Bobbing in the water, both of your feet strapped into two clunky boards and your hands preoccupied with the rope handle, you’re relying completely on your lifejacket to keep you afloat. The small waves in the water are moving you in awkward ways and you struggle to right yourself and prepare for the moment you know is coming. “Ready,” your instructor shouts and you’re eager to be out of the water. “Hit it.” Moments later you’re being pulled forward, atop the water, behind a speedboat. You’re waterskiing.
The sport is something I’ve always wanted to learn and two weeks ago I gave it a try. I would recommend it to anyone, but there are some things you should know first. Full disclosure: I wore a wetsuit, swallowed a lot of lake water and still managed to have an awesome time.
The Most Awkward Part is Waiting in the Water
Before you’re pulled out of the water, before your first wipeout and way before you discover you have a knack for waterskiing, you will feel very awkward waiting in the water. Up until this point, your experience with water has probably been focused around swimming, an activity that requires your arms and legs free to keep you up. In waterskiing, your feet are bound to chunky boards, which you have to keep in front of you and your arms need to stay straight, holding the rope handle. This set-up makes for some awkward involuntary movement and the stance will more than likely make your hips hurt. The important thing to know is that it gets less awkward as you continue.
Wipeouts Hurt Less than You’d Expect
The most dreaded part of learning any sport is that moment when you lose your rhythm and totally wipeout. You might think taking an unexpected plunge into water at almost 20 m.p.h. would be too painful for words, but with all your adrenaline surging, it’s actually not that bad. It also helps to wear a wetsuit, but that’s your call.
Avoid the Common Mistakes:
Trying to Stand Up Too Quickly
As the rope straightens and pulls you out of the water, you’ll likely be so excited/ scared/ nervous that you’ll try to stand up as quickly as possible—resist that immediate urge. Instructors tell new skiers to stay in a crouch for a bit, with knees bent, to get comfortable with the movement. After that, you should slowly come into a standing position.
Leaning Back/ Forward/ Too Far to One Side
When you’re being pulled over the water on two boards at speeds you’ve never quite reached on two feet, it’s perfectly normal for your body to want to resist. Beginners often find themselves leaning back to counteract the pull and shortly after that they find themselves in the water. Essentially, you’ll want to keep your weight evenly distributed between the two skis to go straight and you’ll want to lean slightly forward. Keep your weight over your feet and don’t rely on the boat to do all the work.
Find a Qualified Instructor (on a Freshwater Lake, If Possible)
The benefits of having a qualified instructor are obvious, but why a freshwater lake, you might ask. For one, a lake will likely be calmer than an ocean, which is helpful for beginners—but more importantly (if you’re anything like me) you will wind up accidentally ingesting several gallons of water. You’ll be swallowing water from the time you’re waiting for the boat to take off to the time you plunge into water on your first major wipeout. You’ll get the hang of it quickly, but expect to drink down a bunch of water first.
Be Open to Learning
This one is straight from the instructor’s mouth: be open to learning. Those who come in willing to do what they’re told are the people who learn quickly. Waterskiing can feel awkward at first, but when you can put faith in a good instructor, you’ll be successful in no time.