How to Surf behind a Jet Ski: Everything you will need


Surfing used to be a sport only available to people with access to an ocean with the right kind of waves.  If you lived in Southern California or Hawaii you could surf, but options could be pretty limited in many other states. But as technology has improved, people have found many creative ways to surf that are less traditional, but still super fun.  Wakeboarding and wakesurfing are two of these means of surfing without an ocean and they’re definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already. 

Many people who have tried wakeboarding/wakesurfing, or who are interested in learning, often wonder whether it’s possible to surf behind a jet ski instead of a boat. 

Can you surf behind a jet ski?

Although wakeboarding or wakesurfing with a jet ski is different, it is indeed possible so long as you have the necessary equipment (including the right jet ski, board, rope, and safety equipment) and knowledge of the basic towing and riding procedures.

Wakeboarding vs. Wakesurfing: The Basics

You may have heard terms like wakeboarding or wakesurfing before and wondered if they’re the same thing. They’re not.  Wakeboarding and wakesurfing are actually two distinctly different ways of surfing behind a jet ski, and they require slightly different equipment.

What is Wakeboarding?

Wakeboarding is the more common of the two.  Wakeboards are visually most similar to a snowboard. They have an oblong shape and holes in the board where the rider can attach bindings (or boots).  The rider puts their feet into the bindings to affix themselves to the board before riding.

When wakeboarding, the rider uses a tow rope to help them stand up in the water and then holds onto the rope for the whole ride.  Wakeboarding is especially popular for doing stunts, jumps, and tricks.

What is Wakesurfing?

Wakesurfing is much closer to actual surfing.  A wakesurf board looks more like a stubby surfboard. It is wide in the middle, squared off in the back, and comes to a point in the front. There are usually two or three fins underneath the board that help the rider steer in the water. 

The most notable difference between a wakesurf board and a wakeboard is that a wakesurf board does not have bindings. Instead, the rider rides barefoot and must balance on the board independently.

Additionally, wakesurfers ride much closer to the back of the towing watercraft than wakeboarders do, and unlike wakeboarders, they usually let go of the tow rope and just allow the momentum of the wake to propel them through the water.  

FAQ’s about Wakeboarding vs. Wakesurfing

  1. Which is easier? Wakeboarding is probably a bit easier to learn than wakesurfing because the bindings make it easier to stand up in the water and stay standing and because the rider has to do less steering with their feet. It’s also the more popular sport, so there are more online videos and tutorials to help you while you’re learning.
  2. Which is safer? Like most sports, the safety of wakeboarding/wakesurfing has more to do with user participation than any inherent qualities of the sport itself.  Both are relatively safe as long as you follow recommended safety precautions.
  3. Which is more fun? They’re both fun! They’re just different.  Wakeboarding is more about style and tricks, while wakesurfing is slower-paced and more relaxed.  Give them both a try to see which you prefer or practice both!

Equipment to Wakeboard/Wakesurf Behind a Jet Ski

Wakeboarding and Wakesurfing don’t require an abundance of supplies, but there are some pieces of equipment, such as a board, rope, and basic safety equipment, that you absolutely must have. There are also a few pieces of optional equipment that can be very helpful.  The first piece of essential equipment, though, is the right jet ski.

The Best Jet Skis for Wakeboarding or Wakesurfing

Technically, you can use almost any jet ski for towing, but especially when it comes to wakeboarding and wakesurfing, it’s recommended that you use jet skis specifically for tow sports. There are few reasons for this.

  1. They’re heavier. The added weight is important for creating the wake necessary for doing tricks on a wakeboard or “catching” the wake while wakesurfing. Lighter jet skis don’t produce enough of a wake for these activities.
  2. They meet regulations. In most states, there are regulations for towing behind jet skis. Often, one of these regulations is that the jet ski must be able to hold three people: the driver, the rider who will be towed, and an on-board observer. Towing jet skis are usually designed for three passengers.
  3. There’s more storage space.  As discussed above, there’s limited space on a jet ski, and when participating in towing sports, you will need extra gear. The extra space on a towing jet ski provides this necessary extra storage.
  4. Boarding ladder. Towing skis are designed with riders in the water in mind and are equipped with a special boarding ladder to help riders get in and out of the water more easily.

Here are some of the best jet skis for wakeboarding, wakesurfing, and other tow sports:

MakeModelPrice
Sea-DooWAKE$12,199+
Sea-DooWAKE Pro$14,899+
WaveRunnerVX Limited$11,399+
WaveRunnerFX Limited SVHO$17,599+
Jet SkiSTX 160LX$11,699+
Jet SkiUltra 310LX$17,999+

Wakeboards and Wakesurf Boards

The next piece of equipment you need to wakeboard or wakesurf behind a jet ski is the right kind of board. Here is our favorite wakesurf board.

Wakesurf boards can be rented or bought. If you choose to rent, you’re looking at $30-60/day. Buying a wakesurf board can run anywhere from $150-$500. Below are some popular models:

MakeModelPrice
AirheadCharge$147
South Bay Board Co.The 52”/63” Rambler$229
DriftsunThrowdown$389
DriftsunFifty-50$500

Wakeboard rentals also run at about $30-60/day.  Average purchase prices for wakeboards start around $225 but can reach upwards of $1200 or more. Keep in mind that with wakeboarding, you will also need to factor in the price of bindings, which can add another $150-250 to your overall cost. Here is our favorite package to get going wakeboarding on the lake. Below are some popular wakeboard models for beginners, which run a little less expensive than pro models:

MakeModelPrice
HyperliteFranchise$320
RonixDistrict$330
Liquid ForceTrip/Angel$389
RonixVault$420

Tow Rope

You will also need a tow rope for both wakesurfing and wakeboarding, though, there are some differences between tow ropes made for wakesurfing and wakeboarding. For wakesurfing, you will want a shorter rope of 20-30ft long that has thick knots for better grip. For wakeboarding, you will need a rope that is between 65ft. (best for beginners) and 75ft. long (for more advanced riders). Here is our favorite with removable sections, low stretch, and a wide handle for a better grip.

Basic Safety Equipment

Life Jacket—You should not go wakeboarding or wakesurfing without a life preserver, and in most places, they are legally required. Here is a great all around lifejacket for watersports.

Jet Ski Mirrors—Jet ski mirrors are an essential for any tow sport because they allow the driver to check the status of the person being towed behind them while keeping their eyes ahead to steer. A simple handlebar mirror will work, and many jet skis come standard with mirrors.

Skier-Down FlagsSkier down flags are another essential for any tow sport, and they are especially important when towing with a jet ski. Because a jet ski is a pretty small watercraft, other boats may not even be able to see that you’re towing, and when a rider goes down, it’s critical to the safety of the person in the water that you signal their presence to other boats.

Optional Equipment

Besides the must-have equipment listed above, there are some extra accessories that may be useful.

Jet Ski Wakeboard Tower—This is a contraption that attaches to the back of your jet ski and keeps the tow rope elevated out of the water. Most jet skis come with a tow hook on the back, but these hooks can be quite low to the water. If the rider suddenly drops the rope, there is a risk of the rope getting sucked up in the impeller and stalling the jet ski.  Wakeboard towers help prevent this from happening. This is only available for Sea-Doo models. This extendable ski pylon comes standard on the Sea-Doo Wake, but can be attached to the RXT, RXT-X, and GTX models.

The Sea-Doo Spark also has a rack and pylon available to purchase.

Impeller ProtectorImpeller protectors are another way to prevent the impeller on your jet ski from accidentally sucking up the tow rope. I have sucked up a tow rope, and we had to tow the jet ski back to the shore, pull it out of the water, remove the intake grate and ride plate and cut the rope out.

These are WORTH THE MONEY! They are small tubes the fit around the rope and can really save the day. They also protect the jet ski riders from rope kick-back. So, although they’re listed here as optional, I’ve come to think of them as an essential tow sport accessory.

Wakeboard Racks—Unlike a boat, there’s very little storage room on a jet ski. Unless you’re having your rider start surfing right off a dock, you have to find a way to get them and their board out to the water. If more than one of you are riding, you might also have more than one board. Wakeboard racks can help save you space on the jet ski so you can get all your gear out on the water safely. Once again, this accessory is only available for Sea-Doo models, so if you have one you are in luck.

How to Tow a Wakeboarder/Wakesurfer Behind a Jet Ski

The most important thing to remember when towing a wakeboarder or wakesurfer behind a jet ski is to be safe. Unsafe towing can result in serious injury to the driver, rider, or other people if you don’t follow basic precautions like hand signals and appropriate speeds. The actual “how” of towing is pretty simple. Just follow these steps:

  1. Hook the rope to the jet ski. This is done using the tow hook or a wakeboard tower.
  2. Get the rider in the water. If you haven’t already, stop the jet ski. Then let the rider get in the water.
  3. Alert the rider and the on-board observer that you are ready. Make sure your on-board observer is also ready and that they have skier-down flags easily accessible.
  4. Wait for the go signal from your rider. It is important to never start to drive before the rider in the water has confirmed that they are ready.
  5. Slowly hit the throttle and adjust to the appropriate speed. For wakeboarding, you will want to maintain an average speed of 18-22mph. For wakesurfing, you will want to go much slower, sticking closer to about 10mph.
  6. Lean to one side while wakesurfing. It also helps to lean in one direction to provide a larger wake for wakesurfing, or a larger wake to hit on the wakeboard.

How to Ride a Wakeboard Behind a Jet Ski

Learning how to stand up on a wakeboard can take some practice, but luckily, learning is often easiest when being towed behind a jet ski.

Standing Up

  • Get in the water and grab the rope. Once the jet ski has stopped (never try to disembark while the jet ski is moving), get in the water with your board and grab the tow rope from the driver or on-board observer.
  • Set your feet. Make sure your board is perpendicular to the rope and that the toe-side of the board is just at or above the surface of the water.  Keep your body relaxed, your knees bent, and your arms stretched out in front of you.
  • Signal the driver that you’re ready.  This can be one by giving the okay signal with one hand, or by raising the rope.  Make sure you and the driver have agreed on basic hand signals before you get in the water.
  • Slowly allow yourself to be pulled into a standing position.  Start in a low, crouched position and don’t try to rush to stand up.  Once your body is positioned over the top of the board, then you can stand up and strengthen out your board.

Riding Tips

  • Keep your eyes straight ahead to maintain balance
  • Steer by applying pressure to your toes and heels.
  • Keep the rope level with your hips.
  • If you fall, let go of the rope and wait to be picked up.

Check out this video to see some of the tricks that are possible when wakeboarding behind a jet ski.

How to Ride a Wakesurf Board Behind a Jet Ski

Standing up on a wakesurf board is different from standing up on a wakeboard, as is what you can do once you start riding.  The most important tip to remember in wakesurfing is to make sure your driver doesn’t go too fast. They’ll need to maintain a high enough speed to produce a catchable wake, but if they go too fast, you won’t be able to maintain your balance on the board. 10mph is standard.

Standing Up

  • Get in the water and grab the rope. Just like wakeboarding, get in the water with your board and grab the tow rope from the driver or on-board observer. Again, never try to disembark while the jet ski is moving.
  • Set your feet. Setting up for wakesurfing is different than it is for wakeboarding.  Keep the board perpendicular to the rope but extend your legs out in front of you (just don’t lock your knees) and rest your heels on top of the board while it floats atop the water.
  • Signal the driver that you’re ready.  Hand signals for wakesurfing, wakeboarding, and other tow sports are all the same. Make sure you and the drive have agreed on the signal to go.
  • When the boat starts to move, dig your heels into the board. When the boat moves, the rope will get taut and start to pull.  When this happens, dig your heels into the board in order to pop the board up to meet your feet. From here, getting into a standing position is similar to wakeboarding.
  • Slowly allow yourself to be pulled into a standing position.  Start in a low, crouched position and don’t try to rush to stand up.  Once your body is positioned over the top of the board, then you can stand up.

Riding Tips

  • Make sure you’ve caught the wake and are steadily balanced before letting go of the rope. To catch the wake, slowly pull yourself into the wake. If you pull too fast, the wake will spit you back out to the side again.
  • Apply gentle pressure to your toes to push yourself further into the wake and speed up or center your weight to fall back and slow down.
  • Use your front foot to push yourself forward and your back foot to go backward.
  • You can also ride quickly up and down the wake in order to generate more speed.

Check out this video to see an example of what it looks like to wakesurf behind a jet ski. 

Rules/Regulations for Jet Ski Tow Sports

There are several important rules/regulations for jet ski tow sports that wakeboarders and wakesurfers must follow. These rules vary by state, so be sure to check your local laws before you hit the water.

Three-Passenger Jet Ski—Most states require a three-seated jet ski for tow sports. See above for recommendations.

On-Board Observer—Most states also require an on-board observer for tow sports. This person’s job is to maintain communicate between the driver, the rider, and other boats.  They will often be in charge of the tow rope, hand signals, and skier down flags.

Mandatory Safety Equipment—At minimum, you will need life jackets, jet ski mirrors, and skier down flags to comply with most state regulations for safety equipment. Having a first aid kit, air horn, and phone in a waterproof case are also good to have on board.

Regulation Tow Rope Length—Some states have maximum tow rope lengths. 75ft is a common maximum. If you’re a beginner, you won’t want a rope longer than this anyway.

Hand Signals—There are some standard hand signals used in watersports like waterskiing, wakeboarding and wakesurfing. Familiarize yourself with them here.

Pros and Cons of Wakeboarding/Wakesurfing Behind a Jet Ski

Wakeboarding and wakesurfing behind a jet ski and a boat are different experiences, to which there are both pros and cons.

Pros

Affordability—If you don’t already own a boat that’s ideal for tow sports, a jet ski is a less expensive alternative.

Better for learning—Because jet skis produce a smaller wake than boats, they are often easier for beginners to learn with or practice new tricks on.

More maneuverable—Jet skis are also quicker and more maneuverable than boats, which allows them to control their wake better and make quick turnarounds to pick up fallen riders.

Cons

Small wakes—Although smaller wakes are easier to learn on, they can limit the types of tricks you can do wakeboarding and they can make catching the wake and maintaining riding speed while wakesurfing more difficult.

Extra caution necessary—You should be extra cautious when wakeboarding or wakesurfing behind a jet ski. Jet skis are smaller and harder to see, and they don’t have the right of way when approaching other boats.  It’s possible that other boats may not see you, which can be dangerous.

Conclusion

Part of the joy of owning a jet ski is how versatile its uses are. It’s an awesome watersport in and of itself, and yet, it’s also a vehicle (no pun intended) into so many other great watersports as well.  Pretty much any sport you can do with a boat, you can do with a jet ski: fishing, tubing, wakeboarding, wakesurfing, wakeskating, waterskiing, etc. Although there are some differences when participating in these sports behind a jet ski, the possibilities are pretty endless. 

Whether you’ve already delved into the worlds of wakeboarding or wakesurfing or you’re a complete beginner, surfing behind a jet ski is a great way to add a new level of fun and adventure to your time out on the water. All you need to do is acquire some basic necessary equipment like the right jet ski, board, rope, and safety equipment and learn some of the fundamental procedures for towing, standing, and riding, and then you’re good to go.

Surfs up!

Eric

I have been an avid boater / jet ski fanatic since I was a kid.

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