The individual features of waterskis determine exactly how they perform on the water. There are numerous design factors that we could discuss here, but we have focused just on those that are most important to the novice.
Waterskis come in 2 main types - Slalom Skis (a single ski designed to be used on a slalom course or for recreational "carving") and Combo Skis (a pair of skis that are designed to help you to learn how to waterski).
Combo Skis are so called as they offer a great combination of beginner Water Skis and a more advanced Mono Ski (you'll notice that one of the skis has a single Front Binding while the other has a Front Binding and a Rear Toe Plate, also known as an RTP).
When learning to water ski you will always need to use both skis until you get confident (both feet in the front bindings) but as you progress you may want to feel the added excitement of skiing on one ski. This is easily achieved using Combo Skis, first by getting up on two skis and then "dropping" the ski with the single binding and slipping your back foot into the rear toe plate on the mono ski. This is a great way to get the feel of using one ski without needing the skill required to deep water start on just one ski. Eventually though, you will want to progress even further and this will mean learning to deep water start on just one ski (seemingly impossible at first but you soon get the hang of it).
For most recreation water skiing applications and general family use a Combo Pair are all you'll ever need as they are great to learn on but also accomodate the more advanced skiier. The Front Bindings are adjustable to fit a wide range of foot sizes too so can be used by most people.
Waterski bindings are designed to hold your feet firmly to your skis and to support your ankles, but in such a way that they will "release" in the event of a tumble to prevent injury. Waterski bindings come in two basic types - boot style or squeeze heel (AKA Horseshoe Bindings). Boot style bindings fit your feet very snuggly and are tightened efficiently around the foot via strong nylon laces. These types of bindings can be closed toe or open toe and tend to appear just on better quality combo and slalom waterskis. Squeeze heel bindings are generally rubber and only adjust forwards and backwards to clamp around the foot. These types of bindings appear on combo skis.
Fins are the tracking and turning devices located on the back of the waterskis and are there to help stabilize and steer the ski. Beginner waterskis generally have fixed neutral sized fins that are often brightly coloured so that you can find an upturned ski when it is floating in the water. Slalom waterskis on the other hand often have quite complicated and fully adjustable fins so that individual preferences can be dialed in.
To try and cover all aspects of slalom waterski design here would be impossible so this is just intended to cover the basics. There are 5 main things you need to consider when choosing the right slalom ski, but once you have read this you need to do your research online, talk to people at your local club, and try out different types of ski in order to get a feel for which best suits your ability and you feel most confident on.
1. Your Weight
As a general rule, the heavier you are the bigger the ski you need. Slalom skis are designed to stay on the surface of the water using surface area. It's basic physics really - the more you weight the more surface area you need in order for the ski to stay on top of the water. Ski length also comes into play. A longer ski will be faster on the water and be more stable, whereas a shorter ski will turn faster but will feel more twitchy. Use the table below (and read the next section on tow speeds) to work out your optimal ski size.
2. Tow Speed
This is something that you will very quickly get a feel for and luckily you will always have a say in the speed that your driver pulls you at.
28 mph and under - for learning the basics and getting a feel for your first slalom ski.
28 - 31mph - for progressing to more controlled skiing and more agressive turns.
31 - 33mph - for recreational intermediate level "carving".
34mph - this is the standard speed for competion slalom skiing.
36mph - for professionals only!
3. Ski Base
Although manufacturers spend a lot of effort making the top side of the ski look nice, it is the basic shape of the base that actually matters.
V-Bottom - a central rib runs down the length of the ski giving it excellent straight line tracking and making it easier to move from one edge to the other when initiating turns. Perfect for beginners.
Tunnel - the centre of the ski is partially dug out with two flat spots either side giving the ski the perfect balance of straight line tracking and turning ability. Perfect for intermediate level course skiiers and recreational carvers.
Full Concave - the centre of the ski is fully dug out from one edge to the other with no flat spots either side giving the ski the best possible traction in the turns but requiring more effort to initiate and hold the turns. These types of ski offer the best performance but can be hard work so are only for advanced skiiers.
4. Edge Bevel
This is the degree of curve where the side rail meets the ski base. In short, the more bevel you have the easier and slower the turns are. Novice skiiers should therefore be looking for significant edge bevel whereas competition skiiers will want minimal edge bevel.
This is the degree to which the ski flexes in the turns and all slalom skis need to flex in order to work properly. The simple rule is that the faster and harder you ski, the stiffer you need your ski to be.