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California: Energy and the Art of Hanging Ten

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 7, 2017

Ever since the early 1960s, when Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys popularized the “California Sound” and surf music, the union of surfing and sunny Southern California has been “epic,” “cranking,” “radical” – all surfing shorthand for awesome. You can surf in other states, but it’s hard to beat Cali for catchin’ a wave and sitting on top of the world.   

Download: California is Energy

Energy makes wave-catching “epic.”

Sure, surfing is riding high on the waves, the sun glinting in your eyes and the briny smell of the ocean in your nostrils. It’s also that surfboard under your feet, which is where energy comes in. Whether you choose a shortboard, funboard or go with an old-school longboard, energy keeps you cruising on the crest of the Pacific Ocean’s chilly blue water.


While the ancient Polynesians and then Hawaiians used wooden surfboards for their sport, since the 1950s most surfboards have been made using layers of petroleum-based products to create durable, light and buoyant boards.

Today’s surfboards start with foam blanks made of polyurethane, made from oil, which are produced from monomers, prepolymers and stabilizers. These blanks then are machine- or hand-molded into a desired shape, from about 5 feet for a short board, to as much as 11 feet for a longboard. Typically, the cores are made of a closed-cell foam, which helps repel water and keeps the board from getting saturated if the outer shell is damaged somehow. The foam core then is lined with fiberglass sheets, which use petroleum resins as a binding component. The board is laminated with a polyurethane epoxy resin, cured and finely sanded for a smooth finish.

Infographic: Surfboard Anatomy

Wax on, Wax off

So, with all that stuff in it, we know the surfboard will stay on the water’s surface. And the surfer will, too, unless they slip off. Enter more energy, because the surfboard wax many surfers use comes from oil.

Surfers used to employ a sand-infused varnish, which was great for traction but not so great for feet and knees. The discovery of paraffin wax offered traction minus the abrasion. It’s made from oil, distinguished by large, well-formed crystals that allow it to give maximum traction.

More than 10 million bars of surf wax were produced in 2010, with most using paraffin wax as the main ingredient. Other common ingredients in surf wax include beeswax for pliability, petroleum jelly for lubrication, synthetic rubber or petrochemical resin for stickiness, plastics for temperature control, and chemical-based scenting. These are mixed together, heated to 130 degrees and shaped using industrial molds to produce up to 2,500 bars of wax at a time.

In addition to waxing boards for traction, manufacturers have introduced polyurethane foam traction pads, another oil-based product, that can be applied to the board for extra gripping. These came along in the 1980s and early 1990s and continue to be popular among surfers, with a host of different products designed for various water temperatures.

Infographic: California Catching Waves

Surf City, USA

Each summer, Huntington Beach, Calif., revs up surf culture with the annual U.S. Open of Surfing, the world’s largest surfing competition. The event attracts hundreds of competitors and more than a half million attendees who flock to the beach town that Jan and Dean sang of in their 1963 hit “Surf City.” 

Like so many summer activities, the July 29-Aug. 6 event is an energy event – and a major boon to the local economy, generating an estimated $21.5 million in direct spending. About 72 percent of that total stays in Huntington Beach, with 28 percent being spent in greater Orange County.

 So, whether you’re a tidy surfer yourself, or a “Barney,” a beginner with the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” playing in the background, energy is there, helping all toward the goal of Hanging Ten.



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Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.