Competitive Slalom Waterskiing - Understanding The Score

Competitive Slalom Waterskiing – Understanding The Score

Competitive Slalom Waterskiing – Understanding The Score

Competitive waterskiing is a fascinating sport. Whether you’re a professional or not, understanding the score can be a little difficult at first. However, once you get into the sport and truly understand the nitty-gritty, you can unearth all its secrets. In this article, you will read about

  • Slalom waterskiing fundamentals
  • How to read the score of a slalom waterskiing competition?
  • How slalom waterskiing competition works?
  • Tips for slalom waterskiing
  • The other events associated with slalom waterskiing

What is Slalom Waterskiing?

There are several different aspects to slalom waterskiing. Firstly, slalom waterskiing requires participants to use a single ski. The skis themselves are generally long and created for agility. The length of the ski being used depends on the height and weight of the user.

You’ll find that the forward-facing bindings are either made of rubber or plastic, not unlike a snow ski binding or a rollerblade boot.

As for the actual skiing, it involves passing through a multiple buoy course. The participant must pass through all 26 water buoys to complete a ‘pass.’ At the beginning and end of each course, there are entrance gates situated that the participant needs to pass through.

Competitive slalom waterskiing is generally hosted alongside two other events – Jump and Trick Waterskiing. The three events together make up an entire tournament. A participant would have to pass all three events to win the tournament.

The slalom event is completely different from the Jump and Trick events, even requiring a different scoring method. The scoring can also be slightly difficult to understand for beginners and those unfamiliar with the sport.

Equipment Needed

As mentioned earlier, slalom waterskiing requires a single ski. Slalom water skis are specially designed for improved agility. They are designed with two forward-facing boots that resemble snow ski boots.

Apart from the skis, there are 26 buoys placed across the course. Each buoy is placed at a distance of 47 meters from the next. However, the distance is not measured vertically or horizontally, rather diagonally.

The boat requires a standard length of rope of 18.25 meters. As the competition goes on, the rope is shortened. The length of the rope is also calculated in the score.

How to Lay Out a Slalom Course?

Before entering a slalom competition, one needs to know the layout of the course as it helps with practicing for future competitions. But, setting up a slalom course is not as easy as it looks. Here are the exact steps required to set up a full-fledged, tournament-style slalom course.

Finding the location

You can’t choose any old part of a lake to construct your slalom course. It must be large and calm enough to function as a slalom waterskiing course. Choose a spot on your preferred lake, river, or reservoir that is free of any backwash. Make sure there isn’t any heavy boat traffic; otherwise, it’ll be impossible to complete the course.

Consider the amount of space you will require before attempting to lay down the course. The course itself is 850ft. Apart from the course space, you’ll require at least 600ft of space on either side of the course. Totally, the whole course should be at least 2000ft in length.

In terms of width, it is standard protocol to have at least 75ft on either side. However, in the name of safety, it is necessary to have at least another 100ft on either side. So totally, the entire course would need to have a width of about 275ft minimum.

Take a look at the regulations for the operation of powerboats in your region. In some areas, powerboats cannot operate within a certain distance from the shore. Apart from this distance, an ideal depth of five feet is necessary at all times for the course to be smooth and up to regulation standards.


Don’t start laying out the course before determining and obtaining the necessary governmental permissions. Whether it be environmental permits or simply town or county permits, make sure you understand what is required before you start putting down buoys.

In some cases, you might face backlash from those opposed to waterskiing. This may come in the form of a public court hearing. But, if the waters are generally open to water boating and waterskiing, you should have no issues with setting up a slalom course.

Once you set up a slalom course, remember that it is not for the exclusive use of waterskiing. Fishermen and other boaters have just as much of a right to the space as you do. Come to a peaceful compromise regarding the use of the space well before ski season. This way, you won’t face any hurdles due to unexpected delays and such.


Once you have the location mapped out and have obtained the necessary permissions, it is time to start attaching the buoys. The buoys used for competitions are completely safe. They are specially designed not to cause any harm to boats or skiers. So, once you install the course, other boats should not have a problem working around them.

The best buoys are made of tethered plastic with molded attachment rings. They are generally red-orange for the six buoys, allowing participant zigzags through, entrance, and exit gates. The boat guide buoys are generally yellow. If you’re creating a practice course, anti-freeze bottles are a great alternative to the regulation buoys.

Anchoring the Buoys

To anchor the buoys, you’ll need a few swimmers that are strong and prepped with lifejackets. You’ll also need a few helpers in boats to help visually and with a load of buoys. Double-check that you have all the material before you work on the course.

  • First, drop an anchor where the course begins.
  • Drop a temporary buoy anchor where the course is estimated to end. This establishes a general directional line and provides a rough outline.
  • Using the first buoy as a starting point and a pre-measured length of rope, you can start anchoring the other buoys. Eight buoys need to be placed 47 meters away from the other, so the measurement should be easy.
  • It is helpful to have someone on the shore to act as a better guide.
  • Using the line of buoys that you have anchored, you can place the six buoys used by the participants.
  • Around these six buoys, you can place the boat guide buoys as needed.

How Does Slalom Waterskiing Work?

Once the full course has been laid out, it is time for the actual skiing to start. It is relatively easy to understand how the course works. The towboat drives down the center of the course, where six buoys are placed. There are three buoys on either side of the boat path for the participant to zigzag through.

Each time a participant makes it through the six buoys, it is called a ‘pass,’ The number of passes is what is being scored. Once a participant has made it through a pass, the towboat drives the opposite way. The skier then gets another attempt at the six buoys.

After each pass, the ski rope’s length (it starts at 18.25 meters) is shortened incrementally. Along with the length of the ski rope shortening, the boat’s speed is also increased incrementally. The speed keeps increasing until it reaches the highest speed for the skier’s class. The rope is shortened until the skier fails.

Failing a pass can mean either missing a buoy or crashing; at that point, their run is over. The score is finally calculated based on the number of buoys cleared, the rope’s length, and the boat’s speed. You will find that in tournaments, the skier is left to do the ‘walk of shame back to the shore after failing. The boat does not turn around for them.

Boat Speed

There are set boat speeds for each class of skier. There will be a maximum speed the boat will reach depending on your class. The organizers also set the minimum speed on the given day.

With each pass, the boat’s speed will increase by 3km/h until the maximum speed for the given class is reached. For men, this is generally 58 km/h, and for women, it is 55km/h. Professional skiers tend to start at the maximum speed instead of building their way up from a lower, minimum speed.

Rope Length

The towline used in professional settings is generally made up of several removable rope sections. Each section is in different colors; for example, 18.25 meters would be red. The total length can go down to 9 meters, while the longest is 23 meters.

Generally, the rope length does not start at 23 meters in tournaments, rather at 18.25 meters. However, professionals or those participating can choose their preferred length instead of working their way down. After each pass, the length of the rope goes down, making the course harder.

Scoring in Slalom Waterskiing

The scoring of a slalom waterskiing event is confusing even at its best. However, once you understand the different elements, it becomes easier. There are two numbers you’ll need to focus on.

Let’s take the example of a score such as ‘5 @ 32 off.’ The first number, ‘5,’ indicates the number of buoys cleared. For each buoy cleared, the participant receives a single point. The highest number of points one can acquire is 6.

Sometimes you’ll even see a quarter or half points such as ‘2 ½ ‘or ‘4 ¼ ‘and wonder how exactly it is possible. Well, scoring needs to account for turns.

Participants can fall at any point of time, even midway through completing a buoy, so the fractions are present to deal with the ‘almost’ situations.

  • A quarter-point is awarded when a skier makes into a turn buoy.
  • A half-point is awarded when they ski around the buoy but don’t make it to the line of boat guide buoys.
  • A full point is awarded when there is complete control, and the skier makes it back to the line of boat guide buoys or the boat wake.

The second number in the score refers to the length of the towline and how much has been deducted. There are two different ways of referring to the rope length. Either a score will talk about the rope length itself or the length of rope deducted.

In the olden days, the measurement used the length of rope removed from the full length of rope (generally 75 feet). So in our example, 32 off would mean that 32 feet of rope have been deducted from the original 75 feet.

In the modern-day, simply the length of the tow line is expressed in meters. So, instead of ’32 off’ or ’28 off’, you will find people saying ’12 meters’ or ’12 shortening.’ It is much simpler and easier to comprehend. However, the modern manner of referring to shortenings still persists, so be vigilant about what method people use to refer to the score.

Boat Speed

Despite its importance to the sport, any scoring explained above did not include the boat speed because the above examples’ scores imply that the boat’s maximum speed was in action.

After a while in the competition, the boat’s speed becomes irrelevant. If everyone is skiing at the highest speed, then the only thing separating contestants is the length of the rope. So, in professional tournaments, most scores are present without the boat speed.

However, if the final pass took place before the maximum speed was achieved, the score will look like ‘Three @ 55km/h.’ This translates to a skier rounding three buoys on the longest line at 55 km/h. The skier either missed a buoy or crashed at this point.

Wrapping Up

Competitive slalom waterskiing is simple and easy to follow once you grasp the particulars of the sport. Once the foundations are set in stone, understanding the competition’s score and scoring is a piece of cake.