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How to Set Up a Surfboard

With a bit of knowledge, setting up a surfboard is super simple. And as the purveyors of surf-centred information, Boardcave is here to share with you exactly the information you need to learn how to set up a surfboard.

Let's keep it simple and keep it sweet so that you can find yourself paddling into the lineup in no time with your brand new shred stick.

The Components of a Surfboard

When addressing how to set up a surfboard, you must first understand the various components of a surfboard that you will need. These include:

  • The Surfboard Deck- the actual surfboard without fins and any other accessories
  • Fins- a key component of a surfboard, fins ensure stability, hold, and allow for turns and other manoeuvres on a wave. Surfboards feature either a single fin, a twin fin, a tri-fin, or a quad fin set up. Some surfboards come with five fin boxes to switch the fin variations based on conditions.
  • Tail Pad/Track Pad- a tail pad is a foam pad placed on the back of the surfboard and helps to keep your back foot gripped onto the board. They feature a small, angled lip to help the surfer initiate turns by allowing the surfer to dig their foot and their weight into the back of the board, right over the fins.
  • Leash/Leg Rope- A surfboard leash is a urethane cord that attaches to both the surfboard and the surfer's ankle to prevent the board from being swept away when the board leaves the surfers control, such as during a wipeout.
  • Leash String- A small piece of rope knotted into the surfboard's leash plug. The leash is attached to the leash tie.
  • Wax- Surfboard wax promotes traction and grip to prevent the surfer from slipping on the deck of their surfboard.
  • Fin Key- A small, hexagonal screwdriver that allows you to attach/remove your surfboard fins.
  • Fin Screws- The screws that attach to the fins to the surfboard (not necessary with some new fin models, such as FCS II).

Once you have all of these essentials, you are ready to begin nailing down how to set up a surfboard.

The Surfboard

Before setting up a surfboard, you are obviously going to need a surfboard deck shaped to your skill level, surfing desires, and the types of waves you ride. These shapes include, among others, longboards, fun shapes, shortboards, and fish shapes. To learn more about what type of surfboard is best for you, read this article and utilise our board engine to lock in the best dimensions (surfboard measurements) and shapes for your weight and size.

Traction Pad

Once you have your new deck, setting up the traction pad is the first step in setting up a surfboard. Here's how it goes:

  1. Clean the Surfboard Deck

Cleaning the deck of the surfboard ensures that the traction pad will stick and enhances the longevity of the traction pad. Simply take a rag, wipe down the deck with water, and let it dry. When removing old surfboard wax or an old traction pad, you will need a board-safe wax remover (usually composed of environmentally friendly and board friendly citric acid), but because your board is brand new, a little wipe down should be all you need.

  1. Eyeball the Pad

Once the board is cleaned, play around with the tail pad positioning before removing the adhesive barrier. Some traction pads come as one single piece, which is easiest to place, while others come in three pieces for a touch of added customisation.

Start with tail pad positing. Place the pad above the leash plug so that the plug is not blocked; somewhere around 5-7 centimeters above the plug is ideal. With time you will learn your perfect location specific to your abilities, as some surfers like to place it as far back as possible for more aggressive turns, but for now, stick to this general range.

Keep the tail pad as centred and straight as possible. If your surfboard has a stringer, this is an excellent way to line up the pad so that it is perfectly straight, as stingers are the exact middle point of the surfboard. If you have a three-piece traction pad, you can create small gaps between each piece with various angles of pad placement (the right and left piece pointing slightly in the opposite directions). Bring your head eye level to the surfboard for the best visual of placement and to ensure that it is straight.

Once you have a good idea of where you want your pad placed, it's time to stick it down. You can use a pencil and very, ever so lightly mark the major points of reference of where you wish to place it.

  1. Place the Pad

You might be anxious when placing the pad, as you really only get one chance to do it right, but don't worry. The key is to relax, take your time, and not overthink it. Even if it's not 'perfect, your tail pad will still work completely fine.

Remove the adhesive, and use your points of reference to stick it onto the board firmly, just like a sticker. If your pad is a three-piece, keep the other pieces on the board for reference. I like to start with the middle piece first. Use a little pressure to ensure that it is stuck and so that there are no air bubbles.

Give your traction pad 24 hours to fully adhere before paddling out.

Leash/Leg Rope

Unless you're an old-school longboard fanatic, then you are probably going to need a leash, a necessary addition in learning how to set up a surfboard with safety in mind. A leash about the same length or slightly shorter than the surfboard is ideal, but for longboards, you will need a leash that is a few inches to a foot longer than your board to allow for noseriding.

  1. The Leash String

Placing the leash string is the first step in setting up a surfboard leash. You will notice a small plug towards the tail end of your surfboard, with a small bar through the centre, and this is where the leash string is placed.

Start by running the leash string under the bar. You might need a fin key to help push the string fully through, as they like to be stubborn. If the knot of the leash string is large enough, this will be enough to keep the string locked into the plug, but I like to pass the knot through the 'bunny ear' once to ensure that it is tied in.

Now here is the essential part- the length of the leash string. To see if the string is too long, pull the string over the rails and the tail of your surfboard. If it reaches over the rails, then it is too long, as the string can pull sharply and cut through the surfboard rails. Shorten the string until it does not pass over the tail or the rails to prevent this.

  1. Leash to Surfboard

Once the leash string is secured, it's time to attach the leash. This part of learning how to set up a surfboard is super simple. Facing away from you, simply pass the opened velcro piece through the string. Fold the velcro towards you once so that it sticks, and then fold the final piece down and away from you. The leash string should now be covered with the leash attachment, which also helps protect the board from damage, and is secured to the board.

  1. Leash to Ankle

Once your leash is attached to the board, all you need to do is strap the piece to your ankle when you are ready to surf. Place the board on the sand, and tightly strap it to your back leg.


There's nothing better than waxing up a brand new surfboard. Nothing.

Here's how you do it right.

  1. Basecoat

If you really want to learn how to set up a surfboard correctly, then we suggest starting with a base coat layer of surf wax. Create diagonal lines from one side of the rails to the other, doing it again in the other direction, so that small diamond shapes are created on the deck. Once this is done, initiate small circles across the board and across the diamonds with the wax to fully apply the base layer. You don't have to wax the surfboard from the tip of the nose down, so focus on the middle portion of the deck, stopping a foot or two from the nose.

  1. Top Coat

Next comes the topcoat. The type of wax you use will depend on the water temperature where you surf. Wax companies make it super easy to determine the best kind of wax based on the average ranges of temperatures.

With your topcoat, again initiate small circles with the wax across the board. Your goal is to create small bumps and clumps of wax. Although the wax itself is sticky and helps to promote grip, the real grip comes from the bumps. These bumps help to create friction between your foot and the surfboard for grip.

Surfboard Fins

Surfboard fins come in a variety of configurations, styles, and shapes. Regardless, when learning how to set up a surfboard, you are going to have to learn how to place the fins. The best first step is to learn everything you can about the fins themselves so that you can choose the right setup for you. This article will help. Once you have the desired fin set up, it's time to place them in.

  1. Flip the Board Around

Start by flipping your surfboard deck to the backside so that the fin boxes face you.

  1. What Fins go Where?

Unless you have a single fin, then the various fins are made for specific fin boxes. First off, the fins should angle towards the back of the surfboard so that the tips point to the tail (trust us, putting on your fins backward might land you a spot on Kook of the Day, so don't get this wrong!).

The fins that are placed on the side fin boxes will feature one completely flat side, and you can both see and feel this flat side. The flat side of the fin is meant to face towards the inside of your board. The fin with the flat side on the right will be placed on the left fin box, and vice versa. The middle fin will not have a flat side, is not angled, and is symmetric throughout.

  1. Pop-In Surfboard Fins

If you opt for pop-in surfboard fins that do not require a key, such as FCS II, then all it takes is popping the surfboard fins into the correct fin boxes, and you are good to go!

  1. Fin Screws

If you go for classic fins that feature screws, start by taking your fin key, turning it counterclockwise in the screw, until most of the fin screw protrudes out from the fin box. Do not remove the screw completely out of the fin box, as this can lead to stripping when trying to get it back in.

  1. Place the Fins

With the fin screws out, place the fins in the correct boxes. Take the backside of the fin, angle it down into the fin box (there is a little gap that a small box on the fin will fill), and then press the top portion of the fin down and into the box.

  1. Screw the Fins

Once in, screw the fin screws back down by turning your fin key clockwise. You want to ensure that they are tight, but don't over-tighten them and damage the fins or the fin box. When removing fins in the future, unscrew the fin screw and use a rag when pulling them out (pulling towards your body) so that your hands don't get ripped up in the process.

Once your finds are screwed in, you are ready to go!

  1. Longboard Fins

Longboard fins won't have the same fin screw as other fin setups, and these large single fins are instead held in place by a flathead or a Phillips head screw. First, take the small metal nut and insert it down into the fin box. Move the metal nut to match the correct positioning where the open hole in the fin will screw into. Use your screwdriver to adjust the positioning of the nut.

Then, insert the fin into the box. Two small, metal pieces protruding from each side of the fin go in first, usually on the front of the fin. Line up these pieces into the grooves in the box, and then push the rest of the fin forward and in. Here you can slide the fin back and forth until it hovers evenly above the nut.

For more control, speed, drive, and better noserides, place the fin further towards the surfboard's tail. You can place the fin further towards the nose for a looser feel and for a heightened ability to turn the surfboard.

Screw it down with your screwdriver, again tightly but not too tight, and you are good to go.

How to Set Up a Surfboard- That's it!

With a traction pad on, the leash safely secured, a fresh layer of wax across the deck, and your fins properly faced, then you are ready to rip it up.

Always take care of your surfboard by washing it with fresh water after a session, including occasionally rinsing out the fin boxes and constantly washing the leash. Every once in a while, remove your old wax to place on a clean, fresh layer of wax for more stick. For those times when unexpected dings or damages occur, be prepared with our reliable surfboard repair kits. Additionally, ensure your beloved board is protected during your travels with our high-quality surfboard travel bags.

If you are learning how to set up a surfboard, you are properly in your beginning stages of surfing, so welcome to the community and your new passion. Boardcave is always here to help you in your journey, so let us know if you ever have any questions, and enjoy every moment of time spent in our beautiful oceans. See you out there!