Ask any experienced wakeboarder and they'll tell you one of the best ways to buff your skills is to get the right board. But in a marketplace crowded with products of all shapes and sizes, how do you find the one that's best for you? We asked two guys who know a lot about the subject: Dave Briscoe and Mike Ballone. Both veterans of the sport and have been teaching folks how to get on the good foot for years at their wakeboarding schools
Bring Your Own Board
If you want to excel, it's important to have your own wakeboard. "Many riders try saving money by sharing a board with a partner," says Ballone. "My experience with this method has been nothing but trouble. What happens is both riders compromise on what board characteristics they want, and neither of them gets any better." If you absolutely must have a single board, get a good intermediate one for multipurpose use.
Check the Label
Boards generally fall into three skill levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. If you're just starting out, you don't need an advanced board. You'll just end up spending more money for a piece of gear that'll feel too fast and loose. "Advanced boards have the most aggressive materials and designs, while intermediate boards are usually old versions of advanced boards that have been tweaked for all-around use," says Briscoe. "Beginner boards are a little slower and more forgiving, which makes the learning curve easier."
Match Up Sizes
You need the right size board for your weight and height. "Too small, and the board will sink, causing the boat to pull you at faster speeds," Ballone says. "This compromises wake size, making it smaller, and decreases the amount of control you have. Too big, and the board will be cumbersome and hard to spin and pop off the wake." Most manufacturers have sizing charts for the proper weight-to-length and/or height-to-length ratios. If in doubt, choose the longer board; the shorter the board, the less stability in starts and turns. Plus, you can grow into a longer board as your skill level advances.
Get Under the Skin
Most wakeboards are built from fiberglass wrapped around a foam or wood core. Boards made with foam are cheaper, lighter and more durable, whereas boards manufactured from wood flex better and provide extra snap off the wake. "Another material being experimented with is graphite," says Briscoe. "Graphite helps lighten the board and adds stiffness. This makes for easier control of the board in the air due to less swing weight."
Know Your Style
Boards also vary depending on an individual's way of riding. If you come from a slalom skiing background, where you always ride with the same foot forward, you'll probably want a single-tip board. This design has a narrower front and square back. On the other hand, if you're a snowboarder or skateboarder and sometimes switch forward feet, you'll want a twin-tip board, which is round on both ends.
Rock On (Or Off)
"Rocker" describes the amount of bend you see in a wakeboard's profile, and it comes in two basic categories: continuous and three-stage. A continuous rocker offers predictable performance with a smooth curve from tip to tail. It's faster and creates a consistent feel off the wake. By contrast, a three-stage rocker has two distinct bends - almost like a skateboard deck, but less dramatic - and provides aggressive lift off the wake.
Find the Fin
Fins are what keep your board going in the direction you want and prevent it from rotating freely on the water. "Beginner boards have deeper fins," explains Ballone, "while more advanced ones have shallower fins" Exactly how fins work depends on what size and style of fin you're using, as well as the size and style of your board. Ballone recommends riders try different removable fins and find the configuration they're most comfortable with.
Investigate the Shape
"Wider boards will have more pop off the wake for bigger air, but it may not carve as easily on the water," says Ballone. "On the contrary, a board that's narrower will carve nicely on the surface of the water, but it won't pop off the wake as readily for extra air time." Your board's edges are also an important factor. On beginner boards, edges are squared off to aid in tracking, while more advanced boards have edges rounded to make landing tricks a little easier, as there's less chance of catching an edge.
Don't Skimp On Bindings
Both experts agree that good bindings are critical. "Your bindings make you a part of the board and can decrease the chance of injury by a huge margin," says Briscoe. "The beauty is that all manufacturers make interchangeable bindings. Try on several and make most of your decision based on comfort." You want your bindings to be snug but not uncomfortable. Beginners can use adjustable bindings, but as you move to bigger air, you'll want to have a fitted pair for maximum performance and protection.
Try Before You Buy
Perhaps the biggest part of the board buying is testing a few different styles to see what feels best. Fortunately, more and more board shops are allowing riders to demo boards prior to purchase. There can be a fee, but if you end up buying the board, the shop will often take that fee out of the final sale price. "Buy from your local dealer. This will pay off if something breaks or a warranty issue arises," Briscoe says. "Also, choose a company that has survived the industry. These are the companies that have changed with the growth of the sport and have worked out all the bugs."