To understand the origins of wakeboarding we have to throw our mind’s eye back to the 1960’s. This was a time when water sports was looking for new thrills, new ways to feel a unique contact with water.
Few people other than surfers and water-skiers understood that connection, the almost spiritual link to the raw power of the incoming tide, and the ebb and flow of the surf. Water-skiers were taking to the water at beach resorts and on large lakes, but, while the sport had speed and power, folk wanted to ride their boards. They wanted to grab the cable and be pulled behind a fast boat while on their board, cutting their boards to the left and right with a flick of a calf muscle, flipping it and trying the same tricks they were already demonstrating on a surfboard.
The waves came and went and a patient surfer could find at least a few perfect waves during a single day, but the power of a speed boat could drive a board through the water for as long as someone had energy and as long as the boat had fuel. Through the 60’s surfboards were being pulled behind boats, skimming over the waves, but the boards were waiting for someone with vision, someone who could modify the board for use with the speed of a fast boat, pulled forward in a watery blur of spray and locked muscles. A shortened version of the surfboard was born, diminished in size to cope with speed and to maximize maneuverability while being pulled behind on the cable. Surfing on the new board meant feeling the sharp salty spray of water for minutes at a time, but it still wasn’t quite right.
Finessing the board even more, breaking entirely away from surfing, “skurfing” arrived in 1985 when someone decided to shorten the board even more, adding straps to secure feet. The twin skills of surfing and skiing were now fused in both language and activity, but the board was still difficult to ride, and impossible to accomplish the kind of stunts that both surfers and water skiers were used to. It was in the early 1990’s that Herb O’Brien started his wakeboard company, Hyperlite, pioneering what would be the final shape of the wakeboard we all know today. Enthusiasts of the sport could secure themselves to the board and take off across the water, skidding across the surface and pulling off mind-numbing tricks that just weren’t possible on a surfboard. Today’s standard design comes from a modified version of this board, created in 1993 by Jimmy Redmon, a board built to excel in maneuverability due to its symmetrical, twin-finned construction.
The time-scale has taken us from the 1960’s when surfboards were pulled behind speed boats, to today, the modern age of the wakeboard, with much shorter, thinner boards constructed from light materials and manufactured with adjustable straps for incredibly dexterous feats of maneuvering and acrobatic stunts that are shown off in competitive displays.