It used to be that the only way to rack up frequent flier miles was with the airlines. But now the preferred method of logging airtime is by soaring off a boat's fat wake with a board strapped to your feet. Without question, wakeboarding fever rages at an all-time high.
Numerous boat builders offer some version of a wakeboard boat, but the best come from the handful of manufacturers that specialize in building ski boats. Ski Centurion of Fineline Industries is such a company. The Merced, California-based boat builder offers six models in a variety of deck and engine configurations, four of which are available with the company's special Air Warrior package that is specifically designed with the wakeboarder in mind. The package consists of a wakeboard tower, ballast system and special graphics.
The 21-foot-by-6-inch-long Elite V-drive I tested was equipped with the Air Warrior package, which runs about $2,900 above base price. Ski Centurion does not set retail prices, so its dealers can charge as much as the market will bear. However, according to a company spokesman, prices will range from $35,000 to $43,000. That is a huge variant, so it may pay to shop around.
Ski Centurion calls its tower the Pro Flight Tower. Custom-made by RBK, the black tubular tower adds to the boat's aesthetics, but more importantly, it adds 8 feet of vertical height to which you can affix the tow rope. That translates into huge air every time you launch off the boat's wake. For convenience, the Pro Flight Tower fastens to the Elite Air Warrior with quick-pin mounts so that it can be easily folded down for storage.
Adding to the Elite Air Warrior's wakeboarding appeal is a 25-gallon ballast tank integrated into the boat's hull. The slick thing about this ballast system is that the rotocast plastic tank is totally below deck so that it is neither unsightly nor obtrusive. Another advantage is that it can be filled and emptied with the simple flick of a switch at the helm. A water-capacity gauge, similar to a fuel gauge, reads out the water level, which, in turn, helps you fine-tune the boat's wake.
Although the Elite V-drive is a great wakeboarding package with the Air Warrior option, it doesn't mean that it isn't good for slalom or trick skiing. To the contrary, Ski Centurion labels it a three-event boat. With the ballast empty and the tower down, the boat resembles a typical tournament-style boat. However, there is no doubt the Elite V-drive is designed with more of a recreational bent than its hardcore tournament-boat counterparts. Its most obvious characteristic in this regard is the seating configuration, which seats eight — something traditional inboard tow boats don't offer.
Seating accommodations include open-bow cushions (although this is a relatively small area) and expansive wraparound seating in the cockpit that encompasses an aft-facing observer's bench, portside bench and aft bench. The driver has an adjustable bucket seat that provides good lateral support.
Aft of the rear bench seat is a large padded sun lounge that is also characteristic of the boat's leisurely intent. Of course, this is made possible by the use of a V-drive engine configuration, which has the engine mounted aft and the driveshaft running forward into a gear box and then aft to the propeller in a descriptive "V" pattern. Gone is the mid-engine motor box that takes up so much interior space.
The ski pylon is located between the aft bench seat's backrest and the sun lounge, which is far enough forward that it helps the boat stay on track even with a tournament-class slalom skier cutting from side to side. The aluminum pylon has a swiveling Teflon head to reduce rope friction and enhance skiing performance. Although it is attached to a solid mounting bracket fastened to the boat's substructure, the pylon itself is removable. Another tow-rope attachment is located on the boat's transom above the removable teak swim platform.
Powering the Elite V-drive I tested was a 315-horsepower MerCruiser 350 Magnum MPI with a Walter V-drive. A more potent 330-horsepower Black Scorpion is also available, but I was impressed with the performance of the Magnum engine. Running solo with a light load, I recorded a top speed of 46.7 mph and rocketed from 0-30 mph in a crisp 5.8 seconds.
With roughly a 17-degree V at the bow entry, the Elite V-Drive cut through rough water quite well and delivered a fairly soft ride, something many tournament boats don't do. A delta pad aft helped produce lift and kept the wakes at slalom speeds. I did notice considerable steering-wheel torque at higher speeds, but as long as I maintained a tight grip on the steering wheel, it wasn't a problem. It did, however, get tiring.
The boat turned within a tight radius, which should make it good for retrieving fallen skiers, but it slows down a lot in the process unless I simultaneously advanced the throttle. All things considered, I found the boat's performance to be very good. It would be hard for even a novice to get in trouble driving it — except when docking, where almost all rudder-steered inboard-engine boats can be a handful.
Standard features on the Elite V-drive include snap-in carpet, retractable drink holders, insulated ice chest with a drain, courtesy lights, mufflers, dual speedometers, two 12-volt plugs, five-color gelcoat in lieu of tape and a limited lifetime hull warranty. I found it unusual, however, that the stereo system is optional.
There is plenty of storage space designed into the boat, with the largest compartment being behind the aft-facing observer's seat. Several small, netted pouches are located throughout the boat. Larger compartments are located beneath the seats and on either side of the engine, the latter of which is accessed by the push of a button that electronically lifts the engine hatch/sun lounge. And if you opt for the Pro Flight Tower, boards can be attached to it as well.
With its 8-foot-tall Flight Tower and integrated ballast system, Ski Centurion Elite V-drive Air Warrior presents a great way to earn frequent flier miles. For those who like to stay closer to terra firma, or aqua firma if you will, it's also a solid all-around ski boat for tricks, slalom and tubing.
|Fuel capacity||38 gallons|
|1,000 rpm||6.9 mph|
|1,500 rpm||8.8 mph|
|2,000 rpm||18.6 mph|
|2,500 rpm||25.3 mph|
|3000 rpm||31.2 mph|
|3,500 rpm||36.0 mph|
|4,000 rpm||39.9 mph|
|4,500 rpm||43.8 mph|
|0-30 mph||5.8 seconds|
|46.7 mph||4,800 rpm|
For more information
455 Grogan Ave.
Merced, CA 95340