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If you’ve ever seen someone riding a surf-style board, somehow staying right behind a powerboat without the aid of a towrope, you’ve probably wondered…how does wakesurfing work?

The short answer is that wakesurfing “works” by using a motorboat capable of producing a wake with enough size and energy that a rider on a surfboard can literally ride that wake — and keep riding it as long as they stay behind the boat — without a towrope.

Yes, there are some caveats. Like wakeboarding, a towrope is required to initially get up and ride atop the water. Boats with exposed propellers are also strictly off-limits, meaning your average sterndrive or outboard is out; an inboard is the best and safest choice.

But once up and in the wake’s “sweet spot,” that trough where the face is glassy and only the energy of the wake is propelling you forward through the water, no towrope is required.

A rider can quite literally surf…no ocean required.

Wakesurfing Physics 101

Not satisfied by the Cliff’s Notes version? Okay, let’s delve a little deeper.

A variety of factors go into crafting a wave this perfect, one that is tall enough, long enough, and fast enough to mimic the power and shape of a coastal surf break and one that boat manufacturers like Tigé Boats can effectively reproduce on your local lake or waterway.

Here are the primary pieces of the equation.


Literal weight added to the boat, ballast effectively settles the hull deeper into the water, in turn altering the characteristics of the wakes that trail behind it.

Early wake boats often added that ballast by overcrowding with passengers, even adding lead weights, but today ballast typically comes in the form of a readily available resource for a boater — the surrounding water. Pumped aboard via small submersible pumps and contained within under-floor tanks or flexible water bags, water can be quickly added, or just as quickly removed, to weigh a boat down while riders are surfing then lighten that load to run back to the dock or meet up with friends at the nearest sandbar.

Running Attitude

Choosing the amount of weight to bring aboard and its specific placement throughout the boat has a significant effect on the boat’s running attitude or the angle at which it moves through the water at specific speeds.

In general, more weight toward the back of the boat will cause the bow to rise, the stern to settle, and the wake to grow taller, steeper, and have more “push” for the rider. In contrast, a boat with ballast more equally spread between bow and stern will typically run flatter in the water and produce a longer, shallower, less steep wave with less push.

Most modern wakesurf boats make use of electronic controls and displays to allow the driver or rider to fine-tune the loading of various tanks spread throughout the boat in order to satisfy individual riders’ preferences.

Running attitude can also be changed through the use of trim tabs, electronically controlled horizontal plates attached to the transom. One of Tigé’s earliest innovations, TAPS (Tigé Adjustable Performance System), makes use of an oversized tab centrally positioned on the transom. In combination with the Convex V hull, it can steepen or soften the hull’s running angle in just seconds.

Roll, or List

Causing the boat to roll, or list to one side also has a profound effect on the wake.

A boat that takes on an uneven load of water or weight will naturally list, or lean to one side. That list will shorten the wave on the weighted side as well as increase it in size. Wakesurfers sometimes use this fact to their advantage by distributing ballast more heavily to the rear of the boat, and to the side the wakesurfer prefers to ride on, to increase the size of the wake on a surfer’s preferred side.

While loading ballast in this way is still beneficial, as wakesurfing has progressed boat manufacturers have increasingly turned to additional trim-tab-like wake plates — like Tigé’s TAPS 3T — to produce this roll and allow for additional control over the wake.

Attached at each side of the transom and activated electronically via helm-mounted controls, a plate lowered on one side of the boat will cause the craft to roll to the opposite side. The change in side-to-side attitude further cleans up the face of the wake, changes the steepness, and eliminates much of the whitewater crest typical of a boat’s wake. The adjustability of these plates can also further fine-tune the wake’s characteristics, allowing individual riders to find a shape that fits both their riding style and skill level.


Speed also plays a role. While most wakesurfers find speeds between 10-12 mph produce the best wakesurfing wakes, changing those speeds by even a few tenths can have a noticeable effect on the wake as even these minute adjustments can alter the boat’s running angle.

A driver’s ability to hold those speeds throughout the course of a ride also comes into play. Even the best boat drivers will typically defer to electronic speed control systems, like those built into the Tigé’s GO System and accessed via the CLEAR touchscreen. Locking in a rider’s preferred speed keeps the wake consistent throughout the ride…not to mention removes a lot of pressure from the driver to hold those speeds over waves, through turns, or when changing course.

Ride the Waves

And that, in a nutshell, is how wakesurfing “works” — additional ballast settles the hull deeper into the water to produce larger wakes, the placement of that ballast and/or the addition of a trim plate changes the boat’s running angle and affects the wake’s length and push, a roll or list is introduced to further dial in the wake’s shape and face to individual rider’s liking on their side of choice…and the perfect speed keeps that wake consistent throughout the course of your ride.

But let’s face it, as much fun as it is knowing how wakesurfing works it’s a lot more fun actually surfing that wake. Whatever your needs or budget, Tigé’s got a boat that can deliver the surf. We’ve even compiled a definitive guide to all things wakesurfing to get you geared up and ready to roll. See the Compete Guide to Wakesurfing for more information.


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