The sun’s out, the water is flat, the boat’s running a treat, and your pocket is overflowing with cash. Well, maybe not exactly overflowing. But still, if you’re a keen wakeboarder, you’d be crazy not to pick yourself up a new ride this summer.
This issue we have a look at some of the choice boards that can be found at your local shop. Before you part with your cash, though, here’s a quick rundown on what’s what on a wakeboard.
Tips / Tails
Manufactures puts a lot of effort into tip/tail design. While basic rounded shapes are still popular, there are many wild designs out there too. There’s a pretty simple rule in tip/tail design that will give you an idea of how it will perform. Fancy-looking tips/tails with cut-out sections and crazy designs will sit lower in the water when you ride, because the cut-away areas allow the water to flow over the top sheet of the board in many different directions. In comparison, a traditional round or squared-off shape will not give the water as many opportunities to come over the top sheet, thus making the board ride a little higher.
Given that traditional shapes ride higher in the water, and newer shapes sit lower and bite in deeper, the traditional variety remains the most forgiving of board designs. It will release earlier from the wake and be gentler on the landings. The new, bitier shapes will grip into the water until the last minute and make you ride every trick right off the top. So if you are a rider who doesn’t have perfect timing on every trick and is likely to sketch out on landing one or two different tricks, then look for traditional shapes. But if you cut like a maniac and only want the board to let go once you’ve travelled all the way off the top of the wake, then the new shaped tip and tails are for you.
Base / Edge
The way different boards ride through the water depends on a number of different factors, including the shape of the base, the shape of the rail (side edges) and the type of base material. The base shape determines how much air is captured under the board and how high it sits in the water. Some board companies are running channels through different parts of their boards to encourage the flow of water and air in different directions.
The shape of the rails determine how the board performs on edge. Long, curved, defined rails make a smooth transition edge-to-edge, but will not generate speed as quickly as a straighter rail.
Newer base materials, to aid strength and durability, are being introduced into the market every year.
Some of the bigger companies now give us a choice of bases, so think about your riding before choosing your base. If you are a rider that likes a responsive edge transition, a floaty-feel across the water and an easy release from the wake, then look for a board with a very basic base configuration. You will want a board that has a traditional shaped rail and base made out of material that has a glossy finish. If you feel that you need a bit more stability and control in your board, then look for something with a nice solid base finish and a base shape that holds the board in the water. A rail with either a cupped finish at either end or a shape that encourages it to sit deeper in the water will be a good selection for a rider who wants control. The key to this decision is to use the knowledge and advice of experienced retail assistants. Talk to someone who you think understands the design of boards and get them to help you through more of the features.
Board flex and rocker
This is one of the most fun differences in boards. The gap between a flexible board with a big three-stage rocker and a stiff board with a slight continuous rocker can be huge in a board’s riding personality. The more rocker in your board will equal more pop off the wake. A flatter board however will not have the same pop but will edge faster through the water. It’s a bit of a trade-off, but as they say, it’s different strokes for different folks. Rocker changes a lot between boards and selecting the shape that works best is part planning and part trial and error.
Again, you need to start by thinking about your riding style. A rider that likes to approach the wake slowly, get maximum pop and land on the downside of the wake is more likely to be suited to a 3-stage rocker board. If on the other hand, you like to cut aggressively from as wide as you can and travel up and out, rather than straight up, then a board with less or continuous rocker would be a better selection. Often, boards with more rocker land softer than those with less, so if you are trying to maintain healthy knees and back, then choose rocker.
Fins have changed dramatically since the late ‘90s and we are increasingly seeing the benefits of fin technology coming to wakeboarding. A few points of difference for wakeboarding fins are: their shape, the material they are made from and their weight. The weight factor is related to newer, more expensive materials than the old fibreglass or plastic. These days, fins are often made of composite materials, offering strength and a weightless-feel to the tip and tail of your board. There has been a major change in fin-shape, with the design moving away from surf-style fins, to a more tapered ramp shape. Basically, fins have evolved to be shallower and longer, giving riders an even amount of bite in the water.
Probably the biggest decision you need to make about fins is to decide whether you want to use them at all. A lot of boards are finless and even if there is room for a fin, many riders are going without.
Fins give stability to your cut, guidance to your landing and help you learn to ride the board from scratch. However, too much fin will make the board feel like it drags through the water and while you may feel like you have ultimate control, it can hamper tricks off the wake. Remember that the biggest assistance in cutting is the rail of the board, not the fin, so getting a harder edge is more about body position and approach than it is about bigger fins. Try and stick to a small fin and you will reap the rewards down the track.
Getting your feet set up in the right place is crucial to your board’s performance.
The angle of your boots should always be symmetrical, so you have to decide how wide you want your feet and at what angle you want to point your toes toward the tip and tail. Often boards are set up in shops for display only and so may not match the best position for you as the new owner. It’s important to take the time to assess the best approach, given that you are looking to minimise the risk of injury and get the best performance out of the board.
The angle of your feet on your board depends on how you stand naturally. There is no set rule on how to set up your binding, but remember, too much angle places unnecessary pressure on your ankles, knees and hips. Look at the way you stand naturally when in shoes and try to match a similar angle for your boots.
The second thing to set up is the width of your bindings. Taller riders can afford a bigger distance between their feet, while shorter riders should be careful not to widen beyond what is comfortable. That said, a wider stance has the benefit of providing more control over your board. Many tricks rely on weighting the board in certain ways and so having your feet wider means you have more control when weighting from tip to tail. Remember you can always change your board set-up on the first few rides, so try some different set-ups and see what works best.