Before delving into the Wakeboarding History, let’s start with a small hypothetical.
Imagine a sport that combines the techniques of surfing, snowboarding, and skiing into one water sport.
Well, you don’t need to imagine it because it already exists in the form of wakeboarding. By using the surface tension of the water, the rider is able to travel at very high speeds of up to 18 or even 25 miles per hour while being dragged by a watercraft.
Due to its heavy reliance on surface tension, the board plays a huge role in how fast the rider is able to go. It also is a factor that plays in which tricks the rider is able to accomplish. There are a plethora of other smaller factors that go into this sport, such as the rider’s weight and the watercraft they’re using.
Lately, wakeboarding has been gaining a lot of traction. During the last year, nearly four million people partook in wakeboarding, which makes it one of the fastest-growing water sports in the world.
With that said, there are some common misconceptions surrounding the sport. This can be attributed to the fact that wakeboarding history can be a bit nebulous. In this article, we’ll be clearing out some of the confusion surrounding wakeboarding history.
And now, without further ado, let us ride the waves and delve into the origins of this sport.
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Wakeboarding History: The Beginning
In order to understand wakeboarding history and its origins, we have to go way back to the 60s. During these years, water sports were still evolving and introducing new methods to interact with water in a thrilling way.
What makes water sports so special is how you can interact with the body of water, how you face the waves, and the flow in order to create your own momentum.
Water sports revolve around that special link. What separates wakeboarding from the other water sports is the speed you can reach while being pulled by a water vehicle. The euphoria that the rider feels at that moment cannot be fairly described by words.
You can think of wakeboarding as any other watersport, but everything’s cranked up to eleven. You can still do the same tricks and moves as with the other sports, for the most part. However, the speed increase is what elevates the sport to a whole new level.
Before the invention of wakeboarding, surfers had to be patient as they had to search for the perfect wave to ride in order to practice their sport. This meant that they had to rely on other external effects way too much, and that meant that during some days, they wouldn’t be able to get their full enjoyment. On the other hand, boats can provide you with as much energy as you need as long as they’re fueled.
This is what set the stage up for wakeboarding to become an actual sport. In the 60s, surfers were starting to use boats to pull them across the waves so they can gain as much momentum as possible.
As time went by, people found out new ways to shape their surfboards in a way to make them work even better when being pulled by a boat at high speeds. Slowly but surely, the short surfboard was being adopted by more surfers. This new shortened form allowed better maneuverability and speed. This meant that surfers could perform their tricks and feats more easily.
Wait, Here’s the REAL Beginning
Even though the idea of using boats to drag surfers along water emerged in the 60s, people still haven’t started fully utilizing them along with their surfboards until around 1985.
It was in San Diego, just after snowboarding became a thing, when Tony Finn, also known as the founder of wakeboarding, designed a rather peculiar board named the “Skurfer.” This board was the first wakeboard. It combined qualities from surfboards and water skis, and it was the first wakeboard. This board had piqued the interest of a lot of people. One person, in particular, named Herb O’Brien, was especially intrigued.
At that time, O’Brien Owned H.O. Sports, which was a company that focused just on manufacturing water skis. When Finn showed his design to the world, O’Brien took notice of it and was inspired to develop another, more refined version of Finn’s wakeboard.
That board was later called the “Hyperlite,” which was designed to be of neutral buoyancy. This meant that the takeoff in deep waters was easy, which made it accessible to novices.
After the “Hyperlite” emerged on the market, wakeboarding was made known to the world of water sports.
Wakeboarding History: Other Origin Stories
There are numerous other origin stories that people have shared about wakeboarding. A commonly shared story is that wakeboarding emerged on an island called Krk, where people started wakeboarding by using cables instead of motorized water vehicles.
Another story tells that wakeboarding originated in Australia and New Zealand, and the first wakeboards were shaped like hands and were designed to drag people behind water vehicles.
In this version, Jeff Darby was given a “skurfboard” in Queensland, Australia, to use with his friends. They started creating their own versions of wakeboards. Eventually, they met with Tony Finn in San Diego, where they received royalties from the “Skurfer” board.
With that said, it looks like the idea for wakeboarding came to a lot of people around the same timeframe. In 1983, Howard Jacobs designed numerous other wakeboards by attaching some hydroslide pads along with foot straps from windsurfing gear to some old surfboards.
There was also Bruce McKee, an Australian surfer, and his associate Mitchel Ross who had started designing and mass-producing wakeboards before Tony Finn and Herb O’Brien.
The name of their first wakeboard was changed numerous times; it was called the “McSki,” “SSS,” and the “Wake-Snake” and featured adjustable foot straps along with a concave tunnel on the bottom which helped it stay afloat more easily and a keel fin for better maneuverability. Mitchell and Bruce received a grant in 1984 and another in 1986 for their adjustable foot strap technology.
McKee and Ross later communicated with eh USA Medalist Waterskis and ended up securing the first American manufacturing of wakeboards. It was launched in 1984 during the IMTEC episode in Chicago, Illinois, under the name “Surf-Ski.” It was during that time when McKee met Tony Finn, who had just made a deal with Jeff Darby to launch his own board in 1985.
While Finn released the “Skurfer” line, Jimmy Redmon designed and produced his own wakeboard and named his brand “Redline Designs.” Later on, Redmon and Finn partnered and created a new company together, which they named “Liquid Force.” At that time, wakeboards were called “skurfboards.” However, when Liquid Force came out, they were being called “skiboards” instead.
Keep in mind
With that said, even though Tony Finn is known as the founder of wakeboarding, that claim is not entirely accurate as there are numerous other individuals who had the idea and participated in the creation of the first wakeboard designs. Tony Finn was just the most noticeable wakeboarding advocate at that time. He came at a time when wakeboarding was in its infancy, and it wasn’t widely known. He took the opportunity to promote his own product, and so people started seeing him as the founder of wakeboarding.
You might be wondering why the first wakeboards were called skurfboards and skiboards. Well, the reason for that is that the name “wakeboard” wasn’t a thing until a man named Paul Frasier started using it. He, along with his brother and a professional snowboarder friend, coined the new name in Vancouver, Canada.
After that, Paul met with Herb O’Brien with the new name, and by the year 1991, O’Brien started manufacturing and selling the Hyperlite wakeboard to consumers all over the world. It was the first wakeboard to feature a compression-molded board on the market. This manufacturing method went on to redefine the entire water sport, which is why it went from skiboarding to wakeboarding.
The first association
The first association dedicated to skiboarding was founded in 1989 in Hawaii. A man named Eric Perez competed to maintain his winning title in 1990 against another wakeboarder named Darin Shapiro. Later on that year, the first United States National competition in Colorado Springs in Colorado State was held. It took place on Prospect Lake and was host by a man named Tommy Philips.
All throughout the early 1990s, wakeboarding competitions were being held all around the United States, which allowed many wakeboarders to show their skill to the world for the first time.
All in all, while the origin story of wakeboarding is rather confusing and complicated, it doesn’t take away from how thrilling the sport is to watch and to take part in. It has surely come a long way since its inception, and new innovations are still being made to the boards.
Wakeboarding History: Changes Since the 1980s
Even after their inception during the 1980s, wakeboards continued to change in shape. They have become curvier to make the ride feel smoother overall. Wakeboards are meant to go with the flow of the water and not fight against it. This has been the mentality that is adopted by wakeboard manufacturers.
Later on, dimples were added in the back to improve the boards’ hydrodynamics. This made it so there wasn’t as much friction with the water.
During the late 1990s, a man named Jimmy Redmon ended up adding foot handles. That allowed riders to lock their feet into place when on the board securely. Jimmy tried to go with a design that is more symmetrical than the boards that existed back then. His board would look like the surfboard. Later on, this design would become the standard shape of the sport’s boards.
When the new millennium was right around the corner, the sport started piquing the attention of private companies and becoming professional. This new rise in popularity made it reach ESPN, and the sport was even added to the global series.
The dawn of professional events
It was in 1992 when the professional wakeboarding events started taking hold of the public with an event organizer and sports promoter based in Florida know as World Sports & Marketing. World Sports & Marketing would stage the pro wakeboard tour, which was a series of wakeboarding events. These events gave wakeboarders the opportunity to compete and gave them exposure to ESPN and ESPN2.
In 1991, Finn and Redmon combined their knowledge and formed Waketech, which became one of the main pioneers of the sport. They had noticed that all of the designs that were available at the time had some clear issues and flaws in their design, and even though the boards’ shape and form were in constant evolution, there hadn’t been a design that was well-rounded. This has pushed them to start developing a new design that would innovate in meaningful ways.
The invention of the first twin-tip board
It was in 1993 when Waketech’s research and testing yielded the first fruit. Jimmy and Finn would end up producing the first twin-tip board, which would revolutionize the sport.
This design would give Jimmy and Finn’s team riders a huge leg up on the competition, which was using pointed tip boards. Unsurprisingly, Jimmy and Finn ended up winning the competition, which cemented the new twin-tip design as the future of the sport.
Later in the same year, Wakeboarding Mag was produced in order to satisfy the industry’s ever-growing demand. This meant that it was easier for the public to follow the sport and keep track of the ongoing events and competitions.
In 1995, Jimmy and Finn took on a dare that they wouldn’t be able to launch a company by the time of the World Championships only three weeks away. This led the two to launch Liquid Force. Limited by time, they had to take big risks and get boards made as soon as possible in order to outfit their riders in Liquid Force branded gear. Fortunately, all their hard work paid off, and they managed to generate some hype around the company even though it was only in its infancy. The Liquid Force brand had only been growing ever since.
Nowadays, Liquid Force is still well known and capable of producing high-quality wakeboards, which shows that Jimmy and Finn took that dare back in 1995 seriously. What sets Liquid Force apart from the competition is how close they are to their clientele. They work closely with professional athletes in order to create innovative designs that reply to people’s needs.
Liquid Force is based in Encinitas, California. Aside from making fantastic wakeboards, the company also aims to continue growing the sport by sponsoring initiatives that benefit wakeboarding.
As time went on, the sport only got more popular with people. This eventually led to the creation of the Wakeboard World Cup series and the Vans Triple Crown of Wakeboarding in 1998. To this day, these are still two major titles. During 2000, rails, kickers, and sliders were added to the course in order to diversify the sport and give athletes the chance to let their skill truly shine.
2000 was a very important year for wakeboarding as it saw the emergence of both the Wakeboard World Cup as well as the Vans Triple Crown of Wakeboard. Additionally, practitioners of the sport were trying to spice things up by adding obstacles and ramps in an effort to make the sport more sophisticated and fun to watch.
All of these factors combined, the sport only continued to thrive at an unsurpassed rate. It wasn’t too long until wakeboarding professionals were making six figures and gaining recognition among athletes in the other sports.
These days, the most popular places where you can find wakeboarding events are Freestyle Wakeboarding X-games as well as numerous other waterboard parks.
One of the main reasons behind the rapid growth of wakeboarding is the fact that it came in the perfect time and sought to reunite people who enjoyed surfing and skiing, which set the perfect foundation for the sport to grow.
History of the Name
As we mentioned before, wakeboarding wasn’t always called that throughout wakeboarding history. Due to the nature of the sport and the context in which it emerged, it was called “skurfing,” which reflected the fact that it was a combination of jet-skiing and surfing.
As time went on, the sport started to separate itself from the two sports that it was inspired from. There’s also the fact that the name “Skurfer” never really took off. Both of these factors called for a new name for the sport, and wakeboarding fit the bill perfectly.
Wakeboarding is a sport that keeps on giving. It has rapidly evolved and gained a place in the hearts of the people. It emerged in a time when people were waiting for a change, and it provided all the traits that would help it gain the attention and popularity it needed in order to become the amazing sport it is today.
Thanks to the great contributions of the people who took the time and spent the money to develop special boards for the sport, wakeboarding has become a fan favorite among watersport lovers and would continue to attract new people due to its fast-paced, unique and fun nature.
Hopefully, as time moves on, we hope to see the sport continue to evolve in new interesting ways, just like it has been doing ever since its inception.
If you’ve reached the end of this article, we deeply thank you for taking the time to read this article. We hope that we shed some light on wakeboarding history.
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- My own knowledge!