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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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