Is Wake Surfing Safe? (Explained!)

Wake surfing can be a lot of fun. You get to enjoy the wave-chasing thrill of surfing without having to wait for a wave and swim back out every time you get a ride. Instead, you get to ride a continuous wave behind a boat. However, you may wonder about the safety of wake surfing.

Is wake surfing safe? Wakesurfing is safe provided you follow some key safety tips and keep the potential risks such as running up on the boat or propeller or inhaling exhaust in mind. When using the right boat and equipment, wake surfing is reasonably safe. 

Why Can Wake Surfing Be Dangerous?

Wake surfing involves some risks that are not typically experienced by wakeboarders, kneeboarders, or water skiers. The primary danger of wake surfing is in your proximity to the boat. In order to take advantage of the wake thrown up by the boat, you need to be within only about ten feet of the boat. 

In fact, in order to stay with the boat’s wake once you let go of the rope, you will typically stay within three to six feet of the boat. This leads to some issues that aren’t experienced by other sports in which you are towed behind a boat:

You Could Run Into The Boat

Unlike with other sports that leave you much further behind the boat, you don’t have much reaction time if the boat suddenly slows down when you are wake surfing. When water skiing, wakeboarding, or kneeboarding, you can control your trajectory so that even if the boat stops abruptly, you can steer yourself past it and avoid a collision. However, when wake surfing, you will have both very little time and very little distance with which to steer yourself.

You Could Hit The Propeller

If you don’t use the right kind of boat, it’s possible that you could run into the propeller if the boat suddenly slows down.

Even a propeller that’s moving more slowly with the decreasing speed of a boat can do serious damage if you run into it. Therefore, it is very important which kind of boat you wake surf behind, whereas there is more variability in which boats are safe to wakeboard or kneeboard behind. 

Do not assume that because the boat is steadily moving forward this won’t be a risk for you. Even if you have total trust in the person driving the boat and feel confident that they will not slow down, you yourself will be moving at considerably variable speeds as you carve up and down the wave.

In fact, you can even catch up with the boat even if it remains at a consistent speed and lose control, making it impossible for you to slow yourself down before you make impact with the boat. 

You May Be Less Visible To Other Boaters

Whereas a wakeboarder or water skier who is a good distance behind a boat with a brightly colored line is very clear to other boaters, a wakesurfer can easily be hidden in the wake coming up behind the boat. Once you let go of the line, it can be very difficult to see you behind the boat.

Other boats made try to cut close behind the boat you are wake surfing behind and hit you or they may not notice if you fall off and are treading water behind the boat.

More Air Can Equal More Risk

The same thing that makes wake surfing so much fun can also make it riskier. Because you have access to the boat’s wake to take jumps off of, you tend to get more air when wake surfing than you would in other tow-behind watersports.

This leads to more opportunities to get wrapped up in the tow line, hit the water at a bad angle, or hit yourself with the board. It takes a bit more expertise to wake surf safely than it does to do other tow-behind sports.

The Boat Isn’t On A Plane

To create the significant wave needed for wake surfing, the boat that is towing you will go much more slowly than it would for wakeboarding or water skiing. It must go slow enough that it will not get onto a plane so that it will keep carving through the water and creating that big wave that you want. 

Not being on a plane can make it more challenging for the person steering the boat to steer it effectively and even see what is going on ahead of them, since the bow of the boat sticks up in the air, blocking visibility. 

How To Wake Surf Safely

Use An Inboard Wake Boat

Outboard power or sterndrive boats are the most dangerous to wake surf behind. This is because they put the wake surfer closer to the propeller so that if the boat slows down suddenly, it is more likely that the wake surfer will find themselves running up on a moving propeller. 

Furthermore, these boats shoot exhaust directly into the wake surfer’s face. Breathing that much exhaust can lead to health problems. On the other hand, inboard boats, both direct drives and V drives, put the motor inside of the boat and the propeller comes out underneath the deck.

Therefore, you would have to skid underneath the boat in order to come into contact with the propeller, which is much less likely. 

Wake Surf In Flat Water

Combining the ocean waves or other boat wakes with the wake coming off the boat you are wake surfing behind can be very fun and exciting. However, it also introduces additional risks.

When the boat you are surfing behind goes up and down in a wake, the bottom of the hull can be exposed, so that even the propeller on an inboard wake boat may be exposed and you may risk running into it. 

Therefore, It is better to reduce variables and only wake surf in flat water. If another big wake comes from a different boat while you are underway, it may be best to drop back and risk losing the wave rather than taking the risk of moving forward onto the propeller.

Is Wake Surfing Safe?

Consider Holding Onto The Rope

Wake surfing purists will argue that if you are holding onto the rope, you aren’t really wake surfing. However, you can still get a significant wake 15 or 20 ft behind the boat while holding onto a rope. 

If you are just starting out with wake surfing, this is probably the best way to do it. This kind of distance gives you room to steer away from the boat if it should suddenly slow down. It also gives you room to carve up and down the wave without risking running into the boat.

Using a tow line makes it much less likely that you will accidentally make contact with the boat or the propeller. Depending on the boat, you can still get a very significant wake at this kind of distance.

Use A Boat With A Swim Platform

A swim platform can make it safer for you to wake surf behind a boat since it provides something else for you to run into before you make contact with the back of the boat, or more importantly, the propeller. In fact, a skilled wake surfer may even be able to hop from the board onto the swim platform if they find themselves rushing up on the boat. 

However, a swim platform can be a false sense of security, especially if you are considering using one with an outboard.

If the boat suddenly slows down or you find yourself rushing up on it and don’t time yourself properly to jump onto the platform, you can easily be shoved underneath the platform and into a propeller. 

Create A Bigger Wake So That You Can Increase The Distance Behind The Boat

The larger the wake that your boat produces, the further you can be from the boat while still enjoying a great ride. There are a number of things that you can do to increase your wake:

  • Have more people aboard. The more people you have on a boat, the greater the weight of the boat and the more wake it will push up.
  • Move everybody to one side. Putting all or most of your passengers on one side of the boat pushes a wake up on that side, giving you a better wake on that side of the boat.
  • Use an extended gate on the transom and tanks and bladders to pump water aboard. These techniques put weight on the stern and create more weight on one side, which also creates a bigger wake on one side of the boat for you to enjoy
  • Consider ballast tanks. Ballast tanks increase the weight in the stern even if you don’t have more people to weight down the boat.

Enjoy Wake Surfing Safely

Wake surfing can be a lot of fun, offering you a continuous wave on which to surf without having to worry about holding onto a rope. However, it also comes with some special risks.

As long as you keep these risks in mind and observe these tips, you will likely have a great time enjoying your wake surfing ride safely.