You watch sadly as the water starts to freeze over. A tear falls (and freezes before hitting the ground) as the boat gets finally winterized. This means only one thing; yes, it marks the end of another great summer, but more importantly for the kids (or even yourself) it's the holidays, and time to get those loved ones the water sports equipment that they've been begging for since last year! Wakeboarding related gifts are a great idea for any beginner or serious wakeboarding enthusiast, and a great way to promote spending family time together as the weather warms back up next spring.
The 2008 product lines are trickling into stores as we speak, and as always, there are board and binding designs that continue to revolutionize the sport of wakeboarding. In addition, each company has numerous board/binding combination packages that can accommodate all ability levels from beginner to expert. These packages not only make it easier and more affordable for the gift buyer, but are sure to make the eyes of any five to 55 year old shine brightly when frantically tearing through the thin paper separating them from all of the new tricks they hope to accomplish next season.
To a parent, grandparent, or significant other wanting to give the perfect gift to their wakeboard addicted loved one, the numerous options and combinations available can make the decision similar to ordering dinner at an expensive french restaurant, when your experience is limited solely to french fries! Hopefully the background information on board designs/shapes, along with a rundown of the offerings from some of the more popular board companies included in this article will help ease you into this journey, and allow you to arrive at the perfect gift for your special someone.
When looking at different wakeboards, there are a few ideas to keep in mind. First, is size. The longer and wider the board, the more surface area it has. Therefore, heavier or taller riders should ride a longer wakeboard, and smaller or lighter riders should ride a shorter wakeboard. It also makes sense that larger boards are heavier, meaning that they will not flip or spin as fast as a smaller board. A larger wakeboard will land softer however, due to the increased surface area available to absorb the shock of reentering the water's surface. The general rule of thumb is that a six-foot tall rider should be on a board between 138 cm - 142 cm. A five-foot tall rider in comparison should be most comfortable learning on a board ranging from 128 cm- 134 cm. Each company makes different sizes of virtually all of their models to accommodate rider's varying sizes.
Next is the rocker or camber that the board has. This is defined by either Continuous or Three-Stage. The easiest way to visualize this somewhat difficult concept is imagine a wakeboard with no bindings laying upside down (base up toward the sky). The curve of the board will create a space that exists between the ground and the upside down topsheet. This space is known as the board's rocker. A continuous rocker means that the bend in the board does not change from the nose to the tail. On the other hand, a three-stage has an abrupt change between the nose/tail, with a flat spot in the center. Continuous rocker boards tend to ride faster and more on top of the water because there are no kinks in the bottom of the board for the water to be deflected against. They also cut harder in to the wake, but do not have as much pop off of it as three-stage boards do. Boards that are built with three-stage rocker ride a bit lower in the water and tend to be a little slower, but pop off the top of the wake harder and land much softer. Many companies are now incorporating both of these ideas into various shapes in an attempt to harness the advantages of each. These are sometimes known as "subtle three-stage," or numerous other names coined by the individual manufacturer. Rocker is the board characteristic that depends most on personal preference and experience. Most entry-level wakeboards will have similar, simpler shapes. This allows a beginning rider to become comfortable behind the boat, and gradually identify their own preferences.
The last major characteristic of wakeboard design are the fins. Most modern boards have molded-in fins which are built-in when they are pressed at the factory. These fins will not break, but the rider cannot change the fin set-up if they do not like how aggressively the board tracks in the water. These fins are ideal if the rider is going to be hitting sliders, or is advanced enough to ride their current board without any bolt-on fins. The more traditional fins are either made out of fiberglass or aluminum and can be purchased in a variety of sizes and shapes. Even if a board has molded fins, it will usually have a removable center fin. As a rider's ability level increases, they will usually prefer a board with molded fins, and will remove the center fin. A novice however will appreciate the extra stability provided by keeping that center fin attached.
Bindings come in three different categories.
Multi-use- These bindings are very versatile and can expand and contract usually with Velcro to accommodate many different foot sizes. These are best for families who have many children that are all learning and using the same board. They are not as supportive as some of the more high end offerings, but are still more advanced than what Gator or Scott Byerly were doing the first inverts on when wakeboarding was in its infancy.
Lace-Ups/Ratchets- These are higher-end bindings that utilize laces or some other constrictive device to help snug the binding to the foot. The laces are either on top of the foot or up the back of the boot. They provide a custom fit every time, and expand to allow easier entry/exit than bindings without any laces. These bindings have smaller size ranges with which they can accommodate than the multi use however, and are more ideal for individuals, or families with kids with similar sized feet. They provide a more supportive fit, and usually only accommodate 1-3 shoe sizes.
Close toe/ Open toe- One of the newest advancements in wakeboard binding technology was the advent of the close toe binding. These look nearly identical to many snowboard boots, and completely encase your foot within the binding. The theory behind this is an even more customized fit, as well as allowing your toes to contact the lining and improve your leverage when edging. Almost every company now makes this style of binding, but personal preference again reigns supreme. Some riders still like the feel of the water splashing past their feet. Also, these bindings are even more size specific, meaning they are better suited for riders with their own personal set up.
When gift shopping for your wakeboarder, it is important to keep several things in mind. First is their ability level. You wouldn't buy a 16 year old a Ferrarri, because their driving experience (or lack thereof) would actually probably make for a more dangerous situation…right? Purchasing a wakeboard is very similar. While the most expensive set up might be what their favorite pro rider's name is on, it may not be the best fit for a novice rider. Packages from O'Brien, Liquid Force, Hyperlite, and CWB are available from your favorite watersports retailer, but a little thought will help ensure the most enjoyment out of your gift.
For example, if the whole family enjoys getting out on the board, an expensive, advanced shape like a rider endorsed board with closed toe bindings will mean that only 1 or two family members can most likely enjoy it. Instead, try looking for a package meant for an intermediate rider, with lace-up bindings that will accommodate a larger size range of occupants. Many times, you could even purchase two complete board/binding packages (a smaller one for the kids, and a larger one for the teenagers/adults) for the price of one top-of-the-line board/closed toe set up. This will mean that everyone can enjoy being out on the water. In addition, next year, a more advanced pair of bindings or board for those that really take an interest will help them progress to the next level after they have had time to learn the basics.
As for gift shopping for a more advanced wakeboarder, a couple smartly worded questions will make the decision much easier. After reading this article, you should be at least slightly familiar with the various characteristics of wakeboard and binding design. A couple focused questions to your gift recipient such as, "So, do you prefer continuous or three-stage boards," or "Have your tried those closed toe bindings yet?" will not only get their brain racing, but also identify their personal preferences, making it much easier to pick out something that fits their particular taste. Plus, you will certainly be applauded for taking an interest in their activities.
Article by Ian Udell. Ian rides for Mastercraft boats, Obrien Wakeboards, and Ten80 clothing.