New materials, new manufacturers, new surfboards: Nathan Myers invites you to move with the times.
Photos by Alex Laurel.
Just when you had it all figured out. Just when you could walk into a surf shop, pick up your standard white, PU, 6’4" Thruster, hold it under your arm and know exactly how it would ride... that’s when everything changed.
These days, you go into a surf shop and there are baby blue S-Cores; black, carbon fiber Avisos; hand-finished TL2 Surftechs; balsa-railed Firewires; and cleverly familiar custom epoxies. They look different. They feel different. They even sound different. And after you just got your backside snap all dialed in on our go-to board, how can they expect you to believe that these boards aren’t going to ride different as well?
Yes, evolution is scary stuff. By its very nature, many people will not accept it. For a while, at least. But it is also inevitable. It’s progress. Welcome to the Epoxy Revolution®.
“2006 was the biggest year for surfboards since the Shortboard Revolution of 1969," says epoxy resin guru Greg Loehr. “But, of course, it didn’t happen overnight, and it might still be a while before people are ready for it." Standing in the newly implemented “surfboards wing" of a recent industry tradeshow, Greg isn’t kidding. He’s been championing the benefits of epoxy resin (versus the commonly used polyester resin) for over 25 years, and now that people are being forced to pay attention, things are changing in a big way. Like this trade show.
Previously, the majority of the board-building industry had been too local, too “cottage" to concern itself with something as corpo and mass market as tradeshows. They were busy mowing foam and taking instructions from guys who couldn’t distinguish hydrodynamics from astrology. But these new technologies – the Surftechs, the Avisos, the Salomons – they’re more like industrial widgets than hand-shaped pieces of art, and they need slick, bro’d out, WQS wash-ups selling them as they come off the factory line.
That doesn’t sound very “soul-y", does it? Well, neither did “polyester resin" and “polyurethane foam" fifty years ago when dudes still were hacking their boards outta balsa wood with an axe. The only difference is that endorsing PU doesn’t give you big ol’ blisters. Let’s face it: the era of the handshaper is rapidly going the way of the backyard board. How many hot, young shapers do you see coming up these days? How many new labels emerged in your community in the last few years? Oh, I sense your soul-y cackles coming up — quickly, to the quotes: “There’s no soul in foam," Al Merrick once said (in defense of the computer shaping phenomenon). “The soul of surfing is to get out in the water and have a good time." See there? Now, are you gonna argue with Al Merrick? Well, did you know Merrick recently sold his business to Burton Snowboards? We assure you, it’s not to finance an increase in ghost shapers.
The Epoxy Revolution is all about technology. It’s about that fact that epoxy resin allows boardbuilders to work with a vast array of new materials in new and different ways. But hold on a second. What’s all this about “epoxy?" There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding that word, and what exactly an “epoxy surfboard" is. Well, let’s take a quick seminar:
Epoxy, quite simply, is a resin: a gelatinous liquid, which, when combined with a catalyzing agent and allowed to cure, becomes a solid. The term “epoxy" applies to a whole family of chemical possibilities which are commonly used in everything from boat hulls and airplane wings to racing bikes and tennis racquets. It was first used on surfboards by California design pioneer Bob Simmons in 1947, but was soon replaced by the more manageable polyester resin, which worked well with the early Clark Foam polyurethane foam foam (PU) became the standard material in surfboard manufacturing. It was easy. It was available. It was what we knew.
But while polyester resin pretty much works exclusively with polyurethane foam, epoxy resin works with a vast array of other materials (even your beloved polyurethane foam); including all varieties of widely available and highly adaptable Styrofoam (from which we get those nice-looking EPS and XTR handshapes). Aside from that, epoxy is stronger, lighter and more environmentally friendly than its more prominent forebear (exactly how much depends on usage, but suffice to say, on a 1-to-1 basis, there’s no competition).
Epoxy was not without its own problems, but as resin nerds like Greg Loehr and others methodically tackled the material’s negative early stigmas (it used to turn yellow, be too stiff and was tricky to catalyze) and developed methodologies that mirrored those of PU boards…well, most surfers still didn’t want to hear about it.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, virtually every other sport – from skiing and biking to snowboarding and boating – ditched their wooden racquets in favor of advanced epoxy composites, but surfing preferred tradition to performance. And while companies like Surftech (drawing on windsurf technology) and Salomon (drawing on their ski background), R&D’d new age alternatives, the surfworld satisfied itself with a retro movement, reviving the fish, the singlefin and stand-up paddling…all in search of some new sort of feeling.
And then, at the dawn of 2006, Clark Foam, that world’s largest supplier of polyurethane foam blanks, unexpectedly issued a cryptic seven-page fax announcing that it was closing its doors for good. Effective immediately. BAM! The alternative boards companies playing second fiddle to secondrate foam knew their time had come to act. They took out loans. They took out ads. The upped production. They contacted the tradeshows and they booked their booths. blanks. So, for the next 50 years, polyester resin and polyurethane Revolution started. Lecture over.
Sorry about that — we just needed you to understand that when we say “epoxy surfboard," we’re actually referring to any number of constructions using epoxy resin. We’ll be the first to admit this isn’t exactly the most exciting stuff to read about. Resin and foam. Marketing ploys. Global surfboard domination. You pretty much just wanna know which board is best, right? Well, that’s where it gets complicated — but don’t despair. One of the great beauties of this sport of ours is that you will never be wrong. You can ride the latest and greatest super-board or the oldest, funkiest barndoor and as long as you’re having fun out there, you’re still doing it right. So, even if you don’t approve of the new materials and new construction methods, you can’t argue that more options are just icing on the cake of what already exists. We’ve done pretty well refining the shapes we’ve developed. And the next phase is going to be all about making them float better, last longer and retain their flexmemory.
Shaper Rusty Preisendorfer currently has a line of Surftechs, a couple Salomon shapes, some Aviso models, and then spends his time building custom EPS epoxies and classic PU boards. “We’re pretty much in a wait-and-see mode right now," says Preisendorfer. “But we’re pretty happy about how our custom EPS boards are coming out. Of all my customers I’ve gotten to ride them, I’ve had nothing but positive feedback."
The custom styrene foam epoxy — using either expanded (EPS) or extruded-polystyrene (XTR) foam — is a great option for keeping the custom hand-shape (which, these days, is a code word for “computer shape") alive. That connection of shaper and surfer. That communication. That union of art and artist. The shaper takes a blank, inserts a stringer, mows the foam (or hits “send" on his CAD file), fine-tunes the rails and bottom contour by hand and then has the board glassed (with epoxy resin, of course) and finish sanded. Just like mom used to make, except with healthier ingredients: stronger, lighter and longer lasting. But, in addition to that, let’s take a look at a few of the other major players in this revolution.
SURFTECH owner Randy French deserves a lot of credit. Drawing on his background in the windsurf industry, he’s been making advanced composite surfboards for nearly two decades now and, despite some highly vocal and influential adversaries, has been doubling his business each year since the beginning and has endorsed designs from every major surfboard designer in the business). Surftech boards — produced in state-of-the-art factories in Thailand (by no means “sweat shops"), the boards have a styrene core (their own foam recipe, which is completely impervious to water), encased in another thin layer of tough, high-density foam and then glassed with clothe epoxy resin. There’s no stringer, but the high-density foam wraps from the deck all the way around the rail, which instills a stringer-like strength around the outline of the board, in what we now call a perimeter stringer, or parabolic stringer.
Surftech is also busy rolling out a next generation technology, called TL2, which allows for more custom modifications and has that clean, white look surfers seem so partial to. Oh, and Shane Dorian is stoking on them. Generation III is already in development. (More at www.surftech.com)
AVISO boards are completely hollow. Imagine two halves — top and bottom — being laid up separately, then sealed together along the rail: that’s an Aviso. Building boards miles from the US west coast in the deserts of Arizona, they use the near bullet-proof carbon fiber clothe and tailor the top and bottom to flex independently of each other. These boards also carry one of the highest price tags (around €1000), but the strength properties are pretty hard to beat. You may stop needing boardbags and bubble wrap. (www.avisosurf.com)
SALOMON “S-Core" boards are like Aviso in their construction, but different in a few distinct ways. In addition to carbon fibre, they use a water-resistant dampening foam (the blue stuff) and insert a polypropylene triple stringer up through the middle. These features both influence the flex patterns and keep the board from sounding like a canoe (one of the drawbacks of Avisos). Salomon, primarily a ski company, did massive amounts of R&D before releasing their boards to the public. Like Aviso, they’re extremely light, strong and, while they posses the capacity to produce any shape they put their mind to, custom orders are not available to the public. (www.salomonsports.com)
FIREWIRE surfboards, the newest comer to the market, may have successfully combined the best of all worlds. Combing the 15 years tinkering of Western Australian shaper Burt Berger, the surfworld know-how of longtime board-builder Nev Hyman, and the epoxy expertise of Greg Loehr, Firewire boards combine an EPS core and highdensity foam shell much like Surftech, combined with a hand-made balsa-wood parabolic stringer system. Best of all, they’re able to completely customize shapes (that is, as long as you don’t mind the extensive waiting list). That doesn’t mean they’re mowing foam, but rather, custom building each aspect of the board before molding them together in a vacuum bag and sealing the whole works with epoxy resin (it’s a 27 step process). Strength? Nev introduced the first shapes to the public by laying them on the sidewalk at public events and letting anyone who dared go to town on them (they’ve since backed off that approach, providing “instructions" for jumping on your board, if you must — but still, the point was made). Performance? World number 3 Taj Burrow signed on as their team rider this year, and yes, he really rides the boards in his WCT heats. (www.firewiresurfboards.com)
Other newcomers are legion — from Board works to Placebo to Flexile to Uli — and there will probably be more to come. For the moment, the ultimate goal is, ironically, to imitate that classic PU feeeeeling with these new and better materials, but only until we free the souly masses of their wooden racquets. And does this spell doom for the dinosaurs of Skil 100 backyard shaping? Well, that depends on how you deal with evolution.
“It’s a great time to be making surfboards," says longtime shaper and evolved being Jeff “Doc" Lausch, who, like Rusty, is involved with multiple technologies. “A quiver used to consist of the same board, just two inches longer, over and over. Now a good quiver has a fish and a single-fin, a Surftech and an Aviso. People’s minds are totally open."
Lausch and his staff at Surf Prescriptions have been conducting seminars at surf shops to educate sales staffs on the differences between the various boards, as well as board test days on the beach to allow buyers to paddle and ride the different constructions. Why? Because every surfer has different needs: the constant traveler; the weekend warrior; the WQS hopeful; the rank beginner; the soul-carver and the garage-sale kid. There’s a board out there for everyone. And no magazine article or advertisement or tradeshow-bro should tell you what that is.
Try everything you can get your hands on. Then ride what feels best to you. That’s our prescription. Wasn’t it Joel Tudor who once said, “There are no bad waves, only bad surfboards." Well, maybe it’s time to take that mantra one step further: There are no bad surfboards, only bad surfers. And there are no bad surfers. Only bad unicorns.
2007 SHAPING TRENDS
While epoxy and ‘new’ technology might be stealing the headlines, here’s the latest from Europe’s PU-dominated custom shaping bays.
“I’m always looking for more speed, coz speed is what makes it all happen. Concave (mostly single) working in harmony with the rail rocker line, an even thickness distribution and a clean plan shape is where I look to apply my energy again this year. Feedback from my own team and a lot of WQS surfers made last year one of our most successful and exciting years ever and we are looking forward to a lot more of that this year. The level of today’s top surfers keep all dedicated shapers at full attention, it’s a constant challenge to satisfy them and very rewarding to know that we are playing a part in the progression of the sport."
Nick Uricchio, Semente, Portugal
“The modern board the pro rides, the way young fit surfers are surfing them these days, to me they are race cars and most people don’t need a race car, they need a family sedan and something comfortable. An average surfer can’t surf a 6’2, 181/4, 21/4 with deep single concave, but can surf the retro shapes. There is no more stigma attached anymore that you will be surfing something with a full nose, before that was a little bit of an issue. We were so focused on going forward with the rockers and the concave, and the low volume and high performance surfboards that we forgot about the recreational surfer, and that’s what you see now with all the variations in surfboard design. It is a good thing."
“The trend for retro models will continue in 2007. Due to their more pronounced shapes, these types of boards are easier and more fun to ride in small conditions. Elsewhere, we’ll continue to tweak our high performance surfboards with more pronounced concaves and foil, rail and rocker variations, making them that much more responsive! Thanks to technical support from ESTIA Innovation, I’m also planning to do tests on new materials to analyse flex and torsion potential under high performance conditions with the continual aim of fine-tuning the performance of our boards."
JP Stark, France
“The development of current production methods has been exhausted and we’re looking at new materials and ideas to create lighter and better performing surfboards. Due to a special construction technology, we’re able to glass hydrophobic foam blanks to optimise performance and strength while remaining light and being more ecological. Flex is also going to play an increasingly important role in surfboard development. Being able to customize flex characteristics to different surfers and conditions are now key elements to modern day surfboard design."
Sven, Bufo boards
“Small, mushy and lined up - jump on a longboard noserider. If you want to put it up there get on your quad fish. Hollow and fast? Use your high performance thruster or step up board. Try different fin set ups, spice up your surfing, experiment, it’s all about style and fun. A perfect quiver would be a 9"single fin log , a battail quad fish and a step up high performance thruster. Maybe give that quad an extra fin box so you can ride it as a thruster or a quad! All options are there and we at fatum can deliver your dream toy for the job."
Thomas Lange, Fatum, Portugal
"Our main surfboard lines will be made up of more environmentally friendly expanded or extruded polystyrene blanks, with and without stringers. Our blank supplier Teccel Foam has also developed parabolic stringers. The fin templates and fin systems will include the quad, twinzer, cluster and 3+2. In the face of mass produced boards, our main selling point will remain focused on excellent quality, our ability to adapt to new technologies and produce custom-made surfboards which will remain our biggest market."
Renaud, UWL, France
“We’re continuing to develop our quad fin setups for our local reefs & points, not just for the retro fishes & tow-in boards like last year, but this year more customers are wanting this set up on their regular, custom performance shortboards. Experienced surfers now seem to be more willing to experiment rather than just sticking with their mainstream pro thruster shapes. Our big fish model is still amongst one of our best sellers for the intermediates."
Mark McGuire, Powersource, Ireland
“I’ll be focusing on five boards as stock boards for 2007, The Slicer, The Orange Peeler, The Hip, The Fatboy and The Secret Weapon. My most popular custom shapes have had a hip in the tail (that gives a straighter outline for a faster line), with slightly more tail flick, a low entry rocker with a low/round rail and razor sharp edge from the fins back. I’m still using PU materials but do have plans to change all that! I think the only way to go in the future is by using more enviromentaly friendly materials."
Ryan Herve, Nutz, Jersey