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Surfboard Construction

 

PU - Polyurethane

Polyurethane foam is still the most commonly used material to shape surfboards. Most shapers will order pre-fashioned "blanks" from foam supply companies, complete with stringer and basic shape outline and rocker in place. Many shapers use a number of tools to hand shape each board individually, especially more localised enterprises, but often larger companies choose to computer shape (CAD) to speed up the process. After the shape is completed, any artwork will be sprayed, painted or digitally laid onto the board and fin plugs inserted. The next stage is to lay the fibreglass cloth before the polyester resin is added and hardened. Once dried, the board is sanded to remove the excess resin to reduce weight. For a gloss finish, a spray or brush-on finish can then be added. Boards are usually left for 24hrs before attaching any tail pads and then finally the fins and the leash.

Pros:

  • Superior "feel" (than an Epoxy board).
  • Superior flex (than an Epoxy board).
  • Doesn't have a "corky" feeling (unlike an Epoxy board).
  • Can perform in choppy and windy conditions (unlike an Epoxy board).

Cons:

  • Less buoyant (than an Epoxy board).
  • Floats less (than an Epoxy board)- so you can't ride shorter boards.
  • Less paddle power (than an Epoxy board) - catching less waves.
  • Less durable (than an Epoxy board).




Epoxy & EPS

Epoxy is a relatively new surfboard construction material - generally referring to the resin used when glassing a surfboard. Although boosted by Clarke Foams liquidation in 2005, many shapers have been using the combination of Epoxy resin with EPS foam for around 2 decades - rather than using the traditional PU foam and Polyester Resin. EPS or expanded polystyrene foam, is basically the same as a Styrofoam coffee cup and offers a denser and more water resistant product than before. It's also more environmentally friendly and safer to work with. This new wave in board construction offers lighter and more buoyant boards, creating an opportunity for many new models to bloom into fruition. Increased floatation combined with a lighter product would seem to be the perfect step in surfboard construction. Add to the fact that they're also stronger - it would perhaps point to the beginning of the end for the traditional PU collective. But it seems this isn't the case, as the epoxy boards flex differently than poly boards, ultimately performing differently. At a beginner-intermediate level - there's no comparison, with the epoxy models winning on a head to head. But at a more intermediate-advanced standpoint, they still don't represent a true replacement at a performance level, thus securing the future, for now at least, for the construction of both Epoxy/EPS and Polyester/PU surfboards.

Pros:

  • More buoyant (than PU boards).
  • Floats better (than PU boards) - so you can ride shorter boards.
  • Riders can paddle easier - catching more waves.
  • More durable (than PU boards).
  • Ability to surf weaker / mushier waves.

Cons:

  • Inferior feel to a PU board when riding.
  • Lack of flex.
  • Has a "corky" feeling when riding.
  • Under perform in choppy and windy conditions.



Molded Pop Out

Dating back to the 1960s, where the first plastic molded boards were produced in California - the "pop-out" surfboard has had a tough time being accepted into the surfing industry. Until recent years, manufacturing draw backs meant failed production and limited success due to boards leaking or delaminating, and were generally labelled as nothing better than a board to learn on. However since the late 90's where a resurgence in machine made designs paved the way for a new breed of molded production - no more so than in the form of Surftech's tuflite technology (see our surftech section). On all levels of surfboard design - molded surfboards are considered more durable than hand shaped boards and usually extremely buoyant, 2 characteristics that any surfer is attracted to. On a beginner level - brands such as BIC and NSP produce excellent entry level boards - with additional focus on performance. On an intermediate to advanced level - Surftech are the market leaders.

Pros:

  • Stronger.
  • Higher performance level for high end boards.
  • Lighter for high end boards.
  • More ding resistant.
  • More buoyant for high end boards.
  • Retain high secondhand value.

Cons:

  • Low end boards are heavy.
  • Poor performance level for beginner level boards.
  • High end - expensive.



Surftech Tuflite

The Surfing industry's forerunner in board manufacturing came into fruition in the late 90's out of Santa Cruz, California. With core values focusing on a lighter, stronger performance surfboard, Surftech now dominates the world market with over 30 shapers replicating some of the most sought after shapes available. Using an EPS core that is 60% lighter than traditional PU boards, each board has 20% less overall weight. Whats unique is that durable aerospace sheet foam is then laminated to the EPS blank with a layer of fibreglass. Then after the fin box and leash plug are put in place, the board is hand laminated with epoxy resin and fibreglass. Finally, after excess resin is removed, the board is hand and machine sanded with the remaining artwork and finish applied. A lighter board increases paddle power, overall performance, and allows you to ride shorter boards improving your overall surfing. And with approximately 20-30% extra strength than PU boards, a tuflite board will not only last longer, but will keep its performance thanks to its increased flex lifespan.

Pros:(than that of standard PU boards)

  • Stronger.
  • Higher performance.
  • Lighter.
  • More ding resistant.
  • More buoyant.
  • Retain high second hand value.
  • Increased flex lifespan.

Cons:(than that of standard PU boards)

  • Poor in windy or choppy conditions.
  • Riders complain of corky feeling.
  • Can be referred to as too light.
  • Expensive.
  • Less flex & responsiveness.



Firewire

When Surftech unveiled their tuflite technology, the surfing world sensed a change in the air. Surfboards were now stronger and lighter but a question over performance remained. Firewire stepped up to the mark to fill the void with their Future Shapes Technology (FST), featuring a parabolic stringer design combined with low density EPS foam, far lighter than that of a PU board. The manufacturing process also includes a layer of high density aerospace composite that's added to the core for extra strength. The shell is further strengthened with fiberglass and epoxy resin. FST's focus was to strengthen the perimeter - with the aim purely on increased performance. It worked. Feedback over the following years was unanimous in its improved flex and responsiveness. But where improvements were made, it seems some criticism has been made over the boards durability. In response, Firewire advanced their technology with their Direct Drive (DD) Model, replacing the balsa rails with interior carbon rods that are suspended inside high density rail foam. The rods run alongside the interior of the rails and connect to the base of the fin box. The purpose is to control the rate of flex and flex memory. Firewire have since continued to produce further variations, such as the "FST-Springer" model with an added balsa stringer and the "Rapid Fire" with a bamboo deck skin. The boards retail pricing are considered a little higher than normal, yet still comparable to traditional PU surfboards. Unlike Surftech, where no word tour surfer represents them, Firewire have seen Taj Burrow remain in the top 10, surfing firewire surfboards for a number of years, cementing their credibility at the top of the performance table.

Pros:

  • Higher performance.
  • Slightly Lighter.
  • Retain high second hand value.
  • Increased flex lifespan.

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Questionable durability