Surf Wax 101

Applying surf wax can be somewhat mystifying to the inexperienced. Once you do it a few times, however, you wonít even have to think about it.

Surf wax is for the deck of the board, and keeps you from slipping off. Itís hilarious to watch surfing newbies take their shining new board straight from the shop to the beach and try to surf with no wax. What are they thinking!? Iíve also heard stories of people waxing the underside of their board. I donít know how people get this idea. Maybe they think the wax is supposed to help the board glide on the water.

Get the proper wax

There are several surf wax brands, including Mr. Zog's Sex Wax, Mrs. Palmers, Sticky Bumps, Bubblegum, and several others. I like Sticky Bumps wax the best, but most waxes work just fine. In my experience Sticky Bumps is easier to apply.

Itís important to get the right wax for the temperature of the water youíre going to be surfing in. If you get a cold water wax but youíre surfing in Hawaii, the wax is going to melt right off. It seems like a strange idea, but the wax WILL disintegrate and rub off faster than you can believe. Harder wax has a higher melting temperature, and softer/tackier wax has a lower melting temperature. Wax companies make several different grades of wax:

Sticky Bumps Surf Wax Basecoat -- Definitely get a few bars of this. Itís the hardest wax. In some very hot climates this is the only wax that wonít melt.
Tropical -- For 75 F degree water and above
Warm -- 64 Ė 74 F degree water
Cool -- 58 - 68 F degree water
Cold -- 60 F degrees and below

These degree ratings are for Sticky Bumps brand surf wax. Each company might have slightly different temperature ratings, so youíll have to check it out for yourself.


There arenít really any instructions on the bars of surf wax, so beginners are often left wondering just how the heck theyíre going to put the darn stuff on. The result that you want when you wax your board are small bumps. The bumps help improve the grip of the wax. You donít want a smooth sheet of wax since that can be almost as slippery as no wax.

Tip: Donít wax your board in the sun, especially in the summer. It will probably start to melt. You want your wax and board to be nice and cool for the best application.

Rest your board on something soft, and either take the fins out or make sure they are not going to be stressed by the pressure of waxing. surf wax

Get a bar of basecoat (basecoat isnít necessary, but it helps a ton) and put down a very thin and even layer. Donít press too hard for this step. Then start rubbing the wax on the board lengthwise, parallel to the stringer, and then crosswise, from rail to rail. This crosshatching will help the wax start to form small bumps. Sticky bumps puts a little slogan on their wax bars: ďNose to tail and rail to rail.Ē You donít have to press too hard, just keep a firm pressure. Too much pressure will wreck your newly forming beads.

Sometimes the wax will get hot from all the friction and will start to get too tacky. If this happens, the wax might look like its shredding. Shredding wax doesnít make for a good wax job. Take a break or switch to another bar.

Once youíve got a good layer of topcoat on there, grab the regular wax and start rubbing it on. Once youíve got some well established beads you can start to rub diagonally or in circles. Itís really up to you. Wax isnít permanent, so you can experiment. If the beads are starting to look elongated, switch to another direction.

One wax application tip I found is to ďdrawĒ on the basecoat wax in a diagonal crosshatch pattern. Basically you take the corner or edge of the wax and draw parallel lines about 2 inches apart from the upper right rail to the lower left rail. You then draw another set of lines on top of that from the upper left rail to the lower right rail. It should look kind of like a fence. Make sure the lines are nice and heavy. Once youíve got the lines established you can go ahead and start to form the bumps.

Where to apply your surf wax

You might be wondering WHERE you should put the wax. Basically you want plenty of wax on the board, so donít skimp. Longboards are customarily waxed all over the deck, from the tail to the nose. This is to allow you to walk the deck and hang 10.

However, you probably wonít be doing moves like that for a while, so you donít need to wax the entire deck. If you have a shortboard or funboard you also donít need to wax all the way to the nose. Youíll want to wax approximately the back ĺ of the board. Approximate where youíll put your feet (rear foot over the fins, and front foot over the middle in a comfortable athletic stance) and give yourself at least 10-12 inches more wax from your front foot to the nose of the board. Youíll want to be able to move your feet around.

Since youíre a beginner, you might not always pop up in the precise spot you want, so extra coverage in the wax area will be beneficial.

You will also want to wax very close to the rails in the spots where youíre going to be grabbing your board for your popup, duckdives, and turtle rolls. The extra wax will help you grip your board better.

Other assorted surf wax tips

  • Keep a few bars of wax in a small plastic baggy for your sessions. No baggy = sand in the wax and wax all over your stuff.
  • Refresh your surf wax with a quick once over before every session.

  • Wax combs help by roughening the surface of the wax. If your bumps are getting pretty smooth, a wax comb can be the right solution. Wax combs also sometimes come with a straight edge for scraping off old wax jobs.

  • Surf wax makes a nice air freshener, but donít leave bars sitting on the seat or dashboard in your car during the summer. It's almost guaranteed to melt. Thereís nothing like ruining your upholstery with surf wax!

  • Donít eat your wax. =)

  • Wax melts very fast in the sun if itís not in the water. If youíre taking a break and laying down for a tan on the beach, keep your board face down. Prop up the tail with your beach bag or a log so sand doesnít get on your wax.

  • I try to keep sand out of my wax at all costs. It becomes a nightmare when youíve got sand on the deck and you want to put more wax on. Then the sand gets rubbed into the bar, and all over the place, and ugh. Plus sand is really abrasive to your skin.

  • Buy wax in sets. Itís only a dollar, and youíll get mad at yourself for not picking up a few more bars when you run out.

  • Tropical surf wax might not melt in cold temperatures, but it wonít give you much traction. Use the right temperature.

  • Donít lean your board wax-side down against your hot car. Talk about a mess.

  • Wax jobs can start to get really dirty or smooth. When it looks really disgusting, smooth, or is coming off in chunks for no apparent reason, itís time to scrape it all off and start fresh.

Removing your surf wax

Removing the wax is easier than you might think. Surf wax is really messy, so start by getting some old newspaper or plastic bags to cover the floor. You can do this outside or inside, but make sure youíre not doing it on Aunt Josephineís antique Ming dynasty rug. Your family might also get mad if thereís lots of surf wax on the lawn or patio.

Put your board on something firm but soft. Take out the fins if possible, or put them on a folded blanket. (If your fins are glassed on or you donít want to take them out, be very careful that you donít snap them when youíre waxing the board)

Leave the board in the sun for a half hour, or if itís cold and cloudy, give it a quick once over with a hairdryer. (Donít burn your poor board) Then take a firm plastic straightedge (no metal) like an old credit card and scrape the wax off your board. Some wax combs come with straightedges for wax removal. My Zogís Sex Wax ďSex CombĒ even has an inwardly curved edge for the rails. (The prominent ďSex CombĒ label also causes lots of awkward questions from my friends who find it in my car!)

As you can see, the wax comes off in thin scrapings. Now you can collect the wax in a ball and throw it at your friends. If you donít have anyone nearby, throw it in the garbage before it gets all over everything. Wash your hands with hot water to get all the residue off.

Surf wax remover will get ALL your remaining wax residue off, but itís very smelly and isnít necessary if youíre going to put wax right back on. Wax remover is good for getting the wax off of a ding for repair or for putting on an adhesive deck grip.

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