Is Wakeboarding a Dying Sport? Let’s Find Out!

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If you’ve never heard of wakeboarding before, you’re in for a treat! Wakeboarding is a water sport that mixes surfboarding and jet skiing. Basically, imagine a guy on a big surfboard being pulled at high speed across the water by a boat and doing a lot of jumping and spinning tricks while he’s at it.

Wakeboarding is considered a newborn water sport as it only started gaining popularity around the 1990s (more details in our Wakeboarding History guide). However, ever since its emergence into the scene, it has been going in full momentum, gaining new fans every day and growing its professional scene. While it still isn’t as popular as other water sports, it still has a decent following of 3 million active participants.

You might also want to know that the invention of wakeboarding wasn’t deliberate or anything. Unsurprisingly, those who invented it were surfers. Remember how we described wakeboarding as a guy on a surfboard being pulled by a boat? Well, that was pretty much what was happening when wakeboarding was first invented. People didn’t realize that a new sport was in the making. It wasn’t until 1985 when the first dedicated wakeboard was made.

Considering that it’s not as popular as other water sports (such as waterskiing, kitesurfing, and kneeboarding), one can’t help but wonder “is wakeboarding a dying sport?”

Well,  the short answer’s no, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

So, Is Wakeboarding a Dying Sport? Not Really.

A picture showing a man wakeboarding
Does this look like a sport that could simply “die out”?

Before going into details about popularity trends and how the sport was affected by them, let us start by giving you a glimpse of the history of wakeboarding.

It was in 1985 when a surfer from San Diego, Tony Finn, was having a rough time creating waves to surf on. In his attempt to find a solution, he decided to have a motorboat pull him across the water in order to enough water tension, speed as well as the waves he would be surfing on.

This solution turned out to be really fun. Soon after, more surfers followed suit and started riding their surfboards while being towed by motorboats. As time passed, someone would eventually get the idea to create a surfboard that was optimized for this style of surfing. People started creating their own homemade wakeboards by shaving their surfboards.

The first official wakeboard was made by Tony Finn. Since the sport was pretty much a combination of jet skiing and surfboarding, Tony decided to call the first official wakeboard the” Skurfer”. However, this name didn’t really help paint a great image of the sport.

It wasn’t until the 1990s when the O’Brien Company took the Skurfer and improved it in every way. The resulting wakeboarding was called the Hyperlite and it quickly caught on with fans of the sport.

On top of that, there was Jimmy Redmon who also wanted to try and improve upon the first wakeboard in collaboration with Tony Finn himself. They ended up adding foot latches to help riders keep their feet on the board.

With those contributions, wakeboarding was well on its way to becoming a very loved and popular sport. It began to grow in popularity, and it eventually caught the eye of some important figures and firms who would go on to invest in the sport.

In the year 2000, ESPN started looking into the sport on a global scale. Following this, two of the biggest and most well-known wakeboarding competitions took place. They were the Wakeboard World Cup and the Vans Triple Crown of Wakeboard.

Wakeboarding: Facts and Figures

During the 2000s, wakeboarding began to develop its own culture. What this meant is that there was more and more specialized gear being designed for the sport. Television coverage, hype, and ESPN attention were also all on the rise.

Wakeboarding had taken the world by storm within its first 15 years which is a testament to how fun and invigorating the sport is. With that said how does wakeboarding fare these days? Well, the Official Outdoor Foundation has released the following figures. These figures describe the number of Americans that are participating in the sport

  • 2006: 3.05 Million
  • 2007: 3.52 Million
  • 2008: 3.54 Million
  • 2009: 3.58 Million
  • 2010: 3.65 Million
  • 2011: 3.39 Million
  • 2012: 3.35 Million
  • 2013: 3.32 Million
  • 2014: 3.13 Million
  • 2015: 3.23 Million
  • 2016: 2.91 Million
  • 2017: 3.01 Million
  • 2018: 2.80 Million

It’s also worth noting that out of all the wakeboarders, nearly a third of them are between 6 and 18 of age. Another third is people between the ages of 19 and 25. These are figures that promise growth and sustainability. By having a younger demographic of participants, it means that the sport isn’t dying, and is still attracting young people.

While these numbers are instantly dwarfed by the numbers of surfing, which has 20-30 million people participating in it, you also have to keep in mind that wakeboarding is much newer than surfing.

With the constant rise of interest in watersports as a whole, it’s safe to assume that wakeboarding will continue to attract more people. But even then, comparing sports just in terms of participants isn’t really a fair comparison since there are a lot of different factors to take into account. Simply put, the thrill of surfing and the thrill of wakeboarding are two very different feelings and both are worth experiencing in our opinion.

Wakeboarding: Notable Milestones

A picture showing a man wakeboarding in a lake
Wakeboarding has had extraordinary milestones!

Although wakeboarding is relatively new, its rapid evolution and rise mean that the sport has had plenty of important milestones that contributed to its growth. Here are some of the most important dates and milestones to keep in mind:

  • A meeting takes place in Fort Lauderdale, IWSF to establish the World Wakeboard Council in 1999.
  • IWSF assigns Jean Claude Durousseau as World Council Chairman in 1999.
  • The first IWSF Wakeboard World Championship takes place in Montpellier, France in 2000.
  • Wakeboarding enters the World Games for the first time in Akita, Japan in 2001.
  • The Wakeboard World Cup starts with a $50k purse per tour stop in 2004.
  • Neil Harris was elected as World Chairman in 2006.

You might be surprised by how much has happened in such a short amount of time, it is one of the things that set this sport apart. The fact that it had so many important events happen in just its first few years is indicative of how fun and eventful the sport is.

Even if there has been a decrease in the number of participants, this decrease is only minor at about .04 million. If we can derive anything from the numbers is that wakeboarding is a sport that’s appealing to people from all ages and walks of life which is going to play a key part in the longevity of the sport.

How Is the Market Reacting to the Decline in the Number of Wakeboarders?

There has been a decline in the number of people who participate in water sports. The Outdoor Industry Association has conducted research that showed that over 144 million Americans participated in numerous types of outdoor activities at least once in 2016.

On the other hand, there was a decrease in young adult participation in this sport from 617,000 to 572,000 between the years 2015-2016. As a matter of fact, there has been a general decline in the overall participation in water sports in the U.S. during 2016. This trend is proving to be problematic for the wakeboarding market.

This trend is pushing the World Wake Association as well as other leading organizations in the wakeboarding market to increase their efforts in promoting the sport in order to help boost its popularity. In an effort to do so, more amateur and professional wakeboard events are being organized on a global scale in order to allow more people to participate in the sport and have a good time.

Some countries in Europe are also developing programs and policies to leverage excellent opportunities in an effort to ensure the sustainable development of water sports.

Wakeboard Innovation: What Manufacturers Are Doing to Keep the Sport Going

In order to boost the popularity of wakeboarding and make it more accessible to consumers, wakeboard manufacturers are trying their best to innovate and add features that make for a better experience.

Conclusion: Is Wakeboarding a Dying Sport?

As you can see, wakeboarding is definitely here to stay. With a population that is comprised of a lot of young adults and the constant innovation in the market, the sport is set on a good path. Another thing that’s worth noting about it is that this is only the beginning of the sport as it’s only been around for a short period of time.

Related Questions

  • How popular is wakeboarding outside of the USA? Although most of the sports’ followers are in the United States, wakeboarding is actually quite popular in the rest of the world, the proof being the countless wakeboarding organizations in countries like France and the United Kingdom and the fact that this sport was almost a part of the Olympics throughout its history.
  • Has wakeboarding participation declined in the last ten years? Wakeboarding surely had its ups and downs in terms of popularity over the last ten years, but its participation hasn’t been constantly declining as many believe.

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