Among surfboards and leashes, wetsuits and fins, surf wax is an often overshadowed and underestimated piece of surf paraphernalia. Even though it has conquered a designated corner in the surf industry, and is present in pretty much every surfboard in the world, it’s not really a riveting parking-lot-conversation. And yet, without these beautifully-fragranced blocks of ‘foot gum’ nothing – or at least a lot less – of what surfers have achieved would have been possible. Imagine dropping into Teahupo’o without something for your feet to grip?!
The process of waxing a surfboard is both as simple as the design of the bar, and as intricate as its chemical composition. But, as with anything, the more you know about it the better get at it. And in the case of waxing your surfboard, learning the ins and outs can, at some point, make or break a session. I’m sure we’ve all paddled out on a slippery board before – not fun. And if you haven’t, your time will come…
SO, check out the following tips to make sure it doesn’t.
What is Surfboard Wax Anyway?
Surfboard wax is a compound made from the concoction of paraffin, beeswax, plastics, chemical-based scenting, synthetic rubber and/or petrochemical resin, as well as other petroleum-derived products such as Vaseline. These ingredients are mixed, heated, and poured into moulds, coming out as solid bars with all sorts of shapes, scents, and colours. These bars, usually 100 grams in weight, are packaged in plastic or cardboard, and sold at surf shops and convenience stores for anything between two to seven dollars per bar.
Surfers have used some sort of coating as a means to create traction for their feet since the beginning of the 20th century. At first, it was a layer of sand-infused varnish which, as you can imagine, was great for traction but also scraped and injured every body part that touched it. It was only in 1935, when Californian surfer Alfred Gallant rubbed liquid floor wax to his surfboard, that wax began to be seen as a potential traction alternative for the sandy varnish. Following his mother’s advice, Gallant later used paraffin wax on the deck of his surfboard. The result was so good that paraffin wax became the go-to traction method for virtually all surfers of the time.
Fast-forward three decades, a small number of companies, most notably California’s Jack’s Surfboards, started commercialising a new product called “surf wax”. They were the first to introduce different coloured wax for different water temperatures – a breakthrough in the surf wax industry. In the following years, other surf wax brands – such as Waxmate, Wax Research, and the iconic Sex Wax – cropped up in California with their own innovative formula and product range.
From the 1980s, the surf wax industry took off. There were already several start-ups in the market – Australia’s Mrs. Palmer’s and California’s Waxx On came in at full speed – and competition was fierce. On top of that, a new product had just been introduced into the surf world – polyurethane traction pads. These factors prompted manufacturers to not only diversify their product but, with the help of technology, improve its quality. This was when surfers were introduced to stickier types of wax, as well as more temperature-specific bars. It was also around this time that the wax comb was invented. The first organic surf wax was created in 2005, in Cornwall, UK.
Even with the environmental repercussions from its production and the downsides to the health of surfers (aka wax rash), surf wax has remained the go-to option for surfboard deck traction.
How To Choose Surf Wax
There are many different types of surf wax, and choosing the right one will involve a bunch of elements – from the temperature of the water to your personal preference regarding the level of stickiness and your budget. Plus, if the water temperature in your local break fluctuates a lot from winter to summer, or if you’re going on a surf trip, you’ll need to change your wax accordingly. Still, choosing your surf wax begins with an assessment of the condition of your surfboard deck. If the board is new or has been freshly cleaned from wax, you’ll need a base coat before applying the regular, top coat wax.
Base coats are essentially harder waxes. They adhere better to the surfboard and will prevent the stickier wax that goes on top from rubbing off. Most surf wax brands usually have a range of top coats as well as base coats, and it may be a good option to use the same brand for both. Sticky Bumps and Fu Wax base coats are among some of the best in the market.
Unlike base coats, top coats can/should be reapplied before each surf session. These softer waxes vary in type – cold, cool, warm, tropical – according to their temperature specifications: warmer water requires a harder wax with a high melting temperature, whereas colder water calls for softer wax with a low melting temperature. Following the guidelines in the package will ensure maximum grip and durability. Not following them will, on the other hand, most likely cause your feet to slip or the wax to melt/harden. Matunas Cold Wax and Sex Wax Tropic Water are some of the most popular options out there.
Nowadays, one of the main dilemmas surrounding surf wax is its chemical composition and the negative impact it has on the marine environment and, to an extent, the surfer’s health. Traditional surf wax is made of paraffin and other resin-based ingredients, which are non-biodegradable and toxic. In light of this, some surf wax brands, like Sticky Bumps and Matunas, have developed an eco-friendly range that swaps some of the usual petrochemicals for more natural alternatives such as coconut oil and beeswax.
How to Remove Wax From A Surfboard
Before learning how to apply wax to your surfboard, it is important to learn how to remove it. If you’ve just bought a brand new board, you don’t have to worry about removing wax – at least not at first. But if you’ve bought it second-hand, or if you’ve already given your brand new stick its first coat of wax, you’ll need to remove it before applying a fresh coat.
Another reason why you may want to get rid of some old wax is when getting ready for a surf trip. Not only because you’ll probably have to change to a type of wax that is appropriate to the climate you’ll be surfing in, but also because it’s a pain in the arse when the wax melts inside the board bag. Other than that, you can expect to/should remove wax from your surfboard every one or two weeks, depending on how often you surf. That said, many people only do it once or twice a year. It is entirely up to you. The signs will be evident – it’ll look dirty and start to flake off.
When removing wax from the deck of your surfboard, the sun is your best allie. Leave the board under direct sunlight for between 5 to 10 minutes, until the wax softens. Do not expose the board to the sun for too long otherwise it may get damaged. The wax doesn’t have to melt completely; the idea is simply to facilitate the next stage. Once it is soft enough, grab the flat side of a wax comb (an old credit or phone card will also work) and scrape the deck from nose to tail in long, straight lines. Wipe the comb clean on some toilet paper or paper towel after each line, and repeat the process until most of the wax is gone. There’s no need to apply too much pressure when using the wax comb.
Finally, remove the last bits of wax by pouring some liquid wax dissolver (white spirit or mineral spirit works too) on the deck and wiping it clean with a cotton rag. I like to rinse the board in some water to remove any residue before applying a new wax job.
Scrape the bulk of the wax from your board using a wax scraper – I’m using the Wax Buddy scraper (the best wax comb in my opinion). Note: I put the board in the sunshine for a few minutes to soften.
Keep scraping all of the wax from the board until it looks clean and shiny like below!
Clean the board with some paper towels to remove any residual wax. You will probably end up with a big ball of wax like below!
How to Apply Wax On A Surfboard
It is always a good idea to rub a bit of wax on your surfboard before every surf session. That way, the top coat remains fresh and the grip optimal. Still, you don’t want to have a thick, uneven mound of wax under your feet. So once the layer looks solid, make use of your wax comb and scratch the wax in a criss-cross pattern to “revitalise” the old coat. And when that begins to look dirty, dry up or flake off, remove the wax (as instructed above) and reapply a new coat.
If you’re a shortboard user, you only need to apply wax on the areas where you’re likely to be placing your feet when riding the wave and your chest when paddling. That said, many surfers like to rub some wax on the rails to facilitate late take-offs and/or duck-diving. And some even go as far as waxing the bottom of their feet or their grip pad. Longboarders often wax the entirety of their surfboard deck, as they tend to walk up and down the nose.
For the perfect wax job, you’ll need:
- A bar of base coat
- A bar of top coat wax according to the water temperature
- A wax comb
- Liquid wax dissolver or isopropyl alcohol
Once you’ve done the prep work and the deck is clean, step under the shade to apply the base coat so the wax doesn’t melt in the process. As a rule of thumb, keep the base coat thin, using more or less twice the amount of wax for the top coat.
You’ll have a bunch of different options concerning which technique to use – the circle method and the criss-cross method being the most popular ones. But in the end, it comes down to personal preference, which is more often than not, achieved by trial and error. However you decide to go about it, the ultimate goal is to create small bumps of wax – that’s what provides traction. And the best way to do so is by maintaining a light, evenly pressured waxing motion.
Surfboard Waxing Techniques
There is no such thing as the perfect surfboard waxing technique, just as there is no such thing as the perfect surfboard. The best method to apply wax to your surfboard is your method – whatever produces the best results for you. In fact, you can even go as far as rubbing the wax randomly on the deck. Nowadays, the levels of stickiness in surf wax are so high that as long as you don’t apply a new layer of wax over a dirty or sandy older layer, it will probably do the job.
That said, when thinking of the position of our feet and the directions it is likely to slip when riding a wave, it makes sense to draw some kind of pattern with the wax, with the intention of producing a sort of “barrier” to the potential motion of your feet. So if you’re new to the art of waxing and could use a little help from trial-and-tested, traditional surfboard waxing techniques, we have outlined the two most popular ones below:
– The Circle Method: Placing the thin side of the bar of wax on the deck of the surfboard and pressing it lightly, rub it in small circles. After every new circle, keep moving the bar across the chosen application area to ensure it is evenly spread. For the base coat, you need only a very thin layer of wax; you can use the corner of the bar of wax to fill any pressure dings properly. For the top coat, repeat the process with the appropriate wax type.
– The Criss-Cross Method: Placing the thin side of the bar of wax on the deck of the surfboard and pressing it lightly, trace several long, diagonal lines across the chosen application area, trying to keep roughly one centimetre between them. This is cross-hatch pattern is for the base coat. For the top coat, take the appropriate type of wax and use the same lightly-pressured, circular motions as described above. Don’t forget to keep moving your hand after each circle. And you can again use the edges of the bar of wax to fill pressure dings.
Waxing a surfboard is not rocket science, but a good level of attention, patience, and thought can go a long way. The guidelines we’ve provided above are based on the “traditional” method for applying and removing surf wax.
However, we encourage you to try as many different types of wax and waxing techniques as possible. Once you find a surf wax brand and a waxing method that works, stick to it so it can stick (see what I did there).
Your feet will thank you.
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