Wake Boats Guide: A Surf And Ski Vessels Handbook

Have you watched a hundred watersports lovers cruise by on their cool ski and wakeboard boats while you sat on the beach in envy? Are you always wishing you knew more about the sport? Ready to do some research? It’s time to find your new hobby and make it happen! We’ll go through some of the basics of water sports to make sure you have the right vessel in mind for the activities you want to use it for, explore some of the best new wake boats for 2022, and check out how you can accessorize that hot new ride. Let’s look at:

2022 ATX Surf Boats 24 Type-S wake surf boat. Photo via Blackbeard Marine in Kingston, OK.
A 2022 ATX Surf Boats 24 Type-S wake surf boat. Photo via Blackbeard Marine in Kingston, OK.

Watersports Options

All of the water sports in today’s boating world are exciting, and there are new variations of traditional water sports and wake surfing coming out all the time as both the sports and the boats evolve. Why not try them all and see what is most thrilling and exciting for you, right? All of these water sports can be done on any wakeboarding boat, surf boat or “crossover” boat, but some boats are better suited for specific niche wake sports than others. The main options include:

Water Skiing

Most of us know what water skiing is – it’s literally skiing behind a boat on the water while holding onto a tow rope, and it’s one of the oldest forms of boating watersports out there. It’s sort of like skiing on a mountain, but usually it’s a much warmer experience!

Slalom Skiing

Slalom skiing is like regular water skiing but with a single ski, only. It’s harder than water skiing with two skis and takes a lot of practice to master.

water skiing
Slalom skiing requires athleticism and skill. Photo via MarineMax Lake Ozark.

Barefoot skiing

Barefoot skiing is water skiing behind a boat without your water skis – yes, this literally means that you’re barefoot water skiing. This is one of the toughest towed watersports to master and requires a lot of skill and strength to get up, and then to stay up.

Kneeboarding

Being towed behind a boat on a board you kneel on is knee boarding, and it’s great for starters as you don’t have to worry about actually getting up out of the water (usually the hardest part). Kids and people inexperienced at watersports usually have no problem knee boarding so it’s an excellent way to break into the world of wake sports.

Wakeboarding

Wakeboarding is tougher than knee boarding but most people find it easier to master than water skiing. The rider’s feet fit into bindings and he or she holds onto a tow rope. And from the standing position, it’s possible to do lots of tricks – jump from wake to wake, get air, do flips, and have a blast!

wakeboarding behind atx surf 20
Wake boarders can catch some air – some serious air! Photo via ATX Surf Boats.

Wake Skating

A water sport that broke off from wake boarding, when wake skating you are not attached to the actual board with bindings, and are free to throw it around under your feet. This makes it similar to riding a skateboard (hence the name) and the list of tricks you might be able to pull off grows even more.

Wake Surfing

Wake surfing is an incredibly popular water sport involving a board shaped like a surfboard, with no bindings of any sort. You use the tow rope to get up as you would with a wakeboard, but then drop the rope and surf the boat’s wake just like you would a wave breaking on the beach – except that in this case as long as the boat keeps moving the wave never ends.

wake surfing
Wake surfers toss the tow rope once they’re up, and then surf the boat’s wake. Photo via Chessie Marine Service.

Types of Wake Boats and Surf Boats

OK, so now that water sports are your thing and you’ve undoubtedly made some awesome new friends that have taken you out on their boat a few times, it’s time to take matters into your own hands and buy that boat you’ve always dreamed of having. First you’ll have to ask yourself whether it makes sense to buy a new boat versus a used boat, based on your needs. New boats will obviously offer the latest wake sports technology, but used boats can cost less and still be perfect for your needs.

Choosing the best boat for wakeboarding and water skiing is tricky – there are many factors to consider when getting ready to purchase. Some of the most important factors include what your budget is, whether you are planning on using it in larger or smaller bodies of water, and most importantly, what specific sport you plan to use the boat for.

With so many different options out there, it’s hard to nail down what will be best for you and YOUR needs. Here are the different categories of wake boats to guide you in your search to find the best option.

Waterskiing Boats

If you’re just getting into water skiing, your options are basically endless and from jet boats to boats with inboard, stern drive, or outboard engines, they will all work for you. Serious water skiers, however, like a flat, smooth wake. So boats designed specifically for this sport usually have a straight inboard drive and a relatively flat bottom. The optimal size for your boat will between 18 and 21 feet.

mastercraft prostar ski boat
Boats designed specifically for water skiing, like this MasterCraft ProStar, are generally inboards with relatively flat transom deadrise. Photo via MarineMax Texas.

You’ll notice that there aren’t many ski-specific-boats being built these days. In today’s market – with wakeboarding becoming so popular – there has been a big movement towards wake or crossover boats. These often have ballast tanks and wake-shaping tabs so the waves they make can be adjusted to allow for everyone to choose what tow sport they like. Purists, however, will still choose a dedicated ski boat like the MasterCraft ProStar or the Ski Nautique.

Wake Surfing Boats

Wake surfing has become quite popular recently, so popular that boats made specifically for this sport have come to dominate the watersports boat market. These boats are designed with ballast tanks that can be filled with hundreds of gallons of water so they can throw a huge wake, then utilize special trim tabs to shape those wakes. Most are also digitally controlled and have pre-programmable settings. So, you can shape a wake just the way you like it, save that setting, and create the same exact wake a day, a week, or a month later. Check out this video of a hot new wake surfing boat, the Supreme S240.

Above: Check out our walkthrough video review and tour of a 2022 Supreme S240 wake boat – a luxury “value class” wake boat that not only makes an excellent entry-level boat for beginners, but also is a great platform for experienced wake surfers and boarders plus a comfortable boat for the whole family. 

Of course, with a wake surfing boat you can also leave those ballast tanks empty and create more mellow wakes for towed sports like kneeboarding or wakeboarding. So for families with young kids or those who like to take out newcomers to the sport, wake surfing boats can also serve well as all-around watersports boats. Check out our Top 10 Water Skiing and Wakeboarding Boats article for more information on this type of boat and the hottest models on the market today.

Above: Another in-depth walkthrough boat review and video tour of Supreme’s new ZS252 wake boat, which is sure to be a crowd pleaser in the wake surfing world. 

Crossover Watersports Boats

For those who enjoy watersports of all types and aren’t concerned with having a boat tailored to a specific sport, there are crossover boats. Many people would consider stock bowrider boats to be good for crossover watersports boats, and they tend to cost a lot less than dedicated ski or wake boats. Remember, however, that many bowriders have stern drives and in order to wake surf safely, you’ll want a boat with the propellers forward of the transom. Special “Forward Drives,” like the ones found on the Four Winns TS222, are best for this purpose.

The Cost of Wake Sports Boats

Wake sports boats can be very advanced, very well designed, and… very expensive. As a general rule of thumb, the more specialized the boat is the more it will likely cost. So, if you’re planning on going all out and buying something new, you are looking at a starting price of about $50,000 for a crossover or bowrider style boat and going up to $200,000 or even more for a large, luxurious, sport-specific model.

Of course, you can save a lot of money by buying a used ski or wake boat. Though it may not have all the latest bells and whistles, just as is true with cars, used boats can cost a fraction of what a new one of the same model goes for.

Accessorize a Wake Boat

In addition to buying the actual boat, you will need to remember to purchase a few accessories and safety items to ensure your boat is fully equipped and ready to roll. These are some of the top accessories you may want:

Boat Towers and Arches

If you’re boat does not come with a tower but you plan on wakeboarding, you will definitely want to consider having one of these bad boys installed. The raised tow point helps you catch more air and make the most of the wake board experience. On smaller boats and simpler crossover bowriders, a ski tow arch or elevated bit will do the job.

bayliner towing water skier
All it takes is the addition of an arch to turn this Bayliner bowrider into a watersports machine. Photo via MarineMax Sail & Ski Austin.

Stereos and Speakers

What’s a boat without some tunes? Most watersports boats come with stereos installed, but low cost boats often have low end sound systems. If you enjoy music while you’re out on the water you may want to consider an upgrade.

Boards and Skis

This is an obvious one, naturally you’ll want to have whatever equipment is needed for your desired sport.

Rope

How else will you and your friends get up? Make sure to get two lines so you always have a backup, and they should be made of polypropylene or polyethylene so they float (or the rope could become entangled in the prop). Having different lengths can be helpful, too.

Rider Down Flag

In many jurisdictions it’s required by law that you use an orange flag called a “Rider Down Flag” in order to let other boaters know that you have a rider in the water. Even if it’s not required where you are, it’s highly recommended as a safety precaution to have on your boat and to use while people are in tow.

Helmets

It’s a smart safety precaution, especially for kids and adults doing crazy maneuvers.

Life Jackets

Have them aboard for all shapes and sizes. Remember, the law requires their use.

Final Ski and Wake Sports Thoughts

tige 25zx
The rider behind this Tige 25ZX is getting a serious thrill – so why shouldn’t you? Photo via Tige Boats.

Okay: are you ready to stop watching from the beach, and start shredding waves like a pro? It may take a while to get the hang of it, but don’t worry, that’s just part of the learning curve. Check out Best Wipeouts: Tubes, Watersports, and Everything In Between to see what you’re in for – tons of waterborne fun!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2019 and was last updated in July 2022 to reflect new models.

Written by: Tatjana Chahine

Tatjana Chahine is USCG-licensed boat captain and writer who regularly contributes to boats.com, YachtWorld and Boat Trader. Originally from Los Angeles, California, she now resides in Nassau, Bahamas where she operates a Bahamas boat charter and excursion company that helps tourists visit the 700 islands & cays and experience the local culture. Bahamian-owned, the company partners with Bahamians for custom-tailored, guided tours and supports local businesses and community building efforts.

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