Is Wakeboarding or Snowboarding Harder? Let’s Find Out!

I was 14 years old when I learned how to wakeboard. Snowboarding wasn’t around then. But it is similar to snowboarding in some ways, but there are many differences.

For beginners, wakeboarding will generally be easier to learn. Wakeboards have fins to keep the board straight, and the rope can be leveraged for balance.  A good boat driver will keep a constant speed and avoid obstacles for the rider.

Whether you find wakeboarding or snowboarding harder will largely depend on your experience level in each sport.  I learned that there are some other factors besides the riding mechanics to consider as well.

Wakeboarding Is Easier to Learn at First

If you’ve never stood sideways and ridden a board, wakeboarding will probably be easier to get the hang of than snowboarding.   The only thing you really need to learn is how to stand up.  There are a lot of good YouTube tutorials for that, like this one.

Once you’re up, you’re wakeboarding! The fins on the board will keep you straight, and if the boat driver doesn’t have it out for you, he’ll keep the pace mellow.  All you need to do is bend your knees, hang on, and enjoy the ride.

Now, learning to pop up on a wakeboard will take some practice.  On its own, I wouldn’t say it’s easy.  But it does beat the heck out of spending all day on a cold hill, slamming your butt and knees on the ice.  There is more to learn before actually snowboarding.

Why Snowboarding Is Harder than Wakeboarding

On a snowboard, you don’t need to learn to pop up, but you do need to learn:

  • How to Skate – This means moving around on the snow with only one foot strapped in while pushing with the other, like a skateboarder.
  • One-footed gliding and stopping  – for loading and exiting the chairlift
  • How to ride the chairlift – a daunting task.
  • Strapping in/out your back foot over and over again — usually while sitting down.
  • How to stand up after strapping in – Similar to popping up on a wakeboard, but you don’t have a big old boat to pull you up

While snowboarding and wakeboarding are extremely fun in their own regard, wakeboarding has an easier, faster learning curve for beginners. Snowboarding has a different technique for learning (source.) Most of this article will focus on wakeboarding. However, you can book snowboarding lessons and trips through Viator if you want to move the other direction from the liquid water to the solid phases.

Comparing Snowboarding and Wakeboarding Basics

We’ve discussed the different nuances above, now let’s break down the shared fundamentals and compare each one.

  • Turning
  • Stopping
  • Falling

Turning 

The mechanics of turning on a wakeboard are very similar to a snowboard.  In order to turn, you shift your weight to one side and apply pressure to either your toes or your heels.  The key difference that makes wakeboarding a tad easier? You have a rope to hang on to.

On a snowboard, keeping your balance on edge is a skill that takes a lot of practice.  On a wakeboard, this skill is less important.  What’s more important is having the upper body strength to hang onto the rope.  It will also require some upper body flexibility, especially when turning toe-side.  

As you carve on your toes and veer away from the center of the wake, you’ll need to twist your upper body against the direction of the turn in order to hold on to the rope.  But again, this requires less balance on your toes and more leverage against the rope.

Stopping

Stopping is a critical skill to learn on a snowboard.  It helps you maintain control and keeps you safe.  

Learning to stop a snowboard is an absolute must for beginners.  Trees don’t move, and mountains can get crowded with people.  Colliding with anything is dangerous. Believe me, you want to avoid this at all costs.

Stopping on a wakeboard? Piece of cake.  Before your ride, work out a signal with the boat driver and the spotter.  A proper wakeboard crew should consist of at least three people.

  • The boat operator
  • A spotter
  • The rider

The spotter should be watching you at all times.  A good stop signal could be waving one hand or doing that throat-cutting signal.  When you want your ride to be over, throw the signal and wait for the operator to acknowledge.  The spotter will tell the driver to stop the boat. 

If you absolutely need to stop quickly, let go of the rope. But then keep your arms up so other boaters to see and avoid you. Give your boat the scuba “OK” signal, either a large overhead circle with both arms or one arm overhead touching the top of your head with your hand. Frantically wave if you need immediate help.

Boarders should keep in mind that the boat operator may need to move to a safe position before stopping, so be patient for a few seconds after giving the cut signal. Try to avoid just letting go of the rope when you want to stop.

The boat operator may spot dangers ahead or behind that you aren’t aware of. I’ve been in this situation as the driver many times. Be sure to get on the same page with each other on this before heading out.

Once the boat stops or you let go, you will gently sink into the water and float in your life-vest while you wait for the boat to come to get you.  Stopping on a wakeboard? Super easy.

Wiping out  

Ask anyone who wakeboards, ask anyone who snowboards: Falling is part of the game.  

Believe it or not, there are habits that can be learned to help prevent injury when falling down.  But in this post, we’re going to talk about the key difference between falling on a snowboard and falling on a wakeboard.

While wakeboard slams are plenty hard, you’re still impacting water instead of packed snow or worse yet, ice.  Even at average wakeboarding speeds of 15-20mph, a fall in the lake will generally hurt less than a 5mph edge catch on the icy or firmly packed snowy surface. Imagine a belly flop in the pool versus a bruised tailbone. There are some exceptions, though.  

  • If you’re blessed with a deep powder day, snowboard slams won’t hurt as much.  
  • Or if you’ve built up the confidence to wakeboard at higher speeds, that glassy lake will become less inviting to a spill.

If I Can Snowboard, Can I Wakeboard?

Generally yes.  Once you know how to ride a board, any board, there is definitely carry-over.  There are tons of different boards to ride.

  • Snowboards
  • Skateboards
  • Surfboards
  • Kiteboards
  • Windsurf
  • Paddle Boards

Each sport has its nuances, but the ability to ride one will definitely carry over to another.  It’s all about the art of the turn.  If you’re already a sideways slider, picking up wakeboarding will feel natural. And Carlo and I have already discussed crossover boarding, such as paddle boarding on a windsurf board and using a wakeboard for kitesurfing.

You Can Wakeboard Without Your Own Boat

If you don’t have a boat, don’t be discouraged.  There are still plenty of ways to wakeboard.

While usually tongue in cheek, it’s often said that the best way to get involved in boating and watersports is to have a friend or relative with a boat. Boat ownership is expensive and time-consuming. You can wakeboard behind most deck boats or outboards, but special wakeboard boats work best (read this recent post for more.) And those are not cheap and are less versatile than to other boats you can buy.

Boats are expensive.  Real estate with a dock is expensive.  If you have one or both, count your blessings.  If you don’t, start making friends.

Wakeboard Parks

There are also wakeboard parks for those persistent wakeboarders that can’t get out on a boat.  These are usually man-made ponds with a giant pulley overhead, think modified ski-lift.  Riders wait their turn as a handle comes around to tow them.  These places feature ramps and rails for practicing freestyle tricks.

Here’s a list of wakeboard lessons and trips using boats or water parks, along with other water sports activities from around the world that you can book on Viator.

Winches are used when riding in tight spots that a boat can’t fit.  These are personally some of my favorite videos to watch, as riders really push the edge of where wakeboarding is possible. You can even buy these winches from KrakenBoardSports.

Getting the Gear for the Board Sport You Choose

Both snowboarding and wakeboarding require equipment.  The table below lists what you’ll need for each. All wakeboarding gear links take you to Water Outfitters while the snowboard links will send you to Summit Sports.

Necessary Wakeboarding GearNecessary Snowboard Gear
Wakeboard $150-300Snowboard $150-$600
Bindings  $100-$200Bindings $100-200
A BOAT – $30,000-$150,000Boots – $100-200
Tow Rope – $50Lift ticket/season pass – $50-$2,000
Swim Trunks – $15-$80Protective clothing – $40-$150
Life Vest  – $75-$250Outerwear (jacket, pants, gloves, goggles, helmet) – $100-$500+

If you discount the cost of a boat, you generally need to spend less money on gear to wakeboard. For snowboarding, add a good set of goggles and a good helmet.

Tricks on a Snowboard vs. Wakeboard – What’s Easier?

Yes, the reason everyone wants to learn board sports.  To stomp steezey tricks and show off to all their friends.  So, what’s harder? Tricks on a snowboard or tricks on a wakeboard?  Again, there are nuances.  One big one, and a huge personal struggle for me, is what the heck to do with the rope while spinning.

  • It takes some extra coordination to switch the rope from hand to hand while spinning on a wakeboard.  
  • On a snowboard, all you need to worry about is landing; you can do whatever you want with your hands.

Also, when catching air off the wake, it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t clear the whole thing.  Yes, you’ll have to absorb some shock if you case the other side of the wake, but the water is a bit more forgiving.

It’s a different story if you don’t clear the knuckle of a kicker in the slopestyle park.  I’ve bounced off my fair share and would prefer coming up short on a wakeboard air than a snowboard air any day.  Unless you’re a knuckle master like the Fridge, stick to clearing those kickers and landing in the sweet spot.

Whichever Is Easier. They’re Both Fun.

As I said, when it comes to wakeboarding vs. snowboarding, whichever you think is easier will depend on your experience level in each sport.  But talk to anyone who does both, and they’ll tell you that regardless of which one they think is easier, one thing’s for sure: snowboarding and wakeboarding are both a blast!


Sources not linked above:

http://wake-boarding.org/Foundations/Board-Control/

https://www.evo.com/guides/wakeboarding-towing-speed-rope-length-ballast#:~:text=The%20proper%20speed%20to%20tow,jump%20or%20learn%20new%20tricks.


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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