Is a Bigger Wake Better?

A few months ago I rode the biggest wake of my life. It was a fully weighted down Nautique 230, with about 10 people in the boat along for the ride. I had a great time behind the boat, and stayed along to watch others take their turn. A few of the next riders were beginner to intermediate’s, and I noticed they had a pretty difficult time landing the tricks they would normally land on a smaller wake. This made me think about the misconception in wakeboarding that a bigger wake is always going to be better.

I’ve always thought that new riders who start out wakeboarding on a small wake have a huge advantage, because they are forced to learn how to edge and pop properly if they want to get any air at all. There are two bad habits that a big wake will typically create with novice riders; they will back off their edge as they hit the bottom of the wake, and absorb the pop with their knees.

A huge wake will also hinder the progression of new riders. I know this sounds a little cliché, but the bigger the wake the bigger the fall. After a few hard falls, fear starts to get in the way, and pushes riders out of the mindset of working on a trick until they land it. A un-weighted boat, or small wake, is not only better for learning the basics of edging and pop, but also for spins like front side and back side 180’s, and 360’s because it teaches you how to initiate the spin by pulling the handle toward your hips, and not hucking your upper body.

You may ride behind a fishing boat, or inboard/outboard, but don’t let that get you discouraged from progressing. Keep working on the basics of wakeboarding: progressive edging, switch riding, board grabs, toeside airs, and 180’s. Remember when wakeboarding was in its infancy? Pro riders were still landing mobes and Raley’s off 19 foot ski boats, with no extra ballast, and on the low pylon. Keep your rope length in mind too. You’ll want to ride a shorter length rope when you’re on a small wake, typically 55-60 feet so it’s easier to clear both wakes. When you ride a bigger wake, let the line out longer.

When you get to the skill level where you need to add weight to your boat, the general rule is to weight the front with half as much weight as the rear. For example, if you have 600 lbs in the rear of the boat, you’ll want to put 300 lbs in the front. To adjust the shape of the wake, more weight in the rear of the boat will make the wake steeper, while more weight in the front will make it rampy. Many riders commonly make the mistake of only weighting the rear of the boat. While this makes the wake big, it will also make it wash out and curl over at slower speeds.

At camp we start adding factory ballast, about 1000 lbs, when riders start working on basic inverts. We’ll add more weight with Fat Sacs when they get to the level of trying drifting tricks, inverts to blind, and rodeo flips. Until then, take that extra gas money you would have spent pushing a jacked up wake, and ride one more set on a smaller wake.

Learning the Air Raley

Whenever I suggest a student to try a Raley, the answer I typically get is “No way man!” It’s not as hard to learn as you might think; there are 3 steps that will make learning this trick much easier.

Step 1

Before you try a Raley, your cut at the wake must be perfect. This step consists of practicing hard cuts at the wake and landing in the flat water with total control, basically a big wake jump. The key to the Raley is a strong progressive cut. That is, your cut toward the wake should start very light and then build gradually, so that your hardest cut is through the wake.

Start out wide about 25-30 feet from the wake and cut in with a strong progressive cut, make sure to edge all the way through the top of the wake.

In the air, keep your head up and both hands on the handle. Practice this step a lot, at least 25 times, before moving onto step 2.

Step 2

Take the same strong cut at the wake and let the board drift back slightly behind you while you’re in the air. The key is get comfortable with gradually letting the board drift back a little bit at a time.

Make sure that you keep your head up and keep both hands on the handle so you will be able to pull the board back under your body. You’ll know you’re doing this right if you feel tension in your stomach muscles while you are in the air.

Step 3

This is the step where you throw the Raley back all the way.

At the camp, we’ve had success by making the rope very short, about 50 feet, and slowing the boat speed down about 13 MPH. The slower boat speed helps to take away the riders fear of trying the trick, while the shorter rope length make the wake steeper and gives an abrupt launch.

To avoid twisting in the air, make sure that you keep your eyes focused on the pylon of the boat.

As you edge up the wake bring your hips up toward the handle to help initiate the board to drift back. When you push the board back, keep your chest up and make sure your arms are fully extended. When you are fully laid out, you should feel a jerk or snap, pull the handle down to your knees as hard as you can. If you are butt checking on the landing, you’re pulling it down too early. After you land this trick once, it is very easy to get it consistent.

Trouble shooting

Twisting over in the air?
Keep your eyes focused on your boat’s pylon.

Doing a crooked or stargazed Raley?
Your front leg drifting back before your rear leg is off the wake causes this. Be patient. Make sure both feet are off the wake before you let the board drift back.

Doing a front flip crash out of the Raley?
As you get extended, keep your chest up, and don’t let go of the handle, pull it back to your knees.

Seems too scary to try?
Keep practicing step one, then slow the boat speed down; you’ll eventually get it.

Coaching Fundamentals

Would you like to gain skills in training others, as well as your self, in learning how to progress quickly in wakeboarding? The focus of this article is on the process of learning and teaching a new trick. Discussed are four coaching concepts that will make you a better wakeboard coach.

Simplify Each Trick.
Examine each new trick that you would like to learn, and then break it down into simpler movements. For example, to learn a Heel side 2 wake 180, practice 1 wake 180’s and ollie 180’s to gain balance. Or when trying something harder like a Raley, make sure that you are first consistent at cutting hard at the wake and landing with two hands on the handle in the flats. Practice the simple aspects of the trick systematically and it will greatly reduce the overall learning process.

Make Driving Adjustments.
As the driver, you can make every bit of difference in the rider’s ability to land a new trick.


  • In most cases a little slower boat speed will make it easier for the rider to try something new.
  • On tricks that require a handle pass, try letting off on the throttle in mid flight to put slack into the line for easy handle passes.
  • Drive a shallow arc if it looks like the rider could use more of a kick off the top of the wake. This technique does not remove as much line tension as the throttle chop; however it makes the wake steeper to provide a straight up kick, which makes some tricks easier to learn such as an off axis five.


Make the trick sound easy to overcome.
Most people just need the confidence to try something new. As the coach, you need to instill that confidence in them. Ninety percent of learning a new maneuver comes from a mental commitment. If you can take away a riders fear, their potential will be unlocked. As a related anecdote, whenever I try something new on the water, I tell myself this; Guys are doing back flips over 80 foot gaps on motorcycles. For me, that puts trying some type of flip several feet above the water into perspective.


Repetition builds muscle memory. If you have access to a trampoline, practice on the trampoline as much as possible the tricks you would like to learn wakeboarding.

When you’re out on the water, make it a point to train with repetition. I’ve always felt the best way to master a new trick is to try to do it 3 times in a row.

Trouble shooting
Having trouble getting yourself motivated to try a new trick?


  • Slow the boat speed down and try it on a soft mushy wake.
  • Think about some easier things that you can practice that will make the hard trick easy.
  • Try the trick on the trampoline at least 50 times before you take it to the water.
  • Ride with a professional coach or someone who is better than you, it can give you the mental edge to overcome your fear.


Edging Techniques

One of the keys to becoming an advanced wake boarder is the ability to create the proper edge to the wake. There are 3 basic styles of edging that you should practice, and be able to call upon for different types of tricks.

Basic Progressive Edge

This is the type of edging style you should try to learn first, as a base for the other two.

The Technique:
Cut out wide, about 20-25 feet from the wake so you will be edging in on your heel side. Start your cut toward the wake by slowly drifting in from the line tension. Then gradually increase your pull against the boat, so that your hardest cut is through the top of the wake. Your cut should model the swing a pendulum, slow on the outside, then speeds up all the way to the center. Apply the progressive edge to these types of tricks: Backroll, Roll to Revert, Raley, Front Flips, Toe side Front and back rolls.

Non-Progressive Edge

In this style of edging, the goal is to be able to clear the wake, with out creating too much line tension. This is very useful when trying to learn any type of trick that requires a handle pass, such as a 360, an invert to blind, or off axis spins.

The Technique:
This is similar to the previous method in that you start your cut out wide, but differs in the last half of your edge toward the wake. As you approach the wake don’t increase your pull, just try to ride over the wake without edging too hard through it. In most cases, you will want to land right on the downside of the wake.

Short Progressive Edge

This drill is useful for beginning riders trying to clear both wakes, as well as advanced wake boarders trying difficult moves, like a back mobe, that require extra vertical lift.

I try to teach this method to riders that are trying to clear both wakes, because it really forces them into the intimidating task of edging all the way through the top of the wake.

The Technique:
For beginners, the goal is to start as close to the wake as possible, while still being able to clear it. Start a progressive cut about 8′ out from the wake, and try to clear both wakes. If you are successful, start moving in 1′ closer on the following jumps. This drill will significantly raise your comfort level with edging though the top of the wake.

Practice these 3 techniques on both heel side and toeside jumps, and you will be able to learn new tricks faster and with fewer falls.

Trouble shooting

Face planting when you land?
When you get into the air, pull the handle into your hips. This way if you get off balance when you land your arms will be able to give some line tension back, and you won’t get pulled forward.

Getting distance in your jumps, but not any height?
This is caused from two things. One is; flattening your board out as you approach the wake, or two; absorbing the wake with your knees. Keep your knees bent, but rigid and keep your board on edge through the wake.

Falling forward on toeside jumps?
Make sure when edging in toeside that you keep your chest up and your hips in front of you.

Tournament Tips

There is nothing to be nervous about, riding in tournaments is a lot of fun and will teach you what you need to practice to take your riding to the next level. An understanding of a few basic concepts can give you the competitive edge.

Preparing a trick pass
The standard tournament format is two-thirty second passes and one wildcard trick at the end of your second pass. When you’re preparing your run, I think it’s better to put your easier tricks at the beginning of the pass, so that you can adjust to the wake and towboat speed. Practice your passes with a stop watch in the boat to alleviate the feeling of being rushed, and not getting all of your planned tricks in at the tournament. Have your spotter time your pass; ideally you want to have all 5 or 6 tricks completed in 25 seconds. Consistency is the key tournaments, if you fall on a trick in practice, get up do that trick 3 times in a row.

How you are scored
The three areas that the judges will score your pass are: Difficulty of tricks landed, Intensity, and Variety of maneuvers. Try not to repeat any of your tricks, and go big. It can be difficult for the judges to decide who should win when everyone does similar tricks, but if you can do your stuff a little bigger than the next rider, you’ll win. If you fall on a trick, chances are it was probably one of your harder moves, so show the judges that you can land it, and try it again.

Taking advantage of the course
Most tournaments will allow one out of course fall, so while the boat is getting set up to enter the course test the wake with a few jumps and let the driver know if the speed is alright. There will be a start buoy and an end buoy in the course. Make sure that you are set up outside the boat wake and ready to cut in as soon as you pass the start buoy. It’s very common to see riders enter the course with out being ready, and then only being able to get two or three tricks in. If you stand up your pass and still have room in the course, stay busy and do some extra tricks to bump up your Variety score.

How to get involved
In the midwest we have several different series of tournaments that start in early May and continue through the end of August. The Midwest Mission to ride, American Wakeboard Association, National Wakeboard League, and Hyperlite all have grassroots events throughout the state. They are all great events and a great value. For more information check:!