Learn How to Water Ski in 3 Easy Steps
Swivel Water Skiing on the Milwaukee River in Ozaukee County Wisconsin

You may have noticed that I’m not new to water skiing, but learning to walk on water was an arduous experience for me. Despite frequent attempts, I wasn’t able to ‘get the hang of it’ for more than five years. Like many, I was afraid. When my parents would announce during a vacation to the cottage that it was time to ski, I did everything from pretending to sleep all day (solid kid logic) to running down the road screaming to get out of it. I hated the water… and I hated water skiing.

Maybe you’re an adult and those meltdowns haven’t been a part of your failed water skiing experience(s), but you’ve been traumatized by cold face plants or being dragged through the water enough to feel a little hesitant about trying it again. Maybe you can’t stand being the only one in your family whose poor coordination keeps you from having fun at the lake. Maybe your new love interest just invited you to spend a day on the boat. Whatever the reason, you’re in the right place.

That sunny August day back in 2006 when I finally stood up on my own two skis changed my feelings about water skiing forever. In fact, it changed my life. My journey in this sport has made me a firm believer that you can’t know whether you’ll like something until you do it successfully at least once. While I hope that water skiing changes your life like it did mine, this post will have been worthwhile if it at least calms your nerves and gets you on your feet. I promise you that there is nothing in the world like riding on top of the water. I encourage you to find the confidence through this guide to give water skiing a try for yourself!

Water Ski Pro Tip #1: Stay Equipped so You Can Stay Focused

Badgerland Water Ski Show Team in Wisconsin Rapids for the 2018 Wisconsin State Water Ski Show Championships

Have you ever tried to enjoy a hike or other activity outdoors, just to cut it short because you felt overwhelmed by how cold/hot you are, how bad the mosquitoes are, etc? When you’re distracted, you’re prone to give up early and not try your best. If you’re setting time aside to go water skiing, equip yourself properly so you can give your complete focus to the task at-hand. I promise that preparing for the conditions is worth it every time.

The complete list of things you’ll need includes water skis and a lifejacket that fit, a rope, wetsuit, ski gloves, and sunscreen. Usually the people inviting you will have a ski rope, skis, and a lifejacket that you can use, but it’s always a good idea to double check. Wetsuits offer great insulation in the water, as well this other cozy water skiing gear. Gloves will make a world of difference to improve your grip and prevent blisters or rope burn. Sunscreen is a no-brainer. I wear it constantly in the summer!

Water Ski Pro Tip #2: Get Low

Keeping your arms extended out in front of you and shoulders back is important, but you might not be giving enough focus to your lower body positioning. Even though holding the rope is what allows you to stay above the water, the resistance that you put between the skis and the water as the boat accelerates is what gets you there. Tucking your legs with your ski tips up in front of you is the correct form for your lower body, but your skis will slip out from under you with even the best form if you forget to resist the boat.

It’s hard to know what that sweet spot is if you’ve never done it successfully, but I have a real-world example that might give you an idea. Think about using the leg press machine at a gym. If you’ve ever tried it, you know that you start with your knees bent and feet flexed across the surface, then push slowly against the weight. The proper technique is a gradual push so that your body can continue to adjust as your legs straighten and thus execute the lift safely; rotate the motion 90 degrees and you have your ideal water ski start, complete with resistance.

Water Ski Pro Tip #3: Don't Rely on the Rope

Performing Adagio Doubles with the Pewaukee Lake Water Ski Club

No, really. If you’ve ever made it past the distractions, done the leg press, and come out on top just to panic, pull the rope until it’s way over your head, and fall to your defeat, you are 1) not alone and 2) relying on the rope instead of yourself. Ultimately, skiing is just a weird form of standing, and you’re probably fairly decent at standing by this point in your life. Just because a rope is thrown in the mix doesn’t mean it is all of a sudden not important to stand on your own two feet anymore (weight in the balls of your feet, btw!).

For a second or two after you have just gone from sitting to standing, the rope will have a little slack that you might instinctively try to compensate for by pulling it toward you. That is never necessary! If you find a little slack in the rope, just bend your knees slightly and lean back to tighten it up instead of pulling the rope in with your arms. Like I mentioned before – don’t rush the standing up part! The most muscle is required on the start, so if you can push through that, the rest will be a breeze in comparison (though I promise you will still come away with a full-body workout).

A Beginner's Guide to Water Skiing Pinterest Pin

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