There was a time when wakeboarding was considered the exclusive sport of teen boys and a few high-profile enthusiasts. But today, wakeboarding instructors and clubs are getting calls from people of all ages, eager to ride the wake.
The sport emerged in the late 1980s with surfers riding their boards while being pulled behind a boat on a line. It wasn’t long before manufacturers caught on and began designing boards that were more streamlined, smaller and also equipped with special bindings that would help hold feet steady.
The New York Times reported Florida is the best place to learn wakeboarding, as there are more than 2,500 warm-water inland lakes, as well as a number of professionals who later became instructors. WakeBoarding magazine, based in Winter Park, distributes an estimated 75,000 copies and reports some 3 million participants nationwide.
While an education is advisable, it won’t shield riders from every scenario. The personal injury attorneys at Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, have been representing those injured on the water for more than four decades.
There were eight reportable accidents in Florida waters in a recent year involving wake or surf jumping, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Reportable accidents are only those wherein the damage exceeded $2,000 and individuals had to seek medical attention beyond rudimentary first aid. Still, that’s likely a low estimate, given not only the popularity of the sport, but also the fact boating accidents in generally are gravely underreported. (Another 13 reported incidents involved tubes being pulled by a boat.)
A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine indicates wakeboarding injuries are common in the sport, with the most frequently-reported conditions being:
- ACL tears
- Shoulder dislocations
- Ankle sprains
- Torn ligaments
- Some type of fracture
These conditions are generally recoverable, but some accidents have resulted in devastating consequences.
- In June 2020, a waveboarder was taken to the hospital after being hit by a boat in waters off Pensacola. That same month, a wakeboarder was killed near Escambia while being towed by a boat.
- In July 2014, pro-wakeboarder Brad Smeele, 28, was paralyzed from the neck down after attempting a wakeboarding trick in Orlando that resulted in a head-first crash-landing at a ramp. Doctors have given him a 1 to 2 percent chance he’ll ever be able to move his upper body again.
- Also in July 2014, a 12-year-old boy suffered serious injuries when he was struck in the back of the neck while wakeboarding in Deerfield Beach. He had just finished his turn when another young boarder next in line unintentionally struck him in the back of the neck. At the time, both boys were campers in a summer program.
- In September 2012, Panthers hockey defenseman Erik Gudbranson was rendered unable to play for three months after suffering a fall while wakeboarding that required him to undergo shoulder surgery.
Other instances of wakeboarding injury in Florida have included:
- Entanglement in tow rope
- Struck by propeller
- Jet thrust injuries
- Bindings that fail to release
- Boat operators failing to give proper look-out, taking off before boarder is ready
- Wakeboarders thrown hard over wake during sharp turns
- Wakeboarders steered in the path of fixed objects, other boats, or individuals
While there are no specific rules for “wakeboarding” as listed in Florida law, wakeboarding is considered a form of “aquaplaning,” and there are rules for operation of aquaplaning devices.
According to the FWC, the rules are as follows:
- Operators of vessels towing someone on an aquaplaning device have to have either an observer (in addition to the operator) on board who is attendant to the actions of the person on the wakeboard, or else have and use a wide-angle, rear-view mirror.
- No one can be on a wakeboard unless they are wearing an approved personal floatation device (life jacket). Inflatable models are expressly prohibited for wakeboarding activities.
- No one is allowed to wakeboard while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
- No one can wakeboard between one-half hour past sunset and one-half-hour before sunrise.
- The operator of a vessel towing a wakeboarder is not allowed to pull the rider close enough to a fixed object or another vessel such that there is a risk of a crash.
Contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.