Do You Need a Surfboard Traction Pad? 10 Pros and Cons

When you pick up a new surfboard, the first thing you notice is that the surface is slippery. Surfers use two main methods to help them stick to their surfboards: applying wax and installing traction pads.

Every time I buy a new surfboard I ask myself, Do I need a traction pad?

Here are my thoughts on some pros and cons related to this question.

In general, surfboard traction pads are beneficial on short boards (under 7 feet in length), or boards where the foot placement is important. When you are popping up, executing tricks or moving your feet, traction pads can help you quickly locate the ideal foot positioning.

Now, it’s important to mention that using a traction pad on your surfboard is a personal choice.

I hope to provide you with some helpful Pros and Cons in case you are wrestling with the decision, lets go!

Surfboard Traction: Tail Pads and Deck Pads

Traction pads came on-stream and gained popularity in the 1980’s. Up until that point, wax was the primary option for establishing traction on a surfboard.

As of today, traction pads fall into a couple of different groups:

  • Tail Pads (the most common) – Installed on the tail of your surfboard to provide traction for your back foot.
  • Deck Pads (less common) – Installed on the deck of your surfboard to provide traction for your front foot.

1. Pro: So Many Options

The last time I purchased a traction pad, I went to three different surf shops and probably looked at 75 different traction pads, some people might say that there are too many choices.

Traction pads come in a variety of different colours, sizes, pieces, styles and materials. Let me run through a few of the things you may want to think about when choosing your next traction pad :

  • Materials – Traction pads are generally made of a grippy, water resistant foam that is formed into a grooved or patterned surface. Recently, many new environmentally friendly materials have hit the market, including eco-friendly foam, algae foam, cork and recycled cork.
  • Styles – Deck pads generally sit flat on your board so that you can lie on them comfortably. Tail pads come in a few different styles including, flat, with or without an arch bar and varying degrees of tail kick (like the tail of a skateboard).
  • Pieces – Traction pads come in a single piece or multiple pieces. More pieces = more options! More pieces will give you greater flexibility to decide on different placements for your feet.
  • Sizes – Tail pads and deck pads come in different sizes which relate to how much area you want covered on your surfboard, so either bring your board to the shop or measure it ahead of time.
  • Colour – Colour is very important! Do you want it to stand out? Blend in? Match the colour of your surfboard? I always pick a colour that makes me happy, the last time I picked orange!

2. Pro: Helps with foot placement

Whether we are talking about a tail pad for your back foot or a deck pad for your front foot, traction pads will help you locate your foot placement.

On short boards (surfboards that are less than 7 feet long), there is less margin for error with foot placement. When a surfer pops up and gets to their feet, they can move their foot and “feel” for the spot on the traction pad with the correct positioning based on practice and familiarity.

In addition, many surfers don’t locate their back foot over the fins which helps to turn the surfboard more easily. A tail pad provides a physical reminder where the back foot should be placed for optimal performance.

3. Con: They don’t move

Traction pads are grippy on top so your feet don’t move and sticky on the bottom so the pad doesn’t move! Once traction pads are installed on your surfboard correctly, they don’t move.

For boards over 7 feet long, foot placement is less important and surfers may want to move up and down the length of the board, walking or shuffling their feet without a traction pad in the way.

Many surfers, including a lot of my friends, don’t like a big piece of immovable foam stuck to the top of their surfboard and prefer the flexibility that comes with a relatively uniform coating of wax on their surfboard.

4. They are easy to install

Traction pads are easy to install. It’s kind of like putting big, thick stickers on your surfboard. The biggest effort will be cleaning the wax off of your surfboard before you install the traction pad.

Installing a traction pad process: . There are many different tips for installing a tail pad, but the following Video by 11 time World Surfing Champion, Kelly Slater is probably the simplest I have seen.

5. Pro: Saves Money on Wax

When you install a traction pad on your surfboard, you won’t need to put wax on for a long time. In the case of a tail pad, you will no longer have to apply and re-apply wax to that section of your surfboard.

Obviously, you will still need to wax the exposed areas of the surfboard that require grip but you will be saving money on wax over the long term and your wax budget will be cut in half.

6. Pro: Removal

Traction pads aren’t that difficult to remove. You may think a traction pad is a long-term commitment but if you don’t like the style or you want to go back to wax, just take it off.

Traction Pad Removal Process: Start at the corner and peel up the pad with a razor blade. Remove any excess bits. Use acetone (nail polish remover works too) to get the left over sticky bits off. Watch the video below for a full tutorial.

7. Pro: They Protect your surfboard

As I mentioned previously, traction pads are like having a big, padded sticker on your surfboard. They range in thickness from about 2mm-10mm and provide extra protection from feet, heels, knees and anything else that can create dents and compression on the deck of your surfboards.

8. Pro: Duck Diving is easier

Duck diving is made easier with a traction pad. You can use the tail pad to get leverage by putting your knee or your foot on the pad and pushing down to submerge your board parallel to the bottom. To watch this duck diving technique using the tail pad, check out this video.

9. Con: Not necessary on longer boards

For boards over 7 feet long, foot placement is less important and surfers may want to move up and down the length of the board, walking or shuffling their feet without a traction pad in the way.

If you are considering sticking a traction pad to a longer, soft topped surfboard, there may be issues with adhesiveness between the traction pad and the foam deck of the surfboard.

10. Pro: Relatively Inexpensive

Traction pads are relatively inexpensive when you factor in the benefits, including, saving money on wax, protecting your surfboard and helping with the correct foot positioning.

Traction pads start around $35 and go up from there. You can buy tail pads & deck pads individually or a combo package that will include enough traction pads to fully cover the deck of your surfboard.

In conclusion: It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or an expert surfer, the decision to install a traction pad comes down to your own personal preferences. I fall somewhere in the middle, I like traction pads on some of my boards and for others I prefer just wax.

*In 2020, a professional surfer named Wiggolly Dantas won a surfing contest in Hawaii called the Volcom Pipe Pro in some pretty serious waves, and look at the photo – no traction pad.


I am the person behind Surfers Footprint. Thank you for taking the time to read through the post! If you want to know more about our story, scroll down and click on ABOUT SURFERS FOOTPRINT at the bottom of the HomePage.

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