Rails and sliders may be cool, but wakeboarding will primarily always be about big air. And next to massive wakes, nothing delivers airtime like a tower. Like a tow pylon on steroids, towers raise the attachment point of your towrope, eliminating the downward pull that goes hand-in-hand with transom-mounted eyes or traditional ski pylons. The result is an instant boost in height for the aspiring boarder and a likewise increase in hang time, two factors that will rapidly push riders to new skill levels. Towers also have a practical side. By serving as an attachment point for such items as board racks and speakers, they free the cockpit from clutter. Didn't splurge on a tower-equipped wake monster already? No worries. You can add your own for as little as $900 and a few hours of labor. Here's what to look for.
First, find out if you can mount a tower. "The first thing I'll look for is how to gain access to the underside of the deck," says Chase Kromer of Xtreme Tower Products (XTP), the leading wakeboard tower manufacturer. "On some boats you may be able to reach right up underneath a cubby or inwale; on another boat you might not have access at all." In difficult-to-reach areas, Kromer suggests trying to remove an interior panel or cushion, then using a hole saw to create an access point that will stay hidden. In more difficult installations he has temporarily removed speakers, installed pie-plate hatches, even disguised his access holes with stainless-steel cupholders.
Where's the beef?
You may need to reinforce an area so it can handle the stress a tower transfers to the deck. Most tower manufacturers call for fiberglass to be at least 3/8" thick in the mounting areas. Boats that don't meet that standard can be reinforced by adding layers of glass (remember to scuff the existing surface to ensure a good bond) or marine plywood. Mounting feet typically feature a rubber gasket topside, with a metal backing plate below. XTP uses a relatively large 3"-by-4"-by-1/8" aluminum plate to help spread the load. The thinner aluminum allows the plate to conform to the underside of the deck if the surface isn't completely flat. Thicker, stiffer backing plates have been known to crack a boat's gel coat once they're tightened down. And speaking of tightening, don't overdo it. A good rule of thumb is to stop once the rubber gasket underneath the mounting foot begins to compress. "If you overtighten," warns Kromer, "you're going to crack your gel coat."
Understand how your tower is measured and the type of materials being used. Tubing is measured by outside diameter; pipe is designated by inside diameter. For the best strength, choose an inside diameter of at least 2". Anodized aluminum is most common, but a limited number of manufacturers offer stainless steel. Powder-coated towers may be colorful, but keep in mind that the coating is likely to chip down the road, especially around folding joints. Wall thickness should be Schedule 40 or better. Look for TIG welding, as it results in a more precise finished product. Welds should look clean, with no air pockets. Stainless-steel hardware is a must; treat all threaded parts with an anti-seize compound before final assembly. Hinges, which allow the tower to fold for storage, should feature Allen-head bolts or tool-free knobs.