You’ve seen wakeboarders in action: they’re moving fast, flipping around, and generally looking rad. It may look impossible, but you might be surprised how accessible the sport really is. Kirby Liesmann from Kirby’s School of Wake is back to tell us things you should know about being a first time wakeboarder.

In our interview he shares some of expertise and gives you an idea of what it’s like to be a first-timer.

What was your best instructing experience to date?

Last summer an exchange student from China booked a 4 hour session all to herself. This was surprising, because a single person usually books an hour or so, and it’s plenty of time. It turns out that she was petrified of water and did not know how to swim. It ended up not being a huge problem. In the morning all we did was get her in the water with a life jacket to teach her how to fall into the water and float. Then we moved on to actually going under the water.

When she was comfortable with that, we put her on what is called a ZUP board. A ZUP board is good for beginners because the rope grips on to the front and it has hand grips. You can ride on your stomach, then get up to your knees, and eventually get on your feet. When you’re on your feet you can pull the rope off the board and it’s kind of like traditional skiing. It’s really stable and less intimidating than strapping a wakeboard or skis to your feet. On a ZUP board you’re free to roam on the board and do different things. This exchange student mastered that, which was pretty incredible. By the end of her session she was able to get up on a wakeboard and ride it for as long as she wanted. She went from zero to comfortably riding in just 4 hours.

How long does it take the average person to get up on the board?

If you have access to the right equipment, someone who knows how to direct you, and the right boat, it can be pretty easy. I would say it’s a nearly 100% get-up guarantee within a lesson. It’s rare that someone can’t get out of the water. It’s great that we have tools like the ZUP board and wakeboards with the proper fin configuration. It makes it extremely easy. The boat is important to. Wakeboarding boats have a big rack tower over the top of the boat, and that gibes the rope a high tow point. That’s one more element lifting you out of the water. Having all those things makes it really accessible to anyone who is willing to get in the water and give it a try.

Are there any sports that people do on land that help out when someone wakeboards for the first time? Are there any that make learning to wakeboard more difficult?

A lot of people think that if you are good at waterskiing, you’re going to be great at wakeboarding. The odd thing is that the most challenging situations I’ve faced is with people who are avid water-skiers. They will try to take the waterskiing approach to wakeboarding, and they just end up plowing water and drinking half of the lake. Getting up on the wakeboard in counterintuitive to the way a lot of water-skiers operate. Instead of pushing against the water to launch the ski out of the water, a wakeboarder needs to stay compressed, loose and relaxed. People who snowboard are usually pretty good at wakeboarding for this reason. The stance and edging techniques used in snowboarding are pretty similar to wakeboarding. It’s the same story for surfers. Soccer players and gymnasts are usually fast learners because they have good body control and air awareness.

Kirby Liesmann in action.

What are some bad habits that people bring to wakeboarding?

There is a misconception that the harder you try, the easier wakeboarding will be. The truth is, it’s exactly the opposite. Less is more to the furthest extent – the harder you try, the harder you are working against the boat. You will plow into the water. This principle translates even to more advanced tricks. If you try to muscle your way into a flip, you’re going to take harder slams than you need to. Surfers say “hang loose” for a reason! It’s the same thing for wakeboarding.

How long does it take to go from the first lesson to being able to do a flip or a cool trick?

During a lesson, people usually get up on the water in 2 or 3 tries. In 15 to 20 minutes students are usually able to carve around. People who are complete naturals will sometimes be able to get air in their first lesson. That is the extent of a first lesson. We occasionally have a freak of nature who is able to flip off of anything, but that’s the guy who could stand on a park bench and do a front flip.

If you go on with lessons and you have your fundamentals down, you will start jumping wake-to-wake – coming from one wake and land on the downside of the other wake so you skip the middle part. It probably takes 4-5 session to get wake-to-wake down. As far as flipping goes, it might take someone a whole summer or even a full year – but getting the technique down is key.