This Is How Surfers Stay On Their Boards

This Is How Surfers Stay On Their Boards

Surfing is a surface water sport wherein an individual uses a surfboard to catch and ride a moving wave that carries the surfer towards the shore. To be successful at this sport, you need to stay on the surfboard and control your balance to be able to continuously stay on it.

It is said to be the world’s most difficult and complex water sport because the elements that affect every wave you surf change every single day. The wind, tides, and swells can indeed affect wave conditions, and it is up to your determination and ability to be able to overcome these elements and ride a wave.

To successfully ride a wave and overcome these challenges, you need to be able to stay on your surfboard. Surfers can stay on their boards because of gravity and buoyancy, which are the two major forces at play, although another component that keeps them on is the traction on their surfboards can be found in the form of wax or grip pad. Read along to better understand how surfers manage to stay on their surfboards.


Gravity and Buoyancy

Gravity is the force that pulls a surfer and their board down and affects every single aspect of surfing. The ability to stay afloat on the waves up to the necessity to duck dive under a wave comes from basic physics. Isaac Newton’s first law states that objects in motion, like waves, tend to stay in motion while objects at rest, like a floating board, tend to stay at rest. That is why surfers have to paddle to catch a wave. Furthermore, according to Newton’s third law, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Therefore, when a surfer pushes down one edge of the board, that edge pushes into the water, and then, back up against the surfboard. As a result, the board starts initiating a turn.

Buoyancy, on the other hand, provides the board the ability to float, which comes from its density. The surfboard is less dense than the water underneath it. The board’s waterproof coating also keeps the water from seeping in and soaking the foam inside, which can cause the board to be pulled under.

Other physics principles that affect surfing are surface tension and hydrodynamic force. Surface tension is where the molecule that makes up water gets attracted to another one, resulting in a surprisingly strong film on the water surface. This film is the reason why a wave can hold its shape and keep a surfboard afloat. Hydrodynamic forces are similar to the aerodynamic forces that affect how waves form and interact with a surfer’s board.


A little crack or slight ding can greatly affect your surfboard’s buoyancy. Address these issues before your board is damaged beyond repair. Here’s a guide on what to do with a waterlogged surfboard


Surf Wax

Surf wax keeps a surfer from slipping off the board when paddling and riding a wave. Without it, you’ll find it difficult to maintain your balance on a surfboard and will be unable to do tricks. To keep you upright and slicing through the waves, you should get the proper wax with a good balance of traction and stickiness, so that you can maintain optimum balance throughout your surfing session.

Surf wax is composed of a mixture of beeswax, paraffin, and other waxes, as well as petroleum to keep it soft. The surfer Alfred Gallant Jr. was the first one to test the wax on a surfboard in 1935. The formula has improved over the years, and nowadays, surf wax is commercially sold and widely available in lots of different colors and scents.


  1. Basecoat

    It is the first layer of wax that you need to apply to your board. It consists of a harder wax that can be used in warm water or tropical climates and helps hold the top coat down and get your surfboard ready. A base coat is more difficult to apply but lasts longer, so you have to put the right amount of pressure when applying it.

  2. Top Coat

    It is the layer of wax that you apply after the base coat, although it can also be applied without the base coat. To apply it, use gentle pressure and move in a circular motion. Make sure you don’t oversaturate your surfboard during this step as too much wax can make it harder to surf.

Wax Temperature

Surf wax comes with a temperature rating that refers to its level of stickiness and the temperatures in which it will perform best.

  1. Tropical

    If you plan on surfing somewhere where the water temperature is 75°F and above, you need tropical wax for maximum traction on your board. Tropical surf wax is designed to withstand hotter temperatures as it won’t melt when it gets too hot or under direct sunlight. Furthermore, it is generally harder than other wax temperatures.

  2. Warm

    Water temperatures between 58 and 75°F require warm water wax. Not that it is not as resistant to hot temperatures as tropical wax, so it is best to use as directed by the manufacturer to achieve maximum board traction.

  3. Cool

    Cool max is used in water between 58 and 68°F. Cool water wax works well to maintain grip and traction in cooler temperatures but does not hold up very well when temperatures begin to heat up.

  4. Cold

    Cold wax is best if you plan on surfing in water temperatures of 60°F and below. Firstly, make sure you wear a wetsuit. Secondly, we recommend you use cold water wax, which is designed to maintain a maximum grip on your board, even in very cold temperatures. Remember to store this wax carefully so it doesn’t melt in hot places. Furthermore, it is best not to use this type of wax in warmer or tropical climates as it won’t be able to withstand heat.

Water Temperature Type of Wax
32°F/0°C and below Cold
58°F/10°C to 68°F/20°C Cool
58°F/10°C to 75°F/25°C Warm
75°F/25°C and above Tropical


Traction Pad

These are also referred to as surfing stomp pads. These are pieces of textured foam that you can stick to the surface of your board. Generally, surfers only put a single traction pad on the back or tail of the board where they place their rear foot.

This pad provides a firm grip on a wet and slippery surfboard. Some people tend to prefer using a traction pad over wax as it is much easier and more reliable since you don’t need to reapply layers as you would do with wax. Plus, the pad is always in a secured position. These traction pads come in different shapes and use different holes, ridges, and shapes to provide extra grip. They are also raised at the back to help the surfer know exactly how far they can put their foot.
Traction pads provide a steady grip as well as guide a surfer on where to hold their stance.

Types of Construction

  1. One-piece

    It is one solid pad that is easy to install and fit into your board.

  2. Two-piece or multi-piece

    This type of traction pad allows for better customization of your board’s shape, including your foot placement. However, some pieces could potentially peel up.


Like with any product, the kind of material used can make a big difference. That is why you always have to consider what kind of rubber or foam is used for the traction pad, as certain materials can react differently in the water and you will want something that is completely grippy and solid, even when wet. Additionally, you also have to pay attention to the adhesive you use and how to fit the pad on the board to avoid damaging the pad or your surfboard.


All surfboards differ in terms of shapes and sizes. That is why you need to get a traction pad that works with your surfboard. These pads come in a wide range of colors, sizes, shapes, and styles. Make sure you choose one that works with the overall design of your board.


Surfing is a physically demanding activity and there is always a chance of you getting injured while enjoying the sport. But, don’t let this deter you from riding the waves and enjoying the ocean. Here are the 10 common injuries you can suffer while surfing and how to prevent them from happening. 


How not to slip off a surfboard?

To not slip off a surfboard, you need to apply an adequate amount of the appropriate surf wax to your board or have a traction pad installed. Next, you should learn how to control and balance yourself on your surfboard.

One more tip that you can apply to not slip off a surfboard is to wax your feet too. It may sound crazy, but here’s why. The common method of traction is to apply sticky wax to your surfboard, but if your feet are grippy, you can apply some to them as well so that they get to stick better to the board and prevent you from slipping off.

In conclusion, gravity, buoyancy, and other physics principles, along with the use of a traction pad, applying surf wax to your board, and possibly to your feet will help you stay on your surfboard and maximize your surf sessions.

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