Guide to Kneeboarding

Kneeboarding is a popular watersport that’s fun for anyone to learn and enjoy. Usually, it’s the next logical step in terms of the waterboard once you get a little bored with tubing. Some people call it kneeboard surfing, but it’s long been known as kneeboarding. It’s a great way to introduce people to towed watersports.

All you need to get started in this endeavor is to get some quality gear, find a large body of water, and have a can-do attitude. Kneeboarders sit on their knees, securing their legs with a strap on the board while they ride, and are pulled by a stiff rope behind a towboat. Some just enjoy being towed behind the boat, while others prefer making it more thrilling by performing tricks.

If you want to know the basics of kneeboarding and how to start, keep on reading this guide.

Kneeboarding Equipment Guide

Two men kneeboarding on a lake

One of the great things about kneeboarding is that it doesn’t need a lot of technical equipment. Aside from the boat (which you will most likely rent anyway), the equipment isn’t expensive as well. Essentially, all you need to start kneeboarding is a good kneeboard, a trusty life jacket, and a tow rope. Let’s discuss how you can choose the right one when buying:

1. Kneeboard

The first step to kneeboarding is picking out the right kneeboard for you. Whatever you choose, you need to feel comfortable with it. Test out your kneeboard to make sure it has the right features before taking it into the water. Kneeboards can be hard to start if you don’t have the correct equipment.

There are many styles, shapes, features, and designs on kneeboards you may want to consider when choosing your gear, so choose one that will fit your size, skill level, and activity. Here’s what you need to know about kneeboards:

A. Types of Kneeboards

  • Recreational

The majority of kneeboarders in the market use boards made using rotational molding. Rotationally molded boards offer soft, wide edges that make them suitable for beginners. The design allows for both stability, floatation, smooth turning, and sustained control for beginners. Recreational boards are also generally thick and buoyant. Some may even have fins for better control.

  • Competitive

If you’re more into tricks and extreme sports, a competitive kneeboard might be better for you. These boards are made using compression molding to provide greater performance and more durability for those who will use them for competitive use.

Unlike rotationally molded boards, compression-molded kneeboards are less buoyant, making them better suited for advanced riders who prefer deep-water starts. The thinner and sharper construction also gives the rider more control to make performing tricks easier.

B. Board Styles

After choosing between a recreational or competitive kneeboard, the next step is selecting the right type. Regardless of the skill level you have, it’s essential to understand that there are only two general styles of kneeboards.

  • Slalom – These boards are designed for making quick and controlled turns. At the same time, they have flat bottoms that create a smoother ride.
  • Trick – These boards have a round bottom with round edges to make hops, skips, and turns to look effortless.

C. Board Construction

Like any other equipment, there are specific parts of every kneeboard that affect the board’s performance.

  • Materials

The materials used for making a kneeboard are similar to those used in water skis. Usually, kneeboards are made of a polyurethane or foam core wrapped in fiberglass or a fiberglass and graphite composite exterior. The latter is more commonly used for creating advanced, competitive boards.

  • Fins

Fins are added to the bottom of the board to make steering easier. It’s usually made of hard plastic or fiberglass composite material. It may or may not be present in recreational boards.

  • Rocker

The rocker of a kneeboard is the measurement of the curve on the bottom of the kneeboard. The rocker is an important measurement when comparing the speeds. A higher rocker number signifies that it’s an easier turning board, while a lower rocker number indicates a faster board. A typical rocker measurement found in kneeboards is 5-6 centimeters.

2. Tow rope

If you’re a water skier, you may simply want to use the rope you are already using for water skiing. While it can be true, in some cases, kneeboarding needs a stiffer rope to help the rider’s ability to perform tricks. It’s important to understand that a tighter, stiffer rope that doesn’t stretch is ideal for getting more air.

A. Types of Rope

Here are the types of rope to use for kneeboarding:

  • Non-stretch rope

A non-stretch rope is made from a highly durable material called Spectra. It practically has no elasticity and has extremely low moisture absorption, making it a perfect complement to use on the water. It keeps the rope lighter, and it doesn’t accelerate fatigue while you’re holding on to the rope handle. If you’re a kneeboarder who wants to hone your skills to perform tricks, this type of rope is your best choice.

  • Low-stretch rope

A low-stretch rope is composed of polyethylene or polyethylene blend material. It gives more elasticity than a Spectra rope while maintaining enough stiffness. This type is more suitable for recreational kneeboarding.

B. Factors to Consider when Choosing a Rope

  • Rope length

Ropes used for kneeboarding usually range between 60 to 70 feet in length.

  • Handles

Kneeboard handles are more specialized and tend to have a wider grip than typical waterskiing handles. It ranges from 13-15 inches in width, as compared to water skiing handles that usually measure 11-12 inches wide. The wider grips help riders when performing tricks because of the need to pass the handle behind the back. Kneeboarding handles usually have a neoprene foam float that allows them to float.

3. Life jacket

You will also need a personal floatation device (PFD) that fits your body properly. Kids and even adults can fall off a kneeboard and be in danger in the water, so they should wear a life jacket that stays put. There are hundreds of options, but it’s best to go for bright colors to make anyone easier to spot in the water.

Remember that the driver of the boat that tows the kneeboarder bears a large responsibility for their safety. The driver must be aware of everything in all directions, so the driver needs to be aware of the shorelines, docks, and presence of other boats.

4. Boat

What makes kneeboarding so great and accessible is that you can do it with virtually any kind of boat. From deck boats to bowriders, cruisers, ski and wake boats – anything works. Even the simplest pontoon boats are suitable, especially for towing kids and beginners on a kneeboard. However, you might need more than a 25-horsepower engine to make sure your riders can do a deep-water start. Wake boats are preferable by experienced riders because it allows them to do tricks off big wakes.

Boat Speed for Kneeboarding

A man kneeboarding in Puerto Rico

How fast do you go on a kneeboard? This is a common question for anyone who wants to try the sport. The short answer is that it depends on what speed you are comfortable with, and also depends on the kind of boat used. For wakeboard boats, the size of the wakes decreases with higher boat speeds, so it doesn’t mean that faster is always better. For smaller kids, though, keep it slow and at a safe speed at which they can get a deep-water start but still stay on the plane.

Here’s a guideline for kneeboard speed depending on age:

  • 5-10 years – 16 KPH, give or take a few KPH
  • 10-13 years – 16 to 24 KPH
  • 14-17 years – 24 to 32 KPH
  • 18 years and up – 32+ KPH or rider’s preference

Remember, this is a guide only for the ideal speed of anyone who would like to try the sport. You can be a full-grown adult or a teenager and still want to go as slow as 16 KPH. When you get the hang of it, you can always go faster for more thrill. 

How to Get Up on a Kneeboard

The first skill beginners must learn is how to get up on a kneeboard. While everyone has their own way, the easiest way to do so is probably by laying on top of the kneeboard with arms under the kneeboard strap holding the tow rope handle. If you’re using a handle hook, put your hands on the rim of the board near the tip. But if you’re not using a hook, wrap your thumbs around the outside for the handle while holding on to the kneeboard.

While facing the board, place your torso forward enough so you can tuck your knees in front of you, all the way to the impressions in the foam where the shins must go. When you are in a position, tell the driver to hit it.

Once the boat takes off, the kneeboard will get on a plane on top of the water. Then, you can scooch your knees into position, swapping your arms one at a time from under to over the kneeboard strap. Tighten it over your thighs while keeping your weight biased to the rear of the board. Putting too much weight forward of the center will result in a face plant, which will be entertaining for the people of the boat, but for the rider, not so much. Remember, don’t pull yourself up too soon and let the boat do the work.

Getting up on the kneeboard may take a time or two before you figure it out, but placing your arms under the strap at first will help you ensure that the strap ends on top of the thighs where it belongs, rather than under your shins. The latter is harder to adjust once you’re up and running.

Basic Tips and Techniques

A man kneeboarding in the river

Kneeboarding involves getting a feel of the board while you’re being towed by the boat and managing the wake created by the watercraft. This helps keep your balance critical for your success. Plus, the skills you’ll get by learning how to kneeboard is transferrable to other towing water sports like wakeboarding and waterskiing.

Here are some basic tips and techniques when it comes to kneeboarding:

1. Positioning

The position of your body will be critical to your kneeboarding success and enjoyment. After you get up on the kneeboard and do what was stated above, keep your weight back, hold the board tip up, and point directly at the boat. Hold on to the sides of the board and make sure your elbows are resting on the kneepads. Balance your weight on the board using your elbows to adjust yourself.

Once you have your knees in contact with your elbows, position yourself back on your heels and center your knees in the kneepads.

Make sure that your arms and back are straight to maintain your weight on the back of the board. This will allow you to position yourself to maintain balance. Keep looking forward and not on your board.

2. Riding and directing the kneeboard

Once you’re up the board and have established a comfortable speed for your ride, you can try getting a feel for riding and directing your kneeboard.

At first, you have to ride the board within the wake of the boat to gain a level of comfort and take some control of the board. Using your head and shoulders, lean slightly in either direction you would like to turn. To make deeper cuts and increase your speed, put your weight on the backside of the board and into the direction you want to turn.

3. Crossing over the wake

To venture outside the boat’s wake and start cutting across it, take deeper and wider cuts on the edges of your board. As you start going outside the wake, the most important thing to remember is maintaining proper body positioning. If you don’t position your body correctly on the board, you will get wiped out. But don’t dread it – it’s part of the fun and experience!

4. Doing basic tricks

To do tricks, you need to master building up the momentum and speed first and be able to cross over from one side to another. Keep your weight back and the front tip of the board up and pointed towards the direction you want to go. Once you have mastered these out, then you can do some tricks. Here are a few of the basics:

  • 360-degree spin

To do this trick, you have to keep the tip of the kneeboard up and the weight biased to the rear while you are sideways. The rocker of the kneeboards from front to rear has a slight curvature, but it has less (if any) from side to side, and it’s why the trick can be a challenge. Start trying to kneeboard backward, then return straight ahead. When you can do it turn all the way around while swapping the handle behind your back as you turn.

  • Flip

This trick is best started outside the wake. Make sure the wake is of a decent size to be considered a “ramp.” Then, steer into the wake while keeping the board pointed straight ahead. You will need core strength and speed but twist to get the linear rotation when you launch off the wake. Keep your core tight so that when the board comes back to the water surface, the nose of the board is pointed up, and your weight is still biased towards the rear.

  • Jump

It’s like jumping a bike off a ramp, but the only difference is you’re on a board in the water. When you want to jump the wake, point the board towards it with your weight biased towards the rear and the nose up so it won’t dig into the wake. The wake will do the work for you if you’ve built up some speed. The key is to keep the nose up when you land.

Safety and Enjoyment Tips

  • To enjoy kneeboarding to the fullest, all you need to do is to practice. In the case of this sport, you can start off on dry land. While this may seem counter-intuitive, practicing on dry land allows you to practice the form without the pressure of being in the water. Practice having the correct body posture to help you get started on the water.
  • Before going kneeboarding, make sure you have essential safety features, especially a personal floatation device. Wear a properly-fitted, Coast Guard-approved device that won’t ride up over your head.
  • While it’s not a requirement, it’s best if you wear water-grade attire that fits snugly in the body and gives you some kind of UV protection like rash guards . Don’t forget to protect your face and any exposed area of your skin with sunscreen
  • Learn first how to communicate with the towboat using hand signals because you will not be heard when you shout.
  • Wear a wetsuit or a drysuit to keep you warm if you’re kneeboarding on a colder day.
  • Always check your equipment before proceeding.
  • Be patient with yourself – you don’t need to rush to pull up and get into the kneeling position. Let the boat do the work.
  • Look out for other people, swimmers, boarders, or another obstacle that may be in the area.
  • If you can’t maneuver around obstacles and feel uncomfortable, simply release the tow rope handle, and your board will slow down, and you will sink so you can float on the board.
  • Don’t look down, or are you’ll be wiped out.
  • Avoid shallow water as obstacles under the water won’t be visible.
  • As with any sport, it can be very frustrating at first, especially if all you do is fall down the board or be wiped out. Hang in there, and you’ll get it. Just enjoy the journey of learning something new.