What you should know before buying your next watersports boat

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Published: July 29, 2020 · Updated: July 30, 2020

surfing behind malibu wakesetter

If you spend most of your summer weekends wakeboarding or skiing with family and friends, and you don’t already have a dedicated watersports boat, now’s the time to get one. We’re not talking about your typical bowrider or runabout. Watersport boats are uniquely built with these activities in mind, and are tricked out with wake-enhancing features that make it easier for the average Joe to create competition-level conditions. 

Any watersport enthusiast will agree that these boats are absolutely necessary if you want to advance in these sports, or delve into new ones like wakesurfing. So what separates a watersports boat from a typical sport boat? And which features are most important? We spoke with Haden Brundle of Town & Country Marine in Lakefield, Ontario, to answer some key questions every buyer should consider.

What distinguishes a watersports boat from others?

Many people start waterskiing or wakeboarding behind a general-purpose sport boat, or even a pontoon boat, and that’s completely acceptable when you’re a beginner or just partaking in these sports a couple of weekends per year. “But if you’re serious about watersports, or would like to get serious about them, then you should really consider a boat built for that purpose,” says Brundle. 

waterskiing behind Malibu Wakesetter

Whether they’re direct drive or V-drive, proper watersport boats have inboard engines that are built into the hull of the boat. This creates more consistent, balanced wakes, and makes it easier for the boat to stay on track, even with a hard-carving rider pulling from behind. It also provides an added level of safety when people are constantly hopping on and off the back of the boat, and is a necessity for those interested in wakesurfing, which requires riders to stick close to the stern. But the exact shape of the hull, where the inboard engine is placed, and what add-ons you need depend on whether you’re interested in skiing, wake sports, or a combination of the two.

The selection can be overwhelming—so where should someone start?

“If you’re a slalom skier, you’re going to be looking for something completely different than a wakesurfer,” says Brundle. Which means the first thing you should consider when looking at boats like these is what sports you’re using them for. 

Skiers are typically after a small, flat, even wake that’s easy to cross. The best way to achieve this is with a direct-drive inboard engine, which is situated in the middle of the boat, with the prop and rudder built into a relatively flat hull. This allows the boat to plane out quickly, throw a small, narrow wake, and keeps it tracking straight, so skiers can make long, sweeping carves from one side of the boat to the next.

Manufacturers are still building boats with direct-drive engines to appeal to hardcore competition skiers. But as wakesports have eclipsed waterskiing in popularity, we’re seeing a lot more watersport boats built with v-drive engines mounted at the stern. This opens-up the cockpit for more spectators and better socializing, and allows the boat to throw a bigger wake. 

These boats are typically equipped with integrated surf platforms that allow boaters to easily manipulate wake height and shape. They might include hydrofoils that drop the back of the boat even farther into the water, ballast tanks that allow boaters to shift weight to their liking, and even special features that elongate the hull on one side to create barrel-like waves on the other. Brundle says a system like this is a “must” if you have any interest in wake sports, especially wakesurfing, which many families are gravitating to, because it tends to be a bit more accessible and low-impact than the alternatives.

What if you want to ski, board, and surf? 

A variety of boat manufacturers are now building advanced crossover models that make it easy for families to switch from one sport to the next without skipping a beat. One model Brundle points to is the Malibu Wakesetter 20 VTX.

“It’s a jack-of-all trades that consolidates everything you need into one boat,” says Brundle. The 20-footer’s diamond-shaped hull is built with lifting strikes, so the boat sits high on the water when it reaches speeds over 26 mph, making the soft, passable wakes slalom skiers dream of. Switching to wake sports is as simple as the press of a button, which allow boaters to fill the hard tank ballast, sink the stern of the boat, and deploy their patented surf system in minutes.

How do you distinguish between “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves”?

Because a crossover model is built to accommodate every sport, it’s going to cover the “must have” list pretty well. The full range of features that come with the boat depends on the model. Watersports boats tend to focus on features that may not be “essential” but are more luxury and certainly nice to have, says Brundle. 

Malibu Wakesetter

With the VTX, for instance, you can adjust things like the wave size, speed, music volume, and surf side from a remote, so there’s no need to stop the boat, or even communicate with the driver. Then there’s the “Go Home” button, which negates any need for a docking checklist. With a single press of a button, the boat automatically drains the ballast tank, stows the integrated surf system, and deactivates cruise control. You’ll also find watersport boats with wireless phone charging throughout the cockpit, an ice chest built into the floor for snacks and drinks, flexible seating configurations, digital touchscreen dashes, and even electric towers that make it easy to go under bridges with lower clearance or stow in a boathouse.

If you’re simply in it for the sport, Brundle says most manufacturers have a “value model” that offers all the same features in terms of wake and wave performance, but skips some of the higher-end amenities. Though Brundle admits that’s not typically a priority for most of the buyers he sees. “People who are in the market for boats like these expect a certain level of luxury,” he says. “What some might deem ‘nonessential’ are big buying factors for others.”

To learn more about finding the perfect wake boat for your lake, visit tcmarine.com.