Jul 10, 2011
The Latest Mat Upgrade...
A few months back Jamie emailed me and asked if there anything new on the horizon, design-wise. I had to admit that since the roundtail mats were tuned-in during the spring of 2010, not much was happening.
Over at ukmatsurfers.com, Grayman has been refining his grip system for the smooth-deck/thin-topped mats, and that's kept me thinking about the conundrum between really firm deck grip (like rubber grit with Vulkem, Tremflex, etc) and the ability to move around on your mat while riding (like on a canvas mat.)
Maybe it's a generational thing, but I think shifting positions on my mat while surfing is both fun and functional. Being raised riding canvas mats, it's second nature for me to move around during a ride when the situation calls for it...and I don't like losing that aspect of mat surfing. But after surfing super grippy rubber grit decks for 25 years (on the first-gen 4GFs) I also know the value of staying stuck on with more authority...mostly when pushing through larger surf, or pulling into thick sections.
The nylon canvas decks on the current generation of 4GF's are a lot better than the old cotton canvas decks, but they aren't perfect. Obviously, the ideal would be the best of both....more grip than pure canvas, without sacrificing the ability to easily pull yourself up onto the mat after take off, and slide around during the ride.
I've fiddled around with waxing up the decks of my canvas decked mats in the past, but the grip never felt right. A while back, I ran a hair dryer over the top of a mat that had a waxed deck, to see if I could dissolve the wax into the fabric to the point where it might "go away."
I took that mat out for a surf, and within a few minutes I realized that this deck might be what I'd been looking for all along. The mat had noticeably more grip than a plain canvas deck, but didn't resist any attempt to move around on it. The more waves I rode, the more stoked I got. The grip was no where near as solid as the rubber grit decks, but the improvement over canvas-alone was noticeable.
When I got home from that go out, I pulled a length of deck fabric onto my build table and started experimenting with various waxes, number of coats, combinations of hard and soft wax, less heat, more heat, etc.
What worked best was actually pretty simple...two light coats of refrigerated "cool water" surf wax, soaked into the fabric with a hair dryer set on medium heat.
Why refrigerated surf wax?
I noticed that when I rubbed "cool water" surf wax onto the deck, the soft wax transferred onto the deck in clumps. I didn't care much for that. And I didn't have that problem when I had applied the harder canning paraffin onto the deck. So I tried chilling bars of surf wax in the refrigerator. It firmed up the wax so it came off onto the canvas in small, controlled bumps, leaving a pretty even layer on the deck.
In any case, here's a tutorial on the way I think melted wax should be applied to a mat...
Place a bar of cool water surf wax in the fridge for at least an hour. (It'll hold it's firmness for as long as it takes to complete the entire operation.) If you're in the tropics, firmer "warm water" wax is fine.
Blow up your mat firmly, and run the chilled surf wax over the tops of the pontoons. This is roughly what the mat should look like after one coat of wax. Remember, you'll being doing two coats, so don't put too much on.
Deflate your mat, then gently go over the waxed areas with a hair dryer set on medium. This photo shows the mat after the middle pontoon is complete. Take your time, as there's no need to overheat the deck of the mat for the sake of brevity.
All three pontoons are complete. You don't have to make every bit of the wax disappear in to the fabric, just most of it. Once you finish this step, repeat the entire process again. Blow up your mat, go over it with a second light layer of chilled surfwax, deflate it, then soak the wax in with the hair dryer. Or, you can be conservative and try it out in the water with one coat, then add a second if you want a bit more grip. However, two coats seem ideal to me. From my tests, there doesn't seem to be any benefit to a third coat.
After you finish the second coat, water will bead up when your mat's immersed.
Once you've been in the water for a minute or two, the deck will begin to absorb water. The grip remains the same, however.
Don't try this idea unless you already have the feeling that you want more grip out of the canvas deck of your mat. But if you do give it a go, please report your experiences in the comments section. If everyone likes it, I might start doing it on the decks of new 4GF mats before they are sent out.