John Dowse and Surfset Resins
In the surfboard industry it'd be easy to believe that the only area of innovation is design or the conspicuous aspects of construction - parabolic rails and the like. If you never set foot inside the dusty innards of a board factory then you'd have no reason to know about the other stuff, such as the chemicals that envelop every board that exits every factory. They're just as important to the performance and wear of your board yet they're largely ignored by surfers.
John Dowse is an Australian surfer and shaper with an abiding interest in the stuff your board is made from. For 15 years he's been working on ways to make lighter and stronger boards, his most recent enterprise a range of resins that do that, plus they have other benfits.
The Surfset resin range includes a three-in-one resin that does laminate, filler, and finish coats, plus another that cures quickly without comprimising strength. All are hybrid epoxy acrylic resins.
Swellnet: What’s your background John?
John: I was a pro-junior sailboarder in the 90’s making fins at night for my sponsor so I could sail or surf all day. I learnt a lot about surfboard and sailboard construction in that time.
I've been making alternative surfboards for the last 15 years, and I started Sanded.com.au about five years ago, originally as a blog which grew into a forum, and now it's a full website.
When did you start working on Surfset?
I have always have had a fascination with construction techniques since my days in sailboarding. In the 90’s was when that industry really changed from the normal Poly/ PU construction and sailboards took off on a different path looking for lighter and stronger characteristics. Epoxy became the norm, so when I started making my own personal surfboards epoxy resins seemed like the obvious choice for me.
About a year ago I was finalising testing on Nylextra hybrid cloth - a product that we had developed - and I went to my normal supplier to buy a six litre pack of epoxy resin and was told it was the last time they would sell it to me as "they were only going to focus on the bigger guys." I was surprised and shocked, I'd been buying from the same supplier for the last couple years after working out it was a good product to suit me and the testing we were doing.
Around the same time I met Neil from Veetek who's a legend in the epoxy industry and found out he had produced a specialised resin for a tow in surfboard event. He gave me a sample to try out and I realised how good the product was. This resin was the basis of the Surfset Resin range and we started collaborating on building the range and making it user friendly for the surf market.
What are the strength properties?
Epoxy acrylic resin acts a bit different to your normal epoxy resins. As the resin cures the epoxy cures first then the acrylic sets. What you are left with is a strong yet flexible resin. The Surfset resin is tougher than standard epoxy surfboard resins, hence you get less compression dings and improved impact resistance plus a reduction in stress cracks.
Has it been tested?
Epoxytesting.com did the entire lab testing to make sure all our products were technologically suited for surfboard manufacture. During every step of the way we have also been testing in the glassing bays and out in the water. I realised to get this product right for the professional surfboard manufacturers I'd need help in getting honest feedback. I was very lucky to have shapers like Newcastle’s Steele Lewis, Rex Marechal from RMS Shapes, and Max Stewart from Eyesymmetry be very open and help us along in the development.
We have also been testing with the help of smaller guys from our forum who have been testing the products in the elements that the boards would have to endure.
Why haven’t people worked with hybrid resins before?
Hybrid resins are not new in the composites industry but are quite new in surfboard making. As we have been working on our resin system, Silmar Resins in the US have launched a polyester acrylic resin also, so I think it won’t take long for the manufacturers to see the benefits.
What are the benefits of a hybrid mix?
Normal epoxy resin contains xylene which can be hazardous for personal health and the environment, so to limit it would be a good thing for the surfboard manufacturers. Also, acrylic is water clear resin - it naturally improves UV resistance and keeps good colour stability for longer. The added benefits are that it's also heat and scratch resistant. Lastly, the clean up of tools can be done with white vinegar reducing the usage of acetone around the surfboard factory.
If Surfset FLEX is a three-in-one mix why have you made Surfset PRO, which is a laminating resin?
FLEX was originally made as a filler/finish coat for the PRO, then after testing it we realised how good it was as a stand alone product. FLEX is being used from start to finish with the guys who use colour work, make wooden surfboards and vacuum bag. It gives that extra time needed for the detail compared to the PRO.
PRO is made for production houses when time factors are important. PRO is a harder curing resin so for lamination coats its perfect!
And then there's Surfset RAPID. Is that an industrial strength version of FLEX?
RAPID is all about speed. You can flip the board over in an hour and start working on the other side, which is fantastic for those guys who need to speed up the process of making a board. We have mainly made this resin for quick repairs, finbox placement, and carbon taping, though Steele Lewis laminated a mal with this product ,which was pretty impressive for him to do a mal in 8 -10 mins.
FLEX comes in two kinds, can you explain the difference?
All the products come in the two colours. Clear, which is super clear so the materials of the surfboard is on display. At the moment, material inlays and wooden surfboards are getting more popular so we thought it would be better to have this option to show off the material and workmanship of the board. Ultra Bright is for surfboard manufacturers looking for the whitest of whites to make their boards shine. To get this to happen is no easy feat – we worked on this for six months to make sure that we got this perfect and I think everyone will be happy with the results.
All the products are available now at sanded.com.au and a few fibreglass retailers, also we are setting up a rep crew in each state for manufacturers.