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If you live in an area with access to lakes, rivers or bays, there’s perhaps no better way to have fun with family and friends than by hot-dogging behind a boat. So, whether you’re new to boating or just looking for a fresh way to enjoy your wake, here’s a brief introduction to the most popular “watersports” and how they came into being.

Since Minnesotan Ralph Samuelson strapped barrel staves on his feet in 1922, the world has been crazy about waterskiing. Today, we use fiberglass skis and rubber bindings rather than wood planks and leather bands. Still, the sport remains as popular as ever because it’s low impact, waterskiingrelatively easy to learn and can be done at hair-straightening speeds for the initiated, who typically “drop” one ski and ride with both feet on a single, or slalom, ski.

Quite simply, it’s waterskiing without the skis, and its origin can be traced back to Dick Pope Jr., who was filmed “footin” in Florida in 1947. barefootingYou don’t need much in the way of gear — just a boat, a tow rope and a life vest — but it’s a good idea to start with an experienced barefooter or take lessons before stepping in. If you have the opportunity to learn from a boom (a pole that extends from the side of the boat) all the better.

Surfers in Southern California first crafted these boards to carve the ocean swells, but it was only a matter of time until they tried towing them behind boats. By 1965, “inland kneeboards” were being sold across the country. kneeboardingA kneeboard is a good piece of gear for watersports beginners because the low center of gravity makes it easier to get up and harder to fall off. Modern models have resilient pads to protect the rider’s knees from injury.

This sport was also created by SoCal surfers and took flight in 1985 when Tony Finn decided to add foot straps to his “skurfer” — a waterski/surfboard hybrid. These days, experienced riders can launch themselves off the wake lip to perform mind-boggling aerial jumps. Specialized wakeboard boats have a tower for added lift and ballast bags and/or pumps that store water to increase the weight of the boat and create a larger wake.

This is a natural evolution of wakeboarding that uses a similar type of board made of wood or fiberglass. But unlike wakeboarding, the rider is not bound to the board, which gives the sport its own unique challenges. Riders use a tow rope and wear special shoes while “skating” behind the boat, doing complex tricks similar to both wakeboarding and skateboarding.

Perhaps the “purest” of ocean-influenced watersports, wakesurfing is when a rider cruises atop a surfboard behind an inboard-powered boat. After getting up on the wave using a tow rope, wakesurfers drop the line and ride the steep face below the wave’s peak. Inboard and V-drive boats are the only safe choice for this sport; boats with sterndrives and outboards are dangerous because the propeller is exposed.

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