If you go near an ocean, wax is everywhere! From beaches to ocean stores, vending machines and pizza places with wax included. Wax seems like a cultural icon for water sports, but what is it actually for?
What is this wax? Should we use it on our paddle boards? Wax is used to increase traction and secure your footing. If you do not have a traction pad on your stand-up paddleboard, wax can help keep you from slipping or losing your footing.
There is, of course, much more to the beloved wax. In this post, we will discuss wax itself as well as why, when and how to use it.
To wax or not to wax your stand-up paddle-board
Wax has a long history with water sports. Since surfing was brought from Hawaii to California, in the 60s, wax has been keeping surfers from falling off their boards (Literally).
For stand-up paddle-boarding the same applies. Footing is very important, as anyone who has slipped and fallen of their board will know.
Consider this: You make a paddle stroke standing up on your board. The energy you provide has to go through your feet to reach the board. It’s only that tiny tiny area under your foot that has to carry all the force to move your board forward or turn it.
Today, providing this grip for your feet is normally done in one of three ways.
Types of paddle-board grip
- Built-in traction pad
- Adhesive traction pad
We will come back to the traction pads later and first focus on the wax.
There are, of course, also paddle boards you should not wax!
Do NOT wax these types of paddle-boards
- PVC: inflatable boards
- Yoga: boards (that have a yoga mat on top)
- Boards with build-in traction pads
All hard-topped boards without traction pads are well served by a good waxing. For soft boards or foam boards, very little wax is needed to give the required traction.
Wax, in a sense, glues your feet to your board. That means that the wax will hold your foot down even if you do not put much weight on it. Think paddle boarders that are pulling the nose of their board a quarter turn on top of a wave. Wax has some added benefits over traction pads in such situations.
There is of course old timers that say “wax and only wax.” Many will refer to a feeling of being “connected” to their boards. It is the glue effect that causes this feeling and while some like it, some do not. As always: Listen to old-timers, but not too much! Those of you new to Paddleboarding may want to read our beginners’ guide.
How do I wax my board
To wax your board, lay it down on the beach or whatever work surface you have available with the top side up. You only apply the wax to the top of your board. That is, the side you normally stand on.
- Clean your board from old wax
- Make small circles with wax
- Make big circles with wax
If there is a layer of old wax on your board you first need to remove it. This is done with a tool called a wax comb¨or sometimes a wax pickle. These can be found in most places where wax is sold. You use the sharp side of the comb and scrape, scrape, scrape until all wax is gone.
To begin waxing, you take your wax, push it down onto your boards surface. You then pull the wax round in a small circle. After this, you then move to a new place and repeat this process. You put these small wax circles all over the board where you want to put your feet.
A second layer is then applied over the areas where you made the small circles. You take your wax and, while push only very lightly, pull it in big circles. This creates a thin layer on top of the first layer.
These two layers together create what is called “bumps”. Small hills of wax that catches and holds your feet.
It is possible to put too much wax on your board. You can see this if you splash water onto your board. If the water forms beads and sticks to your board, you have too much wax. If the water does not bead you are fine.
Should I wax my entire board?
Waxing the entire top, even parts where there is no traction deck can be an idea if you want to do tricks or generally move around on your board.
That is one of the advantages of wax over a traction pad, you can put it anywhere on the top of your board. Perhaps you want to wax in front of your paddle-board so a friend, child or dog can come along for the ride without falling off.
Wax, however, only goes on the top of your board! If you put it on the bottom the wax will increase the friction between the water and your board. This will create drag and your board will not glide as smoothly as it should. Wax on the bottom only makes it harder to paddle with no added benefit.
What if I don’t want to wax?
If you have a fixed traction pad on your board, no problem. Don’t wax, you don’t need to!
If you do not have a fixed traction pad many SUP stores and paddle board suppliers sell adhesive pads. There are traction pads that are glued to the board. It lasts for about a season or so. The end result is a simple, and somewhat less durable, traction pad.
There are many reasons to put an adhesive traction pad on your board, or even a fixed traction pad.
Reasons for having a traction pad
- Wax melts when it’s too warm
- Traction pads are softer and more comfortable Wax collects sand and other stuff and can look dirty
- They can change the look, as they are available in many different colors. Check these Abahub options on Amazon.
All that being said, the traction pads are not without their own set of issues.
What if I have problems with my traction pad?
While traction pads are a more permanent solution to the problem of grip, they do lack some benefits and can sometimes have issues.
Common traction pad issues
- Traction pad peeling off
- Pad edges get frayed and torn
- Very hard to replace
- Good grip limited to the traction pad
As loads of force is concentrated on your feet when you paddle your board, the traction pad transfers it from your feet to your board. This works fine near the centre of the traction pad, but near the edges, this can cause problems.
Then you place your feet near the edges, the traction pad can start to tear and fray. The edges of the pad are very exposed and the force causes these breaks to start. Once the edges of a pad have started to fray, it will only get worse. Time to replace the pad.
Another problem arising around the edges of the pad is that the glue holding the pad starts to let go. The edges of the pad then peel away from your board. It’s both unsightly and it breaks the pad quite quickly.
If you start to experience these problems you will run into the third problem. Traction pads are a nightmare to remove. In most cases, a professional replacement is the way to go. Using the right products to remove the pad without damaging the board is an exact science.
That your pad is limited can be solved in two ways. Get a pad that covers your whole board or wax the parts of your board that does not have a pad.
What about car wax?
Car wax is not at all the same thing as board wax. It can, however, be used on fibreglass hulled stand up paddle-boards. The car wax does nothing for traction. But if applied to areas of the board that has seen a lot of use, maybe even scratched up, the car wax can greatly improve the look of your board.
Car wax fills in small cracks and scratches. It also provides a high sheen to the surface of your board. The results can be amazing as this forum post shows.
That being said, if you use car wax to make your board look new and shiny. Do not apply it to the area of your board where you apply normal board wax better grip. Also, keep it off the traction pad for the same reasons.
Future of Waxing
Wax and waxing has been around for 50 years and will be for many more. The simple and functional wax gives so many benefits. Even if traction pads can replace some of them, even do a few better, the all-around wax will probably keep its niche.
For high-performance stand-up paddle boarding the wax will most definitely stay. There is no replacement for grip in all directions when you need it the most. Watch Noah Yap ride (and fall off ) waves on his waxed paddle-board!
Whether you choose to wax your board or stick to the traction pads, your paddleboard will give you loads of adventure and fun.
Don’t fall off your board!
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