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Wakeboarding Towing Speed, Rope length & How To Weight Your Boat

When you’re wakeboarding, you might want to hop straight into stomping tricks, but before you start sending it you need to start with the proper setup from rope length to tow speed, to weight distribution in your boat itself. Why? The way you weight your boat controls the size and shape of your wake. Adding ballast bags, or weight, sinks your boat lower in the water to create more displacement, or in other words, a bigger wake. Getting the right tow speed, meanwhile, will help you learn and progress safely. And finally, riding with the right wakeboard rope length will help you learn new tricks and get the most out of that awesome wake you set up. Read along and we’ll get you ready to ride. 

How to Weight Your Boat
Towing Speed 
Rope Length

How to Weight Your Boat For Wakeboarding

  1. Start with passengers, then dial in your ballast. Passengers are easier to move around than ballast bags. Start out by moving passengers around the boat before you spend the time filling and emptying ballasts. This will help you get a feel for the boat and the effects that moving weight around can have. Plus, with many modern boats, you might not even need additional ballast, especially for beginner wakeboarders.
  2. Weight the boat evenly from port to starboard. Keeping weight and ballast even from side to side on your boat will mean that the wave is symmetrical, letting both regular and goofy riders approach the wake from both sides. If one side is washed out, try adding weight or moving passengers to that side.
  3. Find the bow/stern balance. The balance of weight from bow to stern will vary from boat to boat, and is very important in shaping your wake. Putting more weight in the bow of the boat will typically make the wake less steep as the stern of the boat will sit shallower in the water. Putting more weight in the stern, meanwhile, will make the wake steeper as the back of the boat will sit deeper in the water. Note: Making your boat ‘wheelie’ in the water will not be conducive to creating a good wake -- start with moderate distribution.
  4. Trial & Error. Every model of boat is different, so it is going to take some time to find the perfect boat setup for wakeboarding. Remember these basic principles and go experiment on your own. Boat weighting is something wakeboarders are always tweaking, so have some fun experimenting and trying different setups.

Wake Size

Most people think that the bigger the wake, the better rider it’ll make you. While there’s no doubt that good riders will do anything to make their wake as big as possible, for beginners, a big wake can hurt more than it will help. When learning to jump, there are enough things to think about already, but if you’re only focusing on a huge wake and how high it’s going to send you, chances are you’ll screw something up on your approach. We always recommend starting with an empty boat and adding weight only when you’re comfortably and confidently clearing the wake every time. For beginner wakeboarders, don't even worry about the wake size. Instead, focus on learning how your board feels and reacts as you cut and pivot on the water. It's important to learn the fundamentals before trying to go "big".

Boat Weight & Ballast Bags for Wakeboarding

When deciding how to weight your boat and where to put ballast (be it stock ballast or additional weight) for wakeboarding, start with an empty boat and a lot of passengers. Start with everyone spread out and evenly distributed throughout the boat, and slowly ask one, then two, then three (and so on) people to shift to another spot in the boat. Have people shift from left to right and front to back until you have that super clean wake that you’re looking for. Doing this with people is a lot faster than having to fill and drain ballast bags over and over. Once you have an idea of where your weight is best distributed, remove the people, substitute with ballast bags. Then, if you want an even bigger wake, start adding people back in once your ballasts are filled.

Ballast comes in several forms, from systems integrated into the boat, to ballast bags filled with water, to old gym weights. If your boat has an internal ballast system, that should be your first step. If this isn’t enough weight to get your desired shape and size of wake, it’s time to add additional ballast. Ballast bags can be easily filled and drained to varying degrees to get that perfect wake. Solid weight, like gym or lead weights can be used, too. They are smaller, but can damage your boat, and can be inconvenient when taking your boat in and out of the water.
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Tow Speed For Wakeboarding

How fast you tow a wakeboarder will depend on several factors including ability level and boat. The proper speed to tow a wakeboarder is usually between 15 and 25 mph.

The bottom line when it comes to speed is that the faster you go, the cleaner and more firm the wake gets, making it easier and more consistent for riders trying to jump or learn new tricks. At slow speeds (below 21 mph), wakes tend to be mushy (that’s the white water crumbling over where the rider is hitting the wake) and soft, and can swallow the riders’ board rather than acting as a ramp when they’re jumping.

Most people equate slower speeds with safety, which is true to a point. Crawling along at slow speeds may keep you from getting hurt, however, it will also keep you from the most rewarding part of the sport: learning new tricks. For true first timers, a really slow speed is advised - nothing will end a person’s future in wakeboarding faster than catching a toe-side edge their first time out. Towing someone at a very slow speed, around 12-15 mph, for the first couple of times out will allow the rider to start to get comfortable with their edges and at least allow them to start picking up the concept of turning and avoiding the most painful way to crash.

Once the rider is at least starting to get comfortable, it’s time to start bumping the speed up to about 18-19 mph. That doesn’t need to happen in one day on the water, but make a conscious effort to throttle 1 mph faster each time the rider falls until you’re at 18-19 mph. If the rider is requesting you slow down, listen to them. But, as soon as they’re comfortable, start to sneak in a few more rpm’s until the needle on the speedometer starts creeping up again.

You’ll know a rider is ready for a bit more speed once they start taking some cuts at the wake and trying to jump. As long as they’re not crashing hard each time, you should start to slowly approach speeds of 21-23 mph.

Advanced riders will usually exceed 23 mph (but not typically beyond 25 mph). Once a rider is consistently jumping the wake, they should be able to tell you how fast to go as they’ll be able to feel when the wake is helping them get more air as opposed to swallowing their board on takeoff.

Another important thing to remember is that every boat is different. One boat at 23 mph might feel like 21 mph on another. As a driver, you need to work with the rider to feel out the optimal speed for different skill levels for your specific boat.

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Rope Length For Wakeboarding

The proper wakeboard rope length will put the rider just in front of the point where the wake turns from a clean ramp into mushy whitewater, usually between 65’ and 85’ depending on ability, speed, and the size of the wake.

If you were to look at your wake from above, you’d notice that it fans out from the back of your boat like a ‘V’. The further you are away from the boat, the further you have to jump in order to clear the wake. Likewise, the closer you are to the back of the boat, the easier time you’ll have clearing the wake. Rope lengths for beginners are usually about 65 feet, for intermediate riders typically 65-75 feet (the longer you can manage, the better), and for advanced riders generally a rope 75-85 feet in length.

The general rule of jumping is that you want to be landing most of your tricks right on the downside of the second wake. Landing past that every time (called landing in ‘the flats’) will take its toll on your knees and likely cause you to bounce when you hit the water. Just like watching a snowboarder or motocross rider, you’ll notice that they land on a downhill transition every time. If they were to land flat, they’d either bounce when they landed or their knees would buckle. Use the rope length to help you ensure that you’re always landing on the nice, gentle, downside of the wake.

With wakeboarding you can use rope length to your advantage if you’re looking to “cheat” on new tricks. If you’re landing in the flats every time, let the rope out a length. If you’re coming up short, pull it in a few feet. When teaching people how to jump the wake on the more difficult toe-side, pull the rope in 5-10 feet to shorten the jump and help them learn. The same strategy can be used to help someone who’s constantly coming up just shy of clearing the wake - pull the rope in and see if it helps.

One thing to note is the importance of having a good, non-stretch rope for wakeboarding. Based on the cost, a lot of people question whether they’re worth it. A rope with any stretch to it will stretch during your cut into the wake and then snap back to its original length in mid-air, throwing you off balance at the worst possible time.

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