Board Test: Polyurethane vs. Varial Foam technology

stunet's picture
stunet started the topic in Tuesday, 12 May 2015 at 8:56am

Another comparative material test by Surfer's Village. This time standard PU foam vs. Varial foam:

Identical computer shaped boards road tested

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 10 May, 2015 - We’ve been using the same surfboard materials for almost 60 years. Why? Polyurethane foam and fiberglass is cheap, abundant (unless you count the 2005 Clark Foam crisis) and most of all, familiar. Every other aspect of surfing has made technological leaps and bounds: fins, leashes, boardshorts and wetsuits but surfboard materials remain the same. It’s a sad, familiar, toxic, story. But a new company on the market is offering an alternative to PU blanks, Varial Foam 

Varial was developed in the aerospace industry and has a tighter cell structure than standard polyurethane foam. According to the makers, the blanks are 25% lighter and are substantially stronger.

Varial Foam doesn’t use a stringer. Instead the foam is engineered to hold a similar flex pattern to that of a PU blank with a stringer. “Varial has 7X the modulus of PU or EPS foam,” says Parker Borneman of Varial. “Modulus is a technical term for the foam’s rigidity. The enhanced rigidity of Varial Foam compensates for the lack of a wood stringer.” 

Matt Biolos of …Lost Surfboards, and shaper of our test board, a SubDriver, agrees the cell density in Varial is unique. “It’s easily the tightest cell structure of any foam developed for surfboards,” he says. “It also glasses up very light and flexy.”

The advantage of going stringerless is that it eliminates the inconsistent flex properties of wood - due to the knots and grain density in wood that vary slightly from stringer to stringer. The end result is flex consistency from blank to blank.

1-0640-four_boards_right_copy.jpg

Varial is gaining traction in the market and a few shapers out there are backing the foam, most notably Jeff ‘Doc’ Lausch of Surf Prescriptions and Biolos. Then there are a few pros as well who endorse the technology, like Shane Dorian and Ian Battrick.

“Ive ridden it (Varial) everywhere,” says Battrick. “You will notice the second you stand up on Varial it’s so much faster! It feels more lively, responsive, paddles better, and has a nice float.”

So now that we’ve done our tech homework, talked to the makers and to surfers more skilled than us, let’s get going and share what we, the average-to-sometimes-above average surfer, discovered…

We Rode Two Identical Boards:
Both boards were both shaped off the exact same computer file by Matt Biolos and …Lost. They are a SubDriver “Grovel” at 5’11” x 20.25 x 2.5 at 32 Cubic Liters in Polyurethane construction and  in Varial/Hydroflex/Epoxy construction.

The Varial board was glassed with epoxy Hydroflex tech. Hydroflex uses a method where resin is injected into the foam blank for strength - reports are that the bonding between the foam and lamination is 600% stronger than with traditional glass jobs. (We can’t prove that but it sounds great!) The tail patch on the Varial/Hydroflex board is an aerospace grade fabric. The PU board is two years old and starting to yellow (except where it’s covered in Posca paint-pen children's artwork.)

First Impressions:
Varial is much lighter. With pad and fins it weighs 6 pounds 7 ounces while the PU counterpart weighs in at 7 pounds 10 ounces.

Float:
Varial has a nice float to it without feeling too ‘corky.’ More buoyancy? Tough call, but if we had to decide, we’d say the Varial is a touch floatier. To gauge if this was all in our heads, we asked Biolos about the difference in float and materials: “Whatever is more light of two exact objects will be more buoyant,” he says. “So, in general, boards built with lighter cores like EPS, XPS or Varial, tend to feel floatier.” Thank you Matt.

Varial convert Ian Battrick said he goes a shave thinner in his dims when ordering a Varial board compared to a PU board. 

pu_foam_70x1.jpg
Polyurethane foam left and Varial foam right at 70x magnification

What We Discovered:
In a variety of conditions the Varial felt like a very lively PU board. It felt a touch springier than the PU, meaning it felt like it snapped back quicker than the PU board. Biolos says the Varial foam can feel more flexible than PU, but in testing I didn’t find this to be a negative. In fact I would say the Varial has a positive, lively ‘zip’ to it.
 
The Varial board also had that quickness to it that lighter-glassed PU and epoxy boards tend to have. Best though was that the board didn’t chatter or bounce in chop like a lot of epoxy or EPS boards will do. It had the same positive drive familiarity as PU constructions.

Varial claims that the blank will retain this zippiness for the lifespan of the board, and the board will also never yellow as the foam is resistant to UV rays. 

Of note on durability, the board is strong. We stood on it. It flexed. We ran over someone’s board in the lineup (Not our fault - the surfer ditched his Channel Islands) with no ill effects on the Varial. The Varial deck did have some pressure denting - less than you’d find on a PU but more than on an epoxy or Firewire constructed surfboard.

hydroflex-varial.jpg
Construction diagram of our test board

The Takeaway
It surfs like a light, team-glassed PU board (even a bit more lively) but with excellent durability characteristics. The Varial is strong without many of the drawbacks of lighter, non-PU constructions: stiffness, chattering in chop and being extra floaty. The downside is it costs more (30% says Varial). Some surfers might not want a board that feels ’team light’. 

The test board rode like a PU, which made me like it, which led me back to asking Biolos why collectively we as surfers are so picky and obsessed with finding NEW constructions that mimic - as exactly as possible - the same OLD polyurethane we’ve been using for so many decades. Why use PU as the benchmark that all other constructions are measured?

“Familiarity,” he says. “We were all raised on traditional boards. I think as we move further and further from generations that were exclusively raised on traditional construction, you will slowly see more and more surfers feel comfortable with alternative constructions.”

Biolos added that most of these alternative constructions were developed to aid in small surf but that most of the world class surfing is done in solid surf and the athletes are riding traditional constructions 95% of the time. So why aren’t we embracing a materials revolution? 

“Thats what the public sees, and as the public sees, the public does,” says Biolos.” 

Roy Stuart's picture
Roy Stuart's picture
Roy Stuart commented Monday, 14 Sep 2015 at 10:25pm

Yes, provided that the skins in both cases are supported sufficiently to prevent buckling, and that the skins are identical in both cases.

It's not necessary for me to obtain experimental data for this, it's physics 101 but if you wish to test it just make two identical boards, one with stiffer foam and then measure the difference in deflection under load. The difference will be negligible.

I'm too busy with investigations into the effects of water temperature on Reynolds numbers and what this means for fin design to bother proving what I already know, but you might have fun with it.

foreday rider's picture
foreday rider's picture
foreday rider commented Tuesday, 15 Sep 2015 at 3:19am

Roy Stuart wrote:

e wrote: .Foreday rider: thickness will be determined by the core's buoyancy.......the often quoted "volume" will give different flotation if the core density is changed...as in EPS core instead of poly blank.

... clearly that's not necessarily the case, since core density does not determine finished board density.

Furthermore neither core density nor core stiffness determine finished board flexibility.

Considering the thread is about the virtues of Varial foam blanks , to be shaped and glassed with either poly or epoxy , you're remiss on all counts Roy.......less flexible core will produce less flexible board , and vice versa.....every time.....in HP shorties that are often built under the 5lb mark , all aspects of performance are quite noticeable , and almost nothing escapes the test riders.
foreday rider's picture
foreday rider's picture
foreday rider commented Tuesday, 15 Sep 2015 at 8:39pm

"Float:
Varial has a nice float to it without feeling too ‘corky.’ More buoyancy? Tough call, but if we had to decide, we’d say the Varial is a touch floatier. To gauge if this was all in our heads, we asked Biolos about the difference in float and materials: “Whatever is more light of two exact objects will be more buoyant,” he says. “So, in general, boards built with lighter cores like EPS, XPS or Varial, tend to feel floatier.” Thank you Matt."

"Varial convert Ian Battrick said he goes a shave thinner in his dims when ordering a Varial board compared to a PU board"........ergo= lighter core = MORE (edit) float=thickness reduced accordingly......nothing new .

foreday rider's picture
foreday rider's picture
foreday rider commented Tuesday, 15 Sep 2015 at 3:52am

I liked the concept behind the "geodesic" blanks.....not sure if they ever got them to market , but they provided some interesting possibilities .

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 15 Sep 2015 at 6:16am

foreday rider wrote: I liked the concept behind the "geodesic" blanks.....not sure if they ever got them to market , but they provided some interesting possibilities .

Yeah, they're starting to slowly filter into the market now. I spoke to Guy Walker, the fella behind them, a while ago and he said he was happy to take things slowly and keep consolidating along the way.

http://www.geoblank.com/ 

Also, keep an eye out for an article on another type of blank technology. Called X-Core Reactor it's similar to Geoblanks in that it has internal stringers yet is a simpler design, and it has a few shapers, incl. Greg Webber, very excited.

Article should be ready late today/tomorrow.

Roy Stuart's picture
Roy Stuart's picture
Roy Stuart commented Tuesday, 15 Sep 2015 at 7:05am

foreday rider wrote:

less flexible core will produce less flexible board , and vice versa.....every time.....

Not significantly (i.e. noticeably) it won't.

Don't you understand the physical principles involved? ... they are pretty simple.

.

Roy Stuart's picture
Roy Stuart's picture
Roy Stuart commented Tuesday, 15 Sep 2015 at 7:29am

Trying to compare the effect on flexibility of two different foams by comparing boards which are glassed with two different materials will only be testing the effect of the differences in glassing so in that respect the experiment is ill conceived. Epoxy is more flexible so it is no surprise that the epoxy board feels 'springier' but this says nothing about the blank.

Re. buoyancy the pu glassed board is 25% heavier so will have 25% less buyoancy... if test riding is as accurate as foreday claims than this should be more noticeable than the "More buoyancy? Tough call" test result would suggest.

In order to test the effect of blank flexibility on finished board flexibility two identically glassed boards need to be compared. PU resin is much stiffer than epoxy, so this will skew the results.

Roy Stuart's picture
Roy Stuart's picture
Roy Stuart commented Tuesday, 15 Sep 2015 at 7:34am

foreday rider wrote:

lighter core =less float=thickness reduced accordingly......nothing new .

Presumably you meant to write that: lighter core equals more buoyancy (all else being equal) but that the lighter core can lead to a thinner board if buoyancy is to be kept constant, and this can lead to greater flexibility due to reduced thickness.

I presume so, because "lighter core =less float" is obviously incorrect.

.

Roy Stuart's picture
Roy Stuart's picture
Roy Stuart commented Tuesday, 15 Sep 2015 at 9:40am

if the same test could be run with stringerless blanks vs varial stringerless it would be interesting

kami's picture
kami's picture
kami commented Wednesday, 30 Sep 2015 at 4:16pm

You right Roy, I wish that the pasted link below can help others to what are you saying.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euler–Bernoulli_beam_theory#Static_beam_equation

Wave's millionnaire washed on sand beach and crushed board in my garage. LOL

kami's picture
kami's picture
kami commented Wednesday, 30 Sep 2015 at 4:23pm

Sorry that link is rotten.

Wave's millionnaire washed on sand beach and crushed board in my garage. LOL

kami's picture
kami's picture
kami commented Wednesday, 30 Sep 2015 at 4:23pm

Sorry that link is rotten.

Wave's millionnaire washed on sand beach and crushed board in my garage. LOL

davetherave's picture
davetherave's picture
davetherave commented Thursday, 1 Oct 2015 at 11:11am

bamboo boards- can anyone tell me what they are like? Can they use any type of blank. Also can they be made thinner as I would think the bamboo has it's own floatation capacity?
I know adi was trying them but they were bulky big buggers and i think he is on kanga island now. also are they too floaty to duck dive easily. one last question, has anyone come up with a board that can paddle like a 7'6 but surf life a 6'1?
maybe off with the fairies but on a high as the hawthorn hawks and nth qld cowboys are both in grand final so i am on avery big high at the moment.

davetherave

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Thursday, 1 Oct 2015 at 12:58pm

A 6'1 that paddles like a 7'6.....these do Dave -Stealth epoxy [firewire copy] with a bamboo deck...just happens to be one on gumtree @ the goldy a 6'4 for $195 ,a bit battered but be ok for a $100-120.

davetherave's picture
davetherave's picture
davetherave commented Thursday, 1 Oct 2015 at 6:40pm

thanks udo, see surgeon on wed, so if he tells me im shithouse, gunna go out in style- really missing my surfing, will change diet, become yoga stretching addict and get out there, tubes, cant get them out of my mind- just love them to death.

davetherave

spidermonkey's picture
spidermonkey's picture
spidermonkey commented Thursday, 1 Oct 2015 at 6:45pm

I see Roy is really trying hard to cut through the endless bullshit and ignorance that seems to prevail here whenever these types of articles come up.Good on you Roy You must be a patient Man.He is of course right,as any of the Professionals working with modern foam construction [Boatbuilders] will verify.