What Is the Best Speed for Water Skiing?

Since its invention in Minnesota in 1922, water skiing has been one of America’s favorite pastimes. Few sports can compare to the exhilaration of riding a boat‘s wake. But skiers must be going fast enough to maintain momentum. So, what’s the best speed for water skiing? Well, that depends.

Everything you need to water ski

A person water skiing behind a boat in a waterway in Okeeheelee Park on March 26, 2021, in West Palm Beach, Florida
Water skiing is fun if you do it right | Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Safety guidelines

Many factors are involved in water skiing and other towed watersports. Wakeboarding, kneeboarding, and trick skiing require varying degrees of speed and different kinds of towboats. But the safety rules are generally the same, TripSavvy reports. They are as follows:

  • Allow a ski space of at least 200 feet wide
  • Always wear a ski vest or life vest
  • A dedicated observer should be on board at all times
  • Discuss and agree on hand signals before skiing
  • Know how to swim before learning to water ski
  • Ski in calm waters
  • Ski in water at least five feet deep

The best boats for water skiing

When selecting a vessel for towed watersports, bear in mind the type of activities you expect to enjoy. Opt for a boat that can maintain optimum speed, and don’t forget to include a 75-foot ski rope and a sturdy handle. With a swim step and the right kind of engine, the craft you use for pleasure boating might do the trick if it’s one of these:

  • Cuddy cabin
  • Jet boat
  • Deckboat
  • Bowrider

Conversely, if you intend to use your towboat for pleasure, additional amenities, such as a wet bar, a shower, a refrigerator, and a head will give you more time on the water.

Amateur water skiers who love a good ride might wish to invest in a rear-mounted v-drive motor to build a bigger, more challenging wake. Competitive water skiing requires a flatter-bottomed, smaller-hulled, tournament-level boat that maintains top speeds while creating a perfect wake shape.

Types of water skis

Old-school water skis were typically made of varnished hardwood such as ash, according to West Marine. Modern-day skis might be made of high-density foam core enclosed in carbon fiber. In either case, skis come in several forms.

Slalom skis come with two bindings on a single ski. The forward binding is placed at the widest part of the ski, while the back binding is placed near the narrower tail. Slalom skis are great for decelerating quickly and making quick turns.

Shaped skis are also single skis with dual bindings. But they differ in width. Wider than a slalom, shaped skis offer easier starts and stabler rides, making them ideal for skiers new to slalom skiing.

Combo pairs come with one binding on one ski and a pair of slalom-style bindings on the other. Easy to learn with, combo pairs are great for beginners.

The right speeds for water skiing and other towed watersports

  • Barefooting, 30-40 mph
  • Combo skiing, 25 mph
  • Jump skiing, 24-35 mph
  • Kneeboarding, 16-19 mph
  • Shaped skiing, 20-30 mph
  • Slalom skiing, 19-36 mph
  • Trick skiing, 11-21 mph
  • Tubing, 8-25 mph
  • Wakeboarding, 16-19 mph

Water skiing is a wonderful sport enjoyed by millions anywhere fast boats are on the water. When it comes down to it, if you can hold on, it may not matter how fast your towboat goes. Bear in mind the safety rules outlined above, put on your skis, and enjoy a thrilling day on the water.

Water skiers of note

Not every water skier achieves recognition by World Water Skiers like Australian Vanessa Vieke, Canadian Dorien Llewellyn, and American Garrett Reese did in 2021. That doesn’t mean people of all ages don’t enjoy the sport in just about every place with water and boats. In fact, Guinness World Records named 92-year-old Bob Hutcheson the world’s oldest water skier in July 2019.

The youngest water skier was a mere 6 months old when she skimmed across Florida’s Lake Silver in a pink life jacket in 2016. The aquatic infant, Zyla St. Onge, was born into the sport because her parents are professional barefoot water skiers. The only reason the youngster didn’t make the official record books is that Guinness doesn’t track achievements by people younger than 16, The Washington Post reports.

When St. Onge made her water-skiing debut, she attained a speed of just 7 mph. Adult water skiers can go a whole lot faster than that.

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