Humanity has had a long relationship with water, from fishing to commercial shipping to recreation, and in the latter case, there is no shortage of exciting ways to play sports and get moving on or in the water. Anything from kayaking to surfing to fishing is possible, and popular, but one thrilling sport on water is wakesurfing.

Plenty of people want to get moving in the water, especially wakesurfing and its related sport of wakeboarding. 12.7 million households in the U.S. own a boat, and in 2016, about 13.8% of Americans aged six and up took part in water sports of all kinds. This figure is even higher in the Millenial generation (those born 1982-1995), with 19.6% of this demographic trying out water sport casually or seriously. For wakeboarding in particular, over 3.2 million Americans participated in this sport in 2015 alone. So, with all these water sports to try out, how do wakesurfing and waterboarding work, and how do they compare?

Wakesurfing and Wakeboarding

Both of these sports begin with a boat. With so many Americans owning and using boats, it should be easy to have a friend or relative who will lend their boat for sports, or else rent one. These water sports really take off once the motor boat gets moving and creates a wake behind it, hence the names of these sports. The sports enthusiast stays behind the boat the whole time and rides the frothy wake, but how it’s done can vary.

Wakesurfing is a variation of traditional surfing that’s done on natural ocean waves. In this case, the surfer is on a surfboard that stays about five feet behind the boat itself, fairly close. At first, the surfer will hang onto a 20-foot-long rope connected to the boat to build up momentum and keep up with the boat. Once momentum is achieved, the wakesurfer can ride the boat’s wake as long as he/she wants, unlike a traditional surfer who has limited time to ride waves that crash on the beach.

Wakesurfing is similar. The surfer will ride on a board slightly smaller than a wakesurfer’s (4.2 to 4.8 feet), and unlike a wakesurfer, a wakeboarder hangs onto a rope about 52 to 78 feet long that’s connected to the boat, and a wide handle allows the surfer to keep a good grip. This allows a wakeboarder to stay further behind the boat and therefore have more room to maneuver, as well as perform stunts and tricks for fun and show off, or to score points at a competition. The first such competition was held at Orlando, Florida, in 1990 and the sport has been popular ever since. The surfer may need a wetsuit to keep dry and prevent hypothermia, however, and a helmet for basic safety.

Mussels Not Invited

Wakesurfing and wakeboarding can bring along unintended guests: mussels, especially zebra mussels in the United States and Canada. This invasive species arrived from boats from Russia and have overflowed into North American water systems. Why are mussels bad for ballast systems? These numerous creatures can often clog the boat’s motors and pumps and disrupt their function, and aside from that, drawing up and emptying ballast water is a quick way to move species from one body of water to another, and that can introduce or further spread invasive species that wreak havoc in an aquatic environment. Boat owners, therefore, are encouraged to be careful a bout the transition of ballast water, and to check their boats for zebra mussels regularly, or other similar species.

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