Why Do Surfboards Need Wax? (And how to apply and remove it)

As an avid surfer, nothing beats the thrill of riding the waves, feeling the salty breeze in my hair, and the rhythm of the ocean beneath my board. But there’s an often-overlooked hero in this experience – the surfboard wax. 

Surfboards need wax to provide grip and traction. Without it, the board’s surface is slippery when wet, making it difficult for a surfer to keep their balance and control it. The wax helps the surfer’s feet stick to the board, reducing the risk of falls while riding waves.

Waxing a surfboard is a necessary step contributing to the overall surfing experience. 

In this article, I’ll delve into why a surfboard needs wax, its application and removal process, and how much wax a surfboard actually needs, all from my personal surfing journey.

Why Do Surfboards Need Wax?

The primary reason surfboards need wax is to provide the surfer with traction. Without wax, the surface of the surfboard becomes perilously slippery when wet, making it impossible to maintain stability and control over the board. 

The wax creates a sticky surface that allows the surfer’s feet to grip the board, reducing the risk of slips and falls. This is especially critical when performing manoeuvres and tricks, as any loss of footing could lead to a wipeout. 

Furthermore, wax enhances comfort by providing a cushioning effect, helping alleviate foot fatigue during long surf sessions. 

In essence, wax is vital for boosting performance, promoting safety, and enhancing the overall surfing experience.

Is Waxing A Surfboard Really Necessary?

Yes, waxing a surfboard is not only necessary, but it’s also essential. Waxing is an integral part of the pre-surf ritual for any surfer. Without it, the board becomes a slippery slope that’s impossible to ride. 

Think of it like this: would you ever try to drive a car with no grip on its tires? Probably not. The same logic applies to a surfboard. Wax provides the traction needed to stay on the board, ensuring you can execute your manoeuvres with precision and stability. 

Waxing your board regularly maintains its performance and lifespan, preventing the surface from becoming worn and damaged. 

So, next time you’re preparing for a surf session, take a moment to appreciate the simple yet crucial act of waxing your board. The extra grip, stability, and comfort it provides are worth the effort and investment. 

What Happens If I Don’t Wax My Board?

If you decide to skip the waxing process, you’re essentially putting yourself at risk, and you will slip off. Not waxing your surfboard will result in a lack of traction between your feet and the board. Consequently, you will find it far more challenging to maintain your balance, especially when the board gets wet. It’s like trying to stand on a wet, glossy tile – it’s slippery and dangerous. 

Additionally, without wax, you’ll likely have difficulty performing turns, tricks, or simply staying upright on the board. 

Unwaxed boards also cause more foot discomfort due to the hard, unyielding surface. 

In short, not waxing your board turns your surfing experience from a joy to a struggle. It could even lead to unnecessary injuries. So, remember: always wax before you surf.

Should I Remove Old Wax From A Surfboard?

From my experience, old wax on a surfboard should definitely be removed. Over time, surfboard wax accumulates dirt, sand, and other debris. This can affect the wax’s grip and make the surface less sticky. 

Plus, a layer of old, grubby wax isn’t the most pleasant underfoot while trying to enjoy the waves. 

Removing old wax also allows you to check for any dings or damages on your surfboard that need repair. Keeping your board clean and well-maintained contributes significantly to your overall surfing performance.

Is It Bad To Leave Wax On A Surfboard?

Leaving wax on a surfboard for prolonged periods isn’t necessarily ‘bad’, but it can lead to a few issues. 

As mentioned, wax can accumulate grime and debris over time, diminishing its effectiveness. The build-up of old wax can also obscure any potential damages or dings on your board that need attention. Moreover, the feeling underfoot of dirty, old wax can detract from the joy of your surf experience. 

Therefore, it’s advisable to regularly remove and replace the wax to ensure your board remains in optimal condition and offers the best performance. Simply put, while not inherently harmful, leaving old wax on your surfboard can affect your surfing experience in several ways.

How Do I Remove Wax From My Surfboard?

Removing wax from your surfboard is a straightforward process. Here’s a step-by-step guide based on my own routine. 

  1. Loosen the Wax: First, you’ll need to loosen the old wax. If it’s a warm, sunny day, you can leave your surfboard in the sun for a few minutes. The heat softens the wax, making it easier to remove. But be careful not to leave it out for too long, as excessive heat can damage the board.
  2. Scrape off the Wax: Once the wax is soft, use a wax comb or an old credit card to scrape off the wax. Start from the edges and work your way towards the centre. Remember to scrape gently to avoid scratching your board.
  3. Clean the Residue: After scraping off most of the wax, some residue may be left. You can use a cloth, coconut oil, or a special wax remover to clean off the remaining wax.
  4. Final Cleanup: Once all the wax is removed, give your board a final wipe-down. Ensure it’s completely clean and dry before applying new wax.

Remember, regular wax removal and replacement can significantly enhance the lifespan and performance of your surfboard. 

How To Apply Surfboard Wax?

Applying wax to your surfboard is a relatively simple and satisfying process. Still, it’s essential to do it right for optimal traction. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide based on my own experience:

  1. Choose the Right Wax: The first step is to choose the right wax. Surfboard waxes come in different types depending on the water temperature you’ll be surfing in. Make sure to choose one that suits your local conditions.
  2. Clean the Deck: Before you start waxing, ensure the surface of your board is clean and dry. If you just removed old wax, make sure there are no leftover residue patches.
  3. Apply Base Coat: Once the deck is clean, start with a base coat. This is a harder wax that creates a bump pattern for grip. Apply it in a diagonal motion from nose to tail, then crosshatch it in the opposite direction. Don’t put too much pressure, or you’ll end up with a flat surface instead of bumps.
  4. Apply Top Coat: After the base coat, apply a softer top coat. Again, use a diagonal motion for the best results. This layer provides the sticky surface that keeps your feet from slipping.
  5. Create Wax Bumps: The last step involves creating a pattern or ‘bumps’ in the wax. This is done by taking the wax and rubbing it in small circles over the base coat. The bumps give you more traction and make it easier to grip the board with your feet.

In addition, I like to apply wax to the side rails of the board, so when I grip the board to duck dive, my hands have some extra grip. 

Remember, the goal is to end up with a bumpy, textured surface that provides an excellent grip for your feet. Regularly check the wax on your board and reapply as needed to maintain optimal traction.

Should I Put Wax On The Side Rails Of A Surfboard?

Waxing the side rails of a surfboard can be beneficial, particularly in certain surfing manoeuvres. While the deck of the surfboard – the area where you predominantly stand – is the primary area that needs waxing, the side rails also serve an important function. 

When you are executing moves that require you to grip the rails, such as duck diving under waves, having wax on the rails ensures a secure grip and prevents your hands from slipping. However, waxing the rails is a personal preference and is not strictly necessary for all surfers. 

If you decide to wax your rails, ensure that you do it meticulously to avoid excessive wax build-up. Remember, the key is to create a surface that aids your manoeuvrability and comfort while surfing.

What Types Of Surfboard Wax Are There? 

Surfboard wax comes in various types, each designed for specific surfing conditions and water temperatures. Here are the main types:

  1. Cold Water Wax: This type of wax is soft and sticky, designed for water temperatures below 60°F (15°C). It provides excellent traction even in chilly conditions.
  2. Cool Water Wax: Cool water wax is slightly harder than cold water wax and works best in water temperatures between 58°F-68°F (14°C-20°C).
  3. Warm Water Wax: This wax is harder and less sticky than its cool and cold counterparts. It’s designed for water temperatures ranging from 64°F-74°F (18°C-23°C).
  4. Tropical Water Wax: The hardest type of surfboard wax, tropical water wax, is meant for water temperatures above 75°F (24°C). Its hard consistency prevents it from melting in hot conditions.
  5. Basecoat Wax: Basecoat wax is a hard wax used as the first layer on your surfboard, over which you apply a temperature-specific wax. This type of wax helps the topcoat adhere better to the board and creates a durable base that lasts longer.

Choosing the right type of wax for your surfboard is crucial to getting the best grip and performance out of your board. Always check the water temperature before selecting your wax to ensure optimal performance.

Why Do Surfers Apply Two Coats Of Wax To Their Board?

Surfers apply two coats of wax to their boards – a base coat and a top coat – for enhanced grip and performance. 

The base coat, typically a harder wax, is applied directly to the clean surfboard deck. It serves as a foundation for the wax job and creates a bump pattern that promotes grip. This base coat is highly durable and stays on the board longer, providing a consistent texture over time. 

The top coat, on the other hand, is a softer wax that is temperature-specific. It’s applied over the base coat, offering the final, sticky layer that directly interacts with the surfer’s feet. 

The top coat can wear off or lose its stickiness with use and changing water temperatures, requiring regular reapplication. 

By using a two-coat system, surfers ensure their board maintains an optimal grip, enhances traction, and contributes to a better surfing performance.

How Much Wax Does A Surfboard Need?

The amount of wax a surfboard needs can vary depending on a few factors, such as the size of the board, the water temperature, and your personal preference. 

As a rule of thumb, when waxing your board, you’re aiming for a thin layer of base coat followed by a layer of top coat that provides a comfortable grip and prevents you from slipping off. You should have enough wax to create a bumpy texture but not so much that it becomes chunky or overly thick. 

The following table shows how much wax a typical surfboard uses based on size for a fresh coat of wax. These figures are based on using 1 bar of Sex Wax

Board SizeCoatAmount Of Wax
ShortboardBasecoat1/2 Bar
ShortboardTopcoatVariable, depending on preference
LongboardBasecoat1 Bar
LongboardTopcoat1 Bar
This table shows how much wax is generally used on a surfboard

At the end of the day, there is no real right or wrong answer to how much wax a surfboard needs, as everyone has their preferred level of grip. Just remember to apply enough, but not too much, and replace it regularly. 

Remember, the purpose of the wax is to provide traction, not to serve as cushioning. If you’re applying wax so thick that it affects the board’s performance or changes its balance in any way, you’re using too much. Conversely, if you’re finding yourself constantly slipping or struggling to maintain your grip, it might be a sign that you’re not using enough wax.

For most surfers, a single bar of wax is usually sufficient for several waxing sessions. But it’s always a good idea to have an extra bar on hand, just in case you need to top up your wax job in the middle of a surf session. 

In the end, finding the right amount of wax for your board comes down to personal experience and preference. Experiment with different amounts to find what works best for you and your surfing style.

Cold Water Versus Warm Water Surfboard Wax

When it comes to surfboard wax, the temperature of the water you’re surfing in makes a massive difference in the type of wax you should use. As mentioned earlier, surfboard wax comes in different types that are designed for specific water temperatures: cold, cool, warm, and tropical.

Cold water wax, as the name suggests, is designed for colder conditions, typically below 60°F (15°C). This type of wax is softer and stickier to provide good traction even in cold conditions. If you use cold water wax in warmer conditions, it can become overly soft and may even melt off your board.

On the other hand, warm water wax is designed for warmer water temperatures, typically between 64°F-74°F (18°C-23°C). This wax is harder and less sticky than cold water wax, which helps it maintain its traction properties in warm conditions without melting. However, if you use warm water wax in colder conditions, it may become too hard and lose its stickiness, resulting in less grip.

The key takeaway here is to always use the appropriate type of wax for the water conditions you are surfing in. By doing so, you’ll ensure optimal traction and performance from your board, avoiding unnecessary slips or falls due to improper wax use. So always keep a variety of wax types in your surf kit to be prepared for any temperature conditions.

Is There Surfboard Wax For Softboards?

Yes, there is surfboard wax for softboards as well! In fact, it’s a common misconception that softboards, also known as foamies, do not require wax. While it’s true that softboards are generally more grippy than traditional hardboards due to their foamy topside, they can still become slippery when wet. 

Applying wax to your softboard can enhance your grip, make it easier to control the board, and subsequently improve your overall performance. 

Similar to hardboards, it’s important to choose the right type of wax depending on the water temperature you’ll be surfing in. However, keep in mind that you may not need as much wax on a softboard as you do on a hardboard. Again, it comes down to personal preference and the conditions you’re surfing in, so feel free to experiment to find the perfect balance.

Personally, my favourite surfboard wax for a softboard is PL 70G SOFTBOARD WAX. (View on Amazon). 

What Is The Best Surfboard Wax? 

There’s a plethora of surfboard wax brands available in the market, each with its own unique properties and features. However, based on my personal experience and feedback from fellow surfers, the top three contenders for the best surfboard wax are:

  • Sex Wax: Sex Wax is a tried and tested brand that’s been loved by surfers worldwide since the 1970s. It offers excellent traction and easy application, and it comes in a great variety of temperature-specific formulas. Plus, its iconic coconut scent is a bonus!
  • Sticky Bumps: – Sticky Bumps is renowned for its excellent grip, eco-friendly ingredients, and wide range of temperature options. Its unique, bumpy formula provides a grippy surface that’s perfect for all types of surfing. 
  • Mrs Palmer’s Surf Wax: – Mrs Palmer’s surf wax is loved for its long-lasting grip and easy application. It’s a bit stickier compared to other brands, which is great for those looking for extra traction.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, waxing your surfboard is a critical step in ensuring optimal performance while out on the waves. Not only does it provide the necessary grip for your feet, but it also allows for better control and stability. 

Remember that the amount of wax needed, the type of wax used, and the frequency of re-waxing largely depend on your personal preference, the type of your board, and the water temperature conditions. 

Even softboards, which are often thought not to require wax, can benefit from a good waxing. As for the best surfboard wax, Sex Wax, Sticky Bumps, and Mrs Palmer’s Surf Wax rank highly among surfers due to their exceptional grip, range of temperature-specific formulas, and longevity. However, the best way to find your favourite is by trying out a few different brands and types. 

Happy surfing!

Emma Moore

Hi, I am Emma, and I am obsessed with all watersports, from swimming to surfing and everything in between. I spend my free time in the water or preparing for my next water travel adventure.

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