For a child, being pulled behind a moving motorized boat while learning to balance on skis and hang on to a tow rope may be very frightening. However, the excitement of mastering a new skill --- especially one as thrilling as water skiing --- can be the highlight of a child’s summer, as well as the beginning of a life-long love affair with water sports and boating. With some careful coaching and training tools, you can teach your children how to water ski with confidence and end the session with smiles and great videos for social media posts!
Start on land: When your child is ready to learn to water ski, practice first on land. Instruct your child to always wear a life vest when participating in water sports, and make sure their PFD fits properly. Use trainer water skis that are short and wide and that include a stabilizer bar that keeps the skis parallel at shoulder width. It’s also best to use a two-handle starter tow rope so an adult can pull and release the rope from the boat --- beginners often forget to let go of the tow rope and can get dragged under the water.
While on land, instruct the child how to put on their life vest and skis and then pull the skier around in your yard with the tow rope so they can learn to balance while being pulled. Teach the skier how to balance with weight on his or her toes (balls) of the foot.
Next, move to shallow water: After some land practice, move to shallow water. Put one adult on shore with the other end of the tow rope and another adult in the water with the skier. This adult should instruct the skier while he / she becomes accustomed to the starting position of floating with knees bent, holding the ski tips parallel and above water, holding the rope handle and making sure the rope is between the ski tips.
At this point in training, you may want to use a RAVE Sports Aqua Buddy Ski / Wakeboard Trainer, which is a catamaran-style inflatable chair designed for this purpose. A deep-water start can be very intimidating for beginner skiers, but this floating trainer allows the skier to start above the water, eliminating the physical exertion and balance struggles of deep water starts.
The adult in the water should assist the skier with sitting in the Aqua Buddy, then stand behind the Aqua Buddy to hold onto it, instructing the child to yell at the adult on shore when they are ready, and then the adult on shore must run away from shore while pulling the skier to shore. When the child feels the rope pull, instruct him / her to pull the tail end of the skis up towards his / her bottom to stand up and to keep his / her arms straight. The adult in the water should let go of the Aqua Buddy and let the skier float away. After a few practice runs like this, the skier will be ready for a deep water start.
Move to deeper water: Before the skier leaves the boat, discuss hand signals to communicate with the adults in the boat (for example: thumb up for “faster”, thumb down for “slower”, hand slash across throat for “stop”, index finger pointed up and around in a circle for “turn around”, and pat top of head for “go back to shore”) and assure the skier that they are always in control.
It’s best to put the water skis on before climbing onto the Aqua Buddy. From the boat, young skiers can be lifted and set into the Aqua Buddy seat, while bigger children can hop on from a rear swim platform. Otherwise, skiers in the water can pull up onto the seat using the Aqua Buddy’s handles.
Once seated, hand the tow rope handle to the skier and when the skier instructs the boat driver that he / she is ready, slowly move forward and remove any slack in the tow rope. A second adult should be in the boat to act as the driver’s eyes and to hang on and release the other end of the tow rope when the skier falls or is done skiing. Ensure that the boat, rope, and skier are in a straight line and are all facing the same direction. The tow rope should be between the water skis, the skiers knees should be bent, and the ski tips should be parallel and out of the water.
When the skier is ready (for example, she yells “hit it!”), the boat driver should pull ahead slowly for a few feet to get the Aqua Buddy and the skier moving, then accelerate quickly, but maintain a level speed at a speed appropriate for the size of the skier (15-25 mph). The skier should keep their knees bent, but stand up rather quickly after the boat accelerates when he / she can feel the pressure under the skis is able to support their weight. Continued dragging will make it more difficult for the skier to keep their skis straight. After the skier stands, the Aqua Buddy will simply float on its own, but should be retrieved as soon as possible after the skier has completed his / her water ski run.
Practice makes perfect: After the child has successfully completed several starts and runs, they will probably become comfortable with a deep water start without the Aqua Buddy. With continued practice, young skiers quickly advance in their skill level and confidence, and before too long you’ll see them swerving back and forth in and out of the wake. Remember to let your child be in control and to let you know when he / she is ready for the next step. Your job is to be patient and encouraging, and your reward is witnessing your child take his or her first ski run.