Four years ago, there was just your wake. Either it was big or it wasn't, but chances are it wasn't. Water-ski boats, while having plenty of performance, didn't do much for us in the area of building a bigger wake. So three years ago people started putting weight in their boats. Albeit primitive - buckets of sand, water, people, etc. - it was still weight, and weight in the boat makes a bigger wake. Last season the Launch Pad appeared, and suddenly there was a "civilized" way to get weight into the boat. But with the Launch Pads, Fat Sacs, Fake-a-Wakes and other water bags came a new problem. According to Launch Pad's Wayne Remnant, the giant bags of water allowed people to put too much weight into the back of their boat. The boats weren't designed to ride like that and consequently they handled poorly, not to mention produced a soft and washy wake. Remnant recommends if you put weight in the back of the boat, then put some forward as well to make the boat ride level - noting that his top team riders, Dean Lavelle and Hunter Brown, both ride with two Pads in their boats, running along the sides of the engine compartment. This, according to Remnant, gives his riders the "crisp, monster wake" they are looking for. But the ultimate solution is to have a boat built with a bigger wake in mind, and at last September's Wakeboard Expo, the first company to actually do that emerged. Fineline's Wave, a boat with a name that would send most skiers running for cover, is the first of what undoubtedly will be a new generation of boats built primarily for wakeboarding.
Key elements to a wakeboarding boat are some sort of foil device like the one on Malibu's Wedge, Tigi's TAPS system, which will adjust the attitude at which the boat rides through the water, or a hydraulic pump device that can add and remove weight (water) - as with Master Craft's X-Star and Fineline's Wave. Crucial to all is the adjustability - where the boat can have a big wake if you want it, but can also be reduced back to normal size.
Rick Lee at Fineline was the force behind the Wave. "The wakeboarding market is exploding, and everyone's been putting Band-Aids on their boat trying to make it good for wakeboarding," Lee states. "We wanted to build a versatile recreational boat that was both user friendly and could conveniently create a bigger wake." Lee says his engineers experimented with different weight in the back of the boat so that it is still drivable yet has a significant wake. Fineline's designers finally concluded that they could add concrete right into the hull from the factory to bulk up the overall weight, then for the adjustability they put two 25-gallon tanks (400 pounds total when filled) that can be filled simply by throwing a switch located by the driver's foot.
Lee says the concrete and the water tanks gave the boat the wake size, but Fineline wanted shape as well. They started with the bottom section of their tournament water ski boat, then they began experimenting. "Nobody had done it before, so it was a lot of hit and miss. Designing this boat was like trying to make a tractor that plows through the water - it was uncharted ground." Lee says they ended up with a reconfigured chine - rounding it to clean up the ramp to where they wanted it. "We spent 20 years trying to make the wakes small so this is fun to us," Lee exclaimed when talking about designing The Wave.
Tigi released its much-heralded Tigi Adjustable Performance System (TAPS) to its boats last year and has received rave reviews from riders such as Cobe Mikacich. This system utilizes a hydraulic pump that raises and lowers a trim platform at the back of the boat. The system, controlled by a gauge on the dash, has settings, including one for "wakeboarding," which trim the boat differently for different size wakes.
Malibu's Wedge takes a sligghtly different approach. Off the stern of the hull is a simple small reversed hydrofoil that can be locked down into place to effectively "drag" the back of the boat into the water. It basically has the same effect as putting 900-1,000 pounds of weight into the boat. Malibu's Ted Bevelaqua says the shape of the wake can be adjusted from really peaky-giving the beginning wakeboarder automatic air - to a thicker-lipped wake the advanced rider can cut through on full-edge without blowing through it, simply by adjusting the angle of the foil. Another benefit of this (and Tigi's) type system is that it doesn't add additonal weight to the boat, allowing you to carry more passengers legally that if you have 1000 pounds of actual weight in the stern.
Master Craft entered the mix this season with its X-Star, which will be the official wakeboard boat of the X Games and the Sea-Doo Wakeboard Series (the pro tour). The X-Star, based on the 205 hull, uses a Fat Sac that holds over 50 gallons of water (over 400 pounds) in the rear of the boat. Master Craft designers cleared out the seating to make room for the bladder. In addition, the X-Star has an optional pump for the Sac that plugs into the boat's cigarette lighter so you can effortlessly fill and empty the weight out of the boat
John Dorton, marketing director at Master Craft, says his company didn't want to mess with the shape of the wake they had already developed with the 205. "A big part of Master Craft's heritage is from trick skiing so a lot of those same characteristics for a good wake were already in the hull. Based on the shape," Dorton adds, "the extra weight in the back was sufficient to give what our riders feel is a wake for enhancing their performance on and above the water. We didn't want to monkey with the bottom; we just wanted it more versatile."
These companies represent, literally, just the start of the new wave. Larry Meddock of Correct Craft says they have some major announcements to make soon concerning the wakeboarding market and their new boat; Moomba is targeting a complete line of boats at wakeboarders to provide all of the wake boarders want at a lower cost, according to Rick Tinker. Even the world's largest pleasure-boat builder, U.S. Marine (builders of Bayliner), has a new line of boats, the Wake Challenger, and a team rider Jason Cooley to go with it.
So what's next? Clearly the days with buckets of sand in our boats are numbered. Clearly the direction is towards controlling your wake with a flick of a switch. Maybe foil adaptions will be the way. Maybe balast tanks will be the way to go. Perhaps down the road, hulls which torque themselves into deep-vee models with massive displacement then back again will be the norm. Then again, you can only deal with so big of a wake. Think about what it would be like laying into a cut, headed full-speed at a 4 foot wake. Something has to give.