Waterskiing is plenty of fun, but it’s a learning process to do it well. Many people find it hard to get to the standing position when they start waterskiing. As a result, they end up giving up on their aspirations. However, with the right guidance and some practice, we’ll have you out on the slalom ski in no time, living your dreams.
The first attempt at waterskiing occurred on Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minnesota. Ralph Samuelson, who was 18 at the time, was the inventor of the sport, completing his first successful run in July 1922. The sport has come a long way over the last 100-years (2022 marks its centenary anniversary).
Tens of thousands of people all across the world enjoy grabbing the rope and skiing across the water. This guide on how to water ski gives you everything you need to know about this popular watersport.
- Understanding Water Ski Equipment
- How to Water Ski – Top Tips for Beginners
- Learning the Start
- Tips to Help You into the Riding Position
- In Closing – Key Takeaways for Waterskiing
Understanding Water Ski Equipment
Before you don your skis, grab the rope, and head out onto the water, you need to start with understanding the basics of the sport.
Starting with the skis, they come in various lengths to suit the rider’s weight. The heavy the rider, the longer the ski. Beginners start with “combo skis” designed for better directional control and float of the rider.
The skis come in sets of two featuring adjustable ankle bindings to suit your foot size. As you gain experience, you’ll move onto advanced skis that have a slimmer profile and shorter length, allowing for high-performance turning and movement on the water.
Skis featuring narrow tunnels on the bottom are better for rough water, allowing for more control during turns, without the ski slipping from under your feet, landing you in the water. Skis with an edge-to-edge concave on the bottom dig into the water, allowing for hard turns by the rider.
The ski rope attaches to a ski tower on the stern of the boat, and the rope length is anywhere from 25-feet to 75-feet.
Ski ropes feature design and construction with woven fabrics to allow for high strength and a slight elasticating of the rope, allowing you to slingshot out of turns. You have a handlebar at the end of the rope, allowing for dual or single-handed grips.
- X-7 adjustable binding designed to fit US Men 4.5-13
- Padded rear toe plate
- Great all-around ski for the whole family
- Performance side cut for better turning
- Dual tunnel enhances control and stability
How to Water Ski – Top Tips for Beginners
Now that you know the basics of your equipment, it’s time to unpack the art of waterskiing.
Posture and Rope Grip
We’ll start with the grip on the handlebar and your skiing posture. You need to maintain the right posture to prevent you from pitching forward or falling backward when skiing.
The basic positions for skiing that require practice are the “cannonball” for starting and the “chair” for when you’re up and riding. You’ll grip the rope in an overhanded fashion with your knuckles facing up.
Before You Get in the Water
It’s a good idea to practice the cannonball and chair positions on land before taking to the water. The cannonball allows you to tighten your core and your legs, allowing you to move through the water when the boat starts to move, without the water dragging you under or causing you to lose control as you move into the chair position and start riding.
The cannonball is similar to the “fetal position.” You touch your knees to your chest with the skis out in front of you, leaning back into the rope, and the boat starts to pull you. When practicing on land, the instructor will hold the rope taut and then pull the rope, mimicking the boat’s motion as it pulls you along.
You’ll let the drag naturally shift you into the chair position as you start to emerge from the water. As the boat, or in this case, the instructor, starts to pull you forward, you’ll keep your arms locked and straight, with a firm grip on the handlebar.
As you transition into the chair position, lean into the rope to stop yourself from falling forward. The chair position involves a deep bend at the knees while maintaining a tight core. Keep your arms locked out and straight, and pull your shoulders back while you look straight ahead at the end of the rope.
Learning the Start
After mastering the cannonball to chair transition on land, it’s time to take to the water and try out your new skills.
Deep Water Starts
As you float in the water, bring yourself into the cannonball position with the skis pointing to the back of the boat and the rope between the skis. Signal the boat driver to start, and practice your transition from the cannonball to the chair as the boast pulls you along.
The key to the successful transition to the chair position is to let the boat do the work. Don’t fight the rope or the boat; let it pull you, and you’ll find that the momentum pulls you into the chair position. Avoid tugging on the handle as you rise, as you’ll lose your balance and fall.
The dock start is another popular method used by advanced skiers. After mastering the water start, you’ll have a good awareness of how the boat’s momentum influences your riding position.
With the dock start, you’ll be standing in the chair position on the dock with the rope in front of you. The boat starts to pull, and you let the rope drag you off the pier and into the water, and you ski away.
The key to a successful dock launch is to prepare for the pull as the rope tightens. Most beginners make the mistake of failing to lean into the pull, and the rope pulls them forward, causing them to lose their balance and fall, possibly resulting in an injury as you collide with the surface of the dock.
After the Start
After completing a successful water or dock start, you’ll transfer to the riding position and keep your hips under your shoulders. Keep your arms straight, with a very slight bend at the elbows. If you find you keep falling, usually it’s because you aren’t bending your knees enough – a common beginner mistake.
Remember to keep your eyes on the boat. Where the eyes look, the body follows. So, if you’re looking down at the water or the handlebar, you’ll end up in the drink.
Tips to Help You into the Riding Position
We have a few tips to help you get into the chair position and start riding.
Choose a ski rope offering some stretch. We recommend the longest length possible, and a 75-foot rope is our preferred length, with shorter lengths being for competition skiing.
The driver will idle in the water until the rope goes taut. Keep your knees together and tightly to your chest as the rope tightens. The driver will increase speed, and you’ll let the natural drag of the water on your body haul you up into the chair position, allowing the natural transition of your posture into the riding position.
The driver will keep the speed at around 25-mph until they see that you are out of the water and in the riding position. As you rise from the water, keep your knees bent and lean into the pull of the rope, but not so much that it causes you to fall backward.
Make sure that your shoulders are slightly behind your hips, and aim the skis at the motor. As you gain confidence in the riding position, shift your weight slightly to one side to execute a turn and move outside the wake.
If you fall, remember to let go of the handlebar. It will surprise you how many beginners hold onto the rope, with the boat dragging them through the water. The spotter in the boat will see you when you fall, and they’ll raise the flag to signal that there’s a skier in the water, and other vessels should look out for you.
Learning to Turn
When you have the riding position down to a tee, it’s time to concentrate on your turns. Turns make waterskiing fun, and there’s nothing like drawing a large arc behind the boat.
When you’re ready to execute a turn, you’ll bend your knees on the ski opposite the direction you want to turn. Place more pressure on the ski’s inside edge while slightly underweighting to the opposing ski.
Therefore, if you’re turning left, you want to bend the right knee while relieving pressure from the left ski, leaning to the intended direction of the turn.
As you approach the wake after the turn, level out the skis and go across the wake in the flat-footed position like you had when you got to your feet.
After crossing the wake, execute the next turn using the opposite of the method described above. Never attempt to cross the wake one ski at a time, or the change in the water surface will unbalance you, causing you to fall.
The key to the turn and crossing the wake is to keep your knees bent, your hips in front of your shoulders, and your arms straight.
After you master the art of riding two skis, it’s time to step up your game and attempt the slalom ski. The slalom ski has an additional foot binding behind your lead leg.
You can start in the dual ski riding position, and as you build speed and maintain your balance, kick your foot out of the ski and move it into the foot binding at the rear while maintaining the chair position and your posture.
You also have the option of starting with the slalom ski alone. Beginners might find it challenging to maintain their balance on a single ski when rising from the cannonball to the chair position – but practice makes perfect.
The key to a successful slalom start is maintaining the bend in the knees while keeping your core tight. You’ll want your right foot in the front binding and your left foot in the rear if you’re right-handed. Keep the ski pointed at the motor to prevent it from pulling you over when rising.
You’ll find that maintaining your balance on a single slalom ski is much more challenging than rising on two skis. However, when you master the take-off and the riding position, you’ll find that the slalom ski allows for deeper, more aggressive turns and higher levels of performance on the water.
It’s important not to rush things and ensure you’re comfortable in the riding position before you start attempting turns. When you’re ready to start turning, maintain a lean as you pull out from the side of the wake away from the boat.
Get comfortable with the lean before you start attempting crossing the wake. When you cross the wake, keep your posture and maintain the bend in your knees. Slalom skiing is challenging to get, but when everything clicks, you’ll find that it’s way more exciting than using a dual-ski setup.
In Closing – Key Takeaways for Waterskiing
- Always wear a life jacket when skiing. If the fall knocks you unconscious, the life jacket could make the difference between drowning or living to tell the tale.
- Give the spotter the start signal when you are ready, don’t rush yourself.
- Make sure you are aware of any boats in the immediate area and that your spotter raises the flag when you fall to alert other boats in the area.
- Stay at least 100-feet from the shore when riding to avoid falling in shallow water.
- When you fall, try to land on your back or to the side, not forward.
- Check the rope before attaching it to the boat and look for any signs of fraying.
- Remember to let go of the rope when you start to fall to prevent the boat from dragging you.
- Never ski without the assistance of a spotter in the boat.