Our US correspondent Elliott Maurice takes a look at some of the best wake surf boats on the market, from the likes of Axis, Yamaha and Mastercraft…
From the humble beginnings of the speedboat, owners have always towed people behind their boats on skis, boards and a variety of other contraptions.
This has evolved over the decades to include ever more extreme and inventive water sports – from simple water skis and knee boards to towable bananas, boat tubes, discs (in some cases designed to fly high out of the water) and even wearable inflatable toys but in 1974 a new form of the sport started to gain traction – wakeboarding.
Much like snowboards these shorter, twin-tipped boards were relatively easy to get started on but also better suited to jumps, tricks and stunts than traditional water skis as riders progressed.
The trend drove demand for boats that could deliver bigger wakes for ever more extreme tricks. Initially this was done by taking a traditional ski boat, originally designed to create a small, even wake for slalom skiing, and weighing down one side with passengers to create a large enough wake on one side of the boat for riders to use as a launch pad.
However, as the sport took off specialist wakeboard boats were developed with ballast tanks and drop down wedges that could create exactly the size and shape of wake required. At some point during the 1960s another sport took its first tentative steps when longboard surfers tried using the wakes of large motor cruisers to surf close behind them.
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But it wasn’t until 2015 that a group of Australian surfers decided to try the same thing behind a wakeboarding boat. By moving their combined weight to the back and side of the boat to create a larger curling asymmetric wave then towing one of their mates into position on a shortboard, they found they could surf the wave almost indefinitely.
The sport of wake surfing had been invented and soon exploded in popularity as a low impact alternative to wakeboarding. Wake surfing can take time to master, but it appeals to a wider audience, due to being lower impact and less tiring than wakeboarding and waterskiing.
What makes a good wake surf boat?
Today’s specialist wake surf boats are an entirely different breed to the traditional tournament ski boat or any other form of sportsboat. A number of key features are designed into them, not just to improve the size of the wake but also to keep riders safe.
They are either powered by inboard engines running V-drives to a shaft-driven propeller mounted well forward of the transom or by water jets with exhausts mounted to the side instead of the stern.
There are two reasons for this: a wake surfer is often only 5ft off the stern and a stern mounted propeller from an outboard or outdrive leg could easily prove fatal. Also, it’s not nice having gasoline fumes blown in your face. With this in mind, wake surfing should never be attempted off a traditional motorboat.
The best wake surf boats use ballast tanks (filled with water via scoops in the hull), drop-down wedges and side-mounted hydraulic fins linked to a simple touch pad control to create the perfect shape and size of wake.
In the more high-end models, this allows you to dial up a large asymmetric wake tailored to your specific needs and ability on either side of the boat. Cheaper models require a lot more user input, trial and error to get the same result often by moving people around the boat and are often based on the same basic design principles as a tournament ski boat.
This means a single high-powered engine, shaft driven with small skegs down the keel to maintain directional stability and a propeller pitched for acceleration rather than high speed for a rapid, sustained pull. Expect to spend from around $70,000 to well over $400,000 for the best in class.
Wake surfing boats also make excellent day boats with plenty of seating capacity for guests and storage for all the boards and kit required. They usually come as standard with big marine speakers, high-performance engines and great handling. In some cases, they are also some of the best-looking boats on the water.
The downside is they are not designed for rough seas and are completely useless as fishing boats. They also need to be kept out of the water on trailers or floating docks to avoid any fouling of the under-water scoops and propellers, so you’ll need to lift them when not in use for any length of time.
So here, in no particular order, are my six choices for the best wake surf boats out there:
6 of the best wake surf boats
Best wake surf boat for beginners
Starting at around $75,000, the smallest of the Axis range offers exceptional value for a purpose-built wake boat. Despite being only 20ft long it can still carry up to 11 people and packs in all the features you will find on a boat costing three times as much.
The Axis has hydraulic surf gates port and starboard to shift the wake from side to side, hydraulic wedges that add 1,500lbs of displacement and a ballast system controlled via a 7-inch touchscreen on the dash, all with the sole purpose of creating the perfect surfing wake.
Even the smallest engine option (a Malibu M5DI 5.3l 360hp V8) offers the levels of torque needed to push a fully loaded and heavily ballasted Axis up to surfing speeds.
You also get an excellent, purpose-built trailer, customizable board racks and a Wet Sounds stereo package (including tower pods and Bluetooth integration), plus the option of fitting a dampened wake tower to ease lowering. This is a compelling, high-value, decent quality choice.
Super Air Nautique GS22E
Best electric wake surf boat
Based on the petrol powered GS22 wake surf boat, the Super Air Nautique GS22E is packed with the best features available.
These include a hydraulic folding wake tower, custom finishes, a configurable cockpit, and a customizable running surface that can change the characteristics from ski boat to wake surf or wakeboard use via a simple touchscreen at the helm.
The boat can even be optioned with an electric stern thruster to make docking a doddle.
As well as being virtually silent underway, this electric boat version can offer up to three hours’ use on a single charge. The huge flat torque curve of the electric power plant perfectly suits tow sports use and onboard telemetry constantly monitors and reports the engine’s performance.
The significant $140,000 premium over the petrol powered version means this model will not be for everyone, however the emissions-free GS22E is the first of its kind and potentially the wake surf boat of the future.
Super Air Nautique G25 Paragon
Best luxury wake surf boat
With a base price a shade under $250,000, the G25 Paragon can take up to 19 people out for a day on the water. With both petrol and diesel engine options and a maximum of up to 600hp there is plenty of performance on offer.
The wide 8ft 5in beam and squared-off bow, typical of the Paragon range, give this model unprecedented lounging space on board.
Options include a full custom paint job, Elite JL Audio sound system and an electric folding and telescopic wake tower. Throw in a mesh bimini top with pockets to store surfboards and underwater lighting on top of the massive standard spec and you can easily push the price to over $400,000.
The base boat comes with a class-leading integrated Nautique surf system and configurable running surface.
All of this creates a seamless computer-controlled wake system, and by incorporating a supplemental ballast system under the floor amidships, you can add a further 1,450lb of water ballast to create a huge wake with a variety of different wave shapes.
The app-based Mynautique system also allows you to monitor the boat’s fuel, battery and engine management information by remote. From stem to stern the G25 is dripping with desirability, justifying the boat’s lofty price tag.
Best jet-powered wake surf boat
If you are looking for the outright best wake surf boat then a jet-drive boat isn’t necessarily the best option, but if you are looking for a jet boat you can also wake surf off, the 222XD is a great choice. Starting at $86,000, the Yamaha comes fitted with twin 1.8L Yamaha marine engines as standard.
The jet drive system has no external propellers and a shallow draft, making it a safe, user-friendly day boat with capacity for up to 10 passengers. The base boat also comes with a folding wake tower and fin-based wake boosters on the stern.
An additional 360lbs of ballast can be provided by speccing the optional ballast tanks. Mounted within the bathing platform, these cost an extra $660. This creates a significant wake, albeit without the finesse of the integrated systems on higher-end prop-driven wake surf boats.
The 222XD is a fun and cost-effective way to get into the sport, with all the additional features and performance you’d expect from a jet boat thrown into the mix as well.
Tige 22 RZX
Best tournament wake surf boat
There are a number of boats that fall into this category, so it’s tough to pick a winner. For me however, the 22 RZX stands out for the sheer versatility of its convex hull shape, which literally sucks the hull down.
The Tige’s breadth of configurable wakes is impressive – anything from a virtually flat profile for slalom skiing, to an asymmetric curling wave that can rival some of mother nature’s best surfing conditions.
The combination of Tige’s convex hull shape and its TAPS3T control system means you can programme pre-set configurations of cruise speed, running attitude, ballast and wedge system, and then recall them at the touch of a button.
The system constantly monitors contributing factors and fine tunes the boat on the fly. Sporty performance comes from Indmar Raptor series engines – the top-spec Raptor 575 provides 510hp and an even more impressive 580 lb/ft of torque for seemingly endless pulling power.
Like all competitors at this level, the Tige can have full custom paint, as well as top-of-the-line Ausdison audio and a hydraulic Alpha E3 Tower, fitted as standard.
Prices start at $230,000, but expect to pay over $300,000 for a top-spec boat. The fit, finish and build quality justify the high price, not to mention the performance and stunning looks.
Mastercraft XStar S
Best all-round wake surf boat
It is difficult to pick one overall favorite, but if I had to, the Mastercraft is it. The aesthetic of this boat for one thing is truly stunning.
For over 50 years, Mastercraft have been the benchmark for tournament tow boats. Not only does the XStar S have all the premium features of its competition for 2023, but it is now available with the most powerful production tow boat engine ever produced.
Built by Ilmor, known for building NASCAR engines, the new 630hp supercharged motor is the new gold standard in both torque and horsepower.’
The Mastercraft is also available in a saltwater spec, featuring closed freshwater cooling, hydraulic steering, extra electrical bonding and teflon-coated aluminum components. Other new features included an optional fold-down step on the bathing platform, aft facing chaise lounges on the transom, and convertible seating throughout.
With arguably the best and driest ride on this type of boat, along with wake producing systems that are level best in this segment, the 23ft XStar S gets my pick for the best overall wake surf boat.
Starting at just under $245,000, this is a premium boat, and when fully optioned nearer the $400,000 mark, complete with metalflake paint, powder-coated hardware, twin-screen helm, underwater lights and a top-of-the-line sound system, this wake surf boat wants for nothing.