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swell wakesurf why do i need a wakesurf rope

Why do I need a wakesurf rope? The Importance of Choosing the Right Tow Rope

September 1, 2022      · 

Written by Joe Couture

Why do I need a wakesurf rope?

You may be asking “Why does it matter what rope I use to wakesurf? I will just use it to get up and then drop it.”. The simple answer is that the wrong rope can be dangerous. The best equipment for the job is the right equipment. That’s especially true when the wrong rope can be extremely hazardous. You need a wakesurf rope not just because it makes surfing safer, but because a wake surf specific rope is going to make life easier. 

Handle Design

When you are waterskiing or wakeboarding the rope handles are wide, sometimes very wide, usually between 12 inches and 15 inches. These wider handles work fantastic for those sports. They give you lots of leverage and room to grab during tricks. With the boat traveling at such a high speed (14->100mph) when you fall the rope is usually gone by the time you hit the water. 

Wakesurfing is completely different as the boat is typically only traveling 10-12mph and as you approach the back of the boat the rope will become slacked. When you fall the rope is just below or even behind you with lots of slack. This creates the potential for body parts to get stuck in the handle of the rope. Once stuck in the handle with the boat pulling you there is little you can do to get out until the boat comes to a stop. Using a wakeboard or water ski rope with their big handles makes the risk of getting stuck high. If you are being towed with a wakesurf rope, you greatly reduce this risk as the handles are only 6-10 inches wide. Small handles still have plenty of room for you to grab and get up, but since you aren’t doing tricks with the rope the extra room of a wider handle is not helpful. Some surf ropes do not even have a traditional handle, but instead they have a knot or a cone on the end to completely eliminate the risk of getting stuck.

Waterski & Wakeboard Handles

waterski and wakeboard handles are too wide to safely wakesurf

Wakesurf Handles

removable rope sections - swell wakesurf braided rope
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Rope Thickness

High speed tow sports like skiing and wakeboarding require a rope with little to no stretch, this often translates to ropes that are incredibly stiff and thin. These ropes work fantastic for those sports. In wakesurfing there is no need for a line that does not stretch, and these thin ropes can be dangerous. When you are being pushed by the wave the rope will begin to slack, the surfer will start to roll the excess line in their hand or bunch them up. If the surfer falls on top of this loose rope, there is a possibility of them being caught in it or having it wrap around a body part and being uncontrollably pulled. If this happens, very thin rope wrapped around a body part can cut the skin or worse. Having a thicker rope that can’t become knotted or wrap around you as easily cuts down the risk of this happening. Thick rope is also much less likely to cause damage to soft tissue if you still manage to get wrapped in it. 

Thin ropes can also be an issue when you are learning to wakesurf. One of the problems you will face as you learn to surf is maintaining your position on the wave. You will pull yourself into the pocket, fall out of the pocket, and as the slack you had in the rope again gets pulled tight the rope will get pulled in your hands. With a thinner rope you will have a higher risk of this resulting in rope burns on your hands. Most wakesurf ropes use a thicker gauge of rope that is easier on the hands and safer when you are jerked by the boat. Nicer surf ropes will add a second layer of rope inside the rope which results in a rope twice as thick as usual. For those just learning to wakesurf a braided surf rope is a good solution, the first 5-10 feet will have a thick section of braided rope that is very easy to hold onto and virtually eliminates the issue of rope burn.

Thin Ski & Wakeboard ropes

thin no stretch line is common in wakeboard and waterski lines - swell wakesurf

Thick Wakesurf Ropes

thick braided wakesurf rope swell wakesurf

Rope Length

Ski and Wakeboard ropes range anywhere from 35-85 feet. This is well beyond where the sweet spot is for wakesurfing. Surf ropes are typically 20-25 feet. Depending on your boat and how far the wave forms behind it you may only need a 15 or 16 ft rope, if the wave is further back you may need the full 25 feet. The best ropes will have removable sections so that you don’t have excess rope hanging in the boat. This means every time you hang it you don’t have to worry about length just hook up the end and there is no excess. 

removable rope sections - swell wakesurf braided rope

Will it float?

Anybody who has done a lot of watersports in their life has experienced a dreaded problem… getting a rope caught on the boat prop. Most wakesurf ropes look to solve this problem by using rope materials that float, some going even further by adding additional foam floats along the rope and handle.  

floating wakesurf rope - rope floats on handle and along the rope swell wakesurf

Do I need a wakesurf rope?

Yes, for safety and comfort you do need a wakesurf specific rope. The goal of a wakesurfer is to drop the rope and do some fun tricks. An experienced wakesurfer does not need a surf rope after they get up and to the sweet spot, but they do need a surf rope to ensure they can get up behind the boat safely. Using a high speed tow rope made for skiing and wakeboard is a bad, dangerous idea. 

Looking for some great wakesurf rope options? SHOP SWELL Wakesurf Ropes

At SWELL Wakesurf, we are passionate about helping you find the best setup for your boat. You can check our more informational articles and videos on our SWELL Content Page. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to send us a message on our chat, send us a question at our help desk, or email at


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