Selecting the right Wakeboard and Bindings

Introduction
Wakeboards are like wide, short water skis that attach to the user’s feet with sideways bindings. They look a bit like small snowboards and share many similarities. They also borrow properties from surfboards, skateboards, and slalom skis.

Thin, sharp rails (edges) make for tight turns across the wake, and the combination of light weight and lots of surface area permits big air and advanced tricks.

Wakeboard bindings differ from the forward facing waterski bindings and can be adjusted for angle as well as placement on the board. Riders decide which “stance” to ride in—right foot in back or left. Popular wisdom has it that your dominant foot should be your back foot. The “Push Test”—someone pushing you from behind and your involuntary step forward indicates your dominant foot—has been used by boardriders since time immemorial. (People who don’t step forward and instead smack their faces on the dock probably shouldn’t be wakeboarding). Wakeboarding borrows its stance terminology from surfing: a rider who has his right foot in back is said to be “regular footed,” left foot back is called “goofy footed.” Because of the reversible tips on a wakeboard, 180° rotations can be executed, allowing boarders to ride in reverse, a feat called riding “switch stance.”

Construction
High-density polyurethane foam is injected into a mold and heated to form the core. The core is then wrapped with either fiberglass, carbon/graphite or a combination of these, and the surfaces are saturated with an epoxy resin. Layers of either carbon/graphite or thick, high-density fiberglass mat are added to provide stiffness to different areas of the board. Top and bottom layers are added, made of either PBT or Acrylam, and this is put into a mold in a heated press to bond the layers together and provide the board shape.

Material options in this process determine the performance and price of a particular model. Carbon/ graphite is stronger, lighter and more expensive than fiberglass mat, and is found in high-end products.

The addition of carbon/graphite in the lay-up increases strength and stiffness. Some manufacturers use strips of ABS plastic imbedded in the foam core for additional stiffness; others offer boards with an aluminum honeycomb core. Aluminum core boards are lighter weight and stiffer, but are also much more expensive to produce.

PBT tops (also referred to as ABS by some manufacturers) produce brighter, more colorful graphics, and resist scratches and dents better than other materials.

Binding Attachment, Inserts
Besides the type of reinforcing fiber and core, the other variable in this building process is how the manufacturer chooses to install the threaded inserts used to mount the bindings.

  • Some manufacturers drill holes at the proper positions and screw threaded inserts into the core.
  • Others insert ABS plastic blocks into the foam core before lay-up, after which the blocks are drilled and the inserts installed as part of the finishing process.
  • The third method is to install ABS plastic blocks into the foam cores that already have the threaded caps in place. During finishing, shallow holes are drilled to clear away the cover material from the threads.

This third method (sometimes called snowboard-style inserts) is the strongest way of attaching bindings, although insert failure for any of the attachment methods is rare when bindings are properly tightened.

Shape
There are four primary places where boards differ in shape: overall, tail, bottom, and rails.

Fatter/bigger boards are easier to ride, more forgiving, very stable, slower to respond so you have more time to control, but tricks are more difficult due to their bulk. Generally more of a beginner or recreational shape.

Thinner/smaller boards are looser in the water, respond more quickly to a rider’s inputs and are frequently less forgiving to error. They are usually fast, with a hard cutting edge, very maneuverable for technical tricks and much easier to get around for flips.

The most visually noticeable difference in board shape is the tail configuration. Less material in the tips means less weight, and hence easier spinning tricks. Swallowtail or rounded tip designs are the most common way to achieve this lighter weight. Wider or more squared off tails provide more lift and bigger air coming off the wake.

Another major difference in board shape is bottom design. Most boards have either channels or ridges running lengthwise along the bottom. These provide tracking and help keep the board going straight. This is especially important to get the board pointing in the right direction during deepwater starts, and for faster recovery when landing aerial moves. Some models have more pronounced fins molded into each side of the tips to help hold the board in the water during hard turns. This is a holdover from and improvement over the multiple-fin boards common a few years ago.

Wakeboard rails, or edges, determine how well the board performs in hard turns. Thinner rails, formed by beveling the edge or by pressing a thinner edge during construction, allow the board to sink deeper into the water during turns, giving the rider more control.

Rocker
The rocker of a board is how curved it is, or how much higher the tips of the board are from the middle when it sits on a flat surface. Rocker usually varies somewhere between 2″ and 2.5″. More rocker makes surface spins easier and softens landings from aerial tricks, but it also makes the board slower. Many wakeboards have what is called three-stage rocker. The board is divided into thirds, and the ends have considerable rocker, while the middle third remains flat. This tends to give a rider more lift off the wake for higher jumps, but also gives a harder landing. A wakeboard with continuous rocker is more predictable and gives softer landings.

Binding Selection
There are four categories of wakeboard bindings: sandals, basic boots, midrange boots, and high-end boots.

Sandals are a good choice for beginners, or for wakeboards being used by several people of differing sizes. They consist of a padded footbed, a fairly narrow strap over the top of the foot, and a strap around the heel. They release easily to avoid injury during falls, and are easy to get back into when the rider is in the water.

Basic boots take the sandal concept one step further. The heel is usually held in place with a neoprene heel cup instead of a strap, and the foot strap can be wider or padded for more comfort. They are still fully adjustable and are fairly easy to get into, with a low-cut entry and a single, easily adjustable strap.

Midrange boots combine high-wrap ankle support, additional EVA support panels, and contoured footbeds to transfer more control from the rider to the board. Bindings are sized for a very limited range of foot sizes, and adjustment straps serve more to control foot release and riding comfort than to adjust size. Because they fit more tightly, they are less likely to release in a fall, and harder to get into, especially in the water. The contoured footbed helps to hold the rider’s foot in place and cushions impact from surface chop or jumps.

High-end boots combine all the aspects of the mid-range boots, and add extra adjustment straps, buckles, lacing, and EVA and ABS inserts for additional stiffening. Almost all include flashy graphics and colors. Most riders do not need such a highly technical binding and most won’t be willing to pay the high price, but by upgrading to these bindings an advanced rider can gain better control for landing serious tricks.

Fins
When wakeboarding began, boards with large fins, multiple fins, or both were common. Design was focused on keeping the boards moving in a straight line for slalom course turns or wake-jump landings. As the sport and rider abilities progressed, surface moves like powerslides and spins became popular, and multiple fins became an obstacle. Wakeboard design over the past few years has been focused on finding alternative bottom shapes like channels or ridges to provide control without sacrificing spinning ability. Increased rocker gets the remaining fins out of the water during surface moves. This said, wakeboards still rely heavily on fins.

When performing hard turns, the fin on the tail of the board is deep in the water and helps prevent the board from sliding out from under the rider. When landing a jump, the fins cut in first and straighten out the board to help the rider recover more quickly. Fins range from around 1.5″ to 2.25″. Larger fins are better for more aerial tricks where landing is important, while riders concentrating on surface moves should choose smaller fins. Those just learning to ride should choose larger fins for more stability and to help with deepwater starts.

How big a board do I need?
Rule of thumb for wakeboard sizing: start with the idea that a 130lb. person uses a 130cm board. Pretty easy, right? Then, add 2cm of board length for every 10lbs of rider weight. For advanced riders, board size is based on past experience and individual style, so this rule may be totally bogus. A wider board can be shorter for a given rider weight, while narrow boards should be longer for sufficient surface area.

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