By Jake Thomas
Over the last few years, the water sport industry has seen tremendous growth in the wake-surfing segment. For those who may not know, wake surfing is performed directly behind an inboard towboat that is generating a large standing wave — which allows riders to surf in perpetuity with no handle or tow rope.
Every water-ski manufacturer now has a wake surf specific board, and there are multiple custom board builders as well. So it’s obvious this sport isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Unlike traditional surfboards, which are upwards of 10 feet in length, wake-surf boards are short and stubby — typically less than five feet. Some hardcore wake surfers stay true to the roots of the sport with surf wax, but most manufacturers top their boards with EVA foam or rubber for ease of use. They are a great addition to the water toy lineup and can range from $200 to $700.
Most tow boat manufacturers are jumping right on side, building wake surf specific boats to generate massive standing waves. Numerous technologies are being deployed to help shape the size of the wake.
Traditionally, wake size has been generated by pumping raw water into onboard ballast tanks to increase the weight of the boat and subsequently, the size of the wake. This is still the best way to create wake size, but companies like Nautique, Malibu, MasterCraft and Tigé have all pioneered devices to help with the wake shape.
The Nautique Surf System (NSS), for example, electronically deploys metal plates on both the sides and in the middle of the transom. These plates can be extended in varying degrees on either side to allow riders to use either side of the wake, with the press of a button. As a result of larger ballast tanks and the drag created by the various wake plates, most companies are putting smaller pitch propellers on their wake specific boats to optimize performance.
Just a reminder: this sport is only safe behind inboard and/or jet propulsion towboats. Outboard- and sterndrive-powered boats are not safe because the propeller is fully exposed.
What makes wake surfing so amazing is the fact that almost anyone can do it. If you can get up on a wakeboard or a set of water skis you can likely get up on a wake surf board as well. The next trick is finding that sweet spot on the wake which will propel you forward with no handle. When you find it, simply throw the handle at one of your friends on the boat and the world is your oyster.
This past summer saw Canada’s first Wake Surf National Championships, where riders from all over the country descended on Calabogie Peaks Resort near Renfrew, Ont. Last summer also marked the 12th annual world wake surf championships in Las Vegas.
As this sport continues to develop, however, we all need to recognize the effect these large wakes are having on the rest of the lake. Wake surfing requires the largest wake possible, so be aware of the direction your wakes are heading and pick and choose your riding spots carefully, while respecting other people’s enjoyment of the waterways.
This article is featured in the Winter 2015 issue of Boats&Places.