Carbon patches ain't carbon patches
Since the late 1980s, carbon has found various uses in surfboards. Carbon fibre is stronger than fibreglass, it's stiffer, and it's lighter too, but it's also more expensive, thus its use has been limited. Carbon has been targeted to the parts of a surfboard that specifically require those properties: around the rails in the case of stringer-less parabolic rail surfboards, as a substitute for a wooden stringer in some boards, but most commonly as a stomp pad near the tail.
These days it's hard to find a high performance shortboard that doesn't feature carbon in some way. So popular is it that those thin black strips have become fashionable. Surfers don't know what they do but they sure do look good.
More recently, they've been rumours of manufacturers either using bog standard fibreglass coloured to look like carbon, or simply printing black strips to hoodwink buyers into thinking the board is carbon reinforced.
Yesterday, John Dowse from Sanded Australia posted a photo on Instagram of a board that came across his Long Jetty counter (see image below). The customer had dinged his board and wanted it fixed, yet the ding had cut through the 'carbon fibre'....and you'll notice the use of ironic quote marks because the carbon wasn't carbon at all.
The customer's board had a piece of nylon printed with black stripes to look like carbon fibres. It added no strength, in fact there's a chance it made the board weaker, and it certainly made the ding fix more complicated and hence more expensive.
Swellnet spoke to John about fake carbon and how buyers can tell the difference.
Swellnet: G'Day John. I've heard of some board makers using black fibreglass that looks like carbon, but this was something else, wasn't it?
John Dowse: Yeah. What it is, is actually nylon that's been printed on. There's a company which does it in Australia called Inlayz. There a few brands that are using the prints, and I find it disappointing because the customers don't know that it's just a print.
Recently we had a customer come in and go, "I spent $800 on this board and it's lasted three months and the glass is just peeling away."
So you've come across this a bit, have you?
Yeah. It's been in the industry for a while. But now that everyone's trying to get their look and their marketing edge, we're seeing it a bit more often. But yeah, unfortunately, this one [the board in the photo] was made by one of the big guys. We just sit here and go, 'You don't understand it's just going to hurt your brand in the end.' They're losing a customer over it.
You hear all about Firewire and their paper down the middle of their LFT models but they're actually changing back and we've worked a bit with them lately. They're actually now doing strength tests and all that sort of stuff. But to see an Australian manufacturer do that...yeah, it's just disappointing.
How much money are they saving by using it?
They're saving probably a dollar a board. Maybe a few dollars.
OK, what about customers being forearmed? If I'm in a showroom and see a board with carbon strips, what should I be looking for?
Well carbon is a fibre. It's like, if you have a cotton thread and you wrap the edge of the thread, it's going to fray a little bit. It's the same with carbon: glassers will squelch resin into it and move it around slightly, so you're going to get a tiny bit of fray on the edges of it.
So no carbon patch will look perfect? No real carbon patch, that is...
No, it won't. You will have a very slight imperfections in alignment. If the strips are too perfect that's when you start to go, 'Oh, there's something wrong there.'
You have to think of a carbon as a fibre. It's a material. It's got filaments in it, so if you cut an end of a filament, it's going to open up. That's another easy way to work out if it's real enforcement or not.
Fake carbon inlay at left, and real carbon fibre at right - note imperfections and frayed ends
What about the fact the Inlayz patch is printed. Can you look for pixel marks?
Maybe some of the cheaper patches you could notice it. It's hard to see to see that on the Inlayz patches though. Simply, if it's too perfect it's not real.
They used to print on silk, and now they're using a nylon base and nylon floats in resin. Especially with poly resin, you really need to work it through.
So there's potential to delaminate?
Yeah. Or the resin doesn't permeate through the nylon. They should be putting a bit of resin on one side, then put it on the other. Especially with poly. With polyester, you have to actually force the resin through the glass. That's how you work polyester. With epoxy, it soaks in, so you'd find if it's an epoxy board it will probably hold on a little bit longer.
But really, the fact is you think you're buying a board with a carbon patch when it's not that at all.
That's what it comes down to.