How Watersports Change on Different Bodies of Water | Volcano Watersports

How Watersports Change on Different Bodies of Water

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29 August 2023

A day dedicated to watersports is a thrilling experience, whether you're wakeboarding on a crystalline lake or surfing the waves of an ocean that seems to stretch endlessly toward the horizon. But, as any watersports enthusiast will learn eventually, where you choose to surf, ski, or wakeboard will have a significant impact on the overall experience. Different water conditions can drastically alter the difficulty, how smooth (or choppy) the water feels, and how much of a learning curve beginners will need to go through before they get up on their feet.

Let’s take you on a journey exploring how watersports like wakeboarding, surfing, and waterskiing can change between different bodies of water.


Wakeboarding, a dynamic sport blending techniques from water skiing, snowboarding, and surfing, offers varied experiences based on the type of water body.

River Wakeboarding

River wakeboarding is frenetic and lively thanks to the river's ever-changing conditions. Factors like water flow, potential underwater obstacles (think rocks and branches), and unpredictable water levels can significantly impact your ride. These challenges require agility, quick decision-making, and a good understanding of the river's flow. River wakeboarding is an ever-evolving adventure, offering a unique blend of challenges and excitement at every turn. It’s very popular among seasoned watersports enthusiasts, but it’s not the best idea for beginners.

Lake Wakeboarding

In contrast to the rough and tumble of the rivers, lakes provide calm and serene conditions, making them ideal for beginners or those keen on perfecting tricks without having to battle against waves. The still waters of a lake offer a smooth, consistent ride, allowing riders to hone their skills and build confidence.

Lake Arenal is the perfect example of these beginner- and pro-friendly conditions. With its calm waters (butter smooth, as wakeboarders tend to call it) and gentle breeze, it has come to be one of the most popular watersports destinations in the world. Our Costa Rica boat rental service includes experienced professionals who will guide you in your wakeboarding journey on the tranquil waters of Lake Arenal.

Sea Wakeboarding

Sea wakeboarding delivers an entirely different challenge. The vast waves and stronger currents make for an exciting ride that's definitely not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced. The unpredictability of the sea, with its shifting tides and winds, demands advanced skills and experience from riders. While thrilling, sea wakeboarding is recommended for those with a high level of proficiency in the sport.


Surfing is a versatile sport typically associated with the ocean's rolling waves, but it's not limited to just sea waters. Rivers and lakes offer unique surfing experiences that can provide exciting alternatives.

River Surfing

The thrilling experience of river surfing exploits standing waves in fast-flowing rivers. Unlike ocean surfing, where you ride a wave for a brief moment before it breaks, river surfing allows surfers to ride a single, continuous wave indefinitely. It offers a distinctive challenge that tests both your balance and endurance. While river surfing remains a niche activity, the growing excitement of being able to surf in the heart of a city or amid a lush, tranquil landscape is driving its popularity.

Lake Surfing – AKA, wakesurfing

Wakesurfing is a little different from traditional surfing. The board is smaller and, instead of waiting around to catch a wave, wakesurfers get up to speed using a rope tethered to the back of the boat – a little like wakeboarding. The key difference (other than the fact that you’re not strapped to the board) is that, once you’ve got the wind flowing through your hair, the aim is to let go of the rope, and use the wake – and some nifty footwork – to maintain your speed.

This sport is popular among surfers because the same core rules apply. Plus, you don’t need to sit around waiting for a good wave to come along – if it ever does. And, if you bail, you don’t get a mouthful of salt water, either!

Ocean Surfing

Ocean surfing remains the most recognized and traditional form of surfing. In fact, there are more than 2.8 million surfers in the US alone. The vast waves and open waters of the sea offer an unparalleled surfing experience. The changing tides, shifting currents, and dynamic swells make every surfing session unique, diverse, and somewhat unpredictable. The joy of surfing comes from this constant variety – every wave is different, and every ride is a new experience. The dynamic nature of the sea keeps even the most seasoned surfers perpetually engaged, as conditions vary not just from day to day but from one wave to the next.


Waterskiing, a sport where an individual is pulled behind a boat or a cable ski installation, also changes with the type of water body.

River Waterskiing

Waterskiing on rivers can be one thrilling adventure, offering a dynamic and unpredictable environment that keeps even experienced waterskiers on their toes. The twisting, turning course of a river, combined with potentially narrow passages and hidden underwater obstacles, requires precise navigation and keen awareness. The flow of the river can also change the speed at which you ski, creating an exhilarating ride that constantly challenges your skills.

However, it's important to always be aware of the potential risks and hazards, ensuring you're familiar with the river's course and any potential dangers that might be lurking beneath the surface.

Lake Waterskiing

In contrast to the dynamic nature of river waterskiing, lakes provide an ideal, controlled environment for waterskiing. The calm, flat waters are particularly suited to beginners or those seeking to refine their technique without the added challenge of battling against waves and currents. The absence of tides, currents, and typically fewer obstacles makes lake waterskiing a more predictable and relaxed experience. This controlled environment allows you to focus on mastering your stance, turns, and jumps, making it an excellent choice for training sessions and competitions.

Even if you’re a complete beginner, our experienced instructors can help you to build confidence on the lake and make your first experience waterskiing a memorable one.

Sea Waterskiing

Sea waterskiing is truly for thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies. The open waters, changing waves, and shifting currents provide an exciting, high-intensity experience that's vastly different from river or lake waterskiing. The unpredictability of the sea makes waterskiing tricky and demanding, requiring you to constantly adjust your technique in response to the changing conditions.

While it can be challenging, the feeling of gliding over open waters and conquering the waves as they come, is an unparalleled experience. However, due to the potentially high waves and strong currents, sea waterskiing is generally recommended for more experienced skiers.

Building Confidence on Different Bodies of Water

Building confidence in different bodies of water, whether a river, lake, or sea, is a journey that involves patience, practice, and a keen understanding of the environment. It all starts with mastering the basics of your chosen watersport in a controlled environment. That could mean perfecting your balance on a wakeboard or understanding navigating a surfboard, or learning how to rise on waterskis. Being well-versed in the foundational techniques gives you the confidence to tackle different water conditions.

Taking professional lessons is an integral part of this confidence-building process. Experienced instructors like ours will provide safety information and offer technical guidance tailored to your skill level and specific water conditions. For instance, they can teach you how to handle a wakeboard on a choppy sea or how to surf the continuous wave of a fast-flowing river. These tailored lessons provide an invaluable edge when venturing into various water bodies.

Adapting to different waters shouldn't be a rushed process. Gradual exposure is the key to successfully conquering diverse water conditions. Starting on calm waters, such as those found in Lake Arenal, provides a safe and controlled environment to practice your skills. As you gain confidence and experience, you can gradually transition to more challenging environments like fast-flowing rivers or the open sea.

Which Is The Easiest Sport To Start With?

For those new to water sports, finding the easiest one to learn can be daunting. Among surfing, wakeboarding, and waterskiing, each sport carries its own unique set of challenges and learning curves.

There’s no definitive answer to the question, which watersport is easiest? Some will claim that wakeboarding is the best for first timers, while others prefer waterskiing. Wakesurfing is the trickiest of the three, since letting go of that rope generally requires a certain amount of experience and confidence – at least the first few times.

Trying watersports on an ocean requires a unique balance, agility, and the ability to read and respond to the whims of the ever-changing ocean. It often takes many sessions of practice to catch your first wave successfully. Balancing on a surfboard on moving water while catching waves can be tricky for beginners. Rivers are even more of a challenge, and don’t forget that there are more hazards to watch out for.

Watersports on a lake are also balance-intensive, but it has one key element that makes it a bit easier for beginners: you're tethered to a boat. The steadiness of being pulled along often makes it easier to find your balance compared to surfing. The challenge comes with learning how to control your direction and master tricks, but these are skills to develop over time.