The Science Behind Wakeboarding

By: Ella Lavacchi

The basics of wakeboarding.

To wakeboard, you obviously need a boat, a board, a wakeboard/ski rope, and a lifejacket. It sounds quite simple and some people can make it look effortless, but for the couple first times, it's actually quite challenging. Your starting position will be laying in the water with the front of your board parallel to the back of the boat, your knees bent, and your arms straight; holding onto the handle. Once the boat starts to go, you slowly stand up straight with a slight bend in your knees, so the side of your front foot is now parallel to the boat. You will have either your left foot forward, or your right foot forward; which ever way that you ride a skate board or snow board. While riding, you can skate back and forth across the wake by adding pressure to your heels or toes. These techniques are the main basics of starting to wakeboard.

How I became interested in wakeboarding.

The reason that I wakeboard is because of my dad. When he grew up, him and his family were constantly on the boat, therefore, he is extremely skilled in numerous water sports. The first time that I saw my dad wakeboard behind our boat, I knew that I wanted to be able to do the same thing. When I decided I wanted to wakeboard and actually got up, I was about eight years old. As the summers have gone by, I've been wanting to learn as much as I can about this sport so I'm able to perform more tricks. Now that I'm older, I've realized that wakeboarding is a major passion of mine because it pushes me to do things that are out of my comfort zone, and it even forces me to be fearless at times.

How the weight of the rider and the board influence staying up.

If the rider is 130 pounds, getting up on a smaller wakeboard would be much more difficult because the smaller board doesn't displace as much water as a larger board would. Therefore, it requires more energy and force to ride on a smaller board. The boat also needs to travel at a faster speed to overcome the force of gravity which is trying to break the surface tension of the water. If the boat is moving at a slower speed, the rider on the smaller board will sink because the board is breaking the surface tension of the water. The reason that you can't take a wakeboard and stand with it on top of the water without being pulled by a boat like you can with a paddle board, is because the density of the person and the wakeboard is greater than the density of the water. But, with the paddle board, the density of the person and the board is less than or equal to the density of the water. With wakeboarding, you need the additional pull of the boat to keep you on top of the water. For example, when skiing, it is easier to get up on two skis instead of one, because the two skis give you more surface area and contact with the water to get up on.

How force and pressure play a role in wakeboarding.

Force plays a big role in wakeboarding, and so does pressure. To do a flip, jump the wake, or even change from riding forwards to backwards, force is required. When executing a flip, or jumping the wake, there is a lot of force and energy that needs to be transferred from the rider, and into the wake. To jump the wake, the rider need to cut as hard as they can, and force themselves through the wake. Pressure also plays a major role in this situation because when you jump heel-side, pressure is being applied to the heel of the rider, but when you jump toe-side, the pressure and force in being applied to the toes. Also, when transitioning from riding forwards to backwards, the rider must quickly force their back foot in front so they don't face plant.

How the weight and speed of the boat effect the wake.

When wakeboarding, the rider needs a specific type of wake to be able to jump it or do a flip. To obtain this wake, the driver will turn on the ballast bags, or "fat sacks," by flipping on a switch located by the drivers seat. Ballast bags are used to add weight to the boat and ultimately increase the size of the wake; the heavier the boat, the bigger the wake. These bags are located in different compartments of the boat and suck in lake water to add more weight to the boat. When the extra weight is no longer wanted, there is a switch that empties these bags, where the water will run out the side of the boat. Speed also plays a role in maintaining the perfect wake. The slower the boat moves, the larger the wake is, but the faster it travels, the slimmer the wake is. When jumping across the wake, you want a nice, slim wake. To receive this size of wake, the boat needs to be going 18-21 mph. The reason behind this is that it takes much less force to jump across the whole wake if it is smaller. If you decide to jump the wake when it is more vast, you have a likely chance that you will not make the jump and end up landing harshly on the inside of the wake.


“Physics Of Wakeboarding.” HowStuffWorks. Web. 2 Sep. 2015. <>

“The Lake Channel: The Art And Science of the Wake.” The Lake Channel: The Art and Science of the Wake. Web. 2 Sep. 2015. <>