Odds are if you’re reading this you’re considering getting into one of the most exhilarating sports on water, but face the tough decision on which water ski to buy. There’s no denying that water skiing is one of the addicting forms of water sports, but to get the most of it you must have the right ski. It all starts with the right equipment, and if you’ve already done some research you’ve probably already noticed there are numerous models to choose from.
Water skis are broken down into two types with each one offering distinct advantages over the other. Whether you’re a beginner looking to get your feet wet for the very first time or an avid user looking for an upgrade, the following water ski buying guide tells you everything you need to know.
What is Water Skiing?
Water skiing is one of the original forms of water sports that dates back to the early 1920’s and over the years we’ve seen other forms extend on its functionality offering a unique take on skiing. Wakeboarding, kneeboarding, tubing and many others have adapted the same concept while using different equipment that slightly changes the experience.
The same constant remains which includes a deep water start, rope attached to a boat or suspended cable, open water and of course the skis. The versatility of water skiing extends to any type of water including lakes, oceans, and rivers, but for the best experience calmer water is always indicated.
Skiing takes place with either one (slalom) or two skis (combo) with each type serving a better purpose which is discussed in detail down below. The size, weight and design of the ski(s) helps define the user’s skill level, age and size which are more practical for one skier over another.
The depth of the water should be at least 5-6 feet with a large surface area of at least 200-feet. For safety, you’ll also want to make sure your path is free from obstacles and other underwater objects close to the surface that may be difficult to see.
Types of Water Skis
Water skis are broken down into two types (combo and slalom) with each best suited for a specific subset of skiers. If you’re in the market for a new ski, taking the time to understand the differences and who they’re better suited for will help you get the most of your experience. There are many factors when before buying a new ski(s) including weight, age, skill level, speed, and the type of skiing you’re looking to do.
Beginners or children typically start out on combo skis which is a set of 2 skis and provide better balance than a single ski. Combo, or double skis offer a large surface area and makes it easier for beginners to start out. You’ll want to choose a set that has adjustable bindings (shoes) which offer a better fit and can be used by all people in the family.
Combo water skis for beginners typically come complete with trainer bars which lock both skis together which provide better balance and makes for easier starts. For adults, combos are typically rated to accommodate riders over 100-pounds and offer a weight range than slalom skis. After you’ve mastered getting up on the water, being able to balance, and landing tricks and jumps, then it’s time to graduate to the next type of ski.
Slalom skis are a bit more user specific than combo skis which makes them less versatile. Choosing the right slalom ski comes with a better understanding of who they’re for, rider’s weight, style, times used, length of the ski, and the boat’s speed. This type of ski offers a competitive advantage tailor made to make the rider better, but specifically created to match the skier’s skill level.
Understanding the Different Skill Levels
A good rule of thumb to determine your own skill level is to know the frequency you plan on being on the water and whether you believe you’re an aggressive, or relaxed skier. Those who have an aggressive style and plan on skiing more than 2 times per month will want to consider an intermediate/advanced slalom ski and those who are more relaxed, just starting out, and plan on being on the water less than 2 times per month should consider a beginner/intermediate ski.
Below, is a better depiction of the three types of skill levels.
Beginners are just that, they’re just starting out. This can be kids and adult skiers alike who typically lack form, ski infrequently, and lack experience. Combo water skis should be used exclusively.
This is the skill level of those who have some experience, but only plan on skiing for fun. Courses and competition skiing is typically not an option with an over-riding concern on comfort, enjoyment and relaxation. There’s typically a preference with longer line lengths of at least 15-feet and slower speeds to 30 mph for intermediate slalom skiers is more than enough.
Advanced water skiers have a wealth of experience, ski frequently, and usually seek out competition or performance courses. These skiers have great form, and technique, seek out shorter lines of about 30-feet, and look to move at competition level speeds of at least 35 mph.
Choosing the Right Water Ski
The length of the ski doesn’t become a real factor until you’ve moved on to slalom skis. Typically, there are two factors to consider including the speed of the boat and weight of the skier. We’ve broken it down for you below to give you a better idea on the length of the slalom ski you’ll want to consider based on your weight and average speed you’re wanting to ski.
The following water ski sizing chart gives you a great guide for those looking to pick up a new slalom water ski.
|Weight of the Skier||Boat Speed
26 – 30 mph
30 – 34 mph
34 – 36 mph
|60-100 pounds||59 -63-inches||59 -63-inches||59 – 63-inches|
|95 – 125 pounds||62 – 64-inches||62 – 63-inches||62 – 63-inches|
|115 – 140 pounds||64 – 66-inches||63 – 66-inches||63 – 65-inches|
|135 – 160 pounds||66 – 67-inches||65 – 66-inches||64 – 66-inches|
|150 – 180 pounds||67 -68-inches||66- 67-inches||65 – 67-inches|
|170 – 200 pounds||68 – 72-inches||67 -68-inches||66 – 68-inches|
|190 – 215 pounds||72-inches||68 – 72-inches||67 – 68-inches|
|210 pounds & up||72-inches||68 -72-inches||68 – 72-inches|
For beginners, the decision is a bit easier. Longer and wider skis are best suited for those new to skiing as they offer better balance and make it easier to get up. There are also features such as a trainer bar that interconnects both skis together which helps improve stability while allowing you to concentrate on the motion of one foot instead of both.
Design and Size Matters
As we’ve already discussed, the size of the ski really matters, more so for slalom than water skis. The design of the ski has a huge purpose as well which is also more indicative for slalom than combos. For beginners/intermediates, a flatter bottom and wider tail gives less experienced skiers more control and better balance.
For more experienced and advanced riders, a narrow tail, beveled edges, and a concave bottom is best suited which significantly improves carving, edge to edge transitions, and can handle faster speeds. For those looking for the perfect ski to land tricks and jumps, a shorter ski is recommended.
Water Ski Bindings
The bindings, also referred to as boots are what you put your feet into and are attached to the ski itself. Some bindings are exclusive sizes while others are adjustable allowing them to fit different size feet. While it’s true the ski makes all the difference, but they’re only as good as the bindings attached to them.
Keeping it simple, the main purpose of the bindings is to hold your feet to the ski. Other functions include keeping your feet and ankles from moving around too freely which provides lateral support. This helps minimize any injury that can be seen with the ankle in the same manner high-top sneakers provide ankle support for basketball players.
When looking at bindings, you’ll want a pair that offers great support and allows you to get in and out easily. Beginners and those who plan on using the bindings for more than one person will want to look at adjustable bindings along with a single high strap on the front and a rear toe plate.
For those who will be using the bindings exclusively, you’ll want to consider double wrap bindings which are typically seen with advanced level slalom level skiers. These bindings are harder to get on and off the adjustable bindings, but offer more ankle support as they rest higher up and go completely around the foot.
Water Ski Fins
Fins provide maneuverability and tracking that would be otherwise difficult without one. For the most part, all skis come with at least one fin, but the type and placement of the fins really don’t matter until you get to slalom skis. Combo typically come with a plastic fin attached which will usually wear out over-time, but is inexpensive to replacement at less than $20.
Experienced, especially advanced skiers will want to tinker with the placement and type of fin. A slight difference in placement can have all the difference:
- Forward placement – faster turning and makes the ski feel smaller
- Rear placement – better stability and makes the ski feel bigger
Creating the Best Water Skiing Experience
Taking the time to do your homework will help you create the best water skiing experience which is why this buying guide was created. Before you make your purchase, first understand the type of ski you need, your intended use, and the overall experience you’re looking to create.
If you plan on spending a great deal of time on the water, then choosing a higher end water ski which will cost you a few more bucks will save you a great deal of money over-time. On the other hand, if you’re a beginner or only intend on skiing once in a blue moon, then spending a fortune on a high-end model just doesn’t make sense.
Feel free to browse our huge selection of water ski reviews which are broken down by category which can be seen below.