I’m going to be honest here: when it comes to surfing, there’s a whole heap of expectations I’ve placed on myself over the years that I’ve never lived up to. But the fact I never became a full-on shredder or a trophy-collecting contest machine doesn’t haunt me in the same way having never applied a perfect coat of wax does and probably forever will.

I remember seeing one or two of them as a grom. Small, neat, perfectly-formed beads covering the deck of some older ripper’s board, not a smudge in sight. They looked like the work of expert craftsmen, and they were as rare as offshores on summer days, but having seen them I knew they were possible and that one day I too wanted to lay down the perfect coat. Being a grommet, though, I was too impatient, too eager to race off and catch a hundred waves, and so a quick rub with any sandy old skerrick of wax was enough. But the seed had been planted. I knew one day I’d turn my hand to the art.

The catalyst came a couple of years later, when a smartass mate had a dig at my waxing skills before a surf. ‘Do you even know what you’re doing?’ he jibed as he waited for me to finish. I know now that the comment was just the work of a shit-stirring grommet (these days the same mate routinely lays down the ugliest, smudgiest, most hurried-looking coats), but at the time it really hurt. It made me ask myself the same question. It also made my desire to become a Mr Miyagi-style wax guru grow stronger and more urgent.

Laird knows what's up in the world of wax!

 

I started taking care whenever I waxed a fresh deck. I came across an article by Taj about how he got his coats so steezy and took every word as gospel. I laid down criss-crosses on the base, threw away my wax comb, stopped using Mrs Palmers and Toe Jam and instead made the leap over to the evocatively named Sex Wax. And the results spoke for themselves. My coats improved dramatically. They still weren’t the works of art I’d seen when I was younger, and they probably didn’t make an iota of difference to my surfing, but they looked good, and I was confident that with time and practice they’d only get better.

Years passed. I moved up and down the coast. I stuck with my routine. My waxing skills became accomplished, respectable, the kind where I could pass my board to others and while they were checking out the outline or rocker or dimensions, know that the coat looked clean and grippy, the work of an experienced hand. I started thinking maybe I’d mastered the art. Maybe those perfect coats I’d glimpsed as a grommet had been blown out of proportion by my thirteen-year-old mind? Maybe I was already laying down the perfect coats?

Then a friend moved in up the road, a fellow surfer named Kyle who I’d met while life-guarding a few months before. One day he texted saying he’d got a new board and to come over and check it out. I went. When I got there, though, it wasn’t the tail or concave that caught my eye. It wasn’t the rails that he kept running his hands over. It was the fucking wax job. It was immaculate, as good as any I’d ever seen. It shattered whatever illusions I might’ve had about having mastered the art of the perfect coat. I managed to compose myself just enough to ask how he did it, and I still remember the way he shrugged and said ‘Use sex wax’, as if it was that easy, as if he got the same result every time.

These days I still stick to my routine—patchwork lines for the base coat, slow, gentle circles on top. And I get good results. The kind that suggests I’ve been waxing surfboards for close to twenty years. But the perfect coat still eludes me. Sometimes that fact wakes me in the middle of the night. I think maybe like the Joels and Julians and John Johns of the world—those gifted few who make riding waves look oh so graceful and easy—there’s Joels and Julians and John Johns of applying wax. I don’t know.

But I live in hope that my finest coat is still to come.

How-To Wax a Surfboard With Eli from EyeHandy on Vimeo.