Wakesurfing Vs Wakeboarding: What’s The Difference?

Wakesurfing and wakeboarding are two very popular surface water sports. Although wake surfers and wakeboarders both focus on riding waves as well as boat wakes to perform their tricks, they are actually two very different sports.

When you think of these two sports, you would be easily forgiven for thinking that they are the same thing.

For a starter, they both have similar names and both involve following the wake behind a boat. However, while they share some similarities, there are more differences than you may imagine. 

If you’re thinking of joining the tens of thousands of thrill-seekers who hit the water every year, you should consider the differences between these water sports first. One thing that these activities do have in common, however, is the limitless freedom of movement and wonderful scenery on offer.

So, let’s get you out on the water so you can become the next big sensation in either wakesurfing or wakeboarding. 

The History Of Wakesurfing And Wakeboarding 

Wakesurfing is considered to be the oldest sport out of the two. Some accounts of people riding boat waves even date back to the 1920s. However, not a lot of evidence supports these accounts with historians believing wakesurfing began in the 1950s. 

Some members of the Cypress Gardens water ski show in Florida recall witnessing people wakesurfing around the 1950s but it was known as “inland surfing” at the time.

Although quite popular in certain areas during those early days, it took quite a while for the sport to become popular around the country and the world. For context, wakesurfing didn’t have its own world championships until the early part of the 21st century.

As for wakeboarding, this started in the 1980s. This was when a skurfer was first introduced.

This is a shorter, narrower version of a surfboard with foot straps. It was actually invented by Tony Finn and Jimmy Redman at the same time but in different places. Bizarre! Both added foot straps to their board before taking it out on the water to ride the waves generated behind boats. 

Finn was the man to make it popular in surfing championships. The first televised example of a skurfer being used in these championships was aired on ESPN in 1990. 9 years later, a world wakeboard group was finally formed so wakeboarders from all around the world could connect.

Within just a few years, the world championships were being held and the sport continued to grow in popularity at a much faster speed.

The Equipment Used 

For the untrained eye, and even a trained eye from a distance, wakesurfers, and wakeboarders look like they use the same equipment. However, it’s not until you get up close to the equipment that you can see some differences between the two boards. 

When on a wakeboard, you will have your feet strapped into boots that are already connected to the board. Think of a snowboard and it’s pretty similar to this. 

When on a wakesurfing board, your feet are not strapped in and are able to move around freely. This is closer to surfing. 

There are also differences when it comes to the board sizes. Wakesurf boards are usually longer or shorter. For instance, a surf-style wake surfing board tends to be longer than a wakeboard.

On the other hand, a skim-style wakesurf board is generally shorter than a wakeboard. Overall, you will find that the majority of wakeboards have a close resemblance to snowboards in feel and image. 

The ropes used to attach the boards to the boat also differ in a few ways.

Wakesurfers start by holding onto the rope. However, they can choose to throw the rope back on the boat once they have gained balance.

On the other hand, wakeboarders must hold to the rope at all times to continue moving forward. In contrast, you can continue to move forward when wakesurfing by surfing the wakes generated by the boat in front. 

The length of the rope is different in wakesurfing and wakeboarding too. In wakesurfing, the rope length is around 10 to 20 feet.

As the rope doesn’t need to be used as much, it can be a shorter length so the rider can be close enough to the boat to throw the rope back on. If the rope is too long, it could hang in the water and create an obstacle for the wakesurfer. They could fall over it or get tangled leading to serious injuries.

The rope is much longer for wakeboarding. They can measure between 65 to 85 feet long and this is essential as wakeboarders need to hold onto the rope at all times.

They also do not need to be close to the boat as riders do in wakesurfing. Wakeboarding also involves the rider jumping over the wakes made by the boat. Holding onto the rope allows the rider to maintain their balance as they jump over one wake and land on the downside of the next wake. 

The Speed Of The Boat 

The speed of the boat differs slightly with both sports. When wakesurfing, you don’t need a great deal of speed. In general, the boat usually goes at about 10 to 14 mph.

The driver will usually start off slow and gradually build up their speed. Skim-style wakesurfing boards perform better when the boat is going a little slower. Surf-style wakesurf boards perform better at higher speeds. 

When wakeboarding, the boat goes faster but only slightly. The driver will usually speed up between 15 and 25 mph. This extra speed helps to make the wake firmer and cleaner for the rider to experience.

It also allows wakeboarders to jump more comfortably and try out different tricks on the water.

Of course, if you’re a beginner, the boats will go slower at first. Wakeboarding will see the boat go just below 15 mph so newbies get the chance to practice and gain their composure, confidence, and balance properly. 

The type of boat also matters. Inboard or V-drive boats are recommended for wakesurfing as the propeller is tucked safely under the boat meaning a lower risk of any accidents to the rider.

As we discussed earlier, wakeboarders tend to be much further away from the boat so an inboard or V-drive boat isn’t as important. 

Wakesurfing Vs Wakeboarding: Which Is Easier? 

Before people take up a new sport, they usually want to know which one is better suited to their skills and, of course, which is easier to master.

Many would agree that wakeboarding is considered to be easier than wakesurfing. This is because your feet are locked into the position that they always need to be in.

Furthermore, all you have to do is hold the rope and let the boat take you over a body of water. It’s only when you start jumping or performing tricks when it becomes more challenging.

As we mentioned, there are no boots on a wakesurfing board to hold you in place. You have to ensure you maintain your balance properly throughout your ride by moving your feet on different parts of the board.

Without these movements, you will not be able to ride the waves correctly or smoothly.

This is why wakesurfing is thought to be more challenging than wakeboarding. However, as with any sport, the more you practice it, the easier wakesurfing will become. 

Are These Sports Dangerous? 

As with any sport, wakesurfing and wakeboarding do not come without their risks. Nevertheless, with proper precautions taken, the risk of danger is significantly reduced.

Out of the two sports, wakesurfing is arguably the more dangerous sport. The boat in front has a propeller which can cause serious, life-threatening injuries if the rider gets too close while it’s running. Also, the speed of the boat can determine how safe both sports are. But, if it travels at the recommended speeds, no issues should arise. 

The rope can cause some injuries in rare cases. This is why its handle should be small and comfortable to hold so no rope burn is experienced by the rider. 

Moreover, there is a higher likelihood that you will fall over while wakesurfing as you do not have the rope to help you maintain your balance. Therefore, you need to ensure that, when you fall, you do not get tangled in the rope or get dragged under the water. The force of landing on the water can cause some shock but this tends to disappear quite quickly.

Overall, any water sport has its risks but if you practice all health and safety requirements, the danger should be dissipated considerably.

Is Surfing Anything Like Wakeboarding? 

You’d think that riding a sport that involves a person standing on a board and riding waves would be similar to surfing. However, that’s where the similarities end. Surfing and wakeboarding are very different activities.

For a start, surfing involves riding natural waves that have been made by the ocean. Surfers have to paddle out to a certain area before jumping up on their board and balancing themselves to catch a wave in time. 

Wakeboarding involves no paddling whatsoever. Your feet are strapped into boots on the board and you hold onto a rope that is attached to the boat the entire time.

And, instead of following and riding natural ocean waves, you follow the ripples and waves produced by the boat.  It’s more like snowboarding but on water hence the name wakeboarding. 

Wakeboarding Vs Water Skiing: Which Is Easier? 

This depends on each individual. Some would argue that wakeboarding requires a lot less effort than water skiing. Also, the boat goes a lot faster when water skiing so trying to get your balance and maintain it becomes a much more difficult task. 

On the other hand, some agree that wakeboarding is actually a harder activity. This is because the wakeboarders tend to ride sideways as they stand up the board. This is instead of riding forward like on water skis. 

It’s a matter of personal opinion. One person will find one aspect more challenging than the other with both sports. The only way to find out is to try the sports out for yourself. Then it’s just a matter of choosing between wakesurfing, wakeboarding, and water skiing. Have fun finding out!