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. I wasn’t able to ‘get the hang of it’ until I was ten years old, even though my parents had attempted to teach me each summer since I was three. Like many, I was afraid of dark water, particularly of the seaweed and fish that lived in it. 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 say for sure whether something isn’t for you 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, and I encourage you to find the confidence through this guide to give water skiing a try for yourself!

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

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

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.

What You'll Need:

Water Skis

If you are invited to go water skiing with someone else, never assume that they will have skis (or literally any equipment) for you. It is, however, likely that they will if 1) you are meeting them at their lakeside house or cottage, and 2) they know you’ve never skied before. It’s always good to check, though, especially since skis they might think will fit you could end up being the wrong size. 

A Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

Whether you call it a PFD, life jacket, life vest, or life preserver, having one of these is a BFD when you’re learning how to water ski. Wearing one is legally required in many places and it ensures your safety if you have a bad fall or need to wait a minute for the boat to pick you up. Additionally, wearing a life jacket allows you to save your energy for skiing and keeps you upright in the water. Trust me, even the cool kids still wear them.

A Wetsuit

As a “pro,” I literally never water ski in just a swim suit. Did you know that you can get hypothermia in 70-degree water? I promise that you’re going to want to invest in a wetsuit if you plan to ski regularly. Its insulated material keeps your body heat in when you need it most and stops you from shivering. Also important, you won’t have to worry about your suit coming off during a bad fall (it totally happens). Leggings and a rash guard make a decent substitute when needed.


I still wear these every time. If the handle keeps slipping out of your hands when you tell the boat to accelerate, this one could be a game-changer. In what other situation are you voluntarily letting a rope pull you at over 20 miles per hour? You need to train your muscles to adjust to the pull of the boat, and having a solid grip will help you get there.


Don’t let sunburn keep you from feeling good after a day on the lake. Put sunscreen on before and after you ski to stay protected all day! If you’re planning to be outside a lot during the days before you plan to ski, make sure to wear it then as well so you’re not in pain on the day of your attempts.

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.

Performing Adagio Doubles with the Pewaukee Lake Water Ski Club

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

Hard truth, but hey. 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

Did these tips help you? What other advice have you been given while learning how to water ski? If you’re looking for a place to water ski in southeastern Wisconsin, give these Waukesha County lakes a try.

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