Waterskiing, paddleboarding, surfboarding, bodyboarding… There are so many sports associated with boards on water that it’s hard to know which ones to bother with, and which to leave to the pros. Wakeboarding is similar to snowboarding, but on the water. It is unbelievably hard, and unbelievably rewarding.
I had a coach called Sam Geller, who seemed like an affable guy and looked a bit like a young Jude Law. I found out later, when I was almost incapacitated with fatigue, that he is the coach of coaches, the top of the tree. I had already sort of realised this, from his steely determination. He was convinced I would get to a point where I could stand up and wakeboard. I was equally convinced that would never happen, and that would be fine too. “It’s like when you learn to drive,” he said. “Different people take a different number of lessons.” “Sam,” I said, “I don’t even want to tell you how long it took me to learn to drive.”
The lessons are 15 minutes long, because it’s so arduous. I do two rolled into one, then a half‑hour break, then a third. You begin on the ground; no water, no equipment, just your incompetent body. Can you sit on your heels, rise to a very slow squat, then, finally, stand, angling your body with your dominant hip? Well, of course I can. It may take a while to establish which hip is dominant. It’s not like I write with either of them.
On the water, it is a different story. You need your body to have the right dynamics at the start, so the board can get above the water. This means holding the end of a slack rope attached to the boat, waiting for the boat’s movement, with your butt very close to your feet. It’s only for two seconds, but I already know from doing yoga that this position isn’t my forte. After that time, you start to stand, but it’s not like a regular rising squat. You have to lean on to your toes and stick your arse straight out, all the time rising, subtly, never using your arms at all.
At every go, there is a pratfall. The first time, it happens two seconds after I launch; the second time, a fluky four seconds; then the third time, a pitiful one second, and I land the wrong way up, choking on water, feeling as if I might die. “One more time,” says Sam, who sounds like a faith healer, hoping to make it work through sheer belief.
We got to my last session, with me thinking I would disappoint the coach of coaches, him thinking he could find reserves in me that I didn’t have – and suddenly, three tries later, there I am… standing up… wakeboarding… a thing that had seemed impossible 26 minutes ago.
If ever in my life I’ve felt so self-satisfied with my physical prowess, I can’t remember it. Hard recommend.
What I learned
According to my Fitbit, the whole thing amounted to 22 minutes of moderate exercise – it’s not a cardio sport. Yet it was the only thing I’ve done where I started aching even while I was doing it.