There’s loads of fun to be had on the water. But because a lot of those sports require some technical skill and know-how, they can be limited to people who’ve had some training. So where does that leave the kids? Whether or not we want to admit it, the main reason why we go through all the fuss of bringing the brood to the lake or beach is because we want to give the kids a good time.
Well, if you’re hoping to make them a part of the fun and excitement, maybe it’s time you taught them how to water ski. As one of the easiest water sports you can enjoy, water skiing is just as easy to teach. And if that’s what you’re planning to do this summer, here’s what you need to know about water skiing for kids.
How to Teach Kids to Water Ski
The youngest water skier ever documented was a 6 month old baby named Rich Humphrey. The little champ was filmed skiing across Lake Powell in Utah, and instantly became a viral hit online.
So obviously, there's really no rule on what age to start teaching kids to water ski.
You could always just pay someone to teach your kids, but if you’re not the kind to spend money on something you can do yourself, then you could always just teach them yourself. Make sure to follow these steps to give your kids the best shot at mastering the art of water skiing in no time.
Start on Dry Land
It might seem a little silly to water ski on dry land, but it gives you a better chance to show your kids the basics and observe whether they’ve got the posture and stance down. While you’re practicing, teach them to bear their weight on the balls of their feet. You can do this by tying a water ski rope and handle to a tree or any fixed object, and have your kids grip the handle.
Make sure the rope is taut as they pull the grip. To simulate the ski bindings, you can lay your hands on your kids’ feet and press firmly down. Then, ask them to lean back so that they can place most of their weight at the balls of their feet. Make sure that their knees are together the whole time. Let them lean back until they’re sitting on the ground with their knees against their chest.
Instruct your child to repeat the exercise by sitting and standing while following the same specifics and posture above. The main objective of the exercise is to help them get used to maintaining their weight on the balls of their feet, and to achieve the proper posture.
Practice Standing Up
The first thing you’re going to do when you hit the water and the boat starts to pick up speed is try to stand on your skis. You can simulate that movement with your kids by asking them to sit down with their knees against their chest and their hands on the tow handle.
Then, gently pull on the tow handle, asking your child to slowly stand as you pull their weight. The objective here is to make sure they keep their arms straight. If they twist their arms or otherwise lose that symmetry, they could end up falling into the water.
But it’s not always going to be a smooth start. So for bigger kids, you can try pulling on the rope with a little less consistency. Tug abruptly midway through to simulate an oncoming wave, challenging your kid to keep their arms straight - no matter the minor inconsistencies on the water’s surface.
Try It With Skis
Now that your child gets the basics, you can try out the whole process all over again - but with skis this time. Strap your child’s feet into a pair of appropriately sized skis. Smaller ones designed for children make it easier for them to balance their weight and stand up out of the squatting position when they’re in the water.
At this point, you could also get them to wear their life jacket. In fact, most experts recommend that they wear a PFD from the very beginning of the practice process so they can get a feel of the jacket and get used to its fit so they’re acclimated before they even enter the water.
Now that your child is strapped into a set of junior water skis, replicate the exercises above. The squatting to standing exercise is essentially how they’re going to start out in the water, so it’s crucial that they nail the posture and movement. See to it that they completely understand the importance of keeping their weight on the balls of their feet and of maintaining their arms straight out in front of them no matter what.
Get in the Water
The next step of the process would be to get your kid in gear (we’re talking the whole nine yards) and getting them in the water. Don’t worry - they’re not skiing just yet. It’s really more of just to get them acclimated to the conditions. It can be incredibly uncomfortable to manage yourself when you’re wearing a padded PFD that’s just begging to come up and out of the water while you contend with the feeling of a set of planks strapped to your feet and ankles.
Just let the child float in the water and get used to the feeling of all the gear on his body. You can also ask them to try to swim with the gear on, so they can get a feel of how it would be like if ever they found themselves falling in the water.
Start with the Boom
When you’re confident that your child understands the basics, it’s time to pull out the boom. Using the boom makes it easier for your kid to get accustomed to the basics and the physics of water skiing without overburdening their mental and physical bandwidth.
Set up the boom and ask your pupil to grab on while you’re in the water. Give simple instructions so as not to overwhelm them with what he needs to do. The most important thing is that they keep their arms straight and their knees bent at all times. The boom will do the work of getting them out of the water - all they need to do is assume the right posture.
On your end, it’s important that you go at just the right speed. For novices skiers, it’s important that you maintain a speed of just 10 to 15 mph. Another important thing is that there needs to be another person on board as your spotter. If you can get someone to drive the boat (preferably someone who knows how to drive for a novice skier) then it might be best that you take the position of spotter.
As you pick up speed, your pupil should naturally rise out of the water as they grasp the boom. Keep an eye on their posture and give single word commands to help them improve their stance. You might notice that they could start to ‘limbo’ which happens when they bend their elbows to cling the boom closer to their body while they extend their knees.
Remind them to stretch the arms out forward beyond their knees and to bend their knees as if attempting to sit down. Take it slow so they can adjust their posture without having to battle it out with strong waves and winds.
Move on to a Short Rope
Once your pupil is confident with the boom, it’s time to move on to a short rope. Tether a short skiing rope and handle. The student then grabs the handle and assumes a squatted position in the water, with the knees close to the chest and the skis parallel to the surface of the water.
Then, the driver starts the boat at a slow and steady pace, allowing the towrope to stretch out so that the student is dragged along while they’re crouched down. Once they get the hang of it, put the boat into gear and maintain a speed of between 10 to 15 miles per hour.
The student should be able to rise up out of the water as long as they maintain their hands stretched out straight in front of them, and their knees bent as though sitting back.
Practice Makes Perfect
When your student gets the hang of skiing on a short rope, they should be able to graduate to a full length towrope. Once they do, you can start teaching them the basic hand signals for water skiing to make them feel safer on the water, and so they can communicate to their spotter without having to shout over the waves.
If at any point during the practical application, your student feels clumsy or doesn’t achieve the right results, remind them of the fundamentals. As long as they stretch out their arms, keep their knees bent, and shift their weight to the back they should ski without a problem.
Tools and Equipment for Teaching Kids to Water Ski
Obviously, you’re going to need quite a few items to keep your kids safe throughout the learning process. A lot of these essentials can also make the experience easier for both you and the child, shortening the learning curve and bolstering their confidence.
This is the first thing you should look to buy. But not any PFD will do. The US Coast Guard requires that you use a life jacket that’s designed specifically for water skiing. Some water skiing PFDs for kids can be either type II or III. Check with your local state laws to find out what type is required in your area.
We recommend the Sterns Child Watersport Classic Vest.
Ski Rope and Handle
These things are pretty common and serve the same purpose. What really matters is the comfort of the grip handle and how well your student can grab on. You might also want to get a few spare ropes that you can cut up as training towropes during practice.
We like the Airhead Multi Colored Ski Rope.
The boom is essentially a long rod that juts out of the side of your boat, giving your water skiers something to grab on to so they’re not trailing behind your boat and struggling to grab on during turns. The boom is an essential piece of equipment for training your kids, so make sure you have a good one at the ready.
Goggles and Nose Plugs
Your kid is going to fall into the water - often. If they’re not too comfortable with water splashing in their face, then you might want to buy them a set of goggles and nose plugs. This set comes in a range of colors and features anti-fog tech to keep the lenses clear in humid condition.
Check out the COOLOO Swim Goggles with Nose Plugs.
Barefoot water skiing is a completely different territory, so of course, you’re going to need a set of water skis for the learning process. See to it that you’re buying a set that’s the right size for your kid. To help you choose, look at the weight ratings of each ski set so you know which one would best suit your child.
We highly recommend these Jr Vortex Kids Combo Water Skis from O'Brien.
You’d think that there’s no need for a helmet if you’re playing in the water. But you can never really be too sure or too safe. A water skiing helmet can reduce the impact on your child’s head if they fall into the water at a high speed, and may protect their coconut from unseen objects under the surface of the water.
We really like the Triple Eight Gotham Water Helmet for Water Skiing.
EZ Ski Trainer
Some guides might tell you to try trainer water skis to get your kid acclimated to the activity, but there are some experts who recommend against it. The problem with a ski trainer is that it places your student in a completely different posture versus the actual skiing process. So when you get rid of the trainer and put them in the water with the actual skiing gear, they might have to relearn everything.
Nonetheless, if you’ve got smaller kids who want to give skiing a try but they’re not quite ready for the real deal just yet, then you can try the EZ Ski Trainer. It comes in two sizes - one for smaller kids and one for bigger kids - and provides a more stable base for children who are just starting to learn the love of water sports. There are also toddler water skis trainers that you can get for even smaller kids.
Check out this Airhead EZ Ski for up to 70 Pounds or this Airhead AHEZ-200 Big EZ Ski for up to 120 Pounds.
10 Tips for Teaching Kids to Water Ski
1. Emphasize the Importance of Posture
The proper stance will ultimately be the reason for your kids being able to stand up in the water. Reiterate the proper posture whenever they lose balance or struggle to stay up.
2. Use Short, Clear Commands
Once your kid is out on the water, most of their energy and attention will be on how not to fall. If you need to give commands, use short words or sentences, or try gestures. You can also teach them the different hand signals so they can communicate without talking.
3. Prepare to Swim
There will be lots of times when your kid might let go of the towrope and fall into the water. Although they should have basic training in swimming and floating before you start, they might still feel frantic as they bob up and down the water. See to it that you’re ready to perform a swift retrieval if needed.
4. Take a Video
Sometimes, it’s easier to correct errors when you can actually see what you did wrong. Take a video of your kid as they ski so you can show them any potential areas of correction.
5. Be Constructive
It’s easy for kids to feel unmotivated and discouraged when all they hear are corrections and mistakes. See to it that you give praise before every correction, and provide all of your instructions in as positive a tone as possible.
6. Don't Graduate to Full Length All at Once
When your kid finally gets the hang of water skiing with a short tow rope, don’t extend the rope to its full length all at once. Incrementally increase the length so your student isn’t overwhelmed by the sudden change of physics.
7. Manage Your Expectations
As an adult, you might feel that learning to water ski should be an afternoon-long process. But some kids can learn slower than others. Don’t be afraid to take your time - some students might take a few days before they really get the hang of it.
8. Watch Your Speed
A novice will not be able to water ski at top speed. Always watch your speed and keep it as slow and steady as possible. A speed of 10 to 15 mph should be good enough to challenge your student’s skills without overwhelming them.
9. Choose the Right Place
A crowded lake might not be the best place for water skiing with beginners. Choose wide open areas of water with few or no obstructions, and see to it that weather conditions are as clear and calm as possible.
10. Keep It Fun
The ultimate goal is to have fun! If your kid doesn’t get it the first few times, don’t sweat it. Let them enjoy the experience to inspire their love for water sports and keep them motivated to do their best.
Start ‘Em Young!
It’s never too early to start water skiing for kids. So if you were hoping to imbue your children with the same love of water sports that you have, then you might want to teach them how to ski. Of course, those first few tries might be met with failure. But with your enthusiastic and positive guidance, you should see your kids gliding over the water’s surface like pros in no time.