Using your surfboard tail pad may seem straight forward. However there's features and application techniques that will greatly increase your surfing performance
Your tail pad assists your surfing in a number of ways. It's the combination of these benefits that gives your surfing a performance boost.
Grip vs Wax
Wax is used by all the World Tour surfers for the their front foot. Several World Champions have also used it for their back foot grip. Its traction is proven. All current World Tour surfers use tail pads
The forerunner and alternative to grip is wax.
Most surfers, including World Tour Professionals, use wax for their front foot, even though front pads are available. World Champions, like Tom Carroll and Tom Curren, both used back foot wax when tail pads were being used by fellow competitors. So wax is a proven traction option.
The benefit of wax is that it provides ultimate freedom to move your foot around, for example for easier heel and toe surfing, and as far back as possible even behind your deck plug, right to the very tail of your board. This gives you the ability to direct your board from its most extreme point of leverage.
If you apply your wax correctly with a base and top coat, keep it topped up, and use a wax comb to freshen and improve it's texture for each surf, wax provides great traction.
Why Use Grip?
Your board may break, get old and tatty, but a good quality grip will keep on keepin' on
One of the key ways a good pad gives you benefit over wax is that it doesn't require any attention. Once placed on your board it's set and forget. This is handy if time is limited and you're grabbing your board early morning, for the late, or with mates, and rushing to get in the surf.
It's also very handy if you forget your wax.
Pad texture is consistent. Across changes in common water temperatures your pad will provide the same feel. Whereas special formulas are needed for cold and warm water wax, and there's the hassle of a complete replacement needed for wax in different water temperatures.
Some pad materials though become slippery. It's not uncommon to see surfers waxing their pad, which kind of defeats the purpose. Once your pad is clogged with old wax it will become even more slippery.
So make sure you choose a pad with quality material that has lots of grip.
Material & Rash
The material on the left is moulded and closed-cell, the SURFit pad. The material on the right is etched. You can see the area surrounding the diamonds has a fine abrasive texture. This gets in your skin and will cause massive rash
In terms of materials, there's pad material that is extremely abrasive. You may think this abrasiveness provides good grip however it's very hard on your skin. In summer, without your wetsuit, when paddling your knee rubs on your pad's kick, and when jumping up your knee also rubs against it.
This abrasive material will quickly cause knee rash that is pretty much impossible to treat. It can become such a problem that it can prevent you surfing, the only option being to wear a wetsuit, which is a hassle in summer.
Check your pad has a closed-cell material. This has a smoother finish that still provides great grip.
Quality waterproof adhesive will keep your pad stuck, especially around the front corners and under the Kick
Making sure your pad will stick is something you take for granted. It's important that when you apply your pad you apply pressure, even a few bangs with the side of your hand, to make sure the key areas are well affixed.
The Kick, the two front corners, and the centre middle are areas where extra attention should be given as these are prone to lift. Once you start to get sand under one of the front corners it will soon lift and once lifted it tends to start to peel back quickly inteferring with your surfing.
Premium grip uses 3M adhesive that is known for its good quality stick and long-term durability. SURFit uses 3M adhesive.
It's easy to choose a pad based on its look. However you must check the width against the tail of your board. If the pad is too wide you will have to move the pad forward to make it fit, losing your main performance benefit of pad positioning. Note the pad has free space all around the rail so does not create drag
Pads can be one piece or several pieces, normally to a maximum of five.
It's vital that you check the width of the pad against the width of the tail of your board before you purchase the pad. The pad won't work, or give you the maximum performance benefit, if it's too wide for your board.
You may think you can just move the pad forward to where your board is wide enough to fit it. However, the position of your pad, as discussed below, is key to maximising your surfing performance.
Check the width of your pad against the width of your board where your deck plug is located. You should have at least 2cm of free space from either side rail to the edge of your pad.
Moving your pad forward is a major pitfall discussed below.
A three piece pad is the most versatile as you can expand the two side pieces to cover both narrow and wide tail boards. Make sure your three piece pad opens around your deck plug so you can place the pad back as far as possible.
One piece and two piece pads are generally used on narrow tail boards, where there's not much area to cover. Although some two piece pads are made for wide fish tail boards.
A five piece pad has two additional pieces that are placed in front of the main pad. These are useful only on a longer board where you might move your back foot that far forward.
Your pad should be as thin as possible. A quick way to check is to view the thickness on top of the Kick. You can easily see how thin it is. Also some pads have double layers, due to the weakness of their material. This reduces responsiveness
You may think a thick pad is good value, that having plenty of material for your foot to grip into provides good traction. Some pads also have two layers due to limitations with the quality of their material.
However you want your foot to be in as close contact with your board as possible, to feel your board. Your foot can feel the difference in micro millimeters of thickness.
A thin pad will provide great sensitivity and responsiveness, and most directly transmit your energy into your board control and manouevres.
On the SURFit grip on the left you can see the major Square pattern that provides all round resistance no matter what angle your foot is placed. Note also the Dimple Dot micro pattern on the Squares that your foot grips to. On the right the Diamond pattern has a long smooth top section that if your foot angles in that direction, will provide much less traction. Similarly the short side of the Diamond is too short to provide much resistance. There's also no secondary pattern
There's a variety of patterns used on pads. There are patterns in the mould of the material, while others are etched, and groove and hole patterns are cut out.
The moulded and etched patterns are mostly based on a square pattern or its derivatives.
You can easily visualise how effective a pattern will be. Your foot on the pad is at an angle, a bit less than ninety degrees, pushing down and back, angling across the pad.
So the square pattern will always have a side providing resistance and grip against the angle of your foot.
The diamond pattern, that is a square elongated on its side, doesn't work as well as the sloping sides of the diamond angle in the direction your foot is going, so don't provide resistance.
Some patterns have the concept of a pyramid where shapes are stacked on each other. You want your pad to be as flat and responsive as possible so increasing height doesn't help. Also the top of these pyramids provides little to no lateral grip as your foot pushes on it.
On the major pattern, smaller patterns can be added.
You might think these minor features wouldn't make much difference but your foot responds to these subtle differences by gripping more.
Dimples and dots provide a texture your foot can feel. Your foot responds, gripping well, to the texture variety it encounters across the pad.
Other textures that take a blocky form have too consistent a feel and your foot tends to slide on them.
Grooves and Holes
Toe holes provide great traction for heal-and-toe surfing and reduce weight. Grooves are good if they run laterally across your pad providing grip for the side of your foot
Grooves and holes are added to pads too.
Horizontal grooves provide resistance as your foot is pushing against them.
Some grooves though run lengthwise down the pad in the direction your foot is pushing and don't provide resistance. These are often used for cosmetic purposes to show another colour in the grip.
Functional toe holes are a great benefit. These can be smaller or larger, as long as not too large, and provide texture points for your toes to grip into. This is especially important for your heel-and-toe rail-to-rail surfing where your toes are at times the only part of your foot in contact with your pad.
Toe holes also reduce weight making our pad light weight.
Fine holes can also be used in a squishy pad to provide soft traction that your toes can grip into. The only drawback here is that in colder water these fine holes tend to lose their pliability.
A tear drop arch fits perfectly under your foot. Even if your personal preference is not to have an arch bar, it's worthwhile as it creates the performance bonus of the Sweet Spot
The arch is a part of your pad that sticks up in the middle to support your foot arch.
Use of an arch for support can be personal preference. Most are arches rise between 5-10mm and have a diamond or teardrop shape. The teardrop more closely matches your foot arch, wider and higher on the front side, decreasing towards the side of your foot.
Even if you're not fond of an arch, it's an essential part to getting high performance, as discussed below.
The Kick stops your foot sliding off the back of your board. If it's not upright enough it won't work, If it's too upright if your foot lands on it you will have instability. If it's too narrow your foot won't find traction on the top and will slip off
The kick provides a raised area at the back of your pad to prevent your foot sliding off.
Kicks have an angle of anywhere from a low 30 degrees to high, almost 90 degrees, and a height of between 20-35mm.
A low to mid angle and mid height works better as there's times when you place your foot back and it doesn't land exactly where you want it on the pad. If the kick is too low your foot will slip off. If too steep and too high your foot will be unstable, won't find placement and will also come off.
Also the kick can have a flat landing space at the top, that helps your foot land assisting you to make critical takeoffs and manoeuvres. For very heavy situations some surfers place their foot on this landing space at the very rear of the pad.
The SURFit pad uses a 7mm arch with a 30mm kick at a 45 degree angle and a flat landing space, giving you the best set of features.
The Kick and Arch work together to give you a Sweet Spot.
The Sweet Spot is what it's all about. Getting the right pad, allows you to get the right placement, that allows you to transfer the most power directly into your surfing performance. Your back foot has stability, placed right above your back fin, in the slot between your pad Arch and Kick. The SURFit tail pad allows you to create this Sweet Spot setup perfectly
The various features in a pad come together when you place your pad.
Your pad should be placed so that the start of the kick is above the rear of your back fin.
Your tail can be quite narrow here, and this is close to where your deck plug is located. That's why it's important your pad is the right width, not too wide, and can open around your deck plug.
When you place your pad's centre piece, check the location of the arch. Place the centre piece so that your arch is close to your kick. This area, between the end of your Arch and start of the Kick, should create a slot for the side of your foot.
Getting this setup right creates a Sweet Spot. Your foot will naturally hunt for this spot on takeoff and once slotted you'll have the best feeling of confidence and control from which to do power manoeuvers.
The SURFit tail pad brings all the best features described above together to help maximise your surfing performance.