Your Surfboard Traction
Surfboard traction, or surfboard grip, is a great surf accessory. It can improve your surfing. Increase your confidence. Help you do everything from staying firmly on your feet to making bigger more powerful moves. One of the most common misunderstandings is that all traction is the same. In fact your choice of grip should be as unique to you as your choice of board. Here’s why.
Some of the biggest news is that World Champion for 2019 Italo Ferreira has signed with Creatures of Leisure. This means when you see him ripping you’ll know his grip is now all Creatures brand. He’s using a range of rear traction including the standard Mick Fanning pad. This pad is great for wider tail boards as it’s wider pieces cover more area. Italo also uses the Mick Fanning Lite pad. This pad has much less water absorption so stays light. It has a smooth EVA finish greatly reducing the potential to rash.
Italo Ferreira, World Champion in 2019, now selects his grip from the Creatures of Leisure range. Models used include the standard Mick Fanning and Mick Fanning Lite pads
Ocean & Earth has added new grip models for its team riders too. Owen and Tyler Wright, Ryan Callinan and Kanoa Igarashi are some of the chargers now with their own and updated grip models. Want to charge like Owen or Tyler? You can now try the exact same grip if you’re wanting to progress your surfing along their same lines.
Above, from Ocean & Earth the Dakada Walters pad on the left gives a good indication of how a pad can support narrow tail boards. The pad area being reduced via several flyers. Next, Owen and Tyler’s pads both include a feature where your leash string can poke through the pad. This enables you to get the pad as far back as you want, even over your deck plug. Ryan’s signature pad has opted for circle cut outs. These are great for toe traction, especially for heal-and-toe rail surfing. Kanoa has opted for slots on his signature pad that provide great resistance against the push of your foot. Below, Tyler Wright, 2017 World Champion, charging. You can see more clearly on the rear of her pad where the deck plug string is able to project through the kick
New models from FCS address a wider range of surf craft. For example Fish boards get several pad options for their uniquely wider tails. Longer and wider pads are available for your front foot as well. These pads are versatile, can be used for SUPs and longboards, giving yourself additional coverage. Team rider designs see the enhancement of proven features like the circles. There’s also the ‘squishy’ pin cushion surface. This was introduced originally on Griffin Colapinto’s pad and provides a softer area that your foot can squish down into.
Above, a range of different options for a variety of surf craft types are available from FCS. Team Rider models utilise the circle pattern and the ‘squishy’ soft texture
Surfboard wax is still the choice for front foot traction. It does not however offer performance as consistent as grip. This wax brand comes in 5 different blends to cope with differing environmental conditions. Alternatively grip suits all conditions
First though, what about wax? Before surfboard traction, wax was and is still used. Wax is much more common for the front area of your board than grip. One reason for this is that surfboard traction can become abrasive on your chest through the constant paddling motion.
Although not widely used, front grip is available. The Komunity brand surfboard traction on the left is the signature front pad of Barton Lynch. Barton iconised front grip with his big wave surfing and win at Pipeline. He went on to win the 1988 World Title using front grip. Additional images are of Ocean and Earth and Creatures front grip offerings
The reason why some surfers use wax for their rear foot is due to the sensitivity and freedom of movement provided. With wax having less thickness than a tail pad you get a closer more sensitive feel that translates into more responsive surfing. You’re also able to move your foot around more freely, closer to the rail or up and down your board.
The tradeoff is that with wax being soft and pliable you can easily slip if all your pressure goes onto one spot. Wax is also not consistent. It wears down and wears off. You have to keep applying it and roughing it up. It also changes its characteristics with changes in water temperature becoming slipperier in colder water, flaking off in warmer water.
No Pro surfers on the World Tour use wax for their back foot, they all use surfboard traction. This may be because of lucrative sponsorship deals and also likely because surfboard traction works better.
Surfboard Traction Is Consistent
Take a moment to check Owen Wright’s rear foot placement. His foot is so far back it’s not next to the kick it’s on the kick and over the leash plug! The surfboard traction in use is Owen’s signature Ocean & Earth tail pad
Surfboard traction gives a number of benefits to your back foot on your board. It: consistently retains its semi-abrasive feel requiring no maintenance; doesn’t wear down or wear off or have a slippery patch; doesn’t soften in relatively warmer water or stiffen in colder water. It’s consistent.
This consistency of feel equates to surefootedness for your surfing. You know what to expect wave after wave and can build your surfing performance.
Yes, your foot can actually feel the difference and have a preference for one of these different surfboard traction textures
Griffin Colapinto showing how well his Creatures of Leisure signature pad works. Griffin’s pad, with the blue logo, has large holes in the centre arch bar that provide large texture points your foot arch can position on. The myriad of smaller holes on the sides provide a squishy sponge texture your toes can grip into. Julian Wilson’s pad on the right has more large holes and grooves that while providing traction also help reduce weight
The contours and textures of a pad are designed to maximise foot contact from a certain angle. All those product references to ‘Aztec Groove’, ‘Mt Fuji’, ‘Diamond’ and ‘Double Diamond’ refer to the way the grip surface has been etched or molded so as to give maximum traction. Imagine you are pushing hard on the pad, the angle of the pad texture will stop your foot slipping backwards. The angle can also make it easier to move forward to change your foot position.
Arch bars are also a personal preference. The standard height is around 7mm. Arch bar shapes include the teardrop, diamond and rectangle. The Creatures of Leisure pad model in the middle has no arch. It’s flat, preferred by many surfers as it facilitates heel-and-toe surfing. The last pad is a Tail Kick. It has no arch and no pad, just the kick. You would wax up in front of the kick giving you the benefits of the freedom of movement of wax with the drive and surefootedness of grip
Surfboard pads can have an arch bar or no arch bar. No arch bar makes it easier to move your foot around as the pad is flat. It facilitates rail to rail heel-and-toe surfing, a very high performance style. While it’s not impossible to move your foot with an arch bar, the arch is designed to fit to the underside of your foot to give solid placement. With the arch you have to make a more conscious effort to move your foot around. The Pros have no problem moving their foot with arch bars though.
You’ll see that arch bars have different shapes, such as tear drops, diamonds and rectangles. There’s also different heights such as 5mm to 10mm. These appeal to your personal preference from a comfort and performance perspective.
The arch bar can work in combination with the tail kick so you can realise one of the greatest benefits to your surfing – the grip slot.
Sally Fitzgibbon’s FCS signature pad has the arch bar and kick creating the grip slot. It also has a 3 piece layout and a rear cutaway so it can be placed close above the deck plug. Stephanie Gilmore’s Creatures of Leisure signature pad has an arch bar and kick creating a grip slot. It’s also 3 piece but the two side pieces can be expanded at the base so the whole pad can be placed farther back around the deck plug string if necessary to achieve best board placement
Where the rear of the arch bar ends just before where the kick starts creates an area, a grip slot, that the side of your foot slots into. So once your foot is in the grip slot it has a firm, steady position. Here you can apply power into your moves. It can’t be overstated how much benefit getting this grip slot setup correctly can give your surfing.
If you can get the grip slot positioned to match your board’s sweet spot the benefit is even greater. You’ll get your optimal surfing performance from your equipment. More on this below.
An array of surfboard traction kicks. The kick on the left is steep, high and with an overhang that the side of your foot slots into. The farthest on the right has low angle and low height. The wide range of kick styles give variety appealing to your personal preference
The kick, the area that rises at the rear of the pad, comes in various heights from 5mm to 45mm. If you have a big foot a larger kick may help your foot stay in place, but too big a kick can catch your toe as you jump up. Personal preference comes into play with your kick too. Some kicks rise almost vertically while others rise at an angle. The more angled there’s a chance your foot could slide off. However there’s also a benefit. If the kick is angled and your foot lands on it from an awkward takeoff or air move you can still stand successfully and direct your board. If it’s vertical you will likely lose your footing.
This leads to another kick feature. Some kicks have a flat area on the top, a landing area. So if your foot comes down in the wrong place you can still get grip and surf. Then when you have a chance you can position your foot correctly.
Sweet Spot Placement
The first red line shows your grip slot. This is where the side of your foot slots in between the arch bar and kick to give you the most surefootedeness. The red line in the second image shows you the most likely ideal placement of your grip on your board. The grip slot is positioned over your board’s sweet spot usually above the rear of the back fin. The last red line shows where the surfer has his foot on his grip slot over his board’s sweet spot producing optimal performance from his equipment
Where you place your surfboard traction is vitally important. Ideally you need the grip slot created by the arch bar and kick to be placed over the sweet spot of your board. Your board’s sweet spot is the spot where you place your back foot so that your board gives its best turns and speed, its best overall performance.
The question is, as grip has to be placed before you ride your board, how do you know where your board’s sweet spot is?
The ideal placement is generally having the grip slot directly over the rear of your back fin. If your board is a short small wave model then placing the grip closer to the tail as possible right before your leash plug or even around the string can work well. As your board gets longer you can move the grip farther forward.
Aligning your grip slot with your board’s sweet spot works as when you catch a wave and take off your foot can automatically search for and find the grip slot. You’ll start and continue your ride with your back foot best placed on your grip for your optimal performance.
Having your grip slot aligned to your board’s sweet spot will make a huge difference to your surfing and is a key to improving your performance.
Narrow Board Grip
Most grip is too wide to put over the rear of the back fin on narrower tail boards. On the left the OAM pad has a narrow tail but with 3 piece layout so you get a lot of versatility to move the side pieces out to the rails as your board’s tail widens. The Ocean and Earth pad is two piece. It fits a narrow tail, not coming too close to the rails. FCS’ narrowest tail pad is just one piece. You place it and that’s it, there’s no adjustment possible
You’ll find that some boards, like pin and rounded pin tails, may have too narrow a tail for standard size grip to be placed over the sweet spot. In this case you need to look for narrower surfboard traction or a single piece grip.
It cannot be underestimated the importance of being able to get your surfboard traction positioned correctly on your sweet spot over your back fin. So if your board has a narrow tail don’t settle for a wider grip that forces you to place it too far forward.
2 & 3 Piece Grip
Surfboard grip has a certain minimum and maximum area it will cover. For example a pad that comes in a single piece will only cover that area. Two piece pads can be extended but only so far before the space between the pieces gets too wide. Three or multi piece pads can be expanded to cover a lot wider area, so they’re versatile
Two piece pads don’t have an arch bar as it would be cut in half, so they’re for surfers who like a flat pad. Being able to expand the two pieces provides a certain degree of flexibility. However you can’t expand too far before the space is too wide. The two side pieces of 3 piece pads can be placed closer to your rails. This gives you the versatility of both an arch bar and greater area coverage. However you don’t want the side pieces placed too close to the rail where they might create drag in the wave. 3 piece pads are the most versatile.
Rash & Weight
Left, the Bullseye pad popularised and favoured by Kelly Slater. Right, Mick Fanning’s signature grip. Both grips have the less abrasive molded EVA finish, they don’t absorb water, and are extra light. These grips are from Komunity and Creatures of Leisure respectively
Surfboard traction has one main drawback. It can rash. You’ll find your knee or thigh can be rubbing on the kick when paddling and getting to your feet. The taller the kick, the more this can aggravate. Depending on how much you surf this can be a problem necessitating using a wetsuit.
Some pads are less abrasive than others. Those that use a moulded EVA process have a smoother but still grippy finish. The Komunity Bullseye pad and Creatures Mick Fanning Lite are two pads with this smoother type of finish.
The EVA pads also tend to be lighter than their counterparts. Creature’s Mick Fanning Lite pad is at least 15% lighter than the next closest pad. This is important as while you pay more for an ultra light board, if your cheap pad soaks in water you negate that benefit.
Creatures of Leisure use 3M adhesive, an indication of their quality approach. All quality pads will stick well to your brand new board. As long as the pad’s applied well
When applying surfboard traction make sure your board surface is clean. It should be free of anything including sanding dust or finger marks. Don’t try to apply grip to a board that has already been waxed.
Do a test layout of the grip pieces to make sure you’ve got placement right. Use a small pencil mark if needed so you know the exact place to stick down the grip pieces. You want to avoid misplacement that makes your board look unsymmetrical or lop sided. Once you’ve peeled the backing off the grip give it a good press down especially on the edges to make sure it adheres. Some brands quote 3M to indicate the high quality of the adhesive they use.
If one part of your grip starts to lift, sand and salt will soon reduce it’s ability to stick and more of your pad will start to lift. You can try to stick it back down with a strong glue.
The best solution is to make sure you affix your surfboard traction properly in the first place.
All Shapes and Sizes
Surfboard traction and grip come in all shapes and sizes to cover every conceivable type of water craft. On the left Creatures SUP grip. On the right the same Ocean & Earth Longboard grip in two different layouts
Five piece traction can be used on shortboards to extend the forward coverage of the grip. However five or more piece grip is normally used for mini-mals and longboards. SUPs have multi piece and single piece pads. These are heavier duty than you use on a surfboard and are purpose-designed for a SUP.
Buying online offers a lot of convenience. It doesn’t however help you know which pad, arch, kick and texture, will work best for you. One conclusive way to know is to come into the shop. Ask to lay out a couple of second hand boards with differing grips. Then test them out with your bare foot. This works great as you can almost immediately feel which grip suits your foot best.
Traction has many features as covered above. There’s the flat or raised arch. There’s textures, EVA etched or sanded finish. A grip slot and kick height are important too. A test will make immediately evident the pros and cons of each in terms of your preference.
A visit in shop offers another benefit in that it allows you to measure your grip on your board. It’s vital that you get grip placement aligned with your board’s sweet spot. This means aligning your grip slot with the back of your rear fin. To be sure about placement you need to have your board and the proposed grip together. A lot of surfboard traction can be too wide forcing placement forward of your board’s sweet spot.
When you find surfboard traction you like it’s a good idea to keep an extra on hand so that when you get a new board you’ve got the grip ready to go in case you can’t get it and have to choose an untried one.
Getting the right grip for your personal preference, and placing the grip slot over your board’s sweet spot, is one huge thing you can do to improve your surfing.
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