Wakeboard design has advanced considerably in recent years and boards are now built with a specific purpose in mind - either cable, boat, or both. When buying a wakeboard, the 2 main questions you need to ask yourself are where am I going to actually use the thing (behind a boat, at the cable park, or both) and what is my honest skill level. After that, a lot of the design considerations are taken care of by the manufacturers. For example, a beginner/intermediate board will be carefully designed to get you going and maximise your learning curve. It will therefore not have any of the advanced features found on higher end boards that improve performance but almost certainly hinder your progress while learning.
A Cable Wakeboard is designed to withstand the abuse of hitting all of the various types of obstacles found at cable parks, such as kickers and sliders. As a general rule, a Cable Wakeboard will have at least 1 set of removeable fins plus possibly 4 moulded fins, although some only have 2 moulded fins and some actually have no fins at all and a base that is completely flat and profileless. Cable wakeboards generally have what's known as a grind base (a sacrificial tough plastic coating designed to protect the fragile skin of the board from impacts and abrasion) and reinforced edges to minimise side-on impact damage from striking obstacles. A cable wakeboard often has wider tips and a flexible core to assist with pressing tricks and to cushion the rider from heavy impacts and hard landings. Basically, a cable wakeboard is a heavily reinforced and more flexible type of wakeboard that is designed to take as much abuse as possible while also helping to protect the rider.
A Boat Wakeboard needs none of the impact protection features of a cable board and is designed to perform a different variety of tricks. Boat boards often have profiling on the base and more emphasis on fins as these are not vulnerable to damage when being towed behind a boat. A Boat Wakeboard also has a stiffer core and more features to help it perform better on the smoother, softer wake profile created by a boat rather than the rock hard obstacles found at cable parks.
A Hybrid Wakeboard combines many of the features of both cable and boat boards to create a board that is reasonably at home in either environment. However, a Hybrid Wakeboard by definition will always be something of a compromise. If you only ever ride at cable parks then get a cable board and if you always ride behind a boat then get a boat board. If you regularly do both then a hybrid board is worthy of consideration, the only alternative being to buy 2 seperate boards, one for each environment.
Within these 3 categories of wakeboard you then have boards designed for beginners, intermediates and advanced riders. Beginner boards are usually the slowest and most forgiving to ride whereas advanced board are normally the fastest and most responsive to ride. When deciding which skill category you fall into, be brutally honest with yourself.
Wakeboards are measured in centimeters and vary in length from around 120cm to 150cm and in width from approx 38cm to 44cm. These dimensions are important when choosing your wakeboard as being on the wrong board will hinder your progress and potentially spoil your fun.
Deciding which sized wakeboard you need is surprisingly easy. It's all about simple physics and basic surface area to volume. In short, the heavier you are the more volume (board size) you need in order to stay on top of the water. If your board is too small for your weight then your tow vessel will need to travel at excessive speed in order to keep you on the plane, which is not desirable while you are learning. If your board is too big then it will feel like you are strapped to a door and it will hinder your progress. Here is a simple beginner's guide to help you calculate your optimal board size.
To reiterate, this guide is intended to help beginners choose the board that will be easiest to handle and which will help them progess. Seasoned riders often like to ride boards that are outside of these guidelines, which is purely down to personal preference and riding style. Until you are confident and experienced, we recommend sticking to the guidelines.
Rocker is the measure of how much a board curves from one end to the other (Wakeboards are all somewhat banana-shaped when viewed from the side). There are 3 main types of rocker, continuous, 3-stage, and progressive.
Continuous rocker wakeboards have a constant curve and tend to ride slightly lower in the water. They are stable and forgiving and provide soft landings. They are also proportionally slower in a straight line and are easy to carve and turn. These types of boards work well at the cable park.
3-stage rocker wakeboards have a flat centre section with two distinct bend points at either end. Wakeboards with a 3-stage rocker ride slightly higher in the water and are faster with a "looser" feel to them. They provide more "pop" off the wake but the tradeoff is that landings can be harder. These types of boards work well behind the boat.
Progressive rocker wakeboards (aka hybrid rocker or 5-stage rocker) feature the best of both continuous and 3-stage rockers, although they will always be something of a compromise. These types of boards work well behind the boat or at the cable park.
Fins provide forward stability and tracking and give the board "grip" on the water. Without fins a wakeboard will still travel in a reasonably straight line as it is longer than it is wide, but it will be able to rotate freely and very loosely on the surface of the water which requires skill to control.
In addition to straight line tracking, fins also enable a rider to load up the line and accelerate on the approach to the boat wake or an obstacle, and they then provide grip and stability on the landing.
Fins are either screwed through the board or moulded in (or both). The nearer the edge the fins are the more effect they have. The bigger and wider they are the more drag they create and therefore the more stability they provide. Beginner wakeboards therefore tend to have larger wider fins and advanced boards have smaller thinner fins.
The edges of a wakeboard are either sharp or rounded. Sharp edges give the best performance but can result in more face plants for beginners as it is easier to "catching an edge", especially on landings or if "switching" (rotating the board through 180 degrees to change the leading leg).
Rounded edges are more forgiving so are much better suited to beginners. Cable wakeboards (and many hybrid boards) have ABS reinforcement in the enges to enable them to better withstand impacts against obstacles.
Wakeboard bindings are designed to hold your feet firmly to your wakeboard and to support your ankles, but in such a way that they will release in the event of a hard tumble. Many Wakeboards come complete with bindings and these will be carefully matched to suit the board. Cheaper wakeboards will have more basic bindings and the more advanced boards will have proportionally superior bindings.
Wake Bindings are either open-toe or closed-toe. Open toe bindings (where the toes of the bindings are literally cut out and your toes are visible) are best suited to recreational beginner to intermediate riders as they offer slightly less rigidity than close toe boot type bindings. However, open-toe bindings are much more versatile as they are designed to fit a foot size range (e.g. UK 7-11) rather than just one size. This makes them perfect for shared / family setups (wakeboards that are likely to be used by more than one person). Closed toe bindings offer the best support and "feel" so are the best choice for intermediate to advanced riders that do not share their board.
Bindings tend to be either lace-up or velcro (or both). Laces give you a nice tight "locked-in" feel but are more difficult to do up when in deep water. Velcro bindings won't offer quite the same level of locked-in feel as lace-ups, but they are much easier to do up when you're in the water. The beginner boards at most watersports schools have velcro bindings for exactly this reason. It comes down to personal choice at the end of the day.