-degree turn is completed you have to hand the handle off to the other hand.

Watching a professional wakeboarder in motion is, quite frankly, perplexing.

Probably one of the most impressive aspects of this sport is the inverted aerials. Maybe it’s the novelty of its relative infancy or my lack of exposure to this sport, but I was completely and utterly taken by what the professionals were doing in this boarding genre. I’m willing to wager that the nature of waters forgiving surface has something to do with the sports acrobatic evolution. Whatever the case, some of these guys were pulling stuff off that left me standing in Just Sports shaking my head and mumbling phrases of wonderstruck gibberish to unconcerned shoppers.

The history of the sport is equally as impressive as the mind-blowing stunts. Initially the sport was dubbed skurfing. As far back as the early to mid 70’s people were attempting to “board” behind a boat. The equipment of the time was naturally primitive. The boards were made of polyethylene and bared resemblance to that of a water ski. This proved to be difficult to get up on and had the responsiveness of a lead zeppelin. In the late 80’s the skurfer reared its overly buoyant head. This board had the face of a surfboard and the ability to keep a Humpback Whale afloat. It was made of plastic and stuffed to the core with foam. Foot straps were used to keep the rider on the board—relatively speaking. This board floated way too much and as a result was difficult to get up on. The next stage of evolution took place in 1991 under the guidance of water ski guru Herb O’Brien. He put out the first compression fiber molded (fiberglass) board. O’Brien furthered the footing design by adding heal straps to the already existing foot straps. These heel straps, although a sketchy improvement, held a riders feet more firmly in place, giving him/her more control over the board. In 1993 the innovation of the boot hit the market. The boot encloses the rider’s foot, giving him/her maximum control and foot stability. In 1994 the sport exploded to a new level. By this time snowboarding had established itself as a strong capital commodity, thus earning its place on the slopes side-by-side with the traditional two-plankers. Because of the uncanny similarities between wakeboarding and snowboarding, many riders began to use the wakeboard as a summer crossover training device. This essentially revolutionized the sport because many snow-riders took to the wake armed to the teeth with an arsenal of tricks. Aside from the tricks, snowboarding has had some input into the development of today’s equipment.

Around 1994 wakeboards started to become symmetrical, with fins on the front and back (fins, like other water devices, provide stability and tracking ability). This allowed the boarder to execute tricks that called for a backwards take-off or landing (referred to as fakie or switch). If you observed the board trends in snowboarding at the time, you would have seen many riders cruising on freestyle boards. These boards are symmetrical which eliminated any differences between the nose and the tail. In snowboarding there are three basic types of rides: freestyle, free ride and alpine. Wakeboarding is less diverse than its winter cousin so freestyle is pretty much the industry norm. However, the boards do come in a couple of shapes. The wider the board the more stable it is. This allows for a rider to attack the waves more aggressively and take to the air with greater ease. In fact I lost my wakeboarding virginity on a wide board. I used a Hyperlite137 Fluid (manufactured by HO). Apparently this wide board is designed to suit a rider with a “skate/snow style of riding.” A narrower design will make a board faster, carve harder (with more power) and provide a better plane for freestyling.

The pricing mirror reflects the snowboard market. Low-end boards with the price of boots included, range from $250-$300. An intermediate board will run you between $400-$500, while high-end boards will put around a $700 gouge in your wallet.

Despite the flashy photos of boarders flying in bare-skinned acrobatic splendor, a life jacket is a must. Not only is it the law, it wouldn’t take much to knock yourself unconscious— despite water’s deceptive forgiveness. Safe operation requires a spotter as well as a driver. Keep the speed between 15 and 20mph and enjoy!