To wax or not to wax? That is the question.
Thirty years ago the answer would have been “to wax” but since the best surfboard traction pads have come along “not to wax” has become the more popular response.
Either way, you have to put one of the two or both on your stick to keep you from sliding off.
The early iterations of traction pads in the eighties were thick and a bit clumsy and not very adherent.
They often interfered with one’s ability to get up as you couldn’t slide your feet past them, especially if you were wearing booties. It was nice to be waxless, but that came at a price.
Traction pads lost some popularity in the following years, but stuck it out and now are more popular than ever.
So here we are in 2019 and surfboard traction pads are quite refined; offering smooth traction.
Let’s get into what makes a traction pad rock and who is making them.
The Top 5
Our #1 Pick - Dakine Andy Irons Pro Pad
The Dakine Surf Andy Irons Traction Pad is simply put, the gold standard when it comes to traction pads. This is our first choice for many reasons and not just because it is named after one of surfings greatest figures.
The straightforward no frill design of this Traction Pad focuses on grip, comfort, and performance which are the three main factors one should be looking for. The EVA foam that is used to craft this pad ensures consistent grip in frigid conditions, doesn’t rub your skin raw in warm tropical waters and maintains the same size and density regardless of ocean temperature making it perfect for any break around the globe. The use of 3M pressure sensitive adhesive guarantees the pad will never peel off unless you intentionally choose to.
Also, this pad has been used by some of the finest surfers on the planet, helping them to have control throwing big airs and executing precision turns into barrels so I’m sure it will assist in your surfing whether you're just learning how to carve or if your pulling into Pipeline.
#2 Dakine John John Florence Pro
Coming in at a close second, the Dakine John John Florence Traction Pro Surf Pad is crafted for high performance in mind. The holes within the pad help to reduce water drag which increases speed and the 2in. kicktail is nearly double compared to other traction pads which adds even more grip and stability when maneuvering on the wave.
The grip on this pad is extremely sticky even in mid-air so your foot is not slipping off the back unless something drastic happens. A larger traction pad than most 13’’ x 12.5’’, this provides ultimate grip for pushing the limits on any wave.
Also, a huge draw to this traction pad is the research that has gone into this design and personal feedback by JJ Florence in creating it specially made for peak performance. If JJ, who is easily one of the finest surfers on the planet rides this we are sure it will be great for you too.
#3 Surf Squared 3-Piece Diamond Grip
The Surf Square 3 Piece Diamond Grip is a solid choice for the price. It is quite similar in design to our first choice but an off brand which, often doesn’t compromise too much in quality and effectiveness. It is simplistic in design and style which makes it easy to compliment any board in your quiver and its diamond grip is the most dependable grip on the market making it a reliable choice.
Being a slightly smaller traction pad (11 ¾’’ x 11 ¾) adds the benefit of fitting on pretty much any board you might have. It also comes with 3M adhesive assuring you will never need to worry about this pad coming off your board.
One of the features we like as well is it’s lightweight at only 3 oz. meaning it will not add any weight that you will notice unless you weigh your board daily before paddling out but that would be a little strange.
#4 Dakine Unisex Gaff Surf Traction Pad
The Dakine Uni-Sex Gaff Traction Pad is on the list because it is simple, effective and stylish. Easily one of the most visually appealing pads, Dakine has again produced a top-notch traction pad or stomp pad as they are commonly called. As is common with Dakine Traction Pads it comes with high-quality adhesive, the highest level of EVA foam and is used by amateurs and pros alike.
Something that sets this pad apart from others is the flat surface throughout. Most others have a raised arch that requires exact foot placement while this stomp pad doesn’t making foot placement more fluid and one no longer needs to place their back foot in the perfect center.
Also, it’s two-piece instead of three-piece design allows for easy installation and, it’s square shape provides larger coverage of the tail which translates into a more forgiving traction pad.
#5 Punt Surf Ripper 3 Piece
The most basic traction pad on our list, the Punt Surf Ripper 3 Piece is a traction pad that can’t be beaten for the price. Coming in 3 separate pieces it allows for personal customization on how you lay it on your board, touching so it appears as one solid piece, spaced and fanned out to add a unique look or anything in between.
The dimensions are on the smaller end of the spectrum measuring 10 ½ x 11 ¾ but with the ability to customize you can stretch that out if you have a larger board or need some extra forgiveness for foot placement. It is designed for solid grip, easy installation and well-made material that will last.
The optional colors are nearly all the colors of the rainbow so the choice is yours. You could even have multiple colors for your variety of boards if you’re really feeling stylish.
Surfboard Traction Pad or Not?
This is an age-old debate without a doubt and it really comes down to Traction Pads vs. Surf Wax. From our perspective, it’s really about your approach to surfing and what you want to do in the water.
If you are longboarding and planning to dance around the board or just cruise down the line, wax is great and that’s honestly why you don't see many longboards with traction pads attached.
But, if you look in the power surfing/ shortboarding arena of wave riding you will most likely see nearly all the boards with traction pads attached and for good reason.
If you’re powering into a turn you want that extra grip and foot stability that a pad provides or else your foot could easily slip off and result in you eating a face full of ocean.
If you plan to even attempt an air or even a hard cut on the lip of the wave a traction pad is a no-brainer and the moment you try one without you’ll know the difference.
Things to Consider When Buying
There are several features that are essential to an excellent pad: durability, adhesiveness, design, weight, and sleekness. Traction pads today are made of EVA -ethylene vinyl acetate - which is a mix ethylene and vinyl acetate. It is very elastic, light and durable. Traction pads often outlive the surfboards they are put on.
Most pads utilize 3M adhesive which rarely fails. The designs vary between brands. Aside from graphics, pads have have different dimensions for the tail kick and arch, contours and grooves.
One cannot say which variety of these works best as it boils down to personal preference. The tail kick, for example, can be thicker if you like moves that require tail action, but this can also lead to some stubbed toes as you try to get up.
Tail kicks are essential if you want to get some air. Arch bars are another consideration. They can be extremely useful for pushing your turns to the next level and getting some air.
Experience is the only teacher here as kicks are typically not modifiable once in place so try several versions out if you can - ride some friend’s boards - before you buy. You also need to decide if you want front pads. If you are going for traction pads versus wax then might as well go all the way unless you surf a lot without a wetsuit...could be rash city.
Surfboard Traction Pad placement:
The rule of thumb is 1-2 inches forward of the leash plug which is where the leash attaches to the board. If your board is super retro and doesn’t come with a leash plug which is highly unlikely, the best place is where your back foot would be planted when you stand on your surfboard. Another trick is if you imagine your foot slipping back while you’re on a wave you want that back lip of the pad to be able to catch your foot without it sliding too far from your original foot placement.
When was the Traction Pad introduced into surfing? :
1975 was the year the Traction Pad was tested and developed in the waters of Southern California. Astrodeck was the company behind this revolutionary device and helped pioneer a change in surfing culture with this sticky and grippy technology.
Why do people use more than one Traction Pad on their board? :
The use of two traction pads is often seen with professionals and surfers that value air maneuvers since it helps both of their feet stick to the board while flying high above the wave.