SURFER Approved: Front Traction

Where fashion meets function

The neon wetsuits are few and far between nowadays, but the front traction that found its place in the '80s is back on the rise. Christian Fletcher, during the first wave of an arising trend. Photo: Servais
The neon wetsuits are few and far between nowadays, but the front traction that found its place in the ’80s is back on the rise. Christian Fletcher, during the first wave of an arising trend. Photo: Servais

There ain’t no denying that trends from the past are re-appearing as trends of the present: The resurgence of the twin-fin, the rebirth of the hand plane, and the rise of front deck traction. While brands looking to make a quick buck often turn these “gimmicks” lame, or kooky, there is always a fair bit of curiosity that leads a surfer like myself to want to give these throwbacks a try. To me, front traction seemed more like a novelty – a sales and marketing opportunity, and what the “cool kids” were doing – than proper function for your everyday surfer. But curiosity always has the last word, and when I had the opportunity to give front traction a go, I decided “why the hell not,” and whipped together my best Christian Fletcher circa 1989 setup (sans neon). Much to my surprise, the front traction worked great.

I’m no Noa Deane or Dion Agius, but the level of comfort upon taking off on my first wave with grip up front was noticeably heightened. I didn’t throw a full rotation air reverse or a massive tweaked straight air. I dropped in, pumped down the line, and leaned hard into a layback on a waist-high wave closeout section, felt a fair bit of release, pulled it back in, and rode away. I would be lying if I said it didn’t feel good. I also think the front traction played an integral part in making the process easier. Did I feel like I could land any air that I now decided to throw? No. But I did feel like the chance of me throwing one up and coming down with it was higher, which proved correct. It’s the landing part that’s hardest (See: How To Do A Straight Air With Dane Reynolds), but getting up was much easier when there’s an extra piece of grip under your front foot. All of a sudden, it made complete sense to me as to why some of the best aerialists in the world are on the front traction train. Hell, even Bobby Martinez is an avid user of front traction, and that’s gotta say something.

It's not all airs and throw tails. Noa Deane stays committed in a Moroccan tube with his feet glued to his board. Photo: Carey
It’s not all airs and throw tails with front traction. Noa Deane stays committed in a Moroccan tube with his feet glued to his board. Photo: Carey

Now, front traction is readily available for any surfer to go out and buy, but there are different types that will affect your surfing differently. There’s low-rise versus high-rise, or what I like to call corduroy versus combat boot. One has a gentle groove, while the other is much bulkier, like the standard traction you’ve seen on the tails of modern surfboards.

For myself, the heavy-duty traction has been my go-to, creating a connection between foot and surfboard that feels sturdy, like I’ve cemented my foot to the deck. This, like anything, has its merits and setbacks. For one, you’ll probably want to wear some form of neoprene over your chest or you’re looking at some serious rash. You also better make sure you’ve got strong limbs and joints, because when you lock in on a bulky piece of front traction, you’re really locked in. I haven’t experienced any mishaps with twisted knees or ankles (knock on wood), but it can easily happen.

On the other end of the spectrum, sleeker traction found in the form of a corduroy or low-rise, is favored by some because of the ability to still move your foot around. You can skin it without fear of heavy rash, and the likelihood of a knee blowout is decreased significantly, but you won’t feel as much stick. In the end, it’s all about choice, and the range of professionals using one or the other is just as divided.

Fashion? Function? How about both? Front traction is back, and we’re backing it.

Also, SURFER Approved — No traction at all.

Because f--k yeah, Mason Ho! Frame Grab: Pringle
Because f–k yeah, Mason Ho! Frame Grab: Pringle