Story by Randy Hess
ALRIGHT, I CAN ADMIT IT: TUBES ARE A FINE FORM OF ENTERTAINMENT. They're easy to master, one-size-fits-all and many can accommodate more than one person at a time. On the other hand, tubers really are the couch potatoes of the watersports world. Water-skiing, wakeboarding and kneeboarding absolutely require more skill, which is a good thing, of course. Nothing keeps kids coming back for more like the opportunity to best themselves. This is the universal truth upon which the videogame industry was built. Keep tubing in the picture for easy rides and for novice guests, but throw a skiing or boarding challenge at your kids to keep them plugged in. In the process, of course, you'll get more of that precious hang time.
- Safety frst - Hopefully we don't really need to emphasize this, but part of having fun is not getting hurt. Your kids need correctly sized PFDs made for watersports. You absolutely need t o t urn of f t he boat when they are getting into or out of the water.
You need an observer, too. Sunscreen, hydration, no alcohol for the driver¿basically, continue to be a good parent, you know?
- Start early/Don't rush - You'll get nothing but frustration and determined non-skiers if you push them into it too early. On the other hand, strike as soon as you discern they are ready to learn. Their smaller size and lack of fear will make it easier to get them skimming across the surface.
- Start easy - Because they're lighter, children pop up on top of the water with less pull and stay there at lower speeds. This also ensures that f alls don't hurt as much. Be gentle with the throttle.
- Model for them - Parents are kids' ¿rst (non-animated) heroes. That may go away when they are teenagers, so show them now how cool you are with a little board riding of your own. If you don't know how, learn it with them. They may pick a different kind of board (¿ne!), or they may just try to beat you at your own game.
- Dry run - It's all about balance and countering the pull of the boat...all in the slippery medium of water. Your kids will get the feel quicker if you show them on land first. Put them in skis, have them lie back on the ground, pull them up with the tow rope and drag them across the lawn. Pull them through a lawn-furniture obstacle course. The farther you drag them, the more ready they'll be on the water. You can practice a similar wakeboard dry run...but out on the water. With the boat shut off and junior suited up and in the water, have him rest the wakeboard against the edge of your swim platform. As he grips the tow rope, pull on it from aboard the boat, lifting him up and out of the water using the swim platform as a pivot.
- Well-equipped - Whichever style of board your kids want to learn to ride, there are novice versions that make it easier. For the youngest skiers, try combo pairs that attach with a (removable) yolk near the front. On some of these, you can attach the tow rope to the yolk to spare their little hands. Beginner wakeboards are a little larger and have ¿ns (often removable) for more stability. There are beginner kneeboards, too. The single most helpful piece of equipment for learning any of these (or barefooting, for that matter) is a boom that sticks out over the side of the boat, helping to hold the child up out of the water and making it easy to give them directions. They aren't cheap, though, and you can do without it.
- Get wet - It can be very helpful when kids are frst learning to get up to have an adult (wearing a PFD, too) in the water holding their boards and bodies in the right position. If they don't get up right away, the adult can help them get their equipment back on and provide encouragement.
- No tension - Some kids have trouble taking instruction from their parents because corrections can sound like reprimands. If you are aware of this dynamic and banish that reproachful tone, you'll find they become a better audience for your advice. When a child f ails to get up for the third or fourth time, he may assume everyone onboard is getting impatient and will become frustrated. Everyone needs to be part of the enthusiastic cheering section. "You almost had it! You'll get it this time!"
- Proper technique - If you don't know how to do it, better do some research. There are lots of good sources out there, no matter the particular board they select. Learning the right technique from the start will help ensure their success.
- Star turn - Hey, this is a big deal! Take pictures and video, and start as soon as they are up, lest they fall and you miss your shot. Make them feel heroic, and they'll surely be back for more.