How to Wax Your Surfboard, From ADD to IDC.
Surfers started using wax for traction back in the mid-1930's as a substitute to sand varnished onto the deck of their wooden boards. This, as you might suspect, was a brutal solution to the problem of slippery feet and knees (everyone knee paddled back then). Legend has it that Alfred Gallant Jr. poured some of his mom's floor wax onto his board, spurring a revolution in surfing. Al and his buddies soon switched to the easier-to-apply paraffin wax used to seal jars of fruit.
That early canning wax was a far cry from the stuff we get to use today, with wax available for every temperature and traction need you can imagine. Wax is so good these days that you can rub it on practically any old way you feel like and enjoy adequate traction. However, there are some easy-to-follow techniques that will make a noticeable difference in how long your wax stays effective while increasing traction.
There's one thing you should take the time to do, especially in cold to cool water, no matter if you're the type to measure the distance between wax ridges or just scrub it on as fast as possible, and that's apply a base coat. A base coat is a layer of wax that's harder than the layer appropriate for your water temperature. Thus, if you surf in 53-degree water, apply a base coat using wax for warm to tropical temps, and then your cold water wax on top of that (Zog's Sticky Bumps Red or Blue for base, and Purple for a top coat). You don't have to apply a base coat, but the extra time spent doing so pays off in longer-lasting, more consistent traction. Not applying a base coat usually results in bald spots with no wax and flat, mushy areas of wax right where you put your feet; not what you want when you're trying not to slip.
First, and this applies to every method of waxing there is, you've got to start with a clean surfboard deck. The easiest way to remove all your old wax is to put your board in the sun just long enough to soften or slightly melt the old wax, then take a wax comb and use the flat/tapered side (not the teeth) to scrape it all off. Don't leave your board in the sun longer than necessary. Use a wax remover to get the last bits off; you'll need a totally clean deck to get a pristine new wax job (hot tip: rubbing flour or sand on the wax residue will work, but both take a bit of work, and sand will scratch up your board and flour is quite messy). Once your board is wax-free, let the deck cool down if it was in the sun, and make sure the deck is dry. Time to wax up!
How Much of the Board do I Wax? Good question. No matter what style of board, you only want to apply wax to the flat part of the deck, keeping wax off of the curve of the rails. On a longboard, wax the deck an inch from the tail to the nose. On a shortboard, wax from the edge of the traction pad (if you have one, if not then wax from the leash plug) to about where your chest hits the board. If you're doing rotational airs, then wax all the way up to about 6"-10" from the nose. It's OK to cover more of the board's deck surface if in doubt, just don't cover too little.
Just want to get in the water and not slip off every time you stand up? No worries, here's how to wax up for those that want to spend time surfing instead of waxing.
The wax job, when reduced to its simplest approach, is no more than rubbing circles over and over and over again until you're satisfied or bored or both. Hold your bar of base coat wax so just the edge of it is in contact with your board, then, with light pressure (enough so the bar doesn't fall out of your hand when pushing), press it onto your board's deck and start making hand-sized circles. Don't stay in one spot for more than a few revolutions at most, but keep moving until the deck is evenly covered with a thin layer of wax. Now, do it again, repeating until you just start to se a defined pattern emerging. You can go all the way to forming raised beads with the base coat but you don't have to if you're in a hurry. Once you have this foundation of base coat, repeat the same application pattern with your softer wax a few times until defined beads are visible and you're good to go.
Is a wax job with geometric patterns what's going to propel your surfing to the next level? Of course it is, and it's easy enough to apply too, so why not take an extra few minutes and have a wax job you're stoked to look at?
Again, start with your bar of base coat, but this time you want a smaller surface of its edge in contact your board; we're going for nice, thin, accentuated lines of wax here. Of course, if you think wider lines look cooler or are the ticket to landing airs, then use a wider part of your wax bar. It's all about what looks and feels good to you. Start by making diagonal lines across the flat part of the deck (stay off the curve of the rails) about 3"-4" apart. Make 3-5 passes per line with the edge of the wax. Now, do this again perpendicularly to the lines you just made so you have a diamond pattern covering the deck.
If you are especially particular about aesthetics, use a "line guide." Make a strip of cardboard about 4" wide and long enough for the longest diagonal line you'll have to make, and place it on your deck, rubbing a line of wax on your deck on either side. Move the guide to the next spot until you've got perfectly straight, evenly spaced lines making a diamond pattern on the deck.
Now, still using your base coat, lightly rub in hand-sized circles over the entire diamond pattern you just made. Keep moving to apply even coverage. You should now have distinct lines of beads with a flatter layer of wax covering the area inside the diamonds. With this solid foundation built up, it's time to use the edge of your bar of soft wax to cover the entire base coat with hand-sized circles. Go over the waxed area of the deck a couple times with the soft wax.
Want better coverage and beads but don't care about diamonds? There is a middle ground of waxing, where you get even coverage with pretty beads and don't have to spend all morning or break out a T-square to achieve it.
Start with your base coat, and rub the edge of it from rail to rail perpendicular to the stringer across the deck of your board until your waxing area is lightly covered. You don't need to cover every centimeter of deck with wax. Next, rub straight from tail towards the nose from one rail to the other. Again, complete coverage is not needed. Now rub the edge of the wax diagonally working your way over the waxed area evenly, and then repeating with perpendicular strokes. Finally, go evenly over the waxed area in circles. Do this a couple times until the deck is covered and the beginning of beads are visible. To finish off, repeat the entire process with softer top coat wax until the beads are to your liking.
Now go shred!