surf wax

Get a Grip on Surf Wax

Surf wax is an interesting topic. Or maybe it’s not, I don’t know. Wax is something most surfers only think about briefly in one of two scenarios.

The first being the enjoyment you get from the appearance and aroma of a freshly waxed surfboard.

The second being the frustration of falling off your board when you realized you could use more wax or that you missed a spot.

However, surf wax is not something to overthink. Buy some bars that smell good, make you feel right, and help keep your feet on the board.

It makes a great gift for those special surfers in your life too. We can never have too much surf wax!

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What is Surf Wax for?

Surf wax is used to provide your feet with some traction. That’s why you apply it to the top of your surfboard.

Depending on the water temperature in which you’re surfing in, certain types of waxes are going to be more effective in keeping your feet on your surfboard.

Proper surf wax that retains its grippiness throughout your session is the key to sticking your turns and completing maneuvers without slipping off.

How to Wax a Surfboard

Assuming you’re creating a nice layer of traction that won’t melt off instantly, there’s really no “wrong” way to wax a surfboard.

Waxing a surfboard is not something to overthink. Here’s how you do it:

  • (If you want a fresh wax-job) Start with a clean, wax free surfboard deck (that’s the top, don’t wax the bottom).
  • Use a basecoat, or a higher temperature wax that won’t melt.
    • A proper layer of basecoat will help your wax job last longer and help retain the topcoat to keep traction where you need it.
  • Using a circular, line, or criss-cross motion, lay down the basecoat until you build up a thin layer of bumps. As long as you’re getting coverage and laying down wax – do whatever feels right.
  • Grab a softer bar of wax (topcoat) for whatever water temperature you’ll be surfing and repeat the process.
  • At this point, you can either go surf or give your fresh wax job a nice combing to add additional traction with the pointy end of a wax comb.
  • Apply a bit of wax before each surf, and clean it off when it starts getting nasty or flaking off too much.

Where to Put Wax on Your Board

It’s a good idea to put wax anywhere you think you’re going to put your feet.

It’s better to be a little liberal here. You can add some extra grip to your board with a traction pad too.

The exact areas you’ll want to wax will depend largely on the type of board you’re surfing and the type of surfing you do.

For a longboard where you’ll be cross-stepping and noseriding, you’ll want to make sure to wax from the tail to the nose. This might take an entire stick of wax (or more).

For a shorter board – like a fish, a hybrid, or a high performance shortboard, you’ll at least want to wax from tail (or traction pad) to about 3/4 of the way to the nose. However, if you surf critically, waxing all the way towards the nose even on shorter board may come in handy (you never know where you might need to put your feet to recover from a landing or a vertical maneuver).

How to Remove Wax from Your Surfboard

Removing your surf wax should be done periodically. If you surf a lot, you may need to do so more frequently.

You should definitely remove your wax from your surfboard before it builds up too much, starts to flake off, or gets really dirty.

To remove wax from your surfboard:

  • Heat up the wax – in the sun, with a hair dryer, with some hot water, etc.
  • Scrape it off with a wax comb.
  • Use some wax remover if necessary.

Your surfboard’s wax job is going to degrade over time. Chunks start flaking off, it gets dirty, and it looses its grippiness. If you really let it build up, you’re going to add some unnecessary weight to your board. You’ll find the wax will wear off fastest in areas where you plant for feet most often, the areas you use during a duck dive, and where you place your hands to pop-up.

You’re going to want to clean and de-wax your board every so often to ensure you’re getting the most out of your surf wax, you’re not leaving any planing-detracting bumps on your board, and so it doesn’t look like you just grabbed your board out of the dumpster.

To clean off and remove wax from your surfboard you’ll just need a wax comb or even an old credit card.

Set your board in the sun to loosen up the wax and scrape it off with your comb. Hot water or a hair dryer can help loosen up the old wax if the sun won’t do it. You can apply some wax remover if you’ve got some stubborn wax build-up on your board.

Repeat on the bottom to remove any stray wax that has affixed to the bottom of your board during transport or storage. Little bumps of wax on the bottom of your board or the rail can slow you down when you’re surfing.

What’s a Wax Comb?

A wax comb is a simple, yet handy tool in the surfer’s toolkit.

If you’ve ever bought a pair of boardshorts, you’ve probably got a few wax combs laying around.

One side acts as a scraper, and the other side acts as a comb/scuffer.

The scraper side makes removing wax easy. Simply angle the scraper side under the wax and follow it down your board. When you’re finished, you can ball up your old surfwax and make a wax snowman for your front yard.

The comb side comes in handy for adding additional traction to a fresh wax job. By using a criss-cross pattern with the comb, you can create more grip. This is useful when you forget you ran out of wax and are gearing up to surf. A little roughening up of an existing wax job will extend it’s stickiness.

What are the Different Surf Wax Temperatures for?

You may have noticed different temperature labels on the surf waxes you see at the store. For best results, it’s a good idea to follow these temperature recommendations.

Different types of surf wax are designed for different water temperatures. Using the right temperature wax for the water you surf in will ensure your wax retains its proper tackiness and lasts longer.

Basecoats, warm water, and tropical waxes are harder than cool and cold water waxes – this ensures they don’t soften up and melt.

Colder waxes are a bit softer.

Temperature ranges for surf wax are typically as follows:

  • Cold Water Surf Wax: under 60 ° F (15 ° C).
  • Cool Water Surf Wax: 58-68 ° F (14-19 ° C).
  • Warm Water Surf Wax: 66-78 ° F (19-23 ° C).
  • Tropical Water Surf Wax: over 75 ° F (23 ° C).

What is Surf Wax Made of?

Most surfwax you buy at the store is made from a mix of paraffin wax, soy wax, beeswax, and other chemicals to vary the degrees of stickiness it provides, as well as some real nice smells (coconut, vanilla, “bubblegum?”, etc.).

Most of the big surf wax companies are fairly tight-lipped about the exact mix and quantities of ingredients used in their waxes, which makes sense given there’s really two big dogs: Sex Wax Inc. (Mr. Zogs) and Wax Research Inc. (Sticky Bumps).

If you’re interested in learning more about some of these waxes, here’s what I’ve got for you:

  • Mr. Zogs has a pretty nice write-up on the eco-friendliness of paraffin-based and soy-based surf waxes.
  • According to the back of a Mr. Zogs Recyclable Wax Package, the wax is non-toxic and the ingredients are designated as food additives by the FDA.
    • So, if you’re really, really hungry…. No, don’t eat it.
  • The back of a Sticky Bumps box lists the ingredients as:
    • Calcite, Natural Mineral Waxes, a Proprietary Blend of Tackifiers, and Meadowfoam Seed Wax.
    • So, no paraffin or soy wax in that one. The Sticky Bumps website also say their wax is non-toxic, biodegradable, and all natural.

It seems the biggest eco-friendly drawback of the major surf waxes is the manufacturing and processing of all the ingredients that go into it. Until some major changes happen in general in terms of energy sources, transportation, and manufacturing process – pretty much anything that is mass-grown and mass-produced is not going to be good for the environment.

How to Make Surf Wax

If you’re really looking for a low-impact, eco-friendly option, you can make your own surf wax fairly easily with only a handful of ingredients and steps.

Home-made surf wax ingredients:

  • Beeswax
  • Tree Sap
  • Coconut oil
  • Other nice smelling stuff if you’re feeling experimental – vanilla, pine needles, I don’t know?

How to Make Your Own Surf Wax:

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
  2. Prepare a double boiler with your ingredients.
    • Combine about 3 parts beeswax, 1 part coconut oil, and 1 part tree sap into a separate can/water tight container. (You may need to adjust the ratios depending on the temperature of the water you’ll be surfing.)
  3. Add your can of mixed ingredients to the boiling water in a double-boiler set up.
    • Melt and combine the ingredients.
  4. Allow your wax to cool and set.
    • Remove from heat and pour the hot liquid mix into a mold to allow it to set up.
  5. Wax up your board and go surf!
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