Shop Talk: An Argument for Wax
In conventional surfing, the traction pad fad lost its momentum along with nose guards and neon back in the ’90s. The tail patch still holds its own as a reference point for the back foot and a tool for torque, but when it comes to forward or full-deck pads, surfing peeled them off the essential checklist decades ago. Now, that transition is taking place in SUP surfing, too. Here, we break down the argument for wax with a little insight from the pros.
Weight: In SUP‘s recent “Ask Sam” feature, Sam George pointed out that the average deck pad adds about a pound of weight to a ten-foot board. That may not seem like much, but when it comes to high-performance surfing or racing, every ounce counts. Wax still weighs something, but not nearly as much as foam padding. The difference is definitely notable.
Feel: Nothing compares to wax when it comes to feeling “in-tune” with a board. Just ask Standup World Tour surfer, Giorgio Gomez. “The main reason I prefer wax to traction pads is the feel,” Gomez said. “I’m way more connected with my equipment when there’s not a pad separating my feet from the board.” The concept is simple: Think barefoot versus flip-flops.
Grip: “Wax just sticks better to your feet,” said recently crowned champion of the Santa Cruz Paddlefest Elite Surf contest, Brennan Rose. “Pads are cool for flatwater and paddling for fun, but they tend to be a bit slick when I’m really putting my feet into it.” Whether paired with booties or bare feet, wax tends to be stickier.
Versatility: Wax is available in a range of densities and composites to match water temperature, so you can rely on optimal grip whether you’re paddling in Indo or Antarctica. On the flip side, traction pads are prone to freezing in subzero temps, so you can imagine how little traction they provide in icy waters.
Responsiveness: While the cush of foam pads do lend a more comfortable experience, they also absorb a lot of the energy transmitted between a rider and his/her board. According to legendary waterman, Laird Hamilton, pads suck up some of the power as you lean into your bottom turns, sacrificing that extra umph necessary to crank turns at the highest performance level.
All that said, there are two sides to every coin. Here's the flip side to the argument for wax.
Convenience: There's no denying—wax can be a pain. Leave your waxed board in the car on a hot summer day and you'll know why. Besides the melting, wax also gets dirty and needs to be scraped and replaced at least once a month, if you're paddling as often as you should be. "Traction pads are better for the lazy paddler," said Rose. "It’s always good to go; you don't have to worry about it." If you just want to one-and-done your setup, traction pads are probably your best bet.
Comfort: There's no denying that traction pads are generally more comfortable than wax. Soft and cushy versus hard and sticky: it's a no-brainer. For family paddling and flatwater SUP or SUP yoga, full-deck traction pads reign supreme, hands down. It never hurts to have at least one padded board in your quiver.
Our recommendation: Try both. Figure out what works for you and dial it in. Maybe it's a combo of the two.