Nothing can ruin a good day of skiing or riding faster than a bad pull, and with the exception of a few world-class tournament drivers, most of us could stand to fine-tune our driving skills. When it comes to giving the perfect pull, nothing beats practice, but most of us also welcome any pointers we can get. To help bring your driving skills up to snuff, we asked our staff experts to share driving pointers for the most popular disciplines: slalom, barefoot and wakeboarding. If you are one of those rare individuals who knows it all, you can check up on what our experts think, then share your own ideas with us. Meanwhile, we lesser drivers will probably be able to pick up a few pointers. It might also be a good idea to make a few copies of this article to share with friends or spouses who might one day want to take the wheel.
Drive for Boarders
Start by relaxing sit back in the driver's seat and place your right arm on the armrest. Hold the throttle and wheel with your thumbs and index fingers. This will help you make smaller, easier speed and steering adjustments.
Don't fixate on the speedometer. Glance at the mirror, then ahead, then at the instruments. Learn to use the tachometer and the sound of the engine to help keep your speed constant.
As the rider pulls against the boat, increase the throttle setting just enough to keep the boat at a consistent speed. When the rider comes off edge or leaves the wake, ease up on the throttle a bit.
Once you have found the best section of water for riding, pick out a shore landmark to steer toward. Keep the bow headed at this reference point, and use it to check your course every time you look up after scanning the instruments or checking the mirror.
When the rider falls, pull the throttle back to neutral as soon as possible, then turn the boat at slow speed and idle back to the rider. High-speed turn-arounds don't save that much time, and they create big rollers.
Who needs the stress of a riding buddy screaming and throwing the handle because he doesn't like the way you drive? It's enough to keep you from ever wanting to take a turn behind the wheel. Lucky for you, we're about to relieve the stress of driving for wakeboarders by offering the following simple tips.
Double-Ups Add throttle as you enter the turn. This will keep the boat from sinking and slowing down. It is very important to maintain the correct speed when the rider hits the double-up.
Accelerating while the rider is in the air can pull him out of the trick and will increase the chances of injury. Deceleration during the double-up will cause the rider to land inside the wake.
At the end of the turn, approach your oncoming wake head-on. Different riders prefer slightly different angles of approach to the double-up, but the boat should never cross at more than a 90-degree angle.
The key to good barefoot driving lies mostly in the start. One of the biggest misconceptions in barefooting is that the driver has to nail the throttle to get a footer out of the hole on a deepwater start.
As fast as most of the new barefoot boats are, a trigger-happy driver can really give a footer a beating by pulling him up too fast. In addition to putting excess strain on the arms, a fast and furious start will slam the footer into the stern roller that the boat creates when it comes out of the hole.
For example, I like to have the driver roll onto the throttle with moderate power, similar to a slalom start, and keep a medium pace until the footer is over the stern roller, then add plenty of power to bring him up to speed.
Tournament drivers divide the start into three parts: the initial burst of power, the transition over the stern roller, then the increase to footing speed. Competitors will describe the type of start they want in terms of these three elements. I would call for a “medium, medium, fast.”
When pulling for a back deep start, keep in mind that there are two styles. Old school footers will ride through the stern roller on their crotch and stomach before putting their feet down. For these riders, you'll want to go easy on the gas through the roller and wait for their foot plant before you add more power – in other words, a “slow, slow, fast.”
Other footers will spread and plant their feet before the stern roller. This style of back deep start begins very slowly, almost like a wakeboard start, but the driver must be ready to power up as soon as the feet are planted. This would be more of a “slow, fast, fast.”
Footers will tell you what speed they want during the run, but there are hints you can use to help a less experienced footer get settled in. When a footer has the proper body position and is being pulled at the right speed, the spray should break behind the balls of the feet. Once you get the speed dialed in, don't change it.
When driving with a boom, get the boat positioned before the footer grabs the handle. If the footer is dragging alongside, you'll waste a lot of time bumping the boat in and out of gear trying to line up for the run.
Instead, come alongside the footer, then apply a slight touch of reverse to stop the boat and deliver the handle right to him or her. The touch of reverse can also pivot the boat so it is facing slightly away from the footer – a position that will make the start easier.
Some footers like to get a little bit of whip at the end of the run so they can perform a butt slide. If no whip is requested, simply steer left, drop the throttle and then turn back to the right. Give the footer as much water as possible by driving the full length of the lake, not stopping before you have to.
Set the boat so it is facing to the left of the intended path (when the boom is attached to the right side of the boat). If the run is in the direction of 12:00, set up facing 10:30.
Don't tighten the line until you are ready to go, and don't overcompensate with the steering wheel. A slight degree of left pressure is all that is needed to offset the leverage of the boom.
Pulling for Slalom
The Start: If you are driving a reasonably powerful boat, you won't need to slam the throttle right to the stops when the skier says “Hit it!” This is especially true of tournament inboards, which have far more low-end acceleration than most skiers can handle comfortably.
Apply enough power to get the skier out of the water in a timely manner (medium throttle on most inboards), then, as soon as the ski starts to level off and the skier looks comfortable, come up to speed quickly. This will give both you and the skier more time to get set for the entrance gates.
The Setup: When lining up for the course, some drivers steer slightly to the right of the gates to compensate for the skier's initial pull through the gates. The best method, however, is to line up with the middle of the course, anticipate the pull, and compensate with wheel and throttle. Like other elements of slalom driving, learning to apply just the right degree of wheel and throttle will require some practice, and your ability to compensate for a particular skier will improve the more you work with him or her.
Through the Buoys: Steering a straight course and maintaining a steady speed through it may require you to compensate for the skier's pulls using both the wheel and throttle. But even when the skier is big and aggressive, the corrections should be subtle and smooth.
Add throttle only after the turn, not during it, and be ready to counter-steer as the skier sets up and pulls toward the wake.
If you are driving an outboard-powered boat or an inboard/outboard, and especially if t
he pylon or ski eye is located near the stern, the force of the skier will pull the stern toward him. As the skier rounds buoy 1 and sets for the pull, the force will turn the boat's nose to the left, and the driver will have to compensate by turning the wheel to the right.
On most inboards with center-mounted ski pylons, the force of the skier is distributed more evenly over the length of the boat. Instead of pulling the stern around, the skier's force will drag the entire boat slightly sideways. As the skier pulls after buoy one, you may have to turn the wheel slightly to the left to bring the boat back into the middle of the course.
With any boat, it will take some practice to perfect your counter-steering. To improve more quickly, become aware of how the skier is affecting the boat's path, and pay attention to the corrections you must make.
Rather than glancing first at the course, then at the instruments and finally at the mirror, try to see everything at once. Don't look at the far end of the course. Instead, focus on the next set of boat guides and work your eyes down the course in increments.
Note: Installing an automatic speed-control device will make slalom driving much easier.
End of the Run: If you are turning for another pass, drop your speed a couple of miles an hour and make a small- to medium-radius turn that won't send rollers down the course. When stopping to rest or shorten the line, don't whip the boat. Instead, pull back on the throttle as you turn the boat slightly to the left.
Crashes: Ask the skier if he or she would prefer that you return quickly after a crash or slowly to minimize rollers and to allow him time to recuperate from his fall. If asked to return quickly, spin the boat and pull back on the throttle immediately after the fall, then idle back to the skier. This method avoids trailing rollers on the return.
Common Mistakes: Adding throttle while the skier is in a turn, taking too long to get the skier up to speed after the start, and allowing the boat to drift to the wrong side of the course.