What is the purpose of waxing surfboards

The main purpose of surf wax is to bring back memories. A sniff of coconut scented bar transports you to the sunny beach with a surfboard under your arm and waves breaking in the back…surf wax is actually a teleportation device!

OK :)…but for surfers wax really does represent surfing.

Why do you have to wax your surfboard?

Surfboards are slippery when wet. Waxing the top of the surfboard will help stop your feet from sliding off while surfing. There is nothing to attach you to the board, just a layer of wax for the grip.

How is wax made?

Surf wax is a mixture of paraffin, beeswax or other hard waxes. Every brand has their own top secret and most sticky formula. The main component – paraffin is made out of oil and not the most nature friendly substance so lately natural alternatives like beeswax, vegetable oils, pine resin, soy, etc… are also used (I tried soy based wax once and hated it).

Surf wax types for different temperature conditions

When you go surf wax shopping you will notice there are different waxes for different water temperatures. Every brand has their own temperature ranges so check the wrapping for exact numbers. In general you have four different wax types – cold, cool, warm and tropical and the temperature ranges go something like this:

COLD – for water below 58°F / 14°C

COOL – for water 54-69°F / 12-20°C

WARM – for water 63-78°F / 17-25°C

TROPICAL – for water above 75°F / 24°C

Source: this guy made a study of 25 different wax brands and their temperature ranges, click here.

Why are there different wax types for different temperatures?

A natural tendency of waxes is to go soft at higher temperatures and become hard at lower temperatures. What’s the problem? A really hard wax is really hard to put on. You rub and rub and nothing sticks to the board. On the other hand a soft wax applies easily but quickly gets flattened into the board, looses tackiness and if it’s too soft even becomes slippery.

That is why you need different waxes for different temperatures. Each wax has that perfect hardness/tackiness point at a different temperature range. What happens if you put wrong wax on your surfboard?

The worst case scenario is your winter surf trip to Indo when you still have your cold wax on and forget to take it off. In almost 30C water cold wax will become so soft and slippery that you will accidentally wipe it off your board with your belly while paddling out and with your feet while falling off your board thinking that you have just slipped on a banana peel.

The other way around is not so bad. If you put tropical wax on your board on a cold winter day it will still hold. But good luck putting it on. After 5min of waxing you will notice you have hardly even dented the bar of wax in your hand.

Base coat / Base wax

There is another type of wax called base coat or base wax. Here temperature doesn’t matter, you have only one type of base coat and it is really hard. Its purpose is to wax a new or completely cleaned surfboard with it – a surfboard that has no wax on it. It creates a base layer which is then waxed with normal temperature dependent wax. Why? It helps your ‘normal’ wax stick better to your board, especially the soft cold temperature type and it creates a bump pattern that will last. A wax job using base wax lasts longer than one without it.

Major surf wax brands

Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax, Sticky Bumps, Mrs. Palmers, Bubble Gum Surf Wax , Famous surf wax. These are 5 most well known waxes. I also like Magma wax (my favorite), Terra wax, Gecko grip …etc. There is loads of different waxes out there and eventually you will find your favorite either by smell or by how well it works:).

How to wax a surfboard?

Where to wax?

For complete beginners: you put wax on the top of the surfboard, where you stand, for traction. You don’t put it on the bottom or on the rails. It will get there all by itself when stacking boards one on top of another and it will be a pain in the ass to get off…getting wax on the bottom of the board is called a Chinese wax job (don’t ask me why?:) ) and it is bad because flow of the water over the bottom of your board is best when the surface is smooth and clean. And it looks ugly in a I-dont-care-how-my-board-looks kind of way…

Where to wax the deck? Rail to rail, nose to tail! :) In reality it depends, but you need the whole deck waxed if you are a longboarder who wants to hang ten and will walk the entire length of the board or if you are an air guy on a shortboard and will put your feet all over the surfboard. Otherwise there is no need to wax the nose. Also the wax should stop a few inches from the rails. The rest you can and should wax.

BTW – don’t leave a bald spot between the tail pad and the front foot, it looks stupid. Some people still only wax areas under their feet…saving 1c of wax or something? You adjust your position on the board while surfing…even on a shortboard, move your feet around…you don’t want to be stepping on an unwaxed board. And waxing the rails for duck diving? Blah… Also, don’t put wax in dings, tape them and get them fixed asap.

Base Coat yes or no?

I don’t use base coat wax mainly because I am lazy and because base coat wax is never around when I am waxing :). I did use it a few times and noticed that bumps (sticky waxy bumps, this is what you want) appeared faster, were more evident and lasted longer because base wax is hard. It’s more useful if your regular wax is soft (cold water type). Hard wax (for warm water) waxes almost the same as base coat.

Waxing technique

Aim of waxing is to cover your board with small wax bumps that help improve the grip of the wax. You don’t want a smooth even layer, you want bumps! How to do it?

1. Put the board somewhere soft like in your lap, on sand…. you want to wax it, not ding it. Also – don’t wax a hot board that was lying in the sun.

2. If you are going to base wax it then start with base coat wax. Since it is harder than normal wax you will need a bit more pressure (but never press too hard).

3. Use the edge of the wax, not the flat part.

4. It’s not a science, just rub the wax on the board…hm…well, I have seen people inventing some pretty stupid ways to wax so here is how I do it:

For a clean waxless surfboard I start with straight lines. I rub the wax parallel to the stringer and when done crosswise from rail to rail. Straight lines help you cover whole deck without leaving bald spots. Like this (but without the bald spots):

Then I go diagonal from both rails again with straight lines like this:

Small bumps should start to appear. To finish it off I use circular motion like this:

When you have a good layer of base wax and bumps are formed it is time for regular wax. You can mix these rubbing styles, rub it any way you want, just make sure to be consistent, if you started parallel on the tail finish parallel near the nose and then switch your rubbing style. This way the wax job will be nice and even.

For just refreshing an already waxed board I just use circular motion. Do that every other time you paddle out.

Why is the wax on my surfboard dirty?

Wax gets dirty from the sand, your booties, your neoprene butt, dirty feet, dirty water, surfboard sock, top of the car transport etc… And when you apply new layer of wax over it dirt gets trapped under the wax.

How to keep wax cleaner?

Wax will get dirty no matter what, but soft one gets dirty faster. That is because dirt is more easily pressed into it. If you want cleaner wax use harder ones. Use warm instead of cool etc… Harder wax will be harder to apply though and will hold less.

How to remove wax from a surfboard?

When the layer of wax on your board gets too thick and too dirty it is time for de-waxing and re-waxing. Your board will be lighter and look nicer. It depends on how often you surf but you should do this like every 3-4 months. Here is how you clean all the wax off your board:

1. Fist you need a wax scraper. Usually they look like the one in the picture. But God knows why they all have wax comb on the other side. It looks wooow – two-in-one, how practical, but that’s theory. In real life those pointy thingies make holes in your palm while you are pressing the wax scraper against your surfboard and cursing the guy who ingeniously invented the thing. So if you can, get one without the comb option. Hell..in all the years of surfing I have used the comb maybe 2 times. Instead of the scraper people also use credit cards, plastic IDs, kitchen spatulas, old CDs etc…:)

2. Heat is your friend. A warm soft and melting wax will run off the board by itself. A lesson learned by everybody who left their board in a hot car for a long time. So if you can – put the board in the sun for 15 minutes. If not – use a blow drier and warm the wax. When it’s warm and soft it’s removal time.

3. Hold the scraper and remove the wax off the board. Clean your tool often or you will simultaneously smear wax back on the board. Watch where you put old dirty wax so it doesn’t go into your carpet and other places that don’t need waxing.

There is an extra trick that makes removing wax cleaner and easier – get some polyurethane foam dust. That is the foam surfboard banks are usually made of (ask your local shaper). Sprinkle the dust onto the wax and rub it around (wax has to be really soft!). Dust will collect the wax and form balls of wax that can be easily wiped off. Sprinkle some more and do it again. This should get all the wax off your board. They say that flour also works, have to try it once…

4. When you are done and you have used a wax comb you will see that there is still some wax left on the deck. Dents, pressure dings, irregularities that can’t be reached with the comb will still have some wax left in them. I usually don’t bother and just put new wax over it.

But if you want your board to be really clean you can use a piece of cloth and a solvent and rub out the remaining wax. Because some solvents can damage the glassing of the board (don’t use acetone!) I suggest you use the ones that are specially intended for surf wax. You can find them here on Amazon including the famous Pickle wax remover (this is not a solvent) and other solvents like Sticky bumps wax remover etc… you could clean your board using them from the beginning but taking most of the wax off by hand using a wax scraper is faster and easier.

When the surfboard is clean re-wax it…

  • Store your wax pieces in a plastic bag so you don’t get dirt and sand all over them. A sandy wax bar is useless.
  • Stick a small piece of wax under your wetsuit sleeve (just in case) if you have just waxed a clean board. You never know, maybe you missed a spot.
  • If the bumps are getting smooth roughen them with a wax comb (I admit, I never do this).
  • Don’t leave wax bars in your hot car without putting them in a bag or a wax container. They can melt and run into your dashboard, carpeting etc…yuck!
  • Always put your board wax side down so the deck is in the shadow. Sun is not a friend here. Just make sure it’s a little lifted from the ground so you don’t get sand in it.
  • Learn this very useful sentence every surfer knows:”Hey brah, can I borrow some wax?”
  • Always have a spare sandy, dirty, full of hair bar of was for the “Hey brah, can I borrow some wax?” freeloaders.
  • Always put your board in the board bag (check this board bag guide) the same way so you don’t get wax on the bottom of your board.
  • There is even an online surf wax museum.

If you liked this guide please share it, if you have some extra tips, comments are open. Tnx!