Who needs waves when you can surf behind a boat?
Think water skiing and the mind conjures images of muscle-bound men in the 70s and 80s when water skiing was prime time TV and drawing massive crowds. Moustaches, polished wooden skis, Fletcher speedboats, howling two-stroke outboards and incredible arcing walls of water 30ft high. Ski competitions were huge back then, and not just slalom. No waterway was complete without a jump – a floating wooden wedge over which skiers would hurl themselves into the air, gaining such momentum that they would sometimes overtake the tow boat. At competition level, ski jumpers used the whiplash effect of streaking across the boat wash to hit the ramp at over 70mph for jumps that often exceeded 200ftt!
Waterskiing at this level was exciting, dangerous and oh so glamorous. In 1983, when James Bond needed to be introduced to his femme fatale Fatima Blush in Never Say Never Again, she busrt into his world on waterskis, skiing right into the waterside bar and 007. ‘How reckless of me, I made you all wet!’. ‘Yes, but my martini’s still dry’.
And then, it faded. The public moved on and skiing reverted to the preserve of dedicated enthusiasts and competition skiers, no longer the stuff of headlines and Bond movies. Well, now it’s back. And then some…
In the same way that snow boarding revolutionised sliding down a mountain, wake surfing has brought a whole new dimension to water sports. From its early beginnings wake surfing has captured the imagination of a younger, hipper, audience. Suddenly beanie hats, long hair and board shorts are gracing the aquatic scene as young dudes literally surf the wake of a fast boat in exactly the same way that ocean surfers do – the difference being no paddling out and a guaranteed and constant wave to ride.
But it’s not just the sport that has changed, the boats have too. High speed and a flat wake are still the prerequisites for good water skiing, but the demands of wake surfing are almost polar opposites. Speed, still important, is less extreme, and wake requirements are entirely different – if you want to ride a decent curl, what you need is wash, lots and lots of wash.
Malibu Boats is one of the boat manufactures leading the charge thanks to its patented Power Wedge. Now in its third iteration, this is effectively a huge inverted hydrofoil that lowers beneath the boat and acts just like an inverted race car spoiler, pulling the boat deep into the water at speed. Remote adjustment allows the wash this creates to be precisely tailored, as do the four large water ballast tanks spread around the craft that fill electrically and independently to almost double weight of the boat and pushing out yet more wash. Finally Surf Gate, another Malibu innovation, is a system of large hydraulically actuated flaps that lie flush with the back of the boat until activated, curling a perfect long clean surfable wave.
To see a wake surfer in action take a look at the video of Skimboarding world champion Austin Keen in action at the recent Malibu European pro weekend in Lacanau, France. As the music swells to match the revs from the 6.2-litre V8 engine (the volume is linked to speed), the stadium-style cockpit seating means the whole crew can watch the fun. This is why the new sport is growing so fast among families that want to play together and stay together.