I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know what wakeboarding was when my friend first told me she was hooked on it. When we skyped a year or so ago, she on the balcony of her apartment in Kuala Lumpur (KL), and me freezing next to the radiator in my small London flat’s kitchen, she enthused about her new love for “wakey.” I nodded and lied convincingly, “I’d love to try it one day.”
She is apparently not one to forget a conversation. Fast forward one year, I stayed with Cat recently during an extended trip in Asia and she signed me up for my first wakeboarding lesson. Thank Google I looked up what it entailed and so I wasn’t completely oblivious as to what would be expected of me as we arrived at a surprisingly nice looking man-made lake in the KL suburb of Putrajaya.
“Here’s your BJ…”
“Now let’s go meet your instructor. Did I tell you that he also coaches the Malaysian national team?”
“WHAT!?! I am not national standard. I am barely standard!” Admittedly Malaysia isn’t the world leader in watersports, but it was still a little intimidating!
Cat laughed the endearing laugh I love so much and before I knew it I was practising standing up on the concrete side of the lake with my instructor who worryingly didn’t mention what I had to do after standing up, not that I expected to do any better. “It’s all about letting yourself be pulled up, don’t stand up before you have to.” It sounded simple but of course, I feared fluffing it up on a grand scale.
It soon became clear, adrenaline-buzz aside, why my friend Cat and her boyfriend who moved to Malaysia over a year ago, took up the sport. When wakeboarding can be enjoyed in warm weather, in well looked after water and in a very cool speed boat, at a fraction of the price it would cost in Europe, you’d enjoy yourself even if you never successfully stood up. Needless to say they didn’t have this problem. They glided across and along the water with effortless grace, performing tricks similar to the ones I’d watched in awe on YouTube.
The intimidation turned to panic. What had I let myself into?
Sensing my nerves, Cat leaned over to me as she got out only a little bit breathless; “You’ll be fine. You’re a snowboarder and it’s apparently fairly similar to that so you should pick it up really quickly,”
Funnily enough, that didn’t help. Sat in my bikini in 30 degree heat on a speed boat listening to hip-hop blare out of an impressive sound system, I couldn’t have felt further away from my beloved snowboard and the Alps.
But finally it was my turn and I had to give it a go. I strapped my bare feet into the already wet rubber and Velcro bindings, slipped off the back of the boat with the grace of an elephant and gripped the handle like it was my lifeline.
The boat and my support network chugged away, slowly pulling the line tight. I saw the instructor’s hand go up, asking for my thumbs up; was I ready? As ready as I’ll ever be, I threw my thumb up in the air not leaving my two hand grasp on the handle for more than a second and I heard the roar of the speedboat’s jets.
“Don’t stand up, don’t stand up, don’t stand up. Not yet, not yet,” I told myself.
Then suddenly I felt a pull that I couldn’t ignore. My arms and shoulders rolled forward and I let my body get gradually pulled up, adhering to every piece of advice I’d been given. And what do you know? It worked.
At this point my snowboarder’s instinct kicked in, I turned the board to one side, found an edge and rode the water, grinning madly.
Until five seconds later I lost the edge and my cool and plummeted into the water, still grinning madly. Now that was fun!
This happened and again and again, with slightly longer periods of time vertical and more impressive gliding on the water’s surface, until I smacked the water face and chest first winding myself. This was how I learnt that it is very important to know how to fall properly, and with this in mind here are my top 5 tips for learning how to wake board.
- You’ll need to work out if you’re normal (left leg first) or goofy (right leg first) by doing a cart wheel and seeing which leg you lead with. This will be the leading leg you have in front of you on your board.
- Let the pull of the wire pull you up out of the water. Standing up too soon means you will sink as there is no force to keep you upright.
- If you think you are going to fall let go of the rope as soon as you can. Painful “face plant” falls normally happen when people keep hold and the rope pulls them down face first. Ouch!
- You don’t need to be a snowboarder to give wakeboarding a go. My friend Cat has never snowboarded in her life and learnt easily and quickly.
- Stretch before and after. Wakeboarding is typically done in short spurts of high intensity and you’ll be using muscles you didn’t know you had so stretch out your arms, back and shoulders to prevent too much pain the next day!