How to Properly Tune Your Water Ski

Binding and Fin Adjustment

Water skis

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Tuning techniques for slalom skis have been around for several years. Steve Schnitzer invented the adjustable fin to experiment with fin shapes for slalom water skis. Shortly afterward, he went to work with Herb O'Brien at HO Sports. With the help of Chet Raley and Mike Ferarro, the adjustable fin was further developed and marketed on all HO Slalom skis. Now all other manufacturers have adjustable fin systems. Other people have been filing and sanding on skis for years to get maximum results.

Things to Consider When Tuning Water Skis

  • Basic skiing technique is first.
  • Binding position is second.
  • Fin adjustment is third.

Basic Techniques for Tuning Water Skis

The two best basic techniques for tuning water skis are in the bindings and fin systems. Adjusting the fin system on your slalom ski requires a basic working knowledge of what the fin and bindings do. The front half of the fin facing the nose of the ski effects the front of the ski. The back side of the fin facing the tail of the ski affects the back of the ski. Front and back movements of the fin affect the radius of the turn.

Most manufacturers have factory settings that are recommended for your first initial setting. Working from this point forward is the best way to get to the desired setting quickly. If your fin gets moved or damaged and you do not have the factory settings, set the fin 1" from the tail of the ski. 2 1/2" deep, and 6 3/4 long. This is an average setting but by no means is perfect for all water skis.


Step one is to determine binding position on your slalom ski. If you are having a problem on both turns or on both sides of the wake the problem is likely binding position or technique of the skier instead of fin position. It is very important to understand what to do first. Basic skiing technique is first. Most common is a lack of understanding of correct body position. If body position is correct then proceed to binding position.

Binding position is second. Binding position is correct when the ski tip is in the optimum place. A general rule of thumb for most but not all of the skis is the water should be breaking at the ball of the front foot when the ski is gliding.

Two Most Common Binding Position Problems

If the ski tip is riding very high on the finish of both turns the solution is to have the skier bend the front knee at the beginning of the edge change and ride this bent knee and ankle position through the entire turn first before adjusting binding position. A good technician works with the skier's fundamentals as well as ski tuning.

If the ski tip is equally high on the finish of both turns and body position and knee bend is correct then the bindings need to go forward one hole. Always slow the boat speed down at least one or two miles an hour after making a change on a slalom ski.

If the problem is better but the tip is still riding high then go forward one more hole. The reverse is true when the ski tip is catching on both sides at the finish or beginning of the turn. First look at the skier's body position in the turns.

If the skier is too far forward and the body position needs correcting, try having the skier push his or her chest out further after the edge change and pinch the shoulder blades to stay centered over the ski. If the skier's stance is correct and the ski tip still catches on both sides, then move binding position back one hole. If the problem is better but the tip is still little low then continue back with the binding position.


Now it is time to determine if the fin needs more adjusting. The off-side turn is the best place to start. If the water-skier is right foot forward then the turn that goes from right to left is the off or weak side turn. The fin should be adjusted only if there is a problem on one side. Again if the problem persists on both sides then the problem is bindings instead of fin position.

If the water ski tip digs in at the finish or start of the off side turn, then the tip of the fin needs to be raised to the point where it does not dig in. The fin should be scribed across the top of the fin at the bottom of the ski. Scribe it with something sharp or you can even use a pencil. Once it is scribed you can always go back to the original position in case of a bad adjustment. To raise the tip of the ski three inches at the finish of the off side turn, loosen the fin clamp just enough to allow adjustment by softly tapping on the front of the fin with a plastic mallet or wooden hammer handle. Push the tip of the fin up half of the scribe line or approximately 1/32 of an inch. Yes, these small adjustments really affect the ski. By lifting the tip section of the fin up into the ski 1/32 of an inch you raise the tip of the ski 3" in the finish of the turn. If you go too far the ski will not change edges correctly or it will do a wheely at the finish of the turn. Don't move the back part of the fin yet.

Only move the front portion of the fin at this time. Only make one adjustment at a time on your ski and give it some water time to make sure you have made the correct adjustment. If you are a good water-skier you want as much of the tip of the fin down as you can with out breaking you at the waist at the finish or start of the turn. Once the tip adjustment of the fin is set you can determine what adjustment is next. If the ski is performing well do not adjust it.

The rear of the fin can be examined next and determine if the fin needs more adjusting to maximize performance. If the ski is hard to turn on your off side turn, you need to decrease the depth of the tail of the fin. If the tail section of the fin is deeper it will feel like a rail and be very hard to turn. Most skiers turn too hard and do not need this adjustment. In certain cases, skis are hard to turn especially on your off side. If the ski feels like it is on a rail and you just can not turn it, go to the next adjustment. Tap the scribed mark on the rear of the fin up into the body of the ski about half of the scribe mark or 1/32". This will make a huge difference in ease of turning on your off side and also effect the on side turn. The opposite is true if the ski is overturning. When the ski overturns on the off side you need to add tail depth in the rear of the fin only. Again make small 1/32" adjustments and test on the water until the desired finish of the turn is dialed into.

Front and back movements affect the turning radius of the ski and how sensitive the fin is to changes in body position. If the skier has a slack line continuously on the on side turn, move the fin forward 1/16". This will tighten up the radius of the turn and tighten up the line. If you move the fin back the ski will act shorter. Forward movements will make the ski seem shorter.

Remember one thing — a relationship with your professional ski shop is the key. They can go with you on the water or they can recommend a coach or technician. If you can not go to the water with your shop, then bring in a videotape of your skiing. Ski shops can be the key to getting good educational tips and demo equipment.