Former World Champion Michael Dowdy gives his best tips for pulling riders of all skill levels
The best wake boat drivers are aware of everything around them, not just what’s happening behind their boat. For those learning how to pull a rider, improving your situation awareness means also paying attention to what other drivers are doing to make sure everyone stays safe.
Pulling a young or inexperienced wakeboarder
Those new to wakeboarding and wakesurfing almost always benefit from slow, gradual starts rather than gunning it. Put the shift lever in gear and let the rope gently tighten up. Once the rider indicates they are ready, don’t hesitate and smoothly and slowly push the throttle down to gain speed.
What the experienced rider wants
Pro wakeboarders are always looking for straight lines. Looking in the rearview mirror, use the wake path behind the boat to see if you are driving straight. As pros, when we cut, we tend to pull the boat really hard and some new drivers tend to overcorrect and turn the wheel into the direction we are pulling, which diminishes the wake. Keep the wheel straight and let the boat do what it needs to do without oversteering it.
Getting a surfer up for the first time
I find it helpful to use Heyday’s offset Tower-Assist mount to allow people to get up and outside the wake easier. Whatever side the rider is surfing on, connect the rope to the Tower Assist on the same side. Start slowly and ease the throttle to the desired speed. One of the advantages of having a Heyday Boat is its Zero Off GPS speed control, which makes it easy to be sure you don’t overshoot your target speed and also allows the driver to make small speed corrections if needed.
Make sure you have established hand signals with the rider because it’s hard to hear audible commands over the engine’s sound; spoken communications like “no!” and “go!” can often be mistaken. Try to get riders into the habit of hand signaling they are OK after a wipeout. This lets the driver know they can proceed with the pickup in a normal way. Injured skiers can’t signal so if you think that your rider is in some kind of danger, get back to them as quickly as possible to ensure their safety.
Safely picking up a fallen rider
Always pick up riders on the starboard side of the boat, which is the side where the helm is located, to avoid having the fallen rider in a blind spot. That way when you turn around you have a driver’s side view of the rider and their surroundings. For safety, shut the engine down when they are reboarding.
Michael Dowdy is a Heyday pro who is a former world champion and founder of WakeU, an app that makes wakeboard coaching more affordable and accessible. He resides in Orlando with his wife Darriane and his son, Jagg.