What is skurfing?

August 25, 2021 | Surfing
Skurfing: a water sport that had its heydays between 1985 and the mid-1990s | Photo: Creative Commons

Skurfing is a water sport that combines the characteristics of water skiing with the freeform elements of surfing.

The sport is mostly practiced in lakes and rivers and other closed water bodies.

Riders are pulled behind a motorboat on a tow rope using a high buoyancy shortboard similar to a surfboard equipped with three fins and two footstraps.

The ropes used are longer and thinner than, for instance, wakesurfing ropes; beginners should start with shorter ropes in the 30-to-50-foot range (9-15 meters).

The Origins of Skurfing

The exact origins and roots of skurfing are not clear.

Historians report that Duke Kahanamoku rode behind a boat in Coronado Bay, in San Diego, in 1915.

Several decades later, in 1963, Dick Pope started towing surfers holding a shortened water ski rope.

In 1965, American surfing and sailing businessman Hobart "Hobie" Alter wakesurfed 26 miles from Long Beach to Catalina Island in over one hour and 45 minutes.

The stunt sponsored by Johnson Outboard Motors gained nationwide and local publicity and included a display of tandem wakesurfing.

However, the newest water sport failed to captivate a relevant audience until a duo revamped it and gave it a second chance with new equipment.

In 1985, California surfer Tony Finn launched Skurfer, a narrow board that allowed riders to carve turns off to either side of the boat like water skiers.

The equipment was also designed to ride the wake created by the boat and perform eye-catching aerial maneuvers.

In 1990, the first-ever Skurfer championship was televised by ESPN.

The contest eventually led to the creation of the world's first wakeboards, with small fins on either end and which could be ridden in either direction.

There were several attempts to make skurfing a commercial success, especially in landlocked America.

But only wakeboarding stuck, gained traction, and became a global phenomenon.

In 1989, Jimmy Redmon, who had also designed the Redline skurfing board, founded the World Wakeboard Association (WWA).

Finn sold Skurfer to Kransco and founded Liquid Force in 1997, one of the most popular wakeboarding and kiteboarding brands in the market.

Skurfer: a water sport that blends features of water skiing, surfing, and kneeboarding

The Boat Boogie

Skurfing was definitely inspired by waterskiing and kneeboarding, and it is widely accepted that it is the precursor of wakeboarding and wakesurfing.

"There is some interesting interplay and crossover between water skiing to surfing because adding a towboat to the picture opens up sales to the whole rest of the country, not just the coasts," notes Craig Libuse, former art designer at Morey Boogie and Kransco.

Libuse was involved in marketing what can be considered the two most popular skurfing boards - Skurfer and Boat Boogie.

The water skier and bodyboarder from Milwaukee owns four different and rare skurfing boards. They are stored in his cabin's garage in Wisconsin.

"The Skurfer Rage [on the left in the picture below] was the beginning of what eventually became wakeboarding, which is huge across the country wherever there are lakes or rivers," Craig Libuse tells SurferToday.

"From there, the boats adapted to where they could generate a wake big enough to surf on, going full circle from surfing to the Skurfer to wakeboards to wakesurf boards and back to surfing."

"Learning to surf on a boat wake would be a great way to learn to surf real waves."

"It isn't an ideal board for surfing, but neither is a skimboard ideal for surfing, and people are riding huge waves on them."

When Kransco bought Morey Boogie, the company launched Boat Boogie, one of Libuse's favorite projects.

"The smaller Boat Boogie board [in the picture below] is 48 inches long, and the larger production version is 58 inches," notes Libuse.

"The smaller board didn't have a stringer, but the two larger boards had a T-shaped plaster stringer inside running the full length."

"The pointed board with a blue angled tail is also 58-59 inches but was a prototype for a future version that was never marketed."

"A special router was used to cut the groove in the core foam, the stringer was slid in, and then the skins were applied."

"You can see on the bottom of the longer production board a streak of white silicone sealant I used to repair it after a friend tried to take it off the local ski club's jump ramp.

"The landing ripped the stringer out through the bottom skin. It is obviously not a recommended practice."

"The knee straps on both large boards were ones I made me, as it is impossible to do wake-to-wake jumps without them."

Craig Libuse believes Kransco would eventually make them an option if production continued - like surfboard leashes.

Skurfing: Craig Libuse with his Skurfer and Boat Boogie boards | Photo: Libuse Archive

A Sport Ahead of Its Time

Why didn't the Boat Boogie succeed in the market?

"I think it was a little too far ahead of its time. Water skiing at that time consisted of either two skis or a single slalom ski," states Libuse.

"Kneeboarding was new, but the word 'Boogie' was beginning to be established on the coasts but was unknown in the center of the country."

"Wakeboarding and wakesurfing were virtually unknown. It required a powerboat. Also, it didn't have the aggressive cool look of a hard kneeboard."

Libuse thinks that if it had been more successful, the Boat Boogie would have introduced many more people to ski sports behind a boat as the boogie board did to surfing.

But he also stresses that the need to have a wake boat that costs $100,000 or more will always be a barrier to entry into the sport.

Are there cheaper alternatives? Yes.

"We had summers of fun just kneeboarding behind a 14-inch aluminum rowboat with a 15 horsepower outboard motor," adds Libuse.

Skurfing never quite stood the test of time.

It required a lot of energy from the riders to get up and plane on the surface of the water, and board design never quite evolved.

"Today, there are many wake and ski boat manufacturers. Oddly, most of them you see end up towing people on tubes," concludes the water sports industry veteran.

"I guess that's fun if you just like getting thrashed, but it's popular because you don't have to have any real skills other than just holding on."

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