Let’s set the scene…

Imagine the boat slipping into gear, you flip that board up onto your feet, and the boat starts to accelerate a little bit.  The board goes underwater, and you start to stand. You apply a little pressure to your heels and lean on that rope arcing its way up to the tower. You start to pull outside of the wave just as it starts to build.   You get outside the wave and start to adjust your feet; the boat gets up to speed.  And just like that you are wakesurfing…Well kind of.  

You’re still holding that pesky rope trying to find that feeling of riding “rope-less”…and that’s what we’re going to help you with on this blog! 

See, by helping you understand the wave and how it works, you will be able to maximize your time for what you really came out on the water to do…Wakesurf! 

(And sorry to break it to you, it doesn’t really count if you’re still holding the rope.)

Now in order to ditch the rope and start shredding, you need to understand the different zones of a wave and how they work.

Also, here’s the good news…every single boat has these zones. 

(Some are just easier to see and identify where they are by how pronounced they are visually., which is why you’ll want to read the blog on the boats that produce the biggest and best wake)

The end goal is for you to be able to FEEL these zones on your board, no matter what boat you’re using, or board you’re riding.

The Channel

The Channel (aka “the sweet spot”) is the single most important part of the wave.

Why? It has the most power.


It’s the easiest part of the wave the ride, it is the safest spot to ride, and It’s where you can easily recover from tricks.

And as a result, if you’re new to wakesurfing…start here!


The channel is the spot of the wave from where it goes from flat to up. Every boat has one, but some are more pronounced than others – on some boats this can be as long as 25 feet!

How it feels

The wave will feel the firmest and stores the most energy here.   As a general rule if you can make it back to the channel in a surfing stance you can “save” yourself and catch back up to the boat.

If we were to start at the back of the wave and work our way forward, it is slightly downhill all the way to the boat.  That’s how surfing works.  The wave doesn’t actually push you.  What is actually happening is you are riding downhill.  The feeling of push comes when you get to a super hard part of the wave combined with a downhill section that you are either standing on or are about to ride down.

How it works

When the boat is at surf speeds it compresses the water.  Essentially it is digging a hole in the lake with the stern of the boat.  The water is then coming back up to find level, thus creating the wake.  When the boat pushes down that water it gets denser giving us the feeling that the wave or water under our board is firm. If you move out into the flats, you will notice that water feels soft.  That’s because it hasn’t been compressed by the boat.  The closer you are to the boat the firmer the water.  The further away the softer it will feel as it has dissipated its energy. This works the same way for where you’re standing on the wave height wise. The base or bottom of the wave is firmest and as the water travels higher on the wave it loses energy.   That is why it is easier to stand and stay on the top of the wave at the front, right behind the prop wash, and why at a certain point you can’t stand on the top of the wave as you near the back of it.  

For Beginners

When you are first learning to surf and drop that rope this is the only part of the wave you should be concerned with and all your efforts should be directed to staying in and using the channel.  We will often refer to the channel as the bunny hill. 

This is the area of the wave that you will want to practice the “gas pedal + brake” exercise. Meaning, you apply a little bit of pressure to your front foot (gas pedal) to move forward, and a little bit of pressure to your back foot to brake and move backward.

Bottom line: If you stick to the channel, you will find success and be able to drop the rope and wake surf in control.

The Flats

Once you have mastered the channel, the Flats should be the next area for you to experiment with and get comfortable.

The flats are often an overlooked and underutilized part of the wave.

Here’s why: if you travel out too far, you are riding on flat water (no longer downhill), and you will lose your momentum and sink. So learning how to move out into the flats, and then move back into the channel is the next skill to master.

For example, after people have mastered the channel and start applying pressure to their front foot, they often begin to feel like like you’re about the hit the boat! The solution is learning how to carve out into the flats to slow down and then carve back into the channel.

How it feels

If you were to be standing stationary on the wave (not gaining or losing in relation to the boat) and edge slightly out into the flats from the channel you will eventually start to slow down and lose ground to the boat. 

It will feel like you’re “falling” back on the wave and that you’ve stopped riding downhill…and you have, for just that moment, which is why you can feel that loss of speed.

How it works

The good news is that the wave is still forming and doing its thing behind you and will eventually pick you back up as you get closer towards the rear of the wave. 

In fact, when you drift back you will eventually be standing on a hill with a large downhill section in front of you which is where you actually want to go! So if you apply some front foot pressure you should be able to get moving back downhill towards the boat. 

The key here is knowing when to apply front foot pressure. Apply it too soon and you are still in the flats.  The water isn’t firm, and you just successfully pushed the nose of your board under the water, and “Goodbye! You’ve sunk.” Now on the opposite end of the spectrum people will wait too long to apply front foot pressure and then “Up and over the wave you go”!!  

When entering the flats you will want to use the back half of the wave. Now most boats have a small to large sized hole that is more pronounced the closer you are to the boat. The further back on the wave you are, the mellower the transition from the wave face to the flats. As a result, you can really weight that front foot when coming down the wave to give yourself a boost of speed without crashing into the board, which then extends the distance and time you can spend out in the flats. This is extremely helpful when learning your first few sets of tricks out in the flats and will continue to help your advancement.    

For Beginners

For beginners we find the best use of the flats is an option to ditch your speed.  If you find yourself having too much speed and can’t apply enough of the brakes, (weight on your back foot) edge out into the flats. You will start to notice you’re slowing down without adding any additional weight to that back foot.  On the flip side when you find yourself having scrubbed enough speed you can start edging back into the channel.  You will only need enough momentum to make it back to the channel.  A common mistake or misconception is that everyone feels the need to hook a big turn and have enough speed/momentum to carry them up to the top of the wave because that’s what will solve everything. In reality, it’s the channel that will save you.  


Try coming off the back of the wave with bunch of forward momentum (speed).  Gain some speed riding down the wave and take a slight edge out,  Take your time, let yourself get that speed check you were looking for. Let that speed scrub off then edge back into the channel where you will feel that water firm up.  Congrats, you are now back to the safe zone.

The Face

The face of the wave is often confused with the channel.  It’s important to understand the difference and to treat them with their own unique approach.  It is used to transition from the flats and channel to the top of the wave or lip but it comes with its own unique set of benefits/challenges.   Depending on the board you are riding here are a couple of generalizations to follow.

While on the face of the wave you want to be travelling one of two directions.  Up the wave towards the top/lip, or down the wave towards the channel and flats. The most common of the directions to fall is when you are coming down the face and don’t make it all the way to the bottom. 

For example, If you are on a skim board and change directions on the face of the wave it is highly likely you are going to slip out and face plant.  With the lack of fin depth or even having a fin altogether on a skim you are relying on your edge. Now it is possible to stop or stand on the wave face, BUT, while learning, try to avoid it as its one of the most common repetitive falls.

As your ability improves so will your edge control and understanding of that board you have under your feet and what limits you can push it too. For example, some intermediate skills are “pumping” from the back of the wave, and carving on the wave face.

However, when you first start out its advisable to stick to the basics, and just remember this: Don’t point your board at the boat while on the wave face.

Now if you are riding a surfboard, don’t worry, you’re not left out on the fun.  You will still have the opportunity to face plant 🙂 

But the odds are 50/50 which way you’re going down. On the one hand, when you come down the face of the wave and straighten out, you will either get bucked off and fall forwards, or “tip” over backwards. We might be dating ourselves here but the later looks pretty similar to the Nestea Plunge. 

Remember, surfboards are inherently tippy! They go from rail to rail with minimal input.  This is what allows us to have super-fast edge changes, that provide the darty, snappy characteristics we all love in a surf board. The problem is when you stop suddenly on the face of the wave you are on a slope. And if you’re a beginner, being on a tippy thing, on a slope, is a common recipe for falling.

Again, it can be done when you get better, but just like the skim board example above, work your way up to it.

Bottom line, Don’t point your board at the boat while on the wave face.

The Top of the Wave 

Most people think of the top of the wave as a spot to turn, and ride back down the wave, or a spot to try and catch some air, and these are both true! 

However, did you know that you can ride the top of the wave around the whole lake?   Well you can and “doing a floater” is a super important skill.

Check out our little diddy on how to do a floater here>

Now remember this, the closer you are to the boat, the easier it is to ride the top of the wave. 

As reviewed earlier, the wave has more energy at the front (closer to the boat) than the back. When riding the top of the wave, the area you will want to concentrate on is the front half of the wave. 

If you are wanting to do an aerial you would be looking for the lip.  While it’s still the top of the wave what you are looking for is further back from the area you would want to ride the top of the wave.  Some boats have the lip located ½ to ¾ of the way back in relation to the boat. Do not be afraid to either ask someone or film yourself so you can see where you are in relation to this.  It helps a lot. 

If you ever watch an advanced rider or pro they start at the back of the wave (back half) and start accelerating towards the boat. Then they will edge up the face of the wave and approach the top to do a trick. One very important part of what they are doing is not allowing their momentum to propel them over the top of the wave. Because if they travel too far over the top of the wave they will end up over the other side. So if you, or any pro want to do an aerial, spin, grab, or a combination of the three, we must understand the lip line, which is one specific point along the top of the wave.

Now here’s how to find the lip so you can do some tricks!

When you look at the wave, you’ll notice that it’s rounder towards the front which allows us to ride it and stay up there. As you work your way back away from the boat it becomes more pronounced until eventually the wave folds over itself and crashes.  At the front of the wave the lip line is super broad and hard to visually see. However, you can feel the top of the front of hte wave, because it’s a tipping point – if your center of mass goes over it, you will instantly fall over the other side of the wave and your run will be over. This is super common when watching people attempt 360s.  They edge up the face of the wave, get to the top of the wave, and rather than riding the top of the wave, (which is totally possible in the right locations) they travel too far and carry their momentum over that lip line only to disappear over the top of the wave and be lost at sea forever. Only in extreme circumstances do they actually go over and end up in the white wash on the non surf side. A more common thing to see is they end up on the flat portion of the wave behind the lip line with no momentum or way back down the wave.  

If this has ever happened to you now you know what is happening. We highly suggest understanding the feelings associated with the top of the wave while holding the rope, because if you do fall to the wrong side, you can still recover by carving back over, and with the rope you can learn to “ride the lip” and “float on the top of the wave”!


Hopefully, breaking down the wave into these zones will help you on your quest for wakesurf superiority.  Just like anything, practice makes perfect. Start small and work your way up.   If you come out swinging you more than likely will miss the subtleties of each of these zones.   When you figure it out though and understand how these zones interact with each other it will open up a whole new dimension to your riding.  Those tricks will start coming before you know it!