This article is from our April issue, themed “The Science of Surf.” Click here for more on our oceanic field studies, which include, but are not limited to, bathymetry, genealogy, hydrodynamics, wave pools, and stoke.
Surfers don't share anything. Not waves, not wetsuits, not secret spots. But wax has always been the exception. Tossed across parking lots and pickup beds to any surfer in need. How good must a wax be then, if no one will share it?
There's been relatively little change in wax over the last century. Surfboard traction began with sand-infused varnish, continued to paraffin-based wax in the '40s, and with the invention of the traction pad in the '80s became more specialized, stickier, and temperature-specific. But today's progression in surfing is calling for an evolution in wax.
Enter Fu Wax, a recipe unavailable in the States that created a black market for surf wax, controlled by the Brazilian cartel. It's stickier and dirtier, and it works. Which might be why pros were hiding it from each other. In New York, Kelly Slater launched a frontside full-rotation slob grab for a perfect 10 to defeat Taj in the waning seconds of the Quik Pro semifinal. He did it on a board without a traction pad, which Fu Wax said was covered with their secret recipe. A few people noticed.
Wax formulas have always had an air of confidentiality, treated as trade secrets for exclusive eyes only. Brazil's product was so coveted by those in the know that nobody was talking.
Meet Fuad Mansur, the namesake and creator. He and his brothers released their first wax in 1970, but the tipping point was in '87 when a melting-point accident in the wax lab created a product that finally held up in cooler water. Fuad was so taken by his new formula on his first test in cold temps that he surfed past dark and left the water with a mild case of hypothermia. After two days of hospitalization, he returned to Brazil and coined that Fu Wax is "adherence taken seriously."
Younger sibling Tuca Mansur said he and his brothers are honored by the hype. "We are a family in the wax world and it's amazing that a little company from Brazil has made such a ripple effect in the U.S. market," said Tuca. "Imitation or impersonation is the biggest form of flattery, so we feel pretty special knowing we've helped change the landscape." Converts to Fu Wax are telling him they're landing maneuvers they never have in the past. Martin Potter told him it was cheating, like surfing with foot straps.
Gone are the methodically groomed bumps, ditched instead for the new hot, stringy mess of these hyper-tack waxes, which stick to the bottom of your feet as well as they do to your fingertips, board bags, wetsuits, and chest hair. The import pressure from South America has kicked the U.S. market into gear, entering the game on the heels of the first change to wax in a while.
Slater’s 10-point slob, courtesy of the new era of wax:
Sex Wax continues the innuendo with their new Dream Cream, infamous for an obscene level of stickiness. "These formulas are a radical departure from the surf wax characteristics that we have become accustomed to over the last several decades," said Fred "Zog" Herzog, Sex Wax founder. The company actually warns that Dream Cream may be too sticky for some. "You are going to get incredible traction in the water, but you are going to have to deal with what could aptly be described as a mess waiting to happen."
Bubble Gum's new icky-sticky Gu Wax comes zip-locked, out of necessity. It's actually a remix from an early '80s formula, a second-generation blend with a new ingredient to keep it sticky in any water temp. "I was kind of stunned when I started hearing about some of the waxes coming out of Brazil that had the gooey, sticky, smeary formula," said Britt Galland, Bubble Gum co-founder. "The Brazilian formulas were making it back to the states in the suitcases of the WQS and CT guys, and everyone was clamoring for it. The more I heard about it the more it pissed me off, so we worked on our gooey formula a bit and came out with the Gu Wax."
StickyBumps founder John Dahl said traditional wax needed snag and grab, but the new era demands lift and hold. He claims their new formula PUNT has all the above. Not made for all surfers, but for the groms who didn't know surfing existed before aerials. "A short duration contest wax is a lot more viable now than it was in the past, because of what the kids are doing," he says. "Times are changing and certain wax applications have to change with it. This is resonating with them because of how they surf. You sure can't ignore it."
These waxes all carry the "topcoat" label, meaning they're meant to be applied light and sparingly over a good basecoat or worn down bumps. Its biggest potential is in the contest sphere, where wax only needs to last a heat. "There appears to be a real need for enhanced traction when it comes to high-performance, competitive surfing," said Zog. "It remain to be seen whether or not this translates into a significant demand on the part of the general surfing public."
Galland is on the same page. "The way pros surf these days, they definitely need it. Sometimes all that's left on the board while they're spinning through the air is one big toe somewhere on the deck." And he knows it's a game changer. For the first time in his career, he has pro surfers, who don't often pay to play, ordering off his online store.
Said Dahl, "The whole progression with wax: we'd still be using paraffin with motor oil if nobody bitched about it. There's always something better."