The basalt board project - Part 2
In Part 1 of the basalt board project I described the qualities of the new basalt cloth, used in favour of fibreglass cloth, noting how it looks, how easy it is to work with, and also its cost. I’d just had a board made by Paterson Surfboards and at the end of Part 1 I promised I’d return “in a few weeks” with a ride report.
That was a few months ago - six to be exact.
There’s no reasonable excuse for the delay, and nor is it a way of side-stepping an inconvenient truth. Fact is, the board worked, as did the cloth it was laminated in.
So, insufficient explanation out of the way, let’s move on…
The basalt-laminated board - two x 4oz on top, one x 4oz on the bottom, PU/PE - was an identical shape to my previous two boards, also made by Paterson Surfboards. This one came out of the glassing bay exactly the same weight as those wrapped in fibreglass cloth - basalt soaks up the same amount of polyester resin as fibreglass.
So, same shape, same weight, if there were any changes in the material properties it’d be in the flex. Yet I wasn’t able to detect any change whatsoever, which leaves two options:
- I’m not advanced enough to detect the difference, or,
- There is no difference in flex between basalt and flibreglass.
Either way, for a surfer of my ability, which likely covers the majority of the market, the two materials perform the same. However, the story doesn’t end there; after six months of hard use I’ve found basalt to be stronger and less brittle than fibreglass.
A month or so after getting my board, I pinched the rail while forcing down the split seats in my car. The result? A shallow, maybe 5mm deep by 2cm long, dent running through the curve of the rail. After the appropriate self-flagellation I peered closer and noticed that, despite the abrupt edges, the cloth and resin weren’t cracked.
In riding the board, I may not have been able to discern any difference, yet basalt has different flex characteristics than fibreglass or carbon - it won’t shatter like the former, and isn’t brittle like the latter. I made a mental note to drop some filler coat into the dent and sand it back, however before I did that - yeah, it took me a few weeks to get around to it - I looked again at the dent...and it wasn’t there anymore.
PU blanks expanding under heat isn’t unknown (I suspect mine was from leaving it in the back of a hot car), however because the laminate didn’t crack or shatter there was no mark left on the board; no evidence there was ever damage there.
The majority of my sessions on the basalt board were on a closeout beachie, which on a good day improves into a semi-closeout beachie. It’s the ideal place to both perfect your closeout floater and also to rain hell on an unsuspecting deck.
Yet after six months of heel-first freefalls the deck is in surprisingly good shape. Recently I stripped the wax off, spun it to the light, and could detect only a few impressions, and no cracks or shatters in the laminate.
The last anecdote is from the recent cyclone swell and involved some early morning moonwalking across a slippery rock shelf. With my feet gone from under me I had a split second decision to make: crush my fingers, or move my fingers and crush my rail.
Self-preservation won out, I moved my fingers, the edge of the rail hit rock with my falling bodyweight above it. Yet the resulting damage was far less than expected: some cracks in the laminate, but no deformity in the rail. Nothing a dab of resin won’t fix - when I get around to it.
Over the last six months I’ve had occasional conversations with John Dowse from Sanded Australia, and the feedback from other shapers using basalt is not dissimilar to mine. Such as the Kiwi shaper who’s basalt boards are less damaged despite copping just as much punishment on the Raglan rocks, or the NSW East Coast shaper who creased a basalt board during a session but rode on, the skin of his board remaining intact despite the blank underneath deforming.
John’s been quietly impressed with the performance of basalt. “It’s proving to be the ideal mix of flexibility and impact strength for surfboards,” says John.
Though my board has a PU blank, John thinks a good application is EPS/epoxy. The basalt cloth won’t soak up as much epoxy resin, compared to polyester, and the flex/dampening characteristics will remove the chatter of EPS.
Alternatively, epoxy on PU can achieve a great strength-to-weight ratio as the PU blank won't absorb as much resin as an EPS blank will.
The options are still being tested, and not just by John and the backyarders he services. Recently he sold a commercial length of basalt cloth to an international label who'll release a model this coming American summer.
One of the drawbacks of basalt has been the colour. Lay down a single layer and it’s a shimmering shade of olive. Put two layers down and it’s a deep chestnut. Each option will dazzle in the light, but the earthtones make for a limited colour range and similar market acceptance.
To combat this, John, in collaboration with Colan Fibreglass, made a basalt and recycled PET weave. Because of it’s improved flex, the basalt runs vertically, and the PET, with it’s high impact strength, runs horizontally. Not only does the weave afford the best of both materials, it’s also lighter in colour than pure basalt.
Unsurprisingly, there’s been much interest in this weave with another manufacturer currently testing samples of it.
I still get asked what my board is laminated with, John gets asked the same questions ("Is it brown carbon?"), but between the as-yet unnamed big labels sniffing around, Firewire who’ve begun using basalt reinforcement, and Colan’s numerous basalt stringer and rail tapes, the brown stuff appears to have secured its place in the market.