We perform an experimental and theoretical study of the wave pattern generated by the leg strokes of water striders during a propulsion cycle. Using the synthetic schlieren method, we are able to measure the dynamic response of the free surface accurately. In order to match experimental conditions, we extend Bühler’s theory of impulsive forcing (J. Fluid Mech., vol. 573, 2007, pp. 211–236) to finite depth. We demonstrate the improved ability of this approach to reproduce the experimental findings, once the observed continuous forcing and hence non-zero temporal and spatial extent of the leg strokes is also taken into account.