One of the basics beginner surfers need to pick up is which wax for surfboards works best - and how to use it based on the conditions. Without surf wax, riding any surfboard is an impossibility - the deck will simply be too slick to lay on, let alone stand up on.
Thankfully, wax is the least cost prohibitive of all surfing essentials. Costing about £2 per bar, be sure to stock up on Sticky Bumps, Mrs. Palmers, Sex Wax, Wave Equation, or any preferred brand.
While the name on the label won’t matter, the temperature gradient will. Surf wax comes in several hardness variations all corresponding to the water temperature you’ll be surfing.
If you apply soft, cold-water wax in Costa Rica, the wax will simply melt right off your board in a sheet, leaving you with a clean but useless deck. Using warm-water wax in Ireland is move forgiving, but not optimal. If you are travelling, wax choice is down to where you've booked your surfing holiday and the season. So choice of wax varies based on location and climate, and you'll need to plan ahead.
Warm-water wax is hard, and tougher to apply. You won’t get the even layer of stickiness necessary for gripping with numb feet or booties. Although temperature gradients vary by brand, “sticking” to the following generalities will never lead you astray:
- From 22C (72F) upwards, use tropical-water wax.
- From 18C (65 F) to 22C (72F), use warm-water wax.
- From 14C (58F) to 18C (65F), use cool-water wax.
- For temperatures below 14C (58F), use cold-water wax.
All surf wax brands will carry these basic gradients, and some may even have more for the grey areas (e.g. cool-cold for the 12C (55F) - 17C (63F) range). No matter what temperature water you plan on surfing, basecoat wax is always a good investment.
Harder than tropical wax, a thin layer of basecoat provides the best surface to add more temperature-sensitive wax. The goal is to have tiny bumps (about the size of a fingertip) pasted to the deck of the board where your feet will land.
Sometimes brief application of wax before each session is appropriate. Apply by using a small amount a pressure with a wax bar in a circular motion. Other times, a wax comb can be used to slice up existing wax on a board adding valuable surface space and infinite stickiness while avoiding excess build-up.
Besides using cool water wax in warm water, the only thing you can really mess up is not having any wax at all. Always keep a stash in your car; just be sure it’s out of the sun. And while some brands may smell delicious, eating surf wax is not recommended - there’s no nutritional value!