Why Do Surfers Put Wax On Their Boards? (Surfing 101)

why do surfers put wax on their boards

Surfers put wax on the surface of their boards to create a rough surface, the friction created by the wax gives them better grip and traction when they’re paddling or catching and surfing waves. 

But surf wax is only effective if you understand exactly the right wax to use.

Let’s take a closer look at why surfers use wax and how water temperature is the most important thing when it comes to picking the right surf wax.

why do surfers put wax on their boards

So why do surfers use surf wax?

The surface of a board is incredibly smooth, without any added traction surfing and paddling are nearly impossible.

By adding sticky wax to your board you create a grippy surface for your feet and body to stick to.

This helps you stay in the same place on the surface of the board when you’re paddling, allowing you to stroke through the water without sliding sideways.

Secondly, this gives you something to grip on when you’re standing up on your board and trying to balance.

Some surfers even like to add wax to the top of their rails (the straight edge on the sides of a board that you hold on to while you duck dive your surfboard).

Wax is a necessity for acrobatic aerials like the one below.

How do surfers put wax on their boards?

Now we know why surfers put wax on their boards let’s look at how you go about adding wax to your sled.

Clean your surfboard

Unless you’ve got a new surfboard you need to remove your old, sandy wax before you can start fresh.

The best way to do this is by warming up the old wax on your board to loosen it up before removal.

You can do this in one of two ways:

  • Leave your surfboard out in direct sunlight until the wax warms up and starts to soften
  • Artificially warm your wax with a hair dryer, heat lamp or something similar (take extreme caution not to overheat your surfboard and damage your polyurethane or epoxy).

Once the wax has a soft surface you can use a wax comb or something similar to scrape it off.

For any remaining dirt and wax, you use a surfboard cleaner or just good old turpentine/white spirit as an effective substitute.

Wipe your board with a rag until it’s clean then give it a rinse with fresh water to get rid of any solvents left over. Now you’re all set for some new wax. 

Don’t miss our guide on how to clean your surfboard for the exact process we use to get surfboards looking like they’ve just left the surf shop.

Apply a base coat (optional)

Base coats are always hard waxes, they are the foundation of your wax job and give your topcoat something to stick to.

Start your wax job by using your base coat to draw straight lines horizontally and vertically in the area you want to wax your board.

Aim to create a grid built up of roughly 1cm squares. You don’t need to be ultra-precise here but try to keep it consistent.

Pro tip – If you want small bumps on your wax job then go over your grid in diagonal lines as well.

Once you’ve created your grid start to gently rub the bar of base coat over it in a circular motion.

Try not to apply too much wax when adding your base coat, you’ve still got some topcoat to come.

Apply a top coat

Don’t worry if you’re not sure about which kind of surf wax to use, we’ll explain everything you need to know in the next section.

If you’re not using base coast you just need to follow the steps above, create a grid then apply your wax in a circular pattern. If you are just add your top coat directly to your base coat/undercoat wax.

After you’re all done it should look something like our example below.

example of a good wax job

What are the different types of surfboard wax?

Not all surfboard wax is equal. 

The best wax for your surfboard will be decided by the ocean temperature range you’re surfing in.

The colder the water you surf in, the softer/stickier the wax.

Let’s take a look at the different surf waxes you need to use and the temperature of the water you can use them in.

  • Cold water wax = 14°C (58°F) and below, strictly for cold water surfers
  • Cool water wax = 14°C (58°F) – 18°C (65°F)
  • Warm water wax = 18°C (65°F) – 22°C (72°F), wax for warmer temperatures 
  • Tropical wax = 22°C  (72°F) and above

As you can see the environmental temperature makes a massive difference in the best wax to use.

Use cold water wax in tropical areas and the wax compounds will quickly break down and slide off your board. 

If you’re not sure what the best wax is for you asking at your local surf shop is an excellent way to find out (just buy some wax).

How often should you wax a surfboard? 

If you like to keep your wax job fresh then you’re going to need to rewax your board once a week if you surf regularly. 

If you tend to lean on the lazier side you can leave it months before you dewax your stick but just remember that every layer of wax is adding weight to your board and reducing your buoyancy.

What are alternatives to putting wax on your surfboard? 

Some other ways surfers stick to their boards without wax.

Tail pads

A tail pad is a small piece of foam that attaches to the tail of your surfboard using 3M adhesive.

The benefits of a tail pad include:

  • Better grip for your back foot
  • Protection against pressure marks on the deck of your board
  • A tail kick (raised area at the back of the tail pad) gives you a sweet spot for your back foot to drive through different tricks and manoeuvres

The general acceptance is that tail pads are a good option if you enjoy high-performance surfing.

A tail pad could be considered overkill for cruising on small waves on shapes like longboards or mini mals.

Traction pads/ front grips

Traction pads and grips take the idea of the tail pad and scale it up for the rest of your surfboard.

They’re normally used on shorter boards and cover the majority of the surface of your board.

Head over to our guide on wax vs traction pads to find out more about why some surfers love and hate front grips in equal measure.