I want to take a moment to address a seemingly incurable compulsion that seems to be plaguing our sport. I’m going to go ahead and give it the name: Wake Envy. However, there is probably a lot more to it than that. This seems to be a very widespread affliction that hits all demographics from the beginners just learning how to jump to some of the top professionals in our sport. I’ll even admit that I’ve succumbed to Wake Envy now and again. However, I seem to have a pretty good grip on it at the moment.
So what exactly is Wake Envy? Let’s just call it a relative discontent with your current riding situation as a result of previous experiences on a different boat (sometimes this can even be on your own boat), riding location or weather condition. Generally speaking, it usually revolves around the wake not being big enough, steep enough, clean enough, wide enough or narrow enough.
An individual inflicted with Wake Envy truly believes that the wake is restrictive and is preventing them from progressing as a rider. In all reality, I’d venture to say that at least 95% of the time, this isn’t true. If Wake Envy were a completely internalized emotion, then it really wouldn’t be an issue. However, most infected individuals make it a point to share their dissatisfaction with everyone around them and really put a damper on the situation.
I’ve been teaching wakeboarding for the past 14 years. I’ve never had the largest wake of any of my friends, but it has always been very functional for every level of rider. That being said, I’ve heard a lot of misguided things regarding wakes and what people are capable of doing off of them. I’ve heard people say that they "need pro level ballast" in order to jump wake to wake. I’ve been told that the wake on my loaded down boat wasn’t big enough for them to be able to do their basic inverts. However, when I was able to pull off those same inverts and more the reason was "because I’m a pro." Apparently, being "pro" is equivalent to having magical powers.
Obviously, I don’t have magic powers. What is true is that I learned most of what I can do on the water behind a 1996 direct drive ski boat with an extended pylon and two Fat Sacs. When I needed the wake to be larger, I would call for a double up and use the extra kick to help advance my riding. I would crash a lot, but I would always get up and try again. I put a lot of time and effort into wakeboarding both on and off the water and, as a result, my technique improved, which caused my riding to improve. It was my determination that allowed me to succeed, not the size of my wake.
Wake Envy can affect even the greenest of beginners as well. Many newbies are adamant that they need a large wake. What they don’t understand is that it is significantly more important to have proper technique than a large wake. It is technique that allows you to maximize pop and maintain control. It’s technique that minimizes injuries in a sport that is inundated with injuries. Sure, a large wake will throw you up in the air, but more air and a lack of control due to poor technique don’t go well together. Take some time working on your body position, your approach into the wake and making sure you stand tall at the top of the wake in order to get your pop. Having a great wake doesn’t carry over from boat to boat, but good technique does.
So if you’re out on a boat and you aren’t confident that the wake will allow you to land your hardest moves, instead of exemplifying symptoms of Wake Envy, focus your riding on something positive. Grab the board differently. Poke it in a different way. Work on ollie 180s and 360s. Play around with boardslides, powerslides and tail presses. Ride switch. Hop on a wakeskate. Or view the not-so-perfect wake as a challenge and figure out what you need to do in order to land those tough moves. No matter what you do, make sure you’re having fun on the water.
And if you don’t believe me, below is video of Scott Byerly killing it on a tiny wake (no ballast), a short line, sandal bindings, no tower and a directional board. Below that, check out Phil Soven landing a whirly 5 behind a jet ski.