Wondering how to wakeboard? Check out this in-depth guide for beginners that’ll make your first wakeboarding session at a cable park a blast! Cable wake parks completely democratized the sport, and it’s now easier than ever to get up on a wakeboard and ride away like a champ.
What’s Cable Wakeboarding?
Wakeboarding at a cable park comes with quite a few advantages compared to wakeboarding behind a boat.
It’s both cheaper and eco-friendly, but most of all, it’s way, way easier for newcomers to learn the sport. Why? First let me explain the two types of cable system you may find at your nearest park:
A 2 towers cable system, or 2.0, is a cable towing a single rider in a straight line, usually between 60 to 140 meters long. It’s the best system for first timers because you’re the only one riding, so the cable driver can gradually raise the speed to help you get up on your board and keep adjusting it at all times to correct any mistakes. He/she will teach you the basics of the sport; mainly posture, edging and turning, so that your first time wakeboarding is the exhilarating experience it should be.
Depending on the 2.0 you’re going to, you’ll find significant variations in cost. Some 2.0 parks charge an all-inclusive price / set regardless of your level (still teaching you if needed of course), while others will charge extra for lessons, or gear rental.
A full size cable is a dream playground for any wakeboarder who wants to take their practice to the next level. It can tow between 8 and 12 people at once, at constant speed and in a loop. It can accommodate all levels of riders; beginners will typically stick to the middle of the line right under the cable, while more advanced riders will hit the various obstacles laid out on the sides.
Because full size cable parks represent a much bigger investment than 2.0 parks (roughly 10 fold) and need many more customers to be profitable, they will typically only be found near suitably populated areas, close to cities of 500.000 inhabitants or more.
Both types of cable stand at a height of about 8-10 meters, resulting in an upwards pull, which is why learning to wakeboard at a cable park is so much easier. When riding behind a boat (given it’s a real wake boat with a tower) you’re basically being pulled at a mere 5 degrees angle. Standard boats will even attach the rope at engine level–barely over the water surface–making it incredibly hard to get out of the water.
So, on a boat, the resistance to your traction is at its maximum; whereas at the cable, you’re being pulled at a 35-45° angle, which will both make it super easy to get up on your board, and will help you get massive air time later when you start jumping off kickers or throwing air tricks (more on that down the line!).
How to Wakeboard: Your First Session
Before hitting the water, you will first need to buy your park ticket and find some gear. Let the staff at reception know that it’s your first time, and they will explain to you their price tables and rental options.
2.0 parks normally charge a base price per set (1 set is 10 to 15 mins), with better discounts the more sets you buy in advance. If you buy a set, use it, and then want to do another set, you may be asked to pay the full price again, although some parks can be accommodating and still give you the discounted price, but better not to count on it.
Full size parks charge per hour, typically giving you a bracelet stamped with your starting time that you will be asked to show to the cable driver, or an electronic one that you will have to scan at each departure.
Again, the more riding time you buy in advance, the more interesting prices will get, from 10, 20, 30 hours packs, right up to the holy grail: a full year / season unlimited pass. This pass often comes with added benefits like free or discounted access to partnering parks in the country, or to other activities proposed on site (think skatepark, climbing walls, gyms or even massages).
Don’t worry about going alone for a session and having to leave your valuables on the docks while riding; most parks offer free lockers, but also toilets and showers. Make sure to check all the amenities online before hitting the road! A bar / restaurant and a pro-shop are usually common as well.
Gear wise, beginner rental equipment typically comes free, while more advanced boards and bindings setups are rented per hour.
Helmets are always free (and they certainly should!), and some parks even offer wetsuits as well.
Once you’re all geared up and got your pass, it’s time to shine!
How to wakeboard on a 2 towers cable park
With the 2.0 cable, your driver / instructor will probably start by spending a few minutes with you on land, first to find out what your natural stance is (i.e. regular or goofy). If you’ve done any kind of boardsport in the past, you should already know your stance.
If not, the instructor will help you with a little trick, but once that’s decided, don’t worry if it feels wrong when you start riding, that trick isn’t always conclusive and sometimes you just have to try riding both ways to be sure. The basic rule is that your stronger leg / foot should be the one forward–but there are exceptions.
Once you’re all set in the water, board floating in front of you, elbows against the inside of your knees, arms straight and firmly holding your handle with both hands over it (not one over and one under like monoskiers), you’re ready to give the go ahead to your instructor, who will slowly tense up the rope first, and then will gradually raise speed to lift you up.
All you have to do now is push on your legs while keeping your board perpendicular to the water surface, which will leverage support to allow you to stand up.
As soon as your butt leaves the water, you can then flatten your board and bring your strong foot forward, but most importantly, make sure to stand up all the way, bring your hips forward, and keep a tall chin while looking far ahead.
Now, here’s the first golden rule when learning to wakeboard and it’s a “natural” reflex you should fight against as soon as it starts happening (if it does): do NOT EVER pull the handle to your chest!
This will screw up your balance in an instant, your board will shoot forward while your upper body will automatically lean back, eventually laying you down in the water like it’s time for bed. If that happens, just drop the handle as soon as your back touches the water, or you’ll be in for a sloppy take off when the rope wins back the tension it just lost.
Just keeping your arms straight at all times while bringing your hips up and forwards is what will grant you better overall control.
Getting the right posture when wakeboarding is the first thing you need to get right, as you may otherwise experience back pains fairly quickly or even strain a muscle if you persist on holding the handle in a hunched position
The most typical reason for people to stay hunched over after getting up is that they keep all their weight on their heels, essentially edging continuously and making it impossible to bring the hips up. Just focus on spreading your weight evenly throughout your board, which will naturally get in a perfectly forward direction and make it much easier to stand up strong all the way.
Once you get this right, your next challenge will be to learn how to turn when reaching the other end of the 2.0 system. When the carrier (the point where your rope is linked to the overhead cable), gets to the end of the line, it will slow down, stop, and start again in the opposite direction.
The theory here is fairly simple, but in reality it takes most people a few attempts.
The goal is to edge progressively towards the right or left side of the cable (on your heels first, as it’s much more natural to lean back than forwards), long before the cable reaches a stop, so as to speed up fast enough to build the momentum required to complete that nice half circle, until eventually the carrier starts pulling you back in the opposite direction.
If you’re struggling to grasp the visual result of this, think of a perfect drop of water just about to leave its leaf, and follow its surface line, starting from the top, then forking out and turning around, and finally coming back to its origin.
Most 2.0 systems will feature floating buoys on each end of the cable to help you visualize your path; your goal is to edge out enough to pass right around them.
Now, the reason why you need to get your posture right before hitting turns is that if hunched over and edging out the whole way, you will already be far outside the cable line, meaning you won’t have any room to build speed towards reaching the turn, and you will just sink down as soon as the carrier slows down and stops.
Having the right posture, board flat, hips and chin up, allows you to ride straight below the cable line, and have ample space to progressively build your edge–and therefore speed–when reaching the turns.
Once you’re nicely up and riding in a tall and proud posture, turning smoothly at both ends, and starting to play between your toeside and heelside edge, congratulate yourself; you’ve done the hardest part!
You can now move onto the full size cable with the best preparation possible. But don’t worry if there’s no 2.0 available near you, it’s also very easy to try your first session on the full size, and I’ll show you how.
How to wakeboard at a full size cable park
The main difference when trying the sport at a full size cable is surely the start. Because full size cables run consistently, only stopping for safety or mechanical reasons, the staff will make you depart by sitting down on the bench, facing the cable and board already touching the water.
Although the cable doesn’t stop for you, because the starting dock is far outside the cable line, it is not as sudden as you may think it is; and since you’re already in a riding position when it starts pulling, your only job is to absorb the power of that first pull (not by pulling the handle towards your chest, as we previously talked about, but instead by bringing your hips forward).
You need to transfer that power given by the cable right into your hips, and finally into your board through your front leg, keeping your arms straight at all times.
Don’t worry if you don’t get it at first, and certainly don’t feel self conscious even if everybody sees you majestically faceplant on your first try. In action sports, crashing is not failing. Failing is only giving up, while crashing is the only way there is to learn. I’ll get back to that in the next section about the effects of wakeboarding on your body.
Just listen closely to your cable driver’s instructions, wake your inner Rocky mode up, and truck on until you get up and riding your first few meters.
Once you’re stable enough on your board, make sure to stand up all the way, bringing your hips high forward, keeping your arms straight and a proud chin, always looking far ahead just like on a bicycle. Where you look at is really important in boardsports, as it naturally positions the rest of your body in the right direction. Also, there’s quite a few things to look for when wakeboarding at a full size cable park:
First, a full size cable can accommodate up to 12 people at once, which means you’re bound to pass some riders that have just crashed before you and they may end up on your path. If that’s the case, and you feel like you won’t be able to avoid them, simply drop the handle and swim back to the shore.
Nothing is worth the risk of hitting someone’s head with a wakeboard’s edge, so just let go and swim back.
Next, obstacles. These shouldn’t be much of a problem, as they always sit far outside the cable path, but depending on your level and the setup of the park, it can happen that you’d be charging straight into one involuntarily, especially the ones that are sitting just after a tower turn. Again, if that’s the case and you’re hesitant on whether you’ll be able to avoid it, just drop the handle well in advance, and swim back.
Whenever you crash and start swimming back to shore, make sure to keep an eye on any riders coming after you, just in case they didn’t see you, or if they’re also beginners and aren’t able to avoid you. Make yourself visible, don’t hang around too long just behind obstacles, and you’ll be grand.
Finally, there’s one last piece of technique you’ll need to master before throwing your victory dance at learning cable wakeboarding. Turns:
Reaching your first tower can be a bit sudden at first, because when your rope carrier goes through the tower pulley, it changes direction at a significant angle; effectively creating a short slack in the rope and snapping right back into tension in less than a second.
A good tip to start with is to remember your starting position when you were sitting on the bench waiting for the cable to pull you. When the pull happened, you kept your arms straight, transferring that power to your hips by bringing them high forward.
You can try to recreate that movement when reaching a turn, by simply letting your hips go slightly backwards just before the carrier goes through the pulley and bringing them forward again as the carrier actually goes through.
In most parks, you will also have 2 buoys that will indicate the path you should take to make the smoothest turn possible. They’re just a little outside the cable path, which means you have to edge slightly to reach them, resulting in a curve adapted to the new direction and a little increase in speed that will cancel the slack / snap effect as well.
Alright, so to finish up this introduction to cable wakeboarding, here’s some more info I thought would be useful regarding the benefits of wakeboarding on your body and the best ways to avoid injuries.
Wakeboarding and your body
Is wakeboarding a good workout?
Wakeboarding, like many other boardsports, is considered a high impact activity. It is highly demanding on joints and muscles, but is not particularly cardio intensive the way running or cycling is.
Like everything else, whether it will get you fit all depends on the regularity of your practice. Just a couple of sessions a week will definitely get you serious results – unless you’re already fit as a fiddle anyway.
Wakeboarding works every single part of your anatomy; because you’re being pulled by a strong external force, it will build up the whole upper part of your body, from hands and arms to shoulder muscles, trapezius, pectorals, and it’s massively effective on building abs and glutes (butt muscles, oh yeah!).
The efforts needed to control the board will also reinforce your thighs and calves as well as dramatically improve your overall balance.
A wakeboarding session is like hitting all the machines at the gym at once, just much more fun.
But the real reason wakeboarding is so great for building up an insane beefcake is the same reason that brings a decent risk of injuries. So here’s a few ways you can reduce this risk considerably:
Warm up: unless you’re still a teenager enjoying a rubber-like anatomy, warming up is a must before every session for anyone. Ideally, you want to spend at least 10 minutes warming up your neck, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and wrists.
Stretch out: If you have another 10 minutes to spare after your session, stretching out your neck, shoulders, spine and legs will go a long way in improving your flexibility and reducing the inevitable soreness that will creep in the next day, especially if you’re just starting out.
Working out: Probably the surest way to build a bombproof figure is to regularly work out–everyday if possible. It doesn’t have to take long or be super intense, in fact just 20 minutes of yoga a day would already make a huge difference by improving flexibility, power and balance. Meditation is also the best way I know of to improve both breath and focus, 2 very important skills in any sport. But if you’re of the hyperactive type like some of my mates who just can’t stand still unless a teapot of CBD oil is around, then you should give crossfit a try. It’s mad, apparently!
Drinking: There’s a good reason why most athletes avoid alcohol as much as possible. The most annoying effect of drinking (apart from deadly hangovers, obviously) is dehydration. Dry joints and muscles mean a much lower elasticity, which makes them at a much higher risk of getting strained or torn. You may not feel it as much if you’re under 25-30 years old, but even then, having a huge party before a sporting day will definitely increase the risk of injury. If you must, make sure to drink plenty of water before going to bed and as soon as you wake up. It will even help getting that hangover quickly out of the way.
Having good gear is also essential to the safe practice of the sport, and every cable park will make sure you’re wearing both impact vest and helmet before hitting the water. If you really get hooked, you may then think about getting your own gear, as what’s available for free in most parks is usually of low quality, sometimes old or damaged (particularly boards and bindings). Accessories can also be useful–even necessary in some cases–depending on the nature of previous injuries.
Many of my friends with previous knee injuries, like torn ligaments, now ride with knee braces–mechanical ones, like the Ossur CTI. People with frequent tendinitis might want to try a good pair of elbow braces (if you do have chronic tendinitis, what worked for me was to reduce my dairy intake). If prone to muscle tears, sticking on some sports tape can sometimes help–up to a certain point. (These are affiliate links to Amazon, meaning that at no additional cost to you, we may earn a commission on some orders).
If you’re 40 or older and stopped exercising long ago, you should be extra careful when wakeboarding or waterskiing, even if you used to in the past (in fact, especially if you used to wakeboard in the past, as it could make you overconfident – good technical skills with an unprepared body is a recipe for trouble).
Make sure you warm up properly and take it real easy on your first few sessions, ideally spacing them out by 2 or 3 days to let your body completely recover. You may experience sore muscles the next day after your first session, and if you do, it will probably be all of them…! So make sure to stretch out as much as possible to relieve those weathered muscles and eventually increase their elasticity.
The art of crashing
Beginners and pros alike, everybody screws up. Sometimes elegantly, often not–but you have to embrace it because like everything else, it’s the hard work, the losses, and the beatings that make anything worthwhile. Winning only feels good if you actually had to fight for it and the harder you fight, the tastier the win. Nothin’ good comes easy, as they say.
In all forms of body expression that involves physical performance, whether it’s wakeboarding or dancing, crashing is a skill you have to perfect like any other aspect of the sport. Because crash you will; so you may as well know how to do it properly, reducing the risk of injuries to the minimum.
As a general rule in action sports, you’d want to crash in a foetal position, bringing your arms and knees close to your body, lowering your head to your chest, and making sure your tongue isn’t out there for your teeth to snap on!
Also make sure not to bring your knees all the way up as you risk hitting your nose with one of them. Perfect that technique whenever you feel a crash coming up, and soon fear will totally fade while your confidence steadily grows.
Hopefully you found this information useful, and should now feel more than ready to hit your nearest cable park. Watch out, it’s utterly addictive! Let me know in the comments how your first session went, or if you have any questions.
Coming soon: a series of posts on how to choose your gear and set it up, from boards and bindings to impact vests, helmets and accessories. Stay tuned!