Is Wakeboarding Harder Than Water Skiing?

Both wakeboarding and waterskiing involve being towed behind a boat and getting some air off of the boat wake. However, there are a lot of differences between these two sports, including the difficulty level. 

Is wakeboarding harder than water skiing? Whether wakeboarding is harder than water skiing for you depends largely on your previous experience and personal opinion. Wakeboarding can be more challenging since you need to rotate your body once you are up on the board and because hitting the board when you fall can be painful and make you unwilling to get back up. However, waterskiing has distinct challenges as well.

Here’s what you need to know about whether wakeboarding is harder than water skiing and how to anticipate which of these two sports will be harder for you. You’ll also get some advice about which sport to try depending on your situation and whether kneeboarding may be a better way for you to start out.

What Are Wakeboarding And Waterskiing?

When wakeboarding, you ride a fairly large board that is strapped to your feet. When water skiing, each of your feet is attached to a ski. You can also water-ski using just one ski, known as slalom skiing. In this case, one foot is attached and the other foot is tucked into a strapped behind the first footer. 

Usually, wakeboarders enjoy taking more jumps and doing more tricks, whereas water skiers are more focused on achieving very high speeds. Some water skiers also enjoy doing acrobatics while on their skis. 

Both of these sports can be done under similar conditions and both involve being towed behind a boat. Many people enjoy both wakeboarding and waterskiing, although most people tend to find one sport that they prefer over the other.

Wakeboarding And Water Skiing Comparison Chart

WakeboardingWater Skiing
Previous experience in skateboarding or snowboarding makes wakeboarding easier to pick up.Previous experience snow skiing makes water skiing easier to learn. 
Wakeboarding is possible in very calm or slightly rougher conditions.Water skiing is only possible when the water is very calm. This is especially true when skiing on only one ski.
You need to rotate your body when you get up on a wakeboard, which some people find challenging.Skis tend to move away from each other and wobble as you get up, which some people find more difficult.
When you fall on a wakeboard, you may be more likely to hit the board, resulting in injury and making you less likely to want to keep going, but you may not hit the water as hard most of the time since you aren’t moving as quickly.When water skiing you are moving very fast, so you may tend to hit the water quite hard. The skis also tend to pull apart when you fall, which can be very uncomfortable.
Wakeboarding can result in ACL and PCL tears and concussions if you hit the boardWater skiing, especially slalom skiing, makes it more likely that you may fall on your rib cage, resulting in a bruised or dislocated rib cartilage. 

What Determines Whether Wakeboarding Is Harder Than Water Skiing For You?

Previous Experience

When you wakeboard, your feet are perpendicular to the board, very similar to skateboarding or snowboarding. However, when you water ski, both feet face forward and parallel to each other, such as when you snow ski. 

If you have previous experience skateboarding, snowboarding, or snow skiing, this experience may make either wakeboarding or water skiing easier for you. Experienced skateboarders or snowboarders will likely find wakeboarding to be a very natural extension of their existing skills. 

If you have previous experience snow skiing, water skiing may be fairly easy for you. If you don’t have any experience in skateboarding, snowboarding, or snow skiing, you may find both wakeboarding and waterskiing to be similarly difficult to learn.

Water Conditions

Very smooth water makes it easier to wakeboard or water ski, but having very calm water is even more important for water skiing than it is for wakeboarding. If you are skiing on only one ski (slaloming) extremely calm water is even more essential. 

While wakeboarding in rougher water may not be as pleasant as wakeboarding in calm water, it is much more doable than water skiing in rougher water. Some wakeboarders even enjoy the extra air that they can get from the waves. 

Preference In Getting Up

Different people have varying opinions on whether it is easier to get up on a wakeboard or on water skis. There isn’t a clear consensus on which is easier.

When you get up on water skis, you can start out facing in the direction that you are going to go, whereas when you get up on a wakeboard, you will need to rotate your hips sideways after you get up. Some people find it challenging to have to angle your body after you get up on the board, and therefore find skis easier. 

On the other hand, when you are getting up on skis, you need to contend with the skis being wobbly and moving away from one another, which many people find to be quite difficult.

Is Wakeboarding Harder Than Water Skiing?

What Happens When You Fall

When water skiing you move considerably faster than when you wakeboard, generally at around 25 or 30 miles an hour for waterskiing as opposed to around 20 miles an hour for wakeboarding. That means that when you inevitably fall, you may hit the water harder when you are water skiing, which some people find makes it harder to convince themselves to keep getting back up. When water skiing, you also take the risk of the skis moving out away from each other beneath you, causing you to do a split as you fall, which many people find very unpleasant. 

On the other hand, when you wakeboard, you take the risk of hitting the edge of the wakeboard, which can be a very hard hit. If you fall forward on the wakeboard, you can also end up hitting the water very hard despite moving at a slower speed than you do when you water ski. 

How Your Body Moves

Many people find wakeboarding to be easier on the body than skiing, especially slalom skiing. Pulling the skis from side to side requires a good amount of effort which will typically tire you out and mean soreness the next day. Because you are moving at faster speeds when water skiing, it can put a lot of stress on your body.

However, because you are riding with one foot forward when you wakeboard, you can become stiff and stress yourself unnaturally as well. Experienced wakeboarders learn to flip the board 180 degrees and switch the front and rear foot to balance the strain out across the body during a ride. 

You can also switch leading feet between rides. For some people, it takes a good deal of practice to learn how to switch sides and get used to a different leading foot than what feels natural, but it’s well worth it to reduce stress on your body.

Likelihood Of Serious Injuries

Both wakeboarding and waterskiing can result in some significant injuries. Cuts from falling on the board can occur for either sport. Wakeboarding can result in ACL and PCL tears and may also cause a concussion or intracranial hemorrhage if your head hits the board. 

Slalom water skiers may tend to fall on their rib cage when they are turning, which can bruise or even dislocate rib cartilage. However, if you are doing lots of significant tricks while wakeboarding, your risk of injury increases. Since doing tricks on the wakeboard is one of the things that people enjoy the most about wakeboarding, the likelihood of serious injury may be increased.

What Is Easier Than Either Skiing Or Wakeboarding?

If you want the simplest way to learn to get up on a board and have fun, you may want to start with kneeboarding. When kneeboarding, you require much less coordination, balance, and core strength since the kneeboard more or less takes the lower half of your body out of the equation. 

You will balance using only your thighs and core, which is considerably easier. Getting up on a kneeboard is easier as well since you will be facing in the same direction you are going and there is no concern of skis moving apart underneath you. You don’t have as far to fall on a kneeboard either, which makes it easier to get back up on the board after you fall.

Kneeboarding can be a lot of fun since you can achieve some of the similar kinds of jumps over the wake as you would with wakeboarding. However, since you’re closer to the water, you’ll have to deal with more spray from the boat when kneeboarding than with wakeboarding or water skiing. 

Have Fun Wakeboarding Or Water Skiing

Both wakeboarding and waterskiing come with some significant challenges, and both will require both physical skill and learned experience to do well. However, if you apply yourself, you will likely enjoy whichever you choose.