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Watersports How-To's

You’re Never Too Old To Stay Balance… It Takes Perseverance

By Zenon Bilas
In almost every sport, achieving a balanced body position is key to success. Proper balance makes learning easier, resulting in faster progress and better overall performance. This is ... read more certainly true in waterskiing, wakeboarding and barefooting. Yet typically, when someone is learning, balance is rarely discussed. Instead, the focus is just on getting up and skiing or riding. Performance may improve over time, but focusing on body position from the beginning will yield better results-and more fun.

When I'm coaching someone, whether on two skis, slalom, trick, wakeboard or barefoot, I immediately observe the athlete's body position. I look at how well the water skier or rider is standing over the bindings-or their feet. This tells me a great deal.

Slalom skiers, wakeboarders and barefooters all tend to place too much weight on the heels of their feet. To get great balance, the goal is to distribute the weight equally over your feet. The best water skiers and riders constantly hone their balance skills.

Balancing Gracefully on the Water

The optimal most balanced position is standing directly over the bindings, with ankles and knees slightly flexed. You should be able to drop a straight line from your shoulders to your hips to your ankles. This equalizes your weight over your foot from side to side and toe to heel. Keep your eyes on the horizon. If you look down, that is generally where you will end up.

Catching air on a Wakeboard

Even if you are proficient on the water, with years of experience, it may not mean you have optimal balance. Even proficient skiers and riders have room to make subtle adjustments, which will translate to more success on the water.

You can and should do dry land practice to work on balance. Flex your ankle and knee (without squatting) and stand on one foot. Tap the free leg toes down, raise the knee to 90 degrees, or extend the free leg out behind you. Keep your core tight and your eyes straight ahead. Practice kinesthetic awareness; feel where your weight is on your feet. Yoga, Pilates and gym workouts focusing on core muscles can all be beneficial.

Barefoot Water Skiing It's not all about the lower body either. Your upper body and the way you control the handle also affects body position and balance. We have all seen--or been--the water skier or rider who is bent at the waist with arms outstretched from the shoulders. This common error transfers your weight farther back, away from the center of your bindings. This is a weak position that will hinder progress and result in unnecessary falls.

Instead, use your arms and upper body to your advantage. Keep your back, shoulders and head vertical to the water. Arms should be relaxed with elbows slightly flexed, and the handle should be held down close to belt or waist level. When your weight is squarely balanced over your feet, the pull of the handle should be light. The line and handle should tow you along but not be supporting your body weight.

So now you are balanced over your feet and bindings. Not only are you falling less and learning faster, you are also using the design of the ski or wakeboard to its full potential. You have attained what I consider the Holy Grail to achieving success of the water, no matter which tow sport is your favorite.

Getting it done like a proThe other key element to getting up on skis or a board or barefooting for the first time is to adopt the "Never Give Up" mind-set. With any endeavor in life, it pays not to give up.

In 1978 I spent the entire summer attempting the back step-off on Round Lake in northern Illinois and on Lake Delton in the Wisconsin Dells. I was sixteen. Only a few individuals in the world were back barefooting then. It was extremely difficult. Everything was done behind the boat. There were no barefoot wetsuits, no low-stretch lines and no coaching. The boat technology we see today, simply didn't exist then either.

I never saw a boom until I met Mike Seipel in 1980.

All I had to learn the back step off were a few photos of barefooters facing backwards in a Dick Pope Cypress Gardens book and watching Charlie Hoch back barefoot at Tommy Bartlett water ski show in Wisconsin Dells. Fortunately, Charlie was an excellent example for me to follow, as he had a very clean, over-his-feet body position.

No one understood boat speeds for barefooting; everyone just said "go faster". So, I did, attempting to step off backwards at 40 mph. For the people on shore, my falls were very entertaining. I would fall in spectacular fashion, flipping backwards with my arms and legs flying all over as I bounced across the surface of the lake like a skipping stone. Sometimes the step off ski would pop up and whack my shins, which were often cut up.

But I persevered and in September 1978 I made my first successful back step off to back barefoot. As Neil Armstrong had done with his "One Small Step For Man..." my single backwards step took my barefooting to an entirely new and exciting level.

Acrobatics on the Water

Fast forward 35 years and I am still doing all the barefoot tricks forwards and backwards. I've been able to enjoy an innumerable number of memorable experiences such as barefooting the part of Tony the Tiger in a Kellogg's cereal TV commercial (with barefoot champion Charity Merriman) on Lake Powell and performing in exotic locations like Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aries, on the Seine near the heart of Paris, on picturesque but quite cold Lake Toya in northern Japan, and at the top of the world near the Arctic Circle in Pitea, Sweden. Back barefooting in front of 500,000 people in Yueyang, China was beyond a surreal experience.

Footing for an audience and for TV in Shanghai with the Rock Aqua Jays (from Rockford, IL) show ski team and in Beijing with Banana George Blair were other amazing highlights. This past July, barefooting took me to Beirut for a show that was seen on TV nationally in Lebanon.

Picture of Zenon bilas

None of this comes easy. It takes a positive (some of my friends say just plain crazy) mental attitude, ongoing physical training, the strong will to succeed and yes, simple perseverance. I'm sure glad I persevered 35 summers ago to make my first back step off.

Zenon Bilas is a 7 times U.S. barefoot water ski champion. He has coached and performed barefoot shows throughout the US and in 16 countries. To schedule Zenon for a personalized coaching session on your ski boat anywhere in the world, contact at zenbilas@bellsouth.net or call 561.433.4554 or check out at www.facebook.com/zenonbilas.

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Outfit Your Boat For Watersports Fun

By Raimi Merritt
Boating with friends and family is a lot of fun on its own. However, practicing a skill like water skiing or wakeboarding behind your boat increases the fun factor exponentially. Though I personally ... read more focus primarily on wakeboarding, my family and I love all tow sports. They are a great way to spend time together, and offer fantastic exercise.

Behind the boat on Glass Water

Chances are excellent that your boat will prove a fine tow vehicle for skiing or boarding, perhaps the two most popular tow sports. To prepare for the 2013 season on the water, basic equipment to get you started should include a combo pair of skis, a slalom ski, a wakeboard, ropes and handles, and life vests.

Every boat should have a pair of skis. Instead of the traditional narrow skis, consider the newer shaped skis. With additional width in the tip and tail, these shaped skis make getting up easier, and the extra surface area makes them more forgiving, especially if your body position is centered over your bindings. (Trust me, you'll get there.) Though these shaped skis fit almost everyone, manufacturers do make them in 65" or 67" lengths for larger adults and 63" for lighter adults and teens weighing less than 120 pounds. If you will be pulling very young children, inexpensive trainer skis are also available.

Design elements from high-end water ski and wakeboard bindings have migrated to bindings for pairs of skis, giving recreational skiers better fit and improved foot and ankle control. The bindings on a pair of skis usually come mounted on the skis and are generally adjustable. The longer skis typically include bindings that fit a bigger range of foot sizes, while the shorter skis feature bindings for a smaller range of foot sizes. So before buying, think about who will be the primary users of the skis. (Extra hint: Skiers with tighter bindings often use dishwashing soap to get their feet in.)

Once you have mastered riding two skis, it's time to go to a single ski. Oh Yeah! Great day on the water

Riding a slalom ski is a lot more exciting since you can cut more aggressively across the boat's wake and make quicker, tighter turns. Almost all combination skis have a rear toe binding on one of the pair. You can certainly use this ski to learn to get up on a slalom ski. However, once you are hooked and seeking better performance, you will want a single ski specifically designed for slalom skiing. Think shaped skis again for family slaloming. They are not "poor performers"; they are more forgiving in turns and wake crossings. These hybrid skis feature a shaped design or a wider profile, while incorporating bottom and edge design borrowed from their high end counterparts. The extra surface area makes starts easier and you can ride a shaped ski through the slalom course at speeds of 26 to 32 mph.

Wake boarding equipment salesTypically, these skis are purchased "blank" and you buy your binding separately. You can get a binding that adjusts to a range of foot sizes, or you can go for an exact fit for more control with a boot style binding that fits a specific size.

Every family boat should have at least one wakeboard on board.

The basics of wakeboarding are easily learned, promoting confidence in newer riders. Because wakeboards offer so much surface area, no board is above any rider's ability. Even a high-end wakeboard would work fine for the first-time rider. These feature strong but light core materials that allow more speed when edging to the wake, and make swinging the board around in spin or invert easier to do.

Wakeboards that are slightly wider from tip to tail and feature a flatter rocker (tip to tail curvature of the board) give the rider a more upward pop at the wake. These wider boards are excellent for riders who want the air time to do spins. Boards with more rocker and a narrower profile edge to the wake more aggressively, which translates into farther jumps across the wake. These boards are great for wake-to-wake tricks and a more aggressive style of riding. A more pronounced rocker also makes landings softer.

My signature pro model, the Maiden by Hyperlite features a continuous rocker which lets me keep the board on edge all the way up the wake and that translates into big air inverts. The rocker design along with lightweight but strong core materials also provide for soft landings.

Big Air on Board The Hyperlite Maiden is perfect for all skill levels and comes in 134 cm and 138 cm. Like water skis, wakeboards are typically sold as blanks and you can personalize the bindings for specific use.

Now you need a tow line. There are lines and handles for every tow sport discipline, but for now you need a line for water skiing and a line for wakeboarding.

Water skiers use a line made of polypropylene, which offers a little stretch, preferred by slalom skiers. These lines are 70 feet long, and a handle adds 5 feet for a total of 75 feet. Typically the handle segment is detachable. Mostly used in the slalom course, there are slalom lines with take-off loops so you can ski on a shorter line. The first shortening is to 60 feet, and many skiers, even beginning slalom skiers, like this shorter line to reduce slack. Choice of line length may also depend upon your particular boat's wake.

Unlike water skiers, wakeboarders want a very tight line. They typically use very low stretch or non-stretch lines made of materials like polyethylene or spectra nylon. These lines typically come in 90' lengths with take-off loops at 70' and 80'. I like riding at 80' line since the boat's wake is well defined and big there. These low stretch lines and lengths also work really well for barefooting. (I love barefooting with my father.)

Tow ropeThe handle for water skiers is about 12" long while wakeboarders use handles that are 15" long, making regrabbing the handle during handle-passing tricks easier. You may want a second, smaller diameter handle if you will be pulling younger or smaller skiers, so little fingers can get a good grip.

Finally, make sure you have Coast Guard approved flotation vests that properly fit each of your skiers, riders and passengers. There are many varieties of nylon and neoprene to choose from.

These basics will get you started, but before long I guarantee you will want gloves for better handle control, wetsuits to extend your season, tops and board shorts. But whatever you load in your boat, pack your biggest smile; you're heading for a season of fun.

[Editor's Note] Check out the great selection of watersports equipment from iboats.com at: //www.iboats.com/Watersports/dm/view_id.19 and all sizes of PFD's at: //www.iboats.com/Life-Jackets-Vests-PFDs-Accessories/dm/view_id.368694

Raimi Merritt, 2013 Masters Wakeboard champion and 8-time World Cup champion, is sponsored by MonaVie, Nautique, Hyperlite, Smith Optics, Breathe Boardwear and Fly High. Raimi also offers personalized coaching in Orlando, Florida. Email raimi@stevemerritt.com to schedule a lesson. For all the latest news, check out www.raimimerritt.com or on facebook.
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Fit to be Towed - Staying Fit With & For Tow Sports

By Zenon Bilas
For fitness and fun, get behind your boat. No matter your age or fitness level, there's a tow sport perfect for you. Water tow sports are fun and for ... read more many of us, a boating activity we enjoy all our lives from when our parents tow us to when we tow our grandchildren around the lake. As with any sport, being fit helps you enjoy it and helps keep you from the pain of strains when you have fun. No matter what shape you are in, you can start participating in a tow sport. Just start slowly and build up as you get in better shape.

Since 1975, I have been continuously enjoying the various tow sports such as water skiing – first on two skis then slalom, trick, barefoot, and wakeboard. And now at 51, I can tell you without question that not only are tow sports exhilarating and oh so much fun when you master a new trick or improve your skill level, but they are also a complete workout for your body that you just can't duplicate in the gym. But getting ready at the gym or your home fitness center is important. Don't try to be a world champion unless you're fit for the sport.

While each tow sport will give your body a full workout, some target certain muscle groups really well and appeal to various ages. And those muscle groups need to be ready for the summer of fun. For example, jumping the wakes on a wakeboard or trick ski, doing spins and inverts in the air really work the abdominal area and appeals to young people.

Slalom skiing back and forth across the boat wake works arms, legs, and back quite well. No surprise that adults especially like the challenge of slalom.

In barefooting, tumble turns and deep water starts work the abs in addition to providing an incredible overall workout.

Although trick skiing takes place at 20 mph or slower, don't underestimate its efficiency: the slow speed allows you to do more tricks per pass, which builds endurance. In addition to the classic events, there's even more tow sports to choose from – such as wake surf, wake skate, and kneeboarding.

Female Water Skier

As you grow in enthusiasm, you and your family will think more about body position and technique. Early on you'll discover that perfect balance over the bindings makes everything easier. This is a principle shared by all tow sports. Ditto for achieving your optimal body weight, which makes all sports easier. For sure, you will find a smile on your face behind the boat and will experience that healthy glow after each session. And don't forget to stretch before and after you hit the water; your muscles will like you for it.

Stretching can before you wakeboard is healthyWhichever tow sport you choose, you will improve core strength, endurance, and balance while having fun with family and friends.

[EDITOR'S NOTE] Check out the watersports gear at iboats.com Zenon Bilas is a 7–time U.S. Barefoot Water Ski Champion who has published magazine articles about the sport throughout the world. Based in West Palm Beach, Florida, Zenon coaches water skiers of all skill levels in slalom, wakeboard, trick and barefoot. Chat with Zenon or schedule a Water Ski Clinic at your site anywhere in the world at zenbilas@bellsouth.net or go to facebook.com/zenonbilas.
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About Watersports
Regardless if you're looking for a 3-person tube to pull the kids on, or a wakeboard to catch a little extra air, with our wide variety of tubes, wakeboards, skates, kneeboards, water skis and watersports accessories from the brands you trust such as Kwik Tek, Airhead, SportsStuff, Liquid Force and Body Glove, we're sure to have towables and watersports gear for you. If you're Interested in optimizing your boat for big air or big fun, check out our Monster Wakeboard towers, specifically designed to be reasonably priced and able to mount to a variety of types and styles of boats - and they look great too. You can always be confident that you're getting the best price available and backed by our Low Price-Match Guarantee.