wakeboarding vs snowboarding

Wakeboarding vs Snowboarding

by Fraser

Wakeboarding and snowboarding are both incredible sports. But there can be only one winner in today’s showdown. So let’s discuss wakeboarding vs snowboarding. 

Wakeboarding involves gliding across the water behind a boat or cable, whereas snowboarding utilizes snow and gravity. Compared to snowboards, wakeboards are shorter, wider and include fins on the bottom to improve agility. 

I’m going to help you decide which one to learn first and how to transition between the two. But which of these sports is the best? I’ll let you be the judge…

wakeboarding vs snowboarding

The Wakeboarding and Snowboarding Differences

There are several differences between wakeboarding and snowboarding. Here’s a quick table to summarize them:

Spring and SummerWinter
Large bodies of water (ocean, lake, etc.)Snowy inclines (hills, mountains, etc.)
Wider base. Fins on the bottom for stabilityThinner
No fins
Wakeboard boots and bindings.
Tow cable or Boat.
Swimsuit or wetsuit
Wakeboard tower (optional)
Impact vest
Snowboard boots and bindings
Outerwear, thermals and gloves
Muscles Used:
Muscles Used:
Hip flexibility
Easier to learn (the basics)Harder to learn (the basics)

Let’s discuss these differences in a little more detail below:

1. Season

First of all, these sports take place in different seasons. You want the weather to be warm while wakeboarding, or you’ll get a nasty shock. You also want the water to be as still as possible… like carving through liquid glass. 

wakeboarding vs snowboarding - best lake conditions

On the other hand, you can only snowboard when there’s snow outside. Some ski resorts can make artificial snow by putting air and water under heavy pressure to make mini ice crystals.

However, it must still be below freezing outside, or the fake snow will melt anyway. This feature allows the ski resort to open the slopes a little earlier during winter and keep them running for longer.

Winner: Wakeboarding (the warmer months are more comfortable!)


2. Location

The places where you participate in these sports are very different.

You can wakeboard on lakes or the sea. But large water bodies are best because you need enough room for a motorboat to zip around. There are also wakeboarding water parks that you can visit.

wakeboarding or snowboarding - the locationYou obviously snowboard on inclines such as hills or mountains, as long as there’s enough snow on the ground. Instead of a boat pulling you, like with wakeboarding, gravity forces you down the snowy slopes. 

Winner: Snowboarding (you can’t beat the mountains!)


3. Board Structure

Since you ride different surfaces in each sport, the boards used have significant differences.

Wakeboards (below) are known for having a broader base, providing a larger surface area to stand on. Plus, they have fins under the water to give you more stability as you glide. Without the fins, the board would be harder to control.

Snowboards are much longer and thinner than wakeboards. This design allows them to glide downhill more easily. The longer edges also provide better edge hold.

snowboard vs wakeboard

You must also ensure your board’s edges are sharp enough to cut through the snow when you turn. Frequent waxing is essential to keep your snowboard in good condition. You don’t need to wax the bottom of wakeboards (unless you often hit park features). 

Winner: Draw. Different boards for different sports. 


4. Equipment

It takes much more equipment to wakeboard than snowboard. You need access to a motorboat and everything that comes with it! If you don’t have a boat, you’ll need to find a friend who does. Alternatively, hire a wakeboard instructor.

Here is a breakdown of what equipment you’ll need for these two board sports:

Wakeboarding Equipment

    • Wakeboard: There are three main types of wakeboards–boat wakeboards, cable wakeboards, and hybrids.

    • Wakeboard boots and binding: The bindings strap your feet in place and support your ankles and legs. These can be separate or combined in one “binding” unit.  

    • Tow cable: This is the rope and bar that you hold onto. It connects to the boat and pulls you along the water.

    • Boat: You need to choose a boat that’s safe for wakeboarding. Always check that you can use it for this sport first. You also don’t want to get too close to it while moving.

    • Swimsuit or wetsuit: In colder weather, wetsuits are best. They provide some impact protection and keep you in the water longer. 

    • Wakeboard tower (optional): Wake towers are an add-on piece of equipment for your boat. They raise the boat’s tow point, allowing you to freely get more air without the rope dragging in the water. 
    • Wakeboard Ballast (optional): Ballast’s weight the back of the boat down to create a larger wake.  

    • Impact vest: These vests are great for beginners. They protect you if you fall as the water sets like concrete at high speeds!

Snowboarding Equipment

    • Snowboard: You’ll want to choose a snowboard for the terrain you’ll be on. There are many board options, but the main ones include all-mountain, powder, and freestyle.

    • Snowboard boots and binding: Your boots fit into the binding, holding you in place and giving you the support you need.

    • Snow clothes and gloves: Dress warmly enough to stay outside for long periods in the cold. It’s essential to wear flexible clothes under your snow gear, too, so you can still move freely.

Winner: Snowboarding (wakeboarding is expensive, especially if you buy a boat!)

5. Muscle Focus

Both sports work your core. A lot!

You have to hold yourself steady on both boards, all while moving at high speeds.

Snowboarding tends to focus more on working your leg muscles. Whilst, wakeboarding also works out your legs, it also requires upper body strength to hold onto the tow cable. So, you get more of a full-body workout when wakeboarding.

Specifically, you’ll feel these muscles burn the most when wakeboarding:

    • Core

    • Biceps

    • Triceps

    • Glutes

    • Legs Lumbar 

And these are the ones you work on the most while snowboarding:

    • Core

    • Thighs

    • Glutes

    • Quads

    • Hamstrings
    • Calves

Winner: Wakeboarding (one of the most intense full-body workouts ever!)

6. Ease for Beginners

Generally, it’s easier for beginners to learn how to wakeboard initially. Snowboarding has a steeper learning curve; you’ll fall a lot when you first start. And the falls tend to be more painful! 

(Make sure you learn how to fall properly when snowboarding before you start!)

Most people are up and riding on a wakeboard within a couple of sessions. Bear in mind that wakeboarding uses more upper body muscles, so you’ll get tired quickly. A session might only be 15-minutes!

Plus, when you wakeboard for the first time, you can hold onto the side of the boat. Doing so gives you more stability than the rope, so you shouldn’t wipeout.

Snowboarders don’t have anything to hold onto, meaning they need to build their sense of balance early on, making the learning curve a bit steeper.

Winner: Wakeboarding (easier to start with and less risk of broken bones)

Is Snowboarding Harder Than Wakeboarding?

When considering wakeboarding vs snowboarding, everyone wants to know which is harder. 

Snowboarding is harder than wakeboarding. When it comes to snowboarding, you must learn to balance yourself on the board immediately. Wakeboard beginners can hold onto the rope or the side of the boat as they gradually work on their overall balance.

The consequences of falling as a snowboarding beginner are also higher. Which is why I always recommend wearing some impact shorts

Until a newbie snowboarder knows how to stop correctly, they’ll probably just hit the brakes by toppling over. On a wakeboard, falling at slow speed will simply lead to sinking into the water.  

is wakeboarding harder than snowboarding?

However, progressing beyond the beginner-intermediate level is much easier on a snowboard than in wakeboarding. Learning tricks at high speed on a wakeboard is extremely challenging!

Overall, these board sports are challenging in their own ways. Many people enjoy the challenge and it’s all part of the fun. Don’t give up!

Is Wakeboarding Like Snowboarding?

Wakeboarding is quite like snowboarding overall, despite the obvious differences. In both sports you must learn to balance on a board, master control of your edges and understand how to initiate rotations. 

Most riders who’ve tried both will recognise the similarities.

In fact, snowboarders often pick up wakeboarding to keep in shape during the off-season. An unexpected benefit of this is building transferable skills for when the season rolls around!

Does Wakeboarding Help With Snowboarding?

Another consideration in wakeboarding vs snowboarding is whether wakeboarding will help with your snowboarding skills. 

Wakeboarding can help with snowboarding. It will improve your balance and teach you transferable skills such as edge control. Wakeboarding also works many of the same muscle groups. 

In short, wakeboarding is an excellent sport for snowboarders who want to stay in shape during the off-season. You can also test out advanced tricks like inverts (flips) on water first… where falls may be less risky. 

Similarly, you may want to consider if surfing helps with snowboarding?

Transitioning From Wakeboarding to Snowboarding

Starting with wakeboarding and moving onto snowboarding is pretty straightforward. You’ll already have a good sense of balance, so snowboarding should come more naturally.

You’ll also have a similar stance on both boards (although the mechanics of controlling the boards will feel different).

Here’s snowboarder Jonathan Buckhouse “testing the waters” on a wakeboard. Notice how transferable his skills are?

Whilst both ways are totally possible, it’s probably easier to transition from wakeboarding to snowboarding than the other way around. 

Wakeboarding works all of the same muscles as snowboarding, but it also focuses on your arms. A wakeboarder should already have all the core and leg strength needed to ride a snowboard. However, a snowboarder may not be as physically prepared to wakeboard – get ready for some intense forearm pumps! 

Snowboarders are also not used to managing the cable (wakeboarding requires you to pass the handle behind your back during rotations). 

Overall though, it’s still easier to transition between these two sports than going in as a complete board-sports beginner. 

The Verdict

After this brutal wakeboarding vs snowboarding showdown, which is better? 


You’ll be unsurprised to hear that I went with snowboarding

Whilst wakeboarding is amazing, snowboarding allows for exploration of the mountains and the great outdoors. You can also snowboard all day long, whereas few people would manage to wakeboard for more than an hour. 

But. The two sports should never really go head-to-head. Snowboarding in winter and wakeboarding in summer is a match made in heaven! 

Honing transferable skills in both off-seasons will inevitably put you in a great position when the seasons change. 

But which do you prefer?

Let me know in the comments!

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