You see a lot of skimboarders with traction pads both on the back of their board as well as a strip on the front.
If you're new to skimboarding (or even if you've been doing it a while) you might want to know the pros and cons of traction pads vs wax and whether or not it's worth investing the money into pads.
I have a skimboard and am currently just using wax, but should I invest the money into traction pads or should I save my money and just stick with regular surfboard wax?
Skimboards traction pads provide you with more grip and control than just wax. They also help you with foot placement as you can ‘feel' when your feet are in the right spot. They aren't needed to get started skimboarding so save your money if you're a beginner but invest in them if you can afford it.
I would personally recommend if you're just getting into skimboarding to start with just surfboard wax and don't spend the money on the traction pads unless you really want to or money is no issue for you.
If you want to get started with traction pads then the tail pad is the most important once so get that first.
Then, once you've been skimboarding for a while and know you enjoy it, to invest in the pads. They'll give you better grip, they'll look great on your board and overall it will be much easier than having your entire board covered in wax.
Traction pads are generally better than just wax. It ultimately comes down to whether or not it's worth the investing your money into them. You don't NEED them to get started and some of the best skimboarders still don't use them, but they can be helpful.
Traction Pads Give Increased Grip
One of the major benefits of traction pads over wax is that they give you increased grip on your board allowing you to maneuver easier and gives you more control over your skimboard.
Many skimboarders use a front arch bar which is a thin strip running up the center of the board. It grips to the arch of your foot (which regular wax can't reach) giving you more grip and more control.
Wax still gives you a good amount of grip so traction pads aren't required but the extra grip can make skimboarding easier.
Traction Pads Have a Back Kicker
Most skimboard tail pads come with a back kicker. This gives your more control at the back of your board allowing you to shift your weight back more easily and can give you more control once on a wave.
Being a long time surfer I know the benefit of having a back kicker on my tail pad when making tight turns on a wave. The extra grip combined with the raised kicker just makes movement easier than a flat board with only wax.
The back kicker can also help you do tricks more easily but this is going to be for more advanced skimboarders.
Traction Pads Are Cleaner Than Wax and Longer Lasting
If you're planning on skimboarding for a long time then a traction pad is a worthy investment.
They are cleaner than wax (as they don't rub off on you or anything) and they are also longer lasting than wax.
You periodically need to strip the old wax off your board and replace it with new wax. I personally do this a few times a year.
However, you can run with the same traction pads for years and even decades without them needing to be replaced.
Wax Can Melt Off and Be Messy
As we mentioned above traction pads can be a cleaner way of getting grip on your board.
If you're going out on a hot day then the wax on your board can melt off in the sun getting on your wetsuit, towel, car upholstery or anything else it touches.
Even skimboards with traction pads will use some wax in the areas the traction pads don't cover so you'll still have to be careful where you place your board.
But with traction pads it's less of a big deal if your wax starts melting and you're less likely to get wax on items you don't want wax on.
Traction Pads Cost Money
The major downside of traction pads is they cost money and you're often looking at investing at least $30-$40 and sometimes even more.
On the flip side a box of wax might only cost you a couple of dollars.
I find it helpful to weigh up the cost of the traction pads vs the value and longevity of your board.
For example if you have a cheap wooden board that cost $20-$50 and traction pads will cost the same amount it's hardly worth spending equal money on pads as you did on the board.
Wooden boards also aren't great for catching waves and people only use them for a short period of time before upgrading to a better board. So investing pads onto a board you'll stop using soon doesn't make lots of sense.
But if you've purchased a high quality board and spent hundreds of dollars and it's going to last you years it's often worth the investment into pads to give you better grip for years to come.
Traction Pads Make Foot Placement Easy
A major benefit to having traction pads when you're a beginner is that it makes foot placement a whole lot easier.
You can feel and see when you've put your feet in the right position.
You back foot should be on your tail pad and your front foot should be centered on your board on the arch bar. If they aren't you know you've messed up and can correct next time.
It makes learning good food placement faster and easier.
Even With Traction Pads You Need Wax
It's important to note that even with traction pads you'll still need to buy wax.
Most skimboarder use a tail pad at the back of their board and an arch bar up the center of their board.
But the arch bar doesn't cover the whole board so you'll need to wax the rest of your board that doesn't have pads on it.
You Can Do Fine With Just Wax
I want to make clear that you don't NEED traction pads on your skimboard, they are just a nice to have.
In fact some pros use only wax on their skimboards and a lot of skimboarders do just fine with only wax.
Yes, traction pads are recommended for higher performance. But you can still get yourself skimming and riding waves with just wax.
The post on this Reddit thread sums things up pretty well:
I'd say up to you. I met a guy on the beach with just wax and he was probably the best skimboarder i've ever seen
If You Have a Cheap Board It May Not Be Worth Getting Pads
If you're just starting out and you've got a cheap wooden skim board that only cost you $20-$50 then it's probably not worth investing into pads.
Cheap wooden boards are only good for skimming on wet sand and aren't great for catching waves so you aren't going to get much use out of the pads. The boards also wear out faster.
However, if you've invested money into a good skim board and spent hundreds of dollars on a high performance board and you're actively catching waves (or planning on it) then the investment into traction pads are going to be well worth it.
Some pro riders only use a tail pad at the back of their board while others also have pads at the front of their board.
Ultimately It Comes Down To Personal Preference
At the end of the day it all comes down to personal preference.
You are going to be fine to get started with just wax on your board, especially if you are a beginner. Just make sure you don't put wax on the bottom of your skimboard.
As you improve as a skimboarder you'll likely want to invest in some pads for your board to give you better traction and help you have more control over your turns on the wave.
But some of the best skimboarders ride boards without pads and do just fine so they aren't a must have item.
So do what feels right for you and get pads if you want to or just use wax if that's what you prefer.