Wakeboarding is big right now. Not everyone, however, can afford a wakeboard-specific boat. Nor would they necessarily want to. Wakeboard boats are often expensive, deliver a rougher ride due to their shallower hull deadrise, and aren't always the best match for saltwater.
Instead, most of us choose to make due with your average runabout. Even those boats, however, aren't so average anymore. Take a look at the boat show or your local showroom next time you're in the neighborhood. Towers, big sound systems, even the occasional ballast option are all items you see cropping up on runabout options lists. That's good news if you're in the market for a new boat. Those of you with current, less wake-sy models, however, needn't despair. Aftermarket alternatives are available that will allow you to retrofit your current ride with all the latest wake goodness.
Looking for true big-air potential? Check out two additions that will deliver the biggest bang for your buck.
Raise The Roof. The most notable feature of a wakeboard-specific model is its tower, a gleaming arch that rises above the cockpit and anchors the towrope higher in the air than possible with a standard pylon. The primary reason for a tower is to eliminate pull. Transom mounts, or even low pylons, work to pull the rider downward from almost the minute they leave the wake. In contrast, a tower anchors the rope high above the water, allowing riders to launch as high as they're skill level can take them. Towers were once the telltale indicator of a wake model; today, they are one of the most popular accessories on many sterndrive runabouts as well.
Aftermarket towers can be purchased to fit nearly any current model. Check out Monster Tower (monstertower.com) for some examples, including a universal tower for under $1400. You can have one professionally installed, or do it yourself. If you choose the latter route, consider beefing up the deck underneath your tower mounts with fiberglass and/or marine plywood. For access, look behind cupholders, seatback trim, or speakers.
Towers also have a practical side for the average boater. They eliminate a cluttered cockpit. Wakeboards can be picked up off the floor, or taken out of their crammed lockers, and secured within racks mounted on the tower's outside. No more stubbed toes, or creative curse words when bare feet meet unforgiving fiberglass. Towers also allow you to mount speakers above for better sound, or even add a spotlight.
Fatten Up. Wakeboarders love an audience, but not always for the reasons you might expect. It's those passengers weight that is most desirable. More weight equals bigger wakes, and bigger wakes will have a profound effect on rider's airtime. A boatload of passengers, however, isn't always an option. Hence the idea of adding onboard ballast. In the beginning, riders added concrete, lead plates, or sandbags. Later, water ballast became the standard, contained within either flexible bags or rigid plastic tanks hidden within the inwale, engine compartment, or under the cockpit sole.
Pleasure boaters can also add ballast. The best choice are of the ballast bag variety, able to be filled when you're doing some serious boarding, then emptied and tucked away the rest of the time. Like little mini waterbeds you can place around the cockpit, ballast bags allow you to precisely load your boat, pushing the hull deeper into the water and ramping up the size and shape of that liquid launch ramp. I like the Fly High brand (www.fatsac.com). They're square, meaning they stay put better and won't roll around every time you turn the wheel. Fly High also opts for a rugged, river raft-type material, meaning you won't need an additional outer bag to protect the ballast sack from everyday punctures. A set of two, 400lb. each bags can be found for under $200.
Hints? Load the boat in a manner that keeps it relatively level. That will typically produce the best wake shape and size. Avoid the temptation to load the boat heavily in the stern; it will increase size, but often produce a less desirable shape.
Editor's Note: Jeff Hemmel is a contributing editor for Boating, the nation's largest recreational boating magazine.