Surf wax first gained popularity in 1935 when Los Angeles native Alfred “Al” Gallant Jr. applied liquid floor wax to the deck of his board and found that it greatly improved his stability. Ever since, wax has become its own corner of the surf industry and the go-to traction tool for millions of wave riders around the world.
But there’s more to applying wax than just swiping and swimming out. We spoke to some experts to round up everything you need to know about choosing and applying surf wax.
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When it comes to selecting the right wax, it’s not one-size-fits-all. Sticky Bumps marketing director Riley Mallard says that when your board is fresh, you’ll want to start by applying a base: a harder wax like Sticky Bumps base coat ($9 for three) or Fu Wax base coat ($5) will help prevent the top coat from rubbing off while you shred. This will last a while—it should only be applied on a new board or one that’s been freshly stripped of wax. The top coat, a softer and temperature-specific product like Matunas cold wax ($15 for six) or Mr. Zogs Original Sex Wax tropic water ($7), should be reapplied before each session.
When selecting top-coat wax, it’s important to factor in the water temperature to get maximum grip and keep it from melting. The type—tropical, warm, cool, and cold—and temperature range for each wax will be listed on the label, so pick the right one based on where you’re headed. If you live or surf in a place where the ocean temperature fluctuates from season to season, you’ll want to rotate your waxes seasonally. And if you’re planning a surf trip, research ahead of time to ensure you pack the correct one.
Although wax is a key tool for surfers, it can also have a negative impact on the environment. “Traditional waxes use paraffin, chemicals, and resin-based ingredients—it’s like placing gasoline and oil on your board and going into the ocean,” says Matt Mattoon, founder of Matunas Surf Wax. The chemicals in traditional waxes can not only negatively impact an ocean’s ecosystem but also affect the health of the surfer, as they are not biodegradable and can be toxic if ingested. To reduce your carbon footprint and protect marine life, consider purchasing an eco-friendly one from brands like Matunas or Sticky Bumps, which are made from natural ingredients like beeswax, clay, and coconut oil. You can also make your own surf wax.
How to Apply It
“When you have a new board, you’ll want to start with base coat and do nice, light circles going rail to rail and then tail to tail,” says Mallard. “The idea is that you’re switching direction—if you constantly wax in one direction, you’re never going to get all those amazing little bumps that give you great traction.” For most setups, it’s not necessary to apply wax all over. You only need to apply it in the zones where you’ll be placing your feet and under your chest, with a little extra coverage for wiggle room. If you longboard and plan on doing some nose riding, apply wax down the entire length of the board so you can walk around with ease.
According to Mallard, if your board is laden with pressure dings, you’ll want to use a crosshatch method instead to ensure the wax is sticking to the board. Starting with your base coat, form a diagonal crosshatch pattern on the riding portion of the board. Next, apply the top coat in a small, circular motion over the crosshatched area until obvious bumps form.
How to Remove Wax from a Surfboard
You don’t need to remove wax from your board and reapply it between sessions. According to Mallard, you’ll know it’s time to strip your board when your wax is dirty or begins flaking off—typically every week or two if you’re surfing daily, although many surfers go much longer. Travel is also a good opportunity to strip your board and start fresh, as you’ll likely be surfing in a different climate, and your wax could melt inside your travel bag en route.
To remove the wax, simply cover the waxed portion of your board with a generous amount of sand and leave it in the hot sun for a few minutes until it melts. Then scrape it clean with a wax comb or an old credit card. To get any residual wax off, pour wax remover onto a microfiber cloth or an old T-shirt, and wipe the board until it’s clean. Now you’re ready to apply another coat and get out there again.