Ten years after Clark Foam

Stu Nettle
Surfpolitik

clark-foam.jpgOn 11th December 2005 Gordon 'Grubby' Clark sent a seven page fax to each of his customers in the US surfboard industry. It wasn't unlike Clark to send long, rambling faxes and this one included typically vague accusations of victimisation, yet the concluding directive was unambiguous: Clark Foam was closing, effective immediately.

The news came as a profound shock to his customers, all of whom were unprepared when Clark dropped his bombshell. In 2005 Clark was supplying blanks for 90% of the US market and the sudden shortage of blanks threw the US surfboard industry into a dramatic tail spin.

At the time, Tom Wegener was working for Walker Foam, a competitor of Clark's, and he recalls that period with amusement. “Even now, ten or so years later, I can't talk about Clark without thinking “Oh god, what's gonna happen if I say anything about Gordon?”

Wegener cites the magical hold Clark had over the US industry where he'd continuously manipulate the market for his own ends. Clark didn't win customers with price but with service – or a lack thereof. “If anybody stepped out of line,” says Wegener, “say they ordered a blank from a rival or even just spoke out of line, they'd slide from an A scale to a B, or from a B scale to a C.” The further down the scale the less blanks would be delivered, and everyone knew Clark had the best blanks so they couldn't afford not to get them. Thus everyone tried to stay on the good side of Gordon Clark so they could receive a full delivery of his high quality polyurethane (PU) blanks.

Though he had a tyrannical hold on the industry Clark had a co-operative vision for surfing. "His vision,” says Tom, “was to keep the backyarders going. He never wanted to make it so that a backyarder couldn't get started in the industry.”

“In a way he was innovative,” says Tom, “but his innovation happened within tight parameters. It could only involve PU foam – his PU foam.”

When Clark closed his doors it effectively broke the PU foam hegemony allowing alternative materials to blossom. Stretch Riedel recalls hearing about Clark Foam from his general manager on that December afternoon. “I went silent for, I don't know, thirty second to a minute,” says Stretch, “then I said, “OK, double our order of EPS foam.”….and we didn't skip a beat.”

After Clark Foam closed Stretch never looked back. An early adopter of epoxy, he'd already planned to discontinue with polyester boards. According to Stretch, “Clark Foam closing simply brought our timeline six months forward.”

The shock of Clark shutting down provided an opportunity for shapers such as Stretch who were already experimenting with alternative materials. The vacuum created was quickly filled by new materials and composite technologies. In the US epoxies became more prevalent as did composites such as those created by Surftech.

The shock of December 11th 2005 wasn't felt as keenly here in Australia. At the time we had three domestic foam blowing operations so the local industry wasn't exposed to Clark's sudden shutdown. However, we weren't immune to what happened afterward when the rush of materials and construction methods came onto the market. The US experience with non-traditional materials and construction methods validated what was happening on the periphery over here giving them a cachet they wouldn't otherwise have had.

15_-_1.jpgBert Burger built his first surfboard at 12-years old, began working in surfboard factories at 14, and started tinkering with alternative materials not long after. In 1989 he was working at H20 Surfboards in WA badgering the boss to experiment with different materials until he was given an ultimatum. “Bert, if you want to try all this stuff, you're gonna have to start your own business.” And that's how Sunova surfboards began, explains Bert.

“I was interested in alternative materials right from the very beginning,” says Bert. He watched the advances in sailboarding with interest and sourced early epoxy and EPS foam supplies from people within the sailboard industry. Many of those early experiments were too stiff and he began to introduce flex by using wood veneer. This eventually led to Bert's breakthrough innovation, the parabolic rail.

“Fuck, the thing was just magic,” says Bert excitedly recalling his first surf on a board with parabolic rails. “It really went; it floated, it had spring, it had flex. I knew I was onto something.”

The first Sunova with parabolic rails was built was in February 1992 and, says Bert, the boards he builds today are no different to that very first board. With a proven point of difference Sunova grew steadily, however by 2004 he was feeling the pressure of Asian imports on his business and was considering his future.

That same year Bert was approached by Nev Hyman who was embarking on a new project. The pair joined forces and with the help of Hyman's partners started Firewire surfboards using Burger's parabolic rail technology.

9524627.jpgBolstered by a big marketing push – Hyman's partners were Dougall Walker and Matthew Perrin, both flush after the Billabong IPO – Firewire boards were quickly seen in lineups around the world. They also began to have competitive success; Taj Burrow signed on as test pilot and subsequently won the 2007 Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach, the first surfer to win a CT competition on a non-PU board.

The same year, 2007, Bert Burger was announced 'Shaper of the Year' by Surfer Magazine, however while his star was rising his relationship with Firewire was souring. By 2008 the two parties had split. A phlegmatic press release announced Burger “was no longer with the company”.

Almost immediately, Burger resurrected Sunova surfboards. In charge of his own operation again - though this time with an international profile - Bert pursued his parabolic rail technology. These days Sunova shape nearly 50 models in craft ranging from high performance shortboards, to guns, to SUPs. And besides the invention of parabolic rails, Bert's lasting legacy to the surf world is that of a pioneer who brought wide appeal to non-traditional construction methods.

Bert Burger's parabolic rails were made of balsa, however balsa isn't the only material that can be used. Sydney shaper Hayden Cox has built one of the world's most successful and respected board labels, Hayden Shapes, on the back of carbon fibre parabolic rails. The technology, originally called FibreFlex but now known as FutureFlex, is conceptually similar to Bert Burger's aside from the materials.

hayden-cox-head.jpgHayden started Hayden Shapes in 1998 when he was 16-years old. Originally working with PU foam, Hayden's inherent curiosity led him toward different materials and ways to make boards. “The truth was I got bored of building the same board,” says Hayden bluntly. “I had that process mastered. I wanted to be challenged so I began building different types of boards, using different methods of construction.”

Hayden explored flex patterns and started tinkering with different combinations of parabolic rails. At first they were personal projects. “I kept them pretty close,” says Hayden recalling that he was having success and knew he was edging closer to a breakthrough. In 2006 he shaped his first FutureFlex for Tom Carroll and then went on the road with a batch of them.

Curiosity means little unless it can be capitalised on and Hayden is a gifted entrepreneur. He connected with the right surfers putting his striking black and white boards under their feet. Word of mouth slowly spread but he admits to being aided by what had happened in America the year prior.

“What Clark Foam closing did was bring was an awareness that, yes, there are other technologies you can use to build surfboards.” He met some resistance but found the times were indeed a'changing - surfers were willing to try different stuff. Shapers weren't immune from the coming changes either. “Local shapers had to learn about new things - which not many of them want to do. But some of them did and they communicated new ideas to their customers.”

76_1.jpg“When you have 1,000 small time shapers talking to their 50 customers about new materials then you've got 50,000 people aware of other possibilities and that opens the door to innovation.”

Put simply, “Clark Foam closing widened the audience of early adopters to FutureFlex.” The technology still had to be sound, of course, but the environment was ripe for new ideas, and that's a perfect setting for someone like Hayden who is willing to experiment.

Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention. Yet Hayden found that's not always the case. “Here in Australia, we didn't have to change from PU foam. Our manufacturing was stable, the supply of foam blanks was easy. Yet for me I just wasn't being fulfilled creatively and I knew we could improve.” And by trusting that instinct Hayden created one of the best and most successful construction techniques in the post-Clark world.

tom_wegener_tw_18.jpgTom Wegener was in the US when Clark Foam closed and his first thought upon hearing about it was excitement. “I was stoked!” says Tom with characteristic enthusiasm. “I was one of the few people who said it at the time: Finally we'll get some real innovation in the surfing world!”

Tom uses the concept of creative destruction to explain what happened in the wake of Clark Foam. The PU hegemony was destroyed allowing new technologies and materials to prosper. “People looked in directions they otherwise wouldn't have looked,” says Tom. “It provided an opportunity for many other ideas to be tested.” Those 'ideas' didn't just include new materials and construction but also new ways to ride waves.

In 2004 Tom visited the Bishop Museum in Hawaii and what he saw took his life on a strange new trajectory. He began making alaias, wooden finless boards styled on ancient Hawaiian surfcraft. Within a few years finless alaias were popular around the world, and like Bert Burger he was awarded Surfer Magazine's Shaper of the Year. Tom got his gong in 2009.

“A lot of things came together,” says Tom thinking back on those years. “The alaia was right there when people turned to pawlonia. If it wasn't for Clark they simply wouldn't have had reason to look elsewhere.” A whole new arm of surfboard manufacturing – wooden surfboards – blossomed in the wake of Clark's shutdown and Tom's alaia revival.

“If Clark Foam didn't close,” says Tom, “we just wouldn't have got the traction we did.” After spending ten years evangelising for wooden boards down at the shoreline Tom has recently climbed the ivory tower of academia. In 2013 he began a PhD on sustainable materials in the surfboard industry, which as much as anything else yet said, highlights just how far the industry has come in the decade since Clark Foam closed.

Comments

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 6:56am

Interesting stuff.

I wonder what the market penetration is of the new tech.

Just this last run of swell with surfers here from all over the country (and world) surfing these Pointbreaks I've been doing a very unscientific straw poll of surfboard construction numbers.
Looks to me like traditional pu/pe construction is still the vast majority of surfboard numbers in the water. I'd guess 70/80%.

What are you guys seeing down in Sydney/South Coast/WA/SA?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 7:17am

Yeah I'd say where I surf it's something similar to that, though the % might increase when it gets smaller. It's still a pretty impressive number when considering the amount of labels and number of boards people have in their quivers these days. I'm also seeing PU foam boards beginning to deviate from the norm, i.e stringerless, or using non-trad stringers such as X-Core or DMC-type rail stringers.

Still see bulk amounts of Firewires and Hayden Shapes wherever I go.

weasel's picture
weasel's picture
weasel commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 9:30am

I don't think the general surfing public have been to well informed about the difference between these two
constructions. I mean this article is comparing epoxy to polyurethane (PU). Epoxy is resin and Polyurethane is foam. The comparison should be between the foams used i.e. polyurethane and polystyrene. Pu foam is usually laminated with polyester resin, Polystyrene is usually laminated with epoxy. Epoxy is the stronger of the resins PU is the stronger of the foams. You can't laminate polystyrene with polyester resin because polyester resin dissolves this foam but you can laminate PU with epoxy resin.Performance wise the PU polyester combo has proved to be the best roughly 90% of surfers on the world tour are still riding PU boards most world titles have been won on PU boards. PU boards last longer even though they ding easier
Polystyrene foam takes on water which will ultimately lead to delamination of the laminate if it is repaired with this water still inside the foam. Hence they really don't last that long. how many board collectors have polystyrene boards in their collection. most of these boards end up at the dump.Polystyrene has been used in boards since the early sixties board builders have tried all sorts of techniques over the years to sell polystyrene boards using carbon laminates to alter flex etc etc etc. Carbon comes in different grades i.e. cheap carbon will make very little difference to the performance. You can pay upwards of $500.00 m2 for carbon that will offer some performance value I mean taping up the rail by eye of a surfboard to laminate it with carbon is not going to give consistent results is it. There is also the fallacy that epoxy polystyrene is better for the environment both construction types aren't great but working with epoxy resin as a board builder is definitely the worst.

Weasel

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 12:58pm

The general public also do not understand the huge difference between not only the foams and resins but also that not all EPS boards glassed with epoxy resin are equal there is a huge difference in durability between an EPS, epoxy composite construction board and a standard EPS Epoxy board I've had two non composite boards one Firewire and one Fiberflex both of which were no where as durable as composite construction and cracked and dinged much much easier, actually the Fiberflex snapped.(in Indo waves)

BTW. Ive had about ten EPS foam Epoxy resin boards now and I've never had an open ding not even a crack that has let in water, i have snapped Firewire FST one though.(again in Indo waves)

Regarding performance i don't think you can say PU/Poly is a better performance board, the majority of pros ride PU/Poly because thats what they know thats what they have grown up on and for most thats all their shapers/board manufacturing company produce.

Its also a very easy construction to make and alter and can be done in any shaping bay and glassed basically anywhere if some pro is in Hawaii and needs a few boards made quick its possible, while EPS, Epoxy composite boards can only be made in certain locations there is much more involved.

For a pro to alter the construction is a risk, much better to stick to what they know, durability is generally not a priority it's not like they need to save up to buy a board or get the ok from the misses, while for many everyday surfers durability is important because they may not have the budget to buy boards often or get the ok from the misus.

For me the only downside I've had with Epoxy boards is they do tend to yellow more over time.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 1:00pm

indo-dreaming wrote: Regarding performance i don't think you can say PU/Poly is a better performance board, the majority of pros ride PU/Poly because thats what they know thats what they have grown up on and for most thats all their shapers/board manufacturing company produce.
Its also a very easy construction to make and alter and can be done in any shaping bay and glassed basically anywhere if some pro is in Hawaii and needs a few boards made quick its possible, while EPS, Epoxy composite boards can only be made in certain locations there is much more involved.

For a pro to alter the construction is a risk, much better to stick to what they know, durability is generally not a priority it's not like they need to save up to buy a board or get the ok from the misses, while for many everyday surfers durability is important because they may not have the budget to buy boards often or get the ok from the misus.

For me the only downside I've had with Epoxy boards is they do tend to yellow more over time.

Spot on.

weasel's picture
weasel's picture
weasel commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 2:53pm

Some composite polystyrene boards are definitely stronger than the non composites. And the way most of these boards are made in most cases they are molded boards and tend to be one size fits all and this is just part of why the performance is down but if you are happy to surf a mediocre board go for it they will last for awhile as far as getting dings in them, but one ding left unattended and its goodnight Irene. Lots of the top pros have ridden epoxy boards i.e. Kelly Slater quite often rides them but always seems to change back to PU when finals come around. But my main issue with what i wrote about above is the media comparing resin with foam i.e. epoxy v PU instead of EPS (expanded polystyrene )v Pu ( Polyurethane ).put simply Open cell Foam v Closed Cell Foam.

Weasel

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 3:56pm

Ive never bought a moulded board i think the only boards that are made in a mould are maybe Surf tech and Lib tek, all the EPS Epoxy boards i ride are shaped by a machine like most boards these days, then vacuum bagged which i believe ensures the minimum amount of resin is used which actually ensures more strength to weight ratio as you get the strength generally through the cloth not the resin.

The boards are just like any off the rack boards there is limits to designs and measurements available but the majority of the time i can get what i want, in the rare case i can't I've been able to order a board and get slight adjustments to the dimensions i want.

I can understand it's not for everyone but i sure don't feel I'm getting a mediocre board most of the time i actually feel the complete opposite that I'm getting a design that has already been fine tuned, but that is probably the case for most big board manufactures with their board model these days now they have the ability to fine tune things on computer and shaping machines are getting better.

weasel's picture
weasel's picture
weasel commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 5:14pm

Look I'm sorry indodreaming but the boards you are buying are then no different from from the fibreflex hayden spapes etc. Composite boards usually have other components such as carbon or divinacell etc involved in their construction Vacuum bagging also has a tendancy to alter the shape of the polystyrene board in an unpredictable manner unless it is done in a mold. Are you sure your boards are vacuum bagged
maybe they are peelplyed which does help to reduce resin comtent.

Weasel

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 6:29pm

I generally ride FW FST tech and yes they have balsa parabolic rails and composite top and bottoms then vacuum bagged heres a good thread with a few pics from Mark CEO of FW http://forum.surfermag.com/forum/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=2227...

weasel's picture
weasel's picture
weasel commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 10:06pm

Got it indo. Deck machined first then vacuumed in this case with timber venneer. Blank stays reasonably rigid because bottom has not been machined yet. light suction on vacuum will lessen collapse of open cell foam but does result in weaker bond.Once top has cured bottom is machined and repeat of top process. Then rails machined and balsa rails applied then machined. then board is laminated. I Actually developed this process in the late eighties at Cutloose surfboards in South Australia we sold veneer boards for about ten years in japan and USA most of the boards were PU some were just veneered on the deck some top and bottom Did quite a lot of polystyrene boards one of the problems we encountered was the amount of suction you can use on the lighter grades of polystyrene. Unlike FW we shaped the whole blank first
( handshape ). Didn't have the machines that are available now. Vacuumed veneer or divinycell onto shaped blank then applied parabolic rail etc etc. Also did a lot of sailboaords with these techniques.

Weasel

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Friday, 15 Jan 2016 at 7:44am

Nice I remember those, my mate had one, seemed very futuristic back then.

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Friday, 15 Jan 2016 at 6:38pm

Nice one weasel!
I have a neal purchase timber deck 6' 2" in the collection black rails and bottom. Still goes amazing, Keeping it wrapped up now days. In the collection of gems. FANTASTIC work NP and You Mr Weasel.

dewhurst's picture
dewhurst's picture
dewhurst commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 7:19am

How can you tell epoxys?

wingnut2443's picture
wingnut2443's picture
wingnut2443 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 8:11am

dewhurst wrote: How can you tell epoxys?

Ding. Ding. Ding. We have a winner here!

Exactly, freeride and others with your anecdotal straw poll(s) ... how the heck have you sorted the PU boards glassed with PE from those glassed with Epoxy? A "standard" PU blank glassed with PE resin looks from a distance the same as one glassed in Epoxy.

Surfboard Design and Construction Kook. Evidence is here: www.ffwsurfboards.com.au
*FFW - Few Fun Waves ... that's what it's all about for me.

boxright's picture
boxright's picture
boxright commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 7:41am

I think the numbers have swung more towards PU in the last 4-5 years. Maybe it's the market being swamped with CI, JS, DHD's? It also feels to me like people are less inclined to ride alt boards like mini Simmons and fish, like the fads have come and gone.

In the States I'd say it's closer to 50/50. I spent some time in San Diego recently and the amount of different materials (and different designs) is clearly higher than Oz. SD has a pretty rich heritage in bucking the orthodoxy while Oz fixates on high performance.

derra83's picture
derra83's picture
derra83 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 7:00am

I've had a board from each of those shapers but never considered it like that. With all the different techs and materials on the market these days it's hard to remember what it was like pre-alaia, wood, fibreflex, and the rest.

Also, there's a lot to be said for sticking with your guns even when you're working on something you believe in. All 3 are great examples.

poo-man's picture
poo-man's picture
poo-man commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 7:32am

Roughly the same percentage at my local point break. But what is more interesting to me is that nearly all the good surfers are riding PU. Most have given Epoxy in various forms a go at some stage but have come back to PU for the performance. Pretty much the same on WCT with the odd experimental board but most on PU. If you take out the old guys on various FireWire short fat ones and the hordes riding HS Hypto Kryptos then there aren't too many other epoxys around. Is it just my home break or does it seem to anyone else that nearly everyone riding a Hypto Krypto is really average and a bit dangerous? I've been run over 3 times in the last year by a guy riding one of those!

poo-man

boxright's picture
boxright's picture
boxright commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 7:33am

Dick Van Straalen was the first shaper I know to use different materials on a regular basis. In the 1990s he was making beautiful production boards with carbon and epoxy when no-one else was. He always seems to get overlooked whether it be stories on design (DVS was already making fish when Andrew Kidman rediscovered them) or materials.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 7:57am

Josh Dowling ......where does he fit into the [ parabolic rail ?] picture ?

wingnut2443's picture
wingnut2443's picture
wingnut2443 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 8:34am

udo wrote: Josh Dowling ......where does he fit into the [ parabolic rail ?] picture ?

I believe in his own words, the history of his involvement is covered here:

http://woodensurfboards.blogspot.com.au/2009/06/josh-dowling-on-composit...

Surfboard Design and Construction Kook. Evidence is here: www.ffwsurfboards.com.au
*FFW - Few Fun Waves ... that's what it's all about for me.

wingnut2443's picture
wingnut2443's picture
wingnut2443 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 4:20pm

Seems some confusing with the shorthand in some of the comments above.

PU - that's short for Polyurethane ... that's the FOAM folks, not the resin.

PE - that's Polyester ... that's the RESIN used on most boards.

A PU foam core can be glassed in either PE or Epoxy. From a distance, its hard to tell the difference.

EPS - that's one of the alternate foam cores. It must be glassed in Epoxy.

Usually EPS blanks do not have a stringer, like the standard PU blank which makes it a tad easier to spot from a distance. However, some are using EPS with a stringer, so again, picking them from a distance is not easy.

My $0.02 worth on the market then ...

50% are "standard" PE/PU with the other 50% spread across the various options:

PE glassed with Epoxy - 10%
EPS (no stringer) glassed with Epoxy - 10%
EPS (with stringer) glassed with Epoxy - 10%
Firewire type construction - 15%
Others (i.e. wood boards, etc) - 5%

Surfboard Design and Construction Kook. Evidence is here: www.ffwsurfboards.com.au
*FFW - Few Fun Waves ... that's what it's all about for me.

weasel's picture
weasel's picture
weasel commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 3:44pm

Polyethylene? is not the resin used on most boards, its called polyester resin mr wingnut.
polyethylene is used in plastic manufacture.
and your guesswork is just that. Guesswork
Example of more misinformation.

Weasel

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 9:12am

Not sure on percentage Freeride, but you may be right in your guess, but I'm with wingnut.

I have 2 Simon Andersons, both eps with stringers and quadraxial cloth. I doubt that anyone who has ridden one would say that good surfers are going back to pu for 'performance' issues. They don't look any different to pu, except that they stay whiter for longer. That's important - :-)

My other boards are a bert burger sunova, and one normal pu board which I bought off a mate, a board of such beauty I can't get rid of it until I can convince him to do the same board for me with a little less volume.

And recently sold an old bamboo board that was made by Frank McWilliams back in the old days. Sure I've had plenty of pu boards but I do like the alternative constructions.

Just can't buy the performance thing, although iggy from realsurf days would agree about everyone who rides a hypto being a kook, again I can't agree though. I suspect that is more about who are the successful shapers at the moment and what materials they are predominantly using. A lot of the big producers are using pu in the main, as per boxright's comment.

Don't think for a minute that surfers are more immune to marketing than other parts of society. Suggesting that performance is an issue for non-pu, when 98% of surfers (completely made up statistic) do not surf to the limits of their current shape and production tends to miss the point.

Success breeds success, ask Hayden shapes, DHD, JS, CI etc. The more people riding your boards, the more that other people are going to ride your boards. It's partly marketing, which then leads to those brands being stocked more in your local shop so that your options are limited, and our natural human desire not to look too different to what everyone else is riding, even with the fish craze, which was all about riding something that didn't look like what someone else was riding (counter-culture)

Me, I tend to like to try other stuff. At least in the current market you tend to get a lot more choice in shapes and lengths and production, if you go looking around.

dandandan's picture
dandandan's picture
dandandan commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 9:42am

Around here it is still mostly PU. All the local shapers (all three or four of them) use PU as far as I can tell. Almost the only alternatives you see to PU are from HS or Firewire, both of which are pretty darn popular for some reason. The local 'surf shop' stocks heaps of HS but bugger all else.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 9:47am

How can you tell if a PU blank is glassed with epoxy or PE resin?

You can't.

But because I'm in and around most of the board making shops in Ballina/Byron and know what is happening on the Goldy I've got a pretty high degree of confidence that if I see a JS/DHD/T and C/ Gunter Rohn/Webby/ Emery/ McCoy/ or most of the Goldy boards I know what it is made of. Mostly, with rare exceptions (Wingy said about 10%- that sounds about right) PU foamed boards are glassed with PE resin.

Locally, a lot of the rippers and long term surfers tried EPS/Epoxy combos and rejected them on the grounds of performance/price and durability of the core.

I've tried PU foam Epoxy resin glassing and couldn't detect any difference in performance or durabiliity. They still dinged when I hit rocks. And the epoxy resin tends to yellow over time.

I guess for me, and most of the local blokes I surf with, a locally made PU/PE board still seems to offer the best bang for buck. Shape and reliable handling trumps construction.

That being said looks like both JS and DHD are about to roll out some versions of epoxy board (not sure of the construction technique).

calmbutnot's picture
calmbutnot's picture
calmbutnot commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 10:15am

so what will everyones NEXT board be made of ?
mines JD or from BERT.

derra83's picture
derra83's picture
derra83 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 11:29am

I'm not in the market for a new board but when the time comes it'll almost certainly be a Sunova. One of his roundtail shortys.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 12:12pm

Well, I'm paying off a high priced "fashion" board made with pu/pe. It was shaped by a Californian and glassed in Sydney at Rhino glassing. Total impulse buy.

But apart from that, most likely a locally made custom board from one of the world class shapers here made in PU/PE. V. easy to get one well made with a slightly stronger laminating schedule.
On durability: been riding a 6'0" little round tail quad this swell, mostly. Board is made from PU/PE, is 6 years old and has been to WA, Indo, Tahiti and surfed hard on the rocky points here. It looks pretty tired but still surfs unreal. Ding it, patch it up with solarez in the car park. I headbutted it pretty hard yesterday and put a few nice shatters in the glass just near the fins but it's still going.

calmbutnot's picture
calmbutnot's picture
calmbutnot commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 12:12pm

im 90kgs. my last pu lasted 4 weeks.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 12:40pm

Get a heavier glass job

calmbutnot's picture
calmbutnot's picture
calmbutnot commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 12:44pm

then the boards are heavier, changes the flex and so on.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 12:50pm

get a slightly better glass job, guaranteed unless you are a pro surfer you won't suffer any loss of performance.
Or get an epoxy/EPS board.
Plenty of choices.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 12:55pm

Be honest, are you gunna notice?
Honestly..

dandandan's picture
dandandan's picture
dandandan commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 4:26pm

Very valid point. I sure as heck wouldn't.

wingnut2443's picture
wingnut2443's picture
wingnut2443 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 12:54pm

calmbutnot wrote: im 90kgs. my last pu lasted 4 weeks.

Snapped as Freeride asked, or just crushed the deck and generally worn?

Was it a "standard" off the rack type board, or was it a lighter weight version?

I've found the lite PU blanks (yes, PU blanks come in different densities, and are usually classed as standard, lite or comp lite) perform heaps better, more spring and zip, but even with a better glassing schedule they still die quicker. The lighter blanks are less dense, so have more air, which adds to the buoyancy.

A 'standard' PU blank with the usual 2 x 4oz layers on the deck and 1 x 4 oz on the bottom (i.e. the industry 4 x 4 x 4 ) can be improved for strength by a simple change up to a 6oz 3/4 layer on the deck in place of one of the 4oz layers. Or, just a tail patch works too, so the 2 x 4oz layers on the deck, but add in an extra 4oz patch in the tail area.

I think a lot of surfers would get longer life from their boards if they understood how little extra weight these slight changes make to the overall weight of the board. I'm sure a lot of surfers have the old fear of weight from bygone era's and old style glassing schedules.

The reality is, production brands like JS / DHD / CI / Lost, etc are in the business of selling boards. So too the shops that stock and sell them. They don't want you to have a board last longer. Just remember what their motive is when they give you information / try to convince you one way or another, etc.

Caveat emptor

Surfboard Design and Construction Kook. Evidence is here: www.ffwsurfboards.com.au
*FFW - Few Fun Waves ... that's what it's all about for me.

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 12:23pm

Did you snap it?

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freeride76 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 1:23pm

Totally agree with that Wingy.

Just to take up something that Indo said: "BTW. Ive had about ten EPS foam Epoxy resin boards now and I've never had an open ding not even a crack that has let in water, i have snapped Firewire FST one though.(again in Indo waves)

Regarding performance i don't think you can say PU/Poly is a better performance board, the majority of pros ride PU/Poly because thats what they know thats what they have grown up on and for most thats all their shapers/board manufacturing company produce."

Mate not sure where you surf, but around here boards get dinged on the rocks. No way of avoiding that. Thats one big reason why guys who tried epoxy/EPS- and a lot of guys have, including me- have gone back to PU/PE. Just so much easier to repair and deal with dings.
I was in G-Land with a bloke who'd dinged his epoxy and he couldn't dry the water out of the EPS core. It was a giant pain in the arse.

Also, alot of, if not all Pros have tried epoxy/EPS combos. Or epoxy/PU core variations.
The reason they keep coming back to PU/PE is reliability of handling. They just sit in the water and feel different, more inbuilt dampening than Epoxy/EPS boards.
Thats why Taj went back to PU/PE, why Filipe Toledo went back.

PU/PE's feel better to me too. I've had long stints on various epoxy construction boards and they are all very responsive and twitchy - too much for me. They feel great in small clean surf but in the point surf I mostly ride they don't hold a rail as well, skip out a bit more readily. They just don't feel as reliable in their handling. That seems to be a common experience, not just for me, but for the Pros.
Really, if they offered any kind of performance advantage the pros would be all over them. For the most part, they have been tried and rejected by the best surfers in the world. That kind of says it all as far as performance goes.

Blowin's picture
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Blowin commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 8:53pm

freeride76 wrote: Totally agree with that Wingy.

Just to take up something that Indo said: "BTW. Ive had about ten EPS foam Epoxy resin boards now and I've never had an open ding not even a crack that has let in water, i have snapped Firewire FST one though.(again in Indo waves)

Regarding performance i don't think you can say PU/Poly is a better performance board, the majority of pros ride PU/Poly because thats what they know thats what they have grown up on and for most thats all their shapers/board manufacturing company produce."

Mate not sure where you surf, but around here boards get dinged on the rocks. No way of avoiding that. Thats one big reason why guys who tried epoxy/EPS- and a lot of guys have, including me- have gone back to PU/PE. Just so much easier to repair and deal with dings.
I was in G-Land with a bloke who'd dinged his epoxy and he couldn't dry the water out of the EPS core. It was a giant pain in the arse.

Also, alot of, if not all Pros have tried epoxy/EPS combos. Or epoxy/PU core variations.
The reason they keep coming back to PU/PE is reliability of handling. They just sit in the water and feel different, more inbuilt dampening than Epoxy/EPS boards.
Thats why Taj went back to PU/PE, why Filipe Toledo went back.

PU/PE's feel better to me too. I've had long stints on various epoxy construction boards and they are all very responsive and twitchy - too much for me. They feel great in small clean surf but in the point surf I mostly ride they don't hold a rail as well, skip out a bit more readily. They just don't feel as reliable in their handling. That seems to be a common experience, not just for me, but for the Pros.
Really, if they offered any kind of performance advantage the pros would be all over them. For the most part, they have been tried and rejected by the best surfers in the world. That kind of says it all as far as performance goes.

Agree with all of the above.

indo-dreaming's picture
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indo-dreaming commented Friday, 15 Jan 2016 at 8:00am

At first i did worry about the foam sucking water thing as have read it so many times, but i just haven't had to deal with it yet, I'm sure i will one day but after so many boards its such a small factor, and that said I'm still watching my mate' get open dings especially in Indo either damage or from surfing.

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topgeer commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 1:25pm

Good discussion about foam tech.. Also nice to see various points about combination of foam and glass.

What is missing is the trend over last few years by some board makers away from standard e-glass to other glass, namely s-glass (which is slightly more expensive, but 25% stronger than e-glass for same finished weight, or to different composite glass.)

The trade off is price vs performance vs weight ..

PU and s-glass work well for me.

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 1:40pm

good point. S-glass is awesome.

also different laminating techniques can really make a difference. A skilled glasser/sander combo can really make a durable board. Also, let the fucking things cure properly.

Channel bottoms's picture
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Channel bottoms commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 2:20pm

I have an epoxy JD with the parabolic rails made from Paulownia. The flex, the performance etc are all there. It is more buoyant so a little thickness was taken out from my normal dimensions to compensate for this.

The only problem I find is in windy or bumpy conditions. If it's off shore or glassy, it's fantastic. If there is surface scarring from overnight winds or it's onshore, it really struggles with any chop in the wave face, it doesn't seem to be able to plough through bumps like a regular PU board.
In terms of strength, the board is bulletproof. After 18 months, it doesn't even have a foot or knee depression in the deck, yet to encounter any rocks though.

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surfingbymyself commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 2:41pm

I'm 100kgs and 6'5. In the search for durability and bouyancy in a reaosnable length, I've ridden a few options over the last decade. I haven't ridden a PU board for at least 7 years. I've been riding EPS due increased bouyancy, but i've not really noticed increased durability. In that time, I've snapped fibreflex, futureflex, dynocore x4, Firewire LFT and Firewire FST. For the boards I've had shaped (vs off the rack) I've asked for heavier glass. The most durable thing I've ridden in that time seems to be FST firewire, although I've had a crease in that repaired. That works out for me since I like tomo's and have fark all chance of getting on his custom list. ideally though, I'd be able to get the LFT shapes in something more durable cause that fails pretty quick in my experience.
I've also experimented with recovering snapped EPS by putting a balsa skin over EPS and then glassing. That was mildly successful and next step is now paulownia over machine shaped EPS.

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singkenken commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 2:51pm

Channel, I agree fully with your ideas about wind & chop. I have a lovely DT Surftech and find it a great board in conditions you mention, but big wobbly swell or chopped up conditions take it out of the running on those days. Excellent article on Josh Dowling, hadn't seen it before. He is my mates' go-to shaper, and a great character too!. I haven't convinced him to make me a longboard yet though.

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udo commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 3:18pm

How many grams extra per board are we talking by having a 6x4 deck as opposed to a 4x4 on a PU shortboard ?

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wingnut2443 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 4:29pm

udo wrote: How many grams extra per board are we talking by having a 6x4 deck as opposed to a 4x4 on a PU shortboard ?

About as much as a heavy, thick, dirty ugly wax build up...

Surfboard Design and Construction Kook. Evidence is here: www.ffwsurfboards.com.au
*FFW - Few Fun Waves ... that's what it's all about for me.

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Channel bottoms commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 4:38pm

In my last custom, I had 6x6 on the deck and 6 on the bottom. I'm never going to do airs or be a pro, so a touch more weight means nothing.

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chook commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 5:18pm

i just happen to have two metres of both 4oz and 6oz cloth...now how to work out the weight difference without scales. i think a broom stick, string and some coins should do the trick...back in a minute.

udo wrote: How many grams extra per board are we talking by having a 6x4 deck as opposed to a 4x4 on a PU shortboard ?
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chook commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 5:54pm

ok...here's the difference...147.35 grams

well, that's the only constructive thing i've done today.

udo's picture
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udo commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 5:56pm

Plus the extra amount of lam resin to soak the 6 oz cloth and filler to fill the weave ?

indo-dreaming's picture
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indo-dreaming commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 6:49pm

To me weight difference is almost irrelevant to the conversation, there is a huge difference in the overall feel/livelyness of a light glassed PU/Poly board and a heavier glassed PU/Board. (maybe its flex?)

I agree very light glassed PU/Poly board's feel amazing and lively hence i guess a big reason why that's what the pros ride, but six months of regular surfing on them and they will be dinged to all buggery and start to slowly loose that lively feel.

Glass them heavier and they are much more durable but don't have that lively feel.

Personally thats why i think EPS/Epoxy composite construction works for me because you get a similar fresh lively feel of a light glassed PU/Poly board but you also get the durability of a heavier glassed Pu/Poly board.

Anyway end of the day, i think people just have to find what works for them, i do think there is a lot of misinformation and wife tales on the topic though for intense i really with it was true that EPS has more float as i could drop a bit of volume on my boards, but in my experience if it does I've more float it's so small thats impossible to even notice, other factors such as foam disruption are much bigger factors in a how a board will float, paddle etc.

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 7:18pm

foam disruption?

indo-dreaming's picture
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indo-dreaming commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 7:30pm

ha ha damn auto spell thing…"foam distribution"

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freeride76 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 7:39pm

copy that.

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indo-dreaming commented Friday, 15 Jan 2016 at 8:15am

I alway read people saying epoxy boards sit above the water?

Can anyone explain this further?

Is it really possible scientifically for a board to sit higher in the water if you are ridding the correct volume?

Can a board paddle and sit at one level while surf at another due to construction and not design features?

Personally id love it if i found my boards to sit high in the water it would mean i could reduce some volume that i generally need for paddling more than anything.

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batfink commented Friday, 15 Jan 2016 at 10:28am

"Is it really possible scientifically for a board to sit higher in the water if you are riding the correct volume? " There, I even fixed the spelling in your question.

I-D, I'll have a go at this, on the proviso that I have no real idea, just a general knowledge that I have applied to this question.

The float, unless the laws of physics have changed, equates to the amount of water displaced. Generally speaking, as long as a board is lighter than the volume of water it displaces, it will float. The weight of the board therefore makes a difference. If it is the same volume but less weight than it will float higher in the water. So scientifically, the answer must be yes.

The difference in overall weight between a pu/pe construction and a eps, assuming identical design, can't work out to a lot overall in grams/ounces, but it may be a reasonable % difference. When you then place a 70 - 100 kgs surfer on top of that board, the difference in characteristics must be small, but most of us would agree that it feels different.

But the float is then a characteristic of the rider sitting/lying on top of the board, whether stationary or moving, and as freeride has argued (along with bert burger) that planing area becomes a big factor when moving, either paddling or riding. With speed and planing area the difference is magnified. I have found this question fascinating, which starts to lead into chaos theory type situations, where small differences in inputs amount to substantial differences in output. I think that maybe why a small difference in weight can make such a difference in the feel/performance of a board.

All this is purely conjecture, but the basic laws of physics can't be different. I suspect that the surface properties are also a factor, but doubt that it makes a substantial difference between polyester and epoxy resin. By the way, thanks to the contributors here clarifying terminology, weasel and others.

In recent years I have been buying a few different Simon Anderson boards, love them generally, and mostly they have been eps foam, with the most recent batch having quadraxial cloth. They are definitely lighter than equivalent pu/pe construction, noticeably so.

I used to quite like buying boards with a bit more volume, mainly to assist paddling and wave catching. Let's face it, I'm getting old (but not necessarily heavy, currently about 75kgs, but that is as heavy as I have been). Simon caters well for older guys trying to stay with the younger, better, fitter surfers. In recent years I have been working on the theory that even a little too much volume can be a problem when you get some genuine speed up, and have cut the volume back a bit. Also, and this is where I am heading at the moment, whether lighter constructions can allow you to have finer rails, so you can get the same volume overall for paddling, but better control at higher speeds.

My most recent purchase was a sunova board. I'm a sucker for wood grain. Like working with it, love the look and feel. Got a board with around the same volume as normal, but more planing area and the finest rails. I suspect that this will counter that feeling that freeride was referring to about eps, feeling that is is more inclined to skip a bit on rail turns. That's the first I had heard it put in that way, but may explain what I was feeling in past boards and I'll be interested to work out whether the lower, finer rails of bert's boards makes that difference.

Farking surboards, infinite variables!!!!

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indo-dreaming commented Friday, 15 Jan 2016 at 5:33pm

That was a good in depth reply…i should have said float though not volume.

What i mean is if the board is the correct float for the surfer it shouldn't sit above the water when surfing, when i get a board i take a few things into consideration to how much float i need, like what kind of waves the board is for, dimensions and volume, and shape etc where the foam is then i think about what i need to surf and what i need to paddle and sometimes have to compromise between the two a little.

If people are ridding EPS/Epoxy boards that are sitting above the water, it quite obvious all they need is less foam it's that simple.

EPS/Epoxy boards aren't from another world where you grab a board and can barely paddle it but it rides above the water, if its in the range where it suits your weight for surfing its also in the range that suits your weight for paddling.

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indo-dreaming commented Friday, 15 Jan 2016 at 8:24am

I personally don't buy it the performance thing some epoxy board makers claim to me its only about durability.

But hows this (only been put up in the last few days), very interesting, not sure exactly what Red 9 is or how these things are measured http://www.firewiresurfboards.com/tech/

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indo-dreaming commented Friday, 15 Jan 2016 at 8:27am
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freeride76 commented Friday, 15 Jan 2016 at 8:43am

That Firewire stuff reads as pure marketing BS.

The fact that most good surfers and pros ride PU/PE has kind of answered the performance question.
Due to this FW changed tack and started pitching their boards at the hybrid/fun board end of the market, where they have been very successful.

If I buy a FW I'm paying a portion of the board cost towards transport from Asia, distribution and shipping within Australia, the massive marketing budget of FW, their team riders, management team, investors etc etc .
Thats a pretty high overhead on top of the actual cost of the board.

When I buy a custom off a local bloke I pay materials and the cost of the guys expertise/IP/labour. A much lower overhead which is usually reflected in the price.

No doubt FW works for some and I was just talking to a local bloke right then who was about to ride a hashtag for the first time. But overwhelmingly the best surfers in this area have tried epoxy/EPS and composite tech and gone back to PU/PE.

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indo-dreaming commented Friday, 15 Jan 2016 at 5:19pm

I was more looking at the tech the measure it with, wonder how reliable the tech is? Never seen it before.

Personally i don't care where its made or even the price profit they make, just give me a board that works but also last and I'm happy, nothing worse than getting a board you love and a year latter its a dinged up.

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calmbutnot commented Friday, 15 Jan 2016 at 12:00pm

more are seeing the light - http://www.theinertia.com/business-media/did-dhd-surfboards-just-reinven...
and breathing less toxic fumes.

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 commented Friday, 15 Jan 2016 at 7:43pm

Even by the Inertia's low standards that was a particularly poorly written and ignorant piece of fluff.

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Lanky Dean commented Monday, 18 Jan 2016 at 7:58am

This article gives no explanation to why the board is any better or different than any other board.

No statistics, no material or mechanical testing, no mathematical data. no bending moment diagrams........No relevant information to support claims.

udo's picture
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udo commented Friday, 15 Jan 2016 at 6:33pm

Composites World - Clark Foam closure.
10 yr old article but worth a read.
And Tougher surfboards from Dec 2009.

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guysoceanharmonics commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2016 at 12:28am

Interesting article and comments. After trying to get a custom Sunova and not being delivered what I asked for I have come to the conclusion as to why Bert Burger does not sell many short boards and it is because he does not believe in concaves. There would not be a Pro on the circuit who does not ride a board with at least a 6mm concave system, which provides drive and speed. Bert Burger should have been awarded "Board engineer of the Year", his parabolic rail design was a giant leap forward for a true suspension system for boards providing forward progression for engineering flex, but only 1 board in his line up has any form of concave and it is only 2mm. In terms of the EPS boards, it is the air gap between the styrene balls that create the water retention/air expansion delaminating issues. With reference to those commenting on board strength for PU boards the optimum for short boards for the everyday surfer is 6+4oz deck with a single 4oz bottom, if you go for 6+6 deck plus 6oz bottom your board will feel like a block of wood as it will have no flex. The very reason shapers continue to sell 4oz boards is because they know they will break and you will come back to buy another one. I am 6'2" at 96kg and I have never snapped a 6+4 board, and I surf everywhere.

Guy Wieland

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freeride76 commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2016 at 5:51am

I was looking at some nice JS's at a new shop in Byron yesterday.

The lam schedule was 4/4 and 4.

That was my first thought. If they made it 4/6 and 4 they'd be awesome.

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caml commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2016 at 10:08am

Take some responsibility about disposable boards trashing the planet . All because of being too weak to "turn" a 6 oz board

udo's picture
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udo commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2016 at 10:17am

Maurice Cole instagram, Maurice formed a new company in USA -
Surfer Designer Collective
producing surfboards using the latest " ECO" technology ....

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velocityjohnno commented Sunday, 17 Jan 2016 at 6:53pm

I'm still stuck in the past using PU/PE in construction - it's very easy to repair, call it the "Kingswood" school of surf construction, where everything is simple and parts (resins, solarez) are stocked everywhere, even in milk bars.

Most of my time is spent considering foam densities, particular foam brands (not all PU foams are equal) and glass density. Eg 2.49lb/cu ft, can I go down, how far can I go down to replicate the buoyancy of EPS/Epoxy, and where is my durability threshold? The old glassers I learned from went through this process, noted epoxy came and went, and also described overshaping a blank as being a reason for loss of durability. For glass, used to love 5oz flatweave, but cannot source these days. S Glass is great, there are newer innovations too.

Now little whispers are being heard that VOCs will be on the target list of the EPA in the near future, and this might shift the production in a similar way to the Clark closure, here in Oz. Epoxy then would become the far lower polluting glassing method, when measuring in VOC. So PU/Epoxy is of interest.

Surprised no one has mentioned the very low VOC resins becoming available, IIRC Solarez markets one but their distributor does not stock it in Oz. Then there was Swellnet's own very good article on John Dowse at Surfset resins.

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sanded commented Wednesday, 3 Feb 2016 at 3:15pm

"Now little whispers are being heard that VOCs will be on the target list of the EPA in the near future, and this might shift the production in a similar way to the Clark closure, here in Oz. Epoxy then would become the far lower polluting glassing method, when measuring in VOC. So PU/Epoxy is of interest."

A few months ago Workcover started doing a blitz on Poly/PU factories, since then we have had a lot of interest in our products as an option to change over to and still use the PU Blanks. I think Workcover is mainly looking at making sure there is enough air going through the factories and safety is in their procedures.

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udo commented Sunday, 11 Dec 2016 at 11:13am

11 years on Bushman still shaping out of Clark blanks ...had a few stored .