There's always a wave to ride, you don't need to live by an ocean, and falling (there will be falling) doesn't hurt like hell.
Photo: Thomas Barwick / Getty Images
No ocean, no problem. Thanks to the popularity of wakesurfing, some of the country's hottest surf destinations are in landlocked states. Mellow falls (and yes, there will certainly be falls), a relatively easy learning curve, and the social aspect of wakesurfing all contribute to its reputation as one of the country's fastest-growing water sports, says Larry Meddock, chairman of the Water Sports Association Industry in Orlando, FL.
What Is Wakesurfing?
Jokingly referred to as the "lazy man's surfing," the sport allows you to surf untethered in a speedboat's wake as if riding a never-ending ocean wave. It doesn't require the exhausting work of paddling. Surfers also don't need to wait for Mother Nature to deliver a swell. Wakesurf-specific boats have onboard mechanisms that pump water into tanks that weigh down the boat and add to the wake to make it surfable. The propeller is also safely tucked under the boat and away from surfers. (Related: 7 Insane Water Sports You've Never Heard Of)
But don't get wakesurfing confused with wakeboarding. The latter requires the rider to be strapped into boots and bindings, similar to a snowboard, and be towed up to 80 feet behind a speeding boat. Wakesurfing is slower and more minimalist: bare feet on the board, you lose the rope once you're up, and you're riding 10 feet from a slow-moving boat. Plus, "when you take a fall wakeboarding, it's more like a crash," says Dana Wyson Wright, a wakesurfer based in St. George, UT. "You can have whiplash for days." But falling while wakesurfing feels like falling off of a paddleboard—"it doesn't hurt," she says.
There are two main styles of wakesurf boards. Surf-style boards have two to four fins and usually offer more stability for beginners. Skim or skate-style boards are smaller and have one or no fins and tend to be more maneuverable for tricks like 360s.
Getting up looks tricky, but the key is to relax and let the boat do the work, says Sean Cummings, a San Jose, CA–based professional wakesurfer. A life jacket (essential for safety but also helpful for beginners learning proper technique) will allow you to float in the water as you place your heels on the board and hold onto a tow rope. As the boat creates tension on the rope, the board will kind of suction to your feet, says Cummings. Once up, let go of the rope, and voilà. Got the hang of it? From there you can progress from riding to carving up and down the wave and even riding tandem.
Why You Should Try Wakesurfing
You don't have to have any real watersport experience to try it.
Part of the sport's appeal is its low impact. Surfers stand on the board behind a boat going about 10 miles per hour, roughly half the speed of what a boat towing a waterskier, wakeboarder, or tuber would be going.
Wyson Wright, who started wakesurfing in 2013, was hooked after her first time out. Now, the mother of two, who stayed out on the water during both of her pregnancies, takes her 4-year-old and 18-month-old on the board with her. Even her 60-year-old mom will take turns.
Getting more people into wakesurfing (and all water sports, for that matter) is an important goal for Wyson Wright. She says while many women might be first introduced to board sports by a brother, or guy friend, she wants to encourage them to not just be a cheerleader but to get out there on the water and try it themselves. "I love watching women who thought they'd never be able to get up suddenly start relaxing and having fun," she says. "You feel like you can accomplish anything once you get over that first hurdle of getting up." (Related: Epic Water Sports You'll Want to Try and Four Women Who Crush Them)
You don't have to leave your friends to enjoy it.
The close proximity wakesurfers have to their friends on the boat makes it easier to be encouraged, coached and cheered on. The rider can easily hear instructions for when to release the rope or how to position their feet. Constant feedback makes the learning much easier and ultimately makes the whole experience more fun.
"Even people who are intimidated end up getting up on the board and that gives them such confidence," says Alex Quick, activities director at Blackberry Farm, a hotel in Walland, TN, that offers wakesurf instruction and an annual camp coached by professional athletes.
It connects the mind and body.
Shannon Paige Kenney, co-owner of Earth Yoga Boulder in Colorado, incorporates wakesurfing into her yoga teacher trainings to help students improve balance and focus, and overcome fear. "Learning something new as an adult is challenging and humbling," she says. Following cues as you learn to wakesurf helps hone mind-body connection, she adds. "You can hear and understand the cues of 'feet here' and 'heels down, toes up.' All of those cues are simple, but in the newness of the activity we can have trouble communicating in our own body."
It's a killer workout.
Sure, wakesurfing is a lot of fun (even when you fall). But the sport is actually a really incredible workout, too. "It works muscles you don't even know you had," says Wyson Wright. "All of your tiny stabilizing muscles and muscles in your feet have to be engaged to keep you balanced on the board." Your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves get worked, and as you progress, she says you'll begin to use your upper body more. Professional surfers use it to practice new tricks and build muscle endurance, and even professional cyclists have embraced the sport as a fun way to cross train. In the summer, it's way more fun than being stuck inside the gym.