In the wake of a... splash
Stephen Heard tries the behind-the-boat sport of wakeboarding.
The first acceleration involved a dramatic face plant. The boat returned... The second attempt was much of the same.
Originally given the ramshackle title, skurfing, wakeboarding is a hybrid of waterskiing and snowboarding that came to life in the 1980s. The surface water sport involves being strapped into foot bindings and towed by a highpowered motorboat. The wake created by the boat provides an ideal environment for high-flying stunts, and with dedication and practice you could soon be pulling off tricks with names like Blind Pete, Hoochie Glide,Tootsie Roll and Roast Beef. Conditions were perfect for this wakeboarding adventure; the water was glassy and the wind nonexistent. After watching a 15-year-old effortlessly land 360s and my equally inexperienced brother-in-law stand up on his first attempt, it was my turn to hit the wake. Getting into the sopping bindings was the first dilemma and could be likened to squashing mince into wet sneakers. Before jumping ship, candid advice was given to ‘‘point the board in the direction of the boat’’ when the tow rope is pulled.
The rest of the activity was described as ‘‘snowboarding on water’’, and using the edge of the board would help me turn should I become vertical.
In the water the boat crept forward as I attempted to find the end section of the tow rope. The hand grip embarrassingly floated past out of reach, which prompted the skipper to double back and try again. Once in possession of the tow rope it was a quick transition to the starting position, squatting with my back to the water and the board parallel to the boat.
The first acceleration involved a dramatic face plant. The boat returned. Advice included bending my knees closer to the board in the water and turning it faster towards the boat on takeoff.
The second attempt was much of the same. The third attempt lasted seconds longer and it was recommended I lean back and put more weight on my back leg. The fourth attempt welcomed a sub10-second moment of surfing joy before the dismount. The fifth attempt was similar though ended with a face-down journey in the wake and my board flying off into the distance. The skipper suggested that I’d had enough. My waterlogged sinuses agreed. STEPHEN HEARD While my wakeboarding debut proved relatively unsuccessful, the brief moment upright was an addictive thrill. The sport requires balance, flexibility, hand-eye co-ordination, a moderate level of swimming and upper-body strength when clinging on to the tow rope.
Disciplined returning riders can expect improvement in all of these areas. All that plus the benefits that come with breathing fresh air in the great outdoors. Like any extreme water sport, there are risks with wakeboarding. The main contender here is the water itself and extra caution should be taken accordingly.
Lifejackets are a must for riders as well as spectators waiting for their turn onboard. The combination of high speed and solid wakeboard certainly increases the risk of head/body contact, and common injuries include scratches, bumps and bruises to the more extreme loss of teeth. Wearing a helmet is also recommended. Wakeboarding is a very accessible water activity in New Zealand. For more information about the sport, visit wakenz.co.nz.
A brief moment upright provides a wakeboarding thrill for Stephen Heard.