A Guide to Water Ski, Wakeboard and Surf Ropes

The ropes used for powered water sports will vary from different construction methods to materials used. If you’re new to the sport you might have thought to yourself, ” why not just use some cheap blue building rope”. Well this guide to water ski, wakeboard and surf ropes will explain!

Water Ski Ropes

Not many people know that water skiing started back in 1922 when Ralph Samuelsson thought if you could ski on snow why not water. He and his brother experimented for many days until they discovered the trick to water skiing was to lean backwards, from this day water skiing was born and has developed into the well known sport it is today.

With water skiing the ropes are different in the respect they are rarely one continuous rope (unless beginner ropes), instead competition ropes come in 75ft lengths with either 5, 8 or 10 sections. These sections can be removed to shorten the length of the rope as you progress and also gives the ability to score higher in competitions with a higher ‘off’. To help make section identification simpler some ropes have ID sleeves and are colour co-ordinated; perfect for fast adjustment. A five or eight section rope will accommodate most abilities.

HO 5 section water ski rope and handle.
HO 5 section water ski rope and handle.

Water skiing ropes tend to stretch a little more than wakeboarding ropes as this stretch acts as a shock absorber, when the skier crosses the wake in between turns. Therefore these ropes are generally made from polypropylene but some riders still prefer no stretch Poly E ropes which are also available. The higher the weave number the less stretch it typically gives due to being stronger.

Unlike wakeboarding handles water skiing requires a smaller handle normally between 11-13 inches due to not performing aerial spins. To aid beginners with deep water starts companies introduced the deep V handle which gives the ability for the ski to be held upright whilst being pulled out of the water; something that many beginners struggle with.

Handle ergonomics is becoming extremely important for many riders. Water ski handles are now made from numerous materials from carbon to aluminium; along with varying EVA foam thicknesses and textures which is all down to personal preference.

Wakeboard Ropes

For many years surfing the waves at the beach has always been a favourite amongst holiday makers and enthusiasts. Throughout that time some were towed behind boats which lead Tony Finn to develop the skurfer in 1985, which made way for the development of the wakeboard and its ropes.

It’s useful to know wakeboard ropes should have a very small amount of stretch or none at all unlike water ski ropes;  this property helps performing aerial tricks easier as you progress through the sport. Numerous technological developments have allowed wakeboard ropes to now be made from three materials:

Minimal stretch Polyethylene rope
Zero stretch Spectra rope
Zero stretch Dyneema rope

Liquid Force dyneema rope and handle.
Liquid Force dyneema rope and handle.

The cheapest of the three Polyethylene is readily available and is seen as a forgiving rope perfect for beginners due to having a 2-3% stretch under normal load giving the effect of a shock absorber perfect for any beginner rider.

Spectra is an industry favourite with many riders due to its unique properties. Spectra rope is ultra strong,  10 times stronger than steel in fact but remains lightweight as well as being extremely durable and will float preventing any unwanted propping!

Dyneema is similar to Spectra in being extremely strong outperforming many other synthetic ropes, but has the ability to resists both UV and salt water adding to its already high durability rating.

Selecting the right rope length, like getting the right sized shoe, is extremely important especially so as a beginner. The ideal length to start at is 65ft which can be shortened with the normal 5ft sections if you’re having trouble clearing the wake and as you develop the skills for aerial tricks you can lengthen the rope up to 75ft giving you greater ability to pick up speed as well as giving you more air time.

Similarly to water ski handles, wakeboard handles are made  from numerous materials.  Unlike water ski handles wakeboard handles are much wider 13-15 inches to allow passing of the handle behind your back whilst performing aerial tricks.

Wake Surf Ropes

Wake surfing if you’re unsure is surfing the wake of a boat, for this many people use fat sacs or the boats ballast system to fine tune the wake size. Due to requiring a slightly larger boat this is the least popular sport in comparison to water ski or wakeboarding but the popularity is steadily rising with the development of boat designs.

Straight Line knotted surf rope.
Straight Line knotted surf rope.

The ropes used for wake surfing are about 24ft or less in length due to the wake being extremely close to the boat. The ropes have numerous knots, EVA floats and sometimes handles to make it easier to move up and down the rope to find the perfect ‘sweet spot’ on the wake. Poly E or polypropylene are the main materials used for wake surf ropes so you have the best of both worlds a little stretch poly E rope or more stretch with the polypropylene.

It’s also important to note that ropes designed for any of the above water sports are not suitable for towing inflatable toys. Tow ropes are categorised based on the amount of riders/ weight of riders to provide adequate breaking strength.

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Trick Water Skiing

Seen amongst water sport enthusiasts as the most technical water ski discipline due to the variety of tricks performed. These tricks are performed on small oval shaped water skis with advanced skiers using one ski whereas beginners use two for extra stability.

obrien pro trac trick water skis
O’Brien Pro Trac trick water skis; advanced skiers will only use one ski.

Trick Water Skiing Competition

Rather than a set course trick skiers are given two 20 second runs in which they will perform a variety of tricks. The first pass is for hand tricks (surface turns, rotations and flips off the wake) and the second pass is for toe tricks (wake rotations and turns) using only your foot to hold onto the handle.

In relation to scores, tricks cannot be repeated with each trick being assigned a points value. The most points overall from both runs wins which is determined by a panel of 5 judges.

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Ernie Ward World Champion Water Skier

World, European, British – he’s a champion! Ernie Ward, Tallington Lakes’ resident water skier, was a true champion winning many water ski titles during his water skiing career.

Ernie started to water ski late in life at the age of 42, after seeing a sixty-year-old women have a go in Ibiza, and dominated the veteran class. In his time Ernie won over eighty National and International titles. Ernie held the British title for five consecutive years; it may have been six but he didn’t compete in the sixth!

ernie ward world champion water skier newspaper cutting
Ernie Ward is pictured with the World Cup trophy he won in Sicily 1989.

Ernie spent his time between ‘the home of water skiing’ Florida, USA and living above the Pro Shop at Tallington Lakes. Ernie lived and breathed water skiing and was instrumental in developing the water skiing facilities here at the lakes. Ernie was part of a team that successfully brought the 1988 World Veteran Championships to Lincolnshire.

Ernie water ski jumped until he was 70, and contiuned to ski until 77. Even after his career was over he was still enthusiastic about the water skiing facilities as he was when he laid the first slalom course, here at Tallington Lakes

Ernie was a quiet and unassuming man, who amassed a huge collection of titles and trophies. His drive and enthusiasm for the sport is missed in the water skiing community. Describing water skiing Ernie said “it’s a family sport that anyone can learn”. He loved to get kids involved in the sport he was so passionate about!

BWSW‘s Director of Excellence Nick McGarry said of Ernie Ward.

“Ernie was a winner and a leader, no doubt about that. He was also one of those very special, yet rare people that can enthuse and inspire others just by being himself.

As a youngster you always wanted to ski well if he was at the tournament. He always noticed how you had got on and not just for a few favorites but all the youngsters. Quick to put an arm around you if you had suffered a disappointing run and offer some quiet words of encouragement you would not want to earn his disapproval for anything less than good behavior.

A naturally funny man, he was so welcoming to the newbies that came into the Tournament Scene. A terrific character who was generous with his time and knowledge. He once said to me, when I had just been very harshly disqualified from my second trick pass by an over zealous chief judge “Always listen to what someone has to say. The least you will find out is that they don’t know what they are talking about”. An absolute gem of wisdom delivered perfectly to soften the blow, just for knowing him!

We owe him a debt of gratitude which is best served by continuing to service our great sport as he did.

So I am honored to be able to Judge in his Competition.”

The Ernie Ward Memorial Cup is an annual reminder of the man, his achievements, and the development of the water skiing facilities here at Tallington Lakes! The trophies awarded on the day are from Ernie’s collection, because as his widow, Jeanie, explains “he always wanted to put something back into the sport”.

Ernie Ward 1925 – 2010

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