ZF Inside – Putting the Power to the Water
Wakeboarding’s beginnings are simple; we took water ski boats, loaded them up as best we could, and made the most of the wake we could create. But wakeboarders have always been passionate about pushing the limits, wanting to go bigger and do new moves. That progression though has always gone hand in hand with the progression of the gear we used. Riders – both pros and weekend warriors alike – needed bigger wakes, speed control and elevated ropes to move the sport forward, and over the years the boat manufactures and their partners have consistently delivered. Take a step back and you realize that without that symbiotic relationship wakeboarding wouldn’t be anywhere close to where it is today. Imagine if we hadn’t designed bigger boats and we were all still riding behind 19-foot direct drives. The passion riders have for progression on the water is matched by the passion engineers have for designing and creating better boats, motors and drive systems. This lead to bigger and bigger wakes, which lead to more and more jaw dropping moves and more fun.
That fun and progression theoretically comes at a cost though. Weighing a boat down with ballast and designing it to plow more water in order to create a bigger wake is not the most efficient way to travel. But bigger wakes are better, and better is always more fun. Truth be told if it weren’t for some pretty amazing technology in the modern engines and drive systems of these wake making machines, we wouldn’t be doing what are now. As boats have grown in size, motors and transmissions have had to keep up in a major way. No longer can a bigger motor solve the problems of the ever growing wake boat (with ever more weight being added to it). The torque, pressure, stress and wear put on every aspect of the running gear in our boats is unheard of. Think of the kind of torque that is needed to push a 5,000-pound boat with 3,000 pounds of ballast down the lake. Now try to do that efficiently and consistently. That’s going to take a rocket scientist to figure out. Fortunately there is a company with some rocket scientists that have been able to help us out.
The ZF Group, based out of Friedrichshafen, Germany, is more responsible for the history and development of transmissions and drive components (and many other things), than you could ever imagine. In fact, the ZF Group is probably the largest company in the world that you’ve never heard of yet interact with every day. ZF stands for Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen, and zahnradfabrik literally translates to English as “gear factory”. Founded in 1915 to produce gears for Zeppelins and other airships, ZF has since grown into a worldwide company specialising in design, research and development, and manufacturing in the automotive, rail, marine, defense, and construction industries.
The company’s history is long and really interesting, ZF has been around for over 100 years… Think about that for a moment – throughout that century we have witnessed an incredible evolution in the world, both in society and in technology. You could argue that in that century the world changed more than it has in all of the previous centuries combined, and ZF was a big part of that. From covered wagons to smart phones, ZF has lived through – countless wars and colossal socio-economical shifts in the world. It has been around for the development of the telephone, television, computer, satellite, and smartphone; not to mention cars that now talk to you and boats that can control their own speed and give you the perfect wake with the touch of a button.
If you’re a car gearhead (which we think a good amount of you are) then you’ve likely heard of or read about ZF transmissions. The list of car companies using ZF transmissions is long. Like really, really long… as in every single car manufacturer, including: Acura, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, BMW, General Motors, Chrysler group, Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Land Rover, Maserati, Mercedes Benz, Nissan, Porsche, Rolls Royce, Volvo, and Volkswagen. Given the company’s overall scope and reach, chances are high that you don’t go through a day without using or interacting with something that utilizes a ZF product.
In the world of wakeboarding, ZF’s technologies are most commonly found in transmissions, obviously, but they can also be seen in throttle controls and propellers as well. If you’re wondering why that matters, that’s why we’re here in the first place. There is a reason car magazines highlight whether or not a new car features a ZF transmission. The same can be applied to our world. The boats we use today, which have allowed for riders to progress as much as they have, create the wakes they do because of the engines and transmissions they utilize. When you’re pushing that much weight around the lake you need to be concerned with more than just raw power. You need to understand torque, gear ratios, and what is going to allow your engine to operate as efficiently as possible, yet still push your wake machine with full ballast and all 12 members of the college bikini team. A better transmission will not only help your boat get on plane faster and more smoothly, but it will also help with fuel economy and the longevity of your motor. Better transmissions and engines have lead to bigger and better boats, which has lead to bigger and better wakeboarding – and more fun for you, the end user. If your transmission is coming from ZF – with over a century of research and development – chances are it’s going to operate in a way that benefits your boat. When your boat is feeling good then you’re having a better time on the water. And that’s what we’re on the water for in the first place: a good time.