On the Water
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Water-ski Like a Pro

10 tips from a world-champion skier & instructor
By Brad Kovach
Published: May 1, 2009

How old were you when you started skiing? Jonathan Travers, the top under-21 men’s slalom water-skier in the world, started on trainers when he was just 18 months old. Granted, not everyone has a ski school in their backyard, but he insists that water lovers can take up the sport anywhere at any age. And no place is better than at your lakehome, where the setting is relaxed and pleasant for the student and teacher alike.

When he’s not competing, Jonathan helps his dad, John “Jack” Travers, coach the next generation of U.S. Water Ski Team hopefuls at Sunset Lakes Ski School in Groveland, Fla. Here are Jonathan’s practical pointers for beginners.

Moving through these steps will take time and practice (don’t expect to be slalom skiing your first time on the water), but with water-skiing learning – and falling – is half the fun!

Get the Right Gear

Depending on your size and weight, as a beginner you will need trainer skis, junior-size combo skis or regular-size adult combo skis (your local retailer will be able to help you find the perfect fit). Skis should have adjustable bindings and should be fitted so they are tight enough to hold your feet secure, but not so tight that they won’t release if (and when) you fall.

Don’t Jump In

A good way to start is on dry land, sans boat. Learn to stand from a sitting position with your skis and rope. With your skis on and sitting directly behind your heels, have your teacher simulate the pull of the boat. Holding onto the ski handle with your knees between your elbows, let the instructor pull you to your feet strongly and steadily.

Legging It

As your teacher pulls you up, lean slightly forward and slowly straighten your legs. Stop just before your legs are straight so that you still have a little bend in your knees. The big key to success is to stand up using only your legs; do not pull with your arms. Practice this until you feel confident and relaxed.

In the Deep End

Once you are comfortable on dry land, you are ready to attempt a deep-water start. Jonathan recommends that you try floating around with the skis and PFD on until you can keep the skis under you in a sitting position.

Then, follow the same directions as you did on dry land, and you will soon be gliding on top of the water.

Stand Tall

Once on top of the water it is important to have a comfortable, correct body position. Your skis should be shoulder-width apart, knees bent and hips forward, handle at waist level, arms straight and head up. Grip the handle with palms down.

Learn Control First

When you are comfortable standing on your skis, the next step is to master ski control. Before actually going outside the boat’s wake, you should learn to travel from one side to the other by leaning right and left. Keep your arms straight and your knees bent – let the boat do the work.

Crossing the Wake

To cross the wake for the first time, start on the far crest and travel slowly all the way across and continue over the opposite crest. Make sure to keep your back and arms straight; take up the shock of the wake by bending your knees only. Once you cross the wake, continue traveling for about 10 to 15 feet, at which point your skis will begin to slow down.

When coming back inside the wake you must start far enough outside so that you can turn your skis to ensure the tips do not dig into the crest of the wake.

Preparing for One Ski

Travel outside the right wake. Shift all of your weight onto your left leg and lift your right (outside) ski out of the water, making sure you keep the tip up. Try this a few times, then move to the other side of the wake and try the same drill with your other foot. Whichever foot feels more stable will be your front foot.

Another easy way to choose your front foot is to simply take a step from a standing still position. The foot that you first take a step with is usually your front foot in slalom.

Dropping a Ski

Once you have decided which foot will be forward, loosen the heel of the ski you will be dropping. The following directions are for left-footforward skiers. If you’re right-footforward, just reverse the directions.

Move outside the right side of the wake. After obtaining a good standing position (back and arms straight, left knee bent slightly more than right) shift all of your weight onto your left foot. Lift your right foot and push it slowly back to release your foot from the binding. Put the toes of your free foot in the water behind and to the side of your left foot. Leave your toes in the water until you feel stable enough to slowly move them onto the ski. If you have a rear toe-piece, place your foot gently on the top of the rear toe rubber. Ride for a while with your foot on top and then slowly lift it and move it inside the toe rubber.


Body position on one ski is basically the same as on two skis. The important thing to remember on one ski is to keep the handle low so that you can maintain equal balance on both feet. If the handle is held too high, your weight goes to your back foot. Another good balance tip is to keep your back straight. If you bend forward, the weight is transferred too much to your front foot.

Just like on two skis, travel back and forth inside the wake until you are ready to cross to the outside. With a little patience, everyone can slalom – and there is nothing like the feel of gliding across the water and making a big spray!

Brad Kovach learned to water-ski in Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks more than 20 years ago.

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