We wanted to learn a little about a surfing tool we don’t give much thought to, as we always take its grippy magic for granted. How much do we really know about this integral surfing tool? We were lucky to get Dr. Zog’s take and learn the history of his iconic brand, Sex Wax, in a blog post earlier (Link Here) now we continue the conversation with Ben Losin, chief wax cook at Famous Surf. Over the last year we have been working with Ben to create the perfect formula for the challenging conditions of Ocean Beach, SF, and it was a enjoyable process where we learned a lot about making surf wax.
ALEKS: Ben, how the hell did you get into making surf wax of all things?
BEN: For me, it just seemed like the right fit. Creating a quality, functional product for the sport I love and sharing it with all the bros.
Da man, Ben cooking up a batch of da sticky magic.
ALEKS: How do you Make wax – what are the basic materials and machinery involved?
BEN: We use American-made processing tanks, Industrial mixers and an array of industrial grade tools designed for making Surf Wax. Materials wise, we use mostly the basics but very high quality versions. We follow the quality-first mentality in everything we do and the wax is no different. Paraffin waxes and a blend of different styles mixed together to create the perfect balance. It taken years to perfect.
Aleks testing out Battle wax at OB. Photo, Eric Stanger.
ALEKS: Who was the first person to stop melting a candle atop their board, and develop a wax specifically for surfing?
BEN: I’m not 100% certain of that. but probably some roots guy we’ve never heard of haha! I believe I read somewhere a while back that it was Mike Doyle and Rusty Miller in the 60’s but I’m sure that is all up for debate.
ALEKS: Ben, come on, give me some industry stories about how it all started. I know you know more. When we talked to Zog about this he said, “Parawax was the brand name of what was probably the most popular wax to be used for surfing on the West coast during the 1960’s.” This was a basic paraffin wax which was sold in grocery stores primarily for canning fruits and other perishables. Parawax was much more difficult to use on surfboards than the softer surfboard waxes we have today. A number of different techniques were employed to apply the first coat of paraffin wax to your surfboard. You could try and just rub it on at room temperature for the first coat, but this was very difficult. You could submerge a block of paraffin in warm or hot water to soften it and then rub it on. You could melt the wax and either drip unto the surface of your board or paint it on with a brush. Once the first coat of wax was established you would just rub on additional wax prior to each new surf session. If you had forgotten to take any wax with you to the beach, you could always put your board face down in water to cool the waxed deck and then rub by hand with wet sand to rough up the wax surface.
BEN: From what I understand, proper manufacturing started with Zog’s and Wax Research. Apparently both companies started around the same time and both started off by purchasing Parawax. From there, they found new ways to soften it up with oils etc. to make it easier to apply to the deck of a surfboard. It sparked the Surf Wax industry we know today. Dueling Vans ran up and down the coast peddling their respective brews. Those were the days! Other brands were in the mix also, maybe just not as well-known but important just the same. Randy Dowler of Waxx on/ Waxx off deserves a shout out. He was another mad Scientist that helped create the blend from candle wax to a blend that we all keep under lock and key. The story isn’t completely written. I still spend countless hours mixing and developing new blends to keep pushing the performance of the wax. Not sure that will ever stop- Formulation, feedback from the surf team and of course, the customers…it’s constant!
ALEKS: What are the margins on wax and why are they so low? Why, in your opinion, is the surf market so scared to raise prices?
BEN: Well I can’t say exactly what the margins are in this interview, but you are correct they are very low currently, but there seems to be a trend towards raising prices and rightfully so. The amount of time, energy and cost going into these tanks is significant. The price “should” reflect what’s actually being produced. It’s not just surf wax, it’s a delicately balanced high quality product that is made for today’s high performance surfing. It has to be consistent and, again, it takes years to perfect. I think a premium product made right here in the USA by surfers is worth a few more $$. Don’t you?
As far as the Surf Market being scared to raise prices, I guess that’s because in most people’s minds, surf wax is supposed to be cheap. It was in the past and for some strange reason even though the cost of raw materials has dramatically increased and the process has become much more complex, retail has been really resistant to an increase in price.
Take surfboards for instance, most surfboard manufacturers wholesale price hovers just above cost for the “everyday” surfboard. Ask a surfer to pay $800.00 minimum for a custom surfboard and they will call you nuts (unless it’s a top tier Brand). These days there are so many incredible “Backyard Shapers” that are doing really incredible things with the latest materials and technology…They are the real innovators, and they should be rewarded.
Surf wax, especially what Famous Surf puts out, is much more than just “WAX” - it’s an essential product for surfing! It’s not only a part of a surfer’s routine, it’s part of a surfer’s culture. Surf wax is the last piece to the puzzle as you head out the door with that brand new Board under your arm. But, if the product is not quality, it can totally affect your entire session in a negative way, which is why I think this generation seeks quality. They recognize it, and aren’t afraid to throw down for it. Performance has gone way up and the product has to as well…It has been our goal as a brand to provide that.
ALEKS: Breakdown the different type of waxes and different formulas and materials. for example: What is basecoat? When waxing up a clean board, what percentage do you use compared to topcoat and why? Why can some brands of basecoat be used as Tropical Wax?
BEN: Basecoat: Designed to be the first layer of wax on the deck to allow easy application for the traditional top coats (warm, cool and cold).
For Famous Wax, our advice is to apply a generous amount of basecoat compared to the top coat. You want to build those traction beads with the basecoat before you put on the top coat wax. Once the beads are formed using the basecoat, you then just take a few pulls of that sticky Famous top coat and the grip is ideal. Using basecoat will also help your top coat bars last longer.
Some brands use a very similar blend for both basecoat and tropical wax. In most cases, as long as you have a good, hard beady wax, it will work in the more tropical conditions. Famous Surf relies heavy on team rider feedback, which is true for all the blends.
ALEKS: Please tell me more about the differences in materials in base coat and top coat - what makes their properties so different?
BEN: Let’s just say that all “raw wax” is not created equal. I usually use up to 7 different styles of wax when making Famous wax. All these wax styles can be completely different: Some are as hard as glass and some are extremely soft and have a higher oil content. It’s the dialing up and dialing down of these waxes in unison that change the properties of each blend. Needle penetration and actually testing the raw materials before use is a must. I do it before every large tank batch. If the oil content in my waxes are off, I send it back. These properties are so subtle, it’s easy to make a mistake.
ALEKS: What properties change when your wax overheats in the car?
BEN: Surf wax is a combination waxes/products designed to work as a specific blend. The moment it gets too hot (i.e. in a hot car) etc., the product breaks down, separating the raw materials.
ALEKS: Once you have a certain brand of wax on your board should you continue to use the same every time until you clean and start over?
BEN: My advice would be: Use Famous Surf Wax…and only Famous Surf Wax haha!!With all of the different styles of surf wax on the market today, I guess you could run into some styles that do not work well together, but for the most part, the most popular petro-based waxes will work fine together. Just make sure to have a cool, clean surface for proper application and re-wax as often as possible with whichever brand or style you prefer.
ALEKS: What do you focus on to make Famous different and better than other brands?
BEN: Famous Surf stays true to its roots and the focus has always been the quality of the product and the brand in its truest form. I think that’s what people and the industry identify with and customers have come to expect. Over the years Famous has had the opportunity to create some bad ass collaborations with some really great brands that have become family. Aqua Battlewax is a prime example of this. A region specific blend with a custom label and custom scent…. yes please. After watching Aqua SF’s videos online, it all made sense…so classic! It’s all about the story, and Aqua has that.
ALEKS: Will an ECO WAX ever compete with petroleum wax in your opinion?
BEN: Not with the raw materials that are currently available to us in the US. Maybe in the future, if the demand for this type of wax goes up exponentially, there may be more options for us as far as materials go. Until that happens I don’t believe it will.
ALEKS: Give me some info about your Eco Wax and how you see its strengths and weaknesses vs your traditional ingredient wax.
BEN: Strengths would be less impact on the environment, and weakness would be that you can only use non-petro based waxes with exclusively non-petro based waxes. To reference one of the earlier questions, this would be the type of wax you cannot just mix with others unless, they too were petro-free.
ALEKS: Every couple years we see a “look a new wax-free" product! Will any of these eventually replace wax in your opinion?
BEN: That type of stuff has been going on for years and years now and nothing has been able to compete with performance of the petro-based waxes on the market. I believe, surfers for the most part, want it to be simple and just grab a good, consistent bar of wax they know works well for their style of surfing and then repeat. It’s gotta smell great too, that’s a must!!
ALEKS: Anything else you want to talk about?
BEN: Just want to thank Aqua Surf Shop and the entire San Francisco/Bay Area surf community and all that continue to support our brand and their local Surf Shop. I still remember my first trip into my local surf shop, it smelled amazing and it’s why I’m here today. Keep up the good work Aqua Surf Shop, you guys are legends.