Surf wax -- it's so simple, but essential to enjoying the ride. The wax industry has been monopolized by a handful of giants over the last forty years, and as a result, most surfers know what they like and don't think twice when picking up a bar.
Matt from East Surf Co., however, does think twice. Growing up near Narragansett, the ocean, and eventually surf wax, became an integral part of his day to day. He and his wife realized wax wasn't really being done differently outside of the dominant companies, and decided to start experimenting. After years of trial and error, East Surf Wax was created, offering a hand poured organic formula and 'crescent grip' design.
We spent some time in Matt's Red Hook 'laboratory' to learn how to hand pour surf wax, and to gain some insight about the important elements of wax that perhaps never crossed your mind.
“I started prototyping in my kitchen in Providence, Rhode Island. It took about four years to perfect it, and then we started pouring in my parents’ shed in Rhode Island. We moved to New York about a year and a half ago, and then I got this studio here in Red Hook."
“Our first bar of wax was just a ball of oil. We’re using organic ingredients, so it was just like this super slick coconut oil -- it didn’t work at all. And it took a long time, adding more tackifier -- that’s what gives you the traction. Finding that balance was just trial and error, going out session after session, seeing if it worked. And it took a solid three years to finally lock in a session where I didn’t slip off my board.”
How to Hand Pour Surf Wax...
“This is white beeswax, it comes in large slabs. I basically take a hammer to these and break it into finer pieces so it melts down quicker.”
“It’s a combination of adding the tackifier, the beeswax, and then coconut oil. I start with the tackifier because it melts down really quickly, then I’ll add the beeswax gradually. Then everything is melted down together. I’ll add the coconut oil in at the very end. That’s the process I’ve figured out works best. I’ve streamlined the production process as I’ve gotten more familiar with how it works. The melting process takes about a half hour to forty five minutes.”
“I, personally, like a softer wax. We don’t put paraffin in our product. Paraffin is a hardening agent, so that’s what you find in conventional wax, it’s actually the main ingredient. Paraffin, in conventional wax, makes up about 80-90% of the ingredients, so we’ve had to really counteract it. Beeswax is our substitute essentially, it's our base product, so that’s the main difference. Paraffin doesn’t break down, that’s why it lasts so long. With beeswax, you could leave a bar of our wax in the water and it will naturally decompose. Finding the right combination of ingredients that not only give you traction but also lasts a full session in the water is what took us a long time to find. But ultimately, I like a softer wax, I like to be able to move the wax and have it pliable on the board. That’s not for everyone. Our wax is naturally going to be softer because it doesn’t have the paraffin in it, it’s more of a gooey wax that you can really sink your foot into.”
“We don’t consider ourselves to be these great environmentalists, but it’s a simple step that we wanted to take to be sustainable in some kind of way.”
“Cold wax is soft, warm and tropical wax is harder. Our warm and tropical wax doesn’t have any plant based oil in it. Our colder waxes have the plant based oil. That oil is a softening agent, so when it’s super cold out, that’s going to allow you to apply it on the board efficiently and it’s going to interact with the cold weather and cold water properly. It’s a variation of ingredients per temperature.”
“The molds are silicon. It’s a two-part mold. An industrial design friend of mine designed these. Because we have the crescent grip and logo embedded into it, we have to have it be a two-part mold. So due to the nature of our mold, it can sometimes create sinkholes. I’m going to pour it and let it sit and harden a little bit and then I’ll come back and do the second pour. And ultimately, for the finished product, I just peel the top half back and they pop right out. Silicon is an amazing material compared to plastic molds. These come out like butter. Conventional wax without any grip or logo embedded into it, it’s just a one part mold.”
“The oil rises to the top so you constantly have to stir it to make sure it’s an even pour. Also, this is not a controlled environment, ideally I’d like to have some heat. If it cools too quickly, it can create cracks in the wax. It’s so temperamental, there are a lot of variables that dictate the finished product that I get. So you do have waste, like in most production processes. But I try to reuse all of my scrap wax. I don’t throw anything away.”
“I hand package everything. I sit here and throw some music on and I just pack away. Joanna, my wife, designed the packaging, everything we’ve done has been a collaboration. She does a really good job at helping me realize my design concepts. She tightens everything up. Web design and packaging design is all Joanna.”
“I’m still tweaking our cold water wax formula. That’s our softest wax so I’m trying to get it to a point where it’s resilient enough and lasts long enough on those super cold winter days. It works right now, I’m happy with where it’s at, but I’m not ready to bring it to market yet. I think this winter I’m going to perfect it and hopefully by next winter we will have that ready for market.”
“It’s such a simple product, but I think it’s under appreciated in surfing. You need two things to surf: a board and a bar of wax. The heart of this is just to put a little bit more effort into wax. I like focusing on a product in this way, and it’s cool to be able to make it by hand, and then know that people are surfing it. That’s a satisfying thing. It’s like being a shaper -- you make a board and they get to enjoy it in the water. That’s really what it is. The science of it is a constant learning process for us, but just the importance of making it and knowing people are having a good session, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
East Surf Wax is available in both our Brooklyn and Amagansett locations. Learn more about East Surf Co. here.
-- photos by Joseph William Falcone, words by Chelsea Burcz