When we decided to make surfboards in 1996, we wanted stronger boards with no decrease in performance. “Causing no unnecessary harm” has always been a business goal of ours, so these boards also had to minimise the use of toxic and non-renewable materials. We were committed to not building “pop-out” boards, because to do so destroys the relationship between surfer and shaper, and because pop-outs keep board design from progressing. We weren’t out to revolutionise the surf industry; just break a few materials and process paradigms.
We’ve spent years studying and testing materials. Thousands of test panels have been stressed, compressed, crushed and snapped. At first the panels broke in series – one component would break and then another, until the entire panel would fail. After a few months we got all the components to break at once, but at a very high load. We started to get excited; we had doubled the panel’s strength through a synergy of materials with no increase in weight. The search for the best combination of materials is never ending, and we continue to evolve our construction methods as new materials become available.
Since 1999 we’ve used extruded polystyrene, which is similar to the foam used in beverage and fast-food containers (Styrofoam®). This foam contains no VOCs (volatile organic compounds), a source of air pollution. Extruded means the material is forced through a small opening, like toothpaste is extruded from a tube. This gives the foam directional properties similar to wood or a honeycomb. As such, the foam has a constant density throughout.
The most common complaint about epoxy boards in the past is that they didn’t flex. However, we’ve found that they can be engineered to flex as much or as little as you want them to, depending on how you glass them. Our stock boards tend to provide a happy medium of weight-to-durability, so the average surfer will be able to keep his favourite board for a long time. A lighter weight board might flex more, but will be less durable. For those surfers who can really tell the difference, we make more flexible boards that are still tougher than the industry standard.
The higher compression strength of extruded foam means a stronger core to resist the downward force of the outer shell under a load. Lighter than average foam allows us to put more layers of fiberglass in the outer shell. This increases strength and resistance to breaking and buckling. We’ve built a state-of-the-art glassing facility, and worked carefully with materials manufacturers, to ensure the best craftsmanship and perfect resin-to-glass ratio for max strength and minimal waste. The entire process is done in Ventura, CA, and complies with the strict environmental laws of the USA.
The stringer is the backbone of a board; a board without a stringer is like a body without a spine. You can add stiffness by making the skin or shell stronger (as is done with sailboards) but then you lose flex and the board feels dead. Too much flex, especially on a longboard, and the board feels slow and mushy. A board with the proper ability to flex should have a certain timbre that feels alive. All the components of a surfboard have to work together for proper rigidity, flex and strength.
Stringers contribute to a board’s strength by creating an I-beam within the foam/cloth/resin composite. In our stock boards, we use renewable woods with a high strength-to-weight ratio. This allows us to use laminated stringers that are stronger than single-ply, especially in the critical areas of the nose rocker. Because each size and style of surfboard has different strength and flex requirements, we use different stringer arrangements. A laminated stringer 1/8” to 3/8” wide is standard; the specifics vary depending on the board.
A surfboard will buckle or break first on the side that’s hit (compression side). The industry-standard shortboard – with two layers of 4-oz. E cloth on the deck and one layer on the bottom – is only as strong as its weakest side. It will easily snap if hit by the lip. For reliable strength, a board needs more than one layer of glass on the bottom.
Both the type and weight of fiberglass cloth used affect a board’s strength. Warp glass has heavier fibres woven in one direction of the cloth. When oriented along the length of the board, it adds stiffness and strength, eliminating the need for a heavier, balanced-weave cloth. Two layers of 4-oz. warp is the minimum amount of fiberglass you’ll find on any one side of our boards.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, epoxy boards gained a bad reputation because often the wrong formulation of resin was used, and there was an unbalanced marriage of the various components. Most of these epoxy boards were also built without stringers. Resin technology has progressed since then, and the epoxies today are far superior.
There are thousands of different formulations of epoxy resin, depending on the intended use. The resin we use is blended to balance tensile strength, flex, hardness, impact strength and nontoxicity. It is about 2.5 times stronger than polyester resin and 300% tougher. This is important for ding resistance and durability over time.
Some epoxy laminators use polyester resin for the hot coat to save labour and material costs. But the two dissimilar materials often bond poorly, meaning the polyester hot coat will eventually chip off of the epoxy-laminated glass underneath. To prevent this, our boards are 100% epoxy for maximum strength and durability.
We use a UV inhibitor in our epoxy, which can give the board a slight purple tint when viewed indoors in certain lighting conditions. But outdoors the board remains an eye-blinding white. This is not to say they will never yellow, as any board left in the sun over time will see the effects of UV exposure.
We offer removable fin systems on all our boards. The strength, versatility, interchangeability and performance are vastly superior to glass-on. Most of our boards can be built as a thruster, twin fin, quad or 5-fin on demand. If we don’t feel it is an appropriate marriage of fin set-up and shape, we will advise you on alternatives.
We offer both quad and 5-fin options on many of our boards. The 5-fin is sort of a mix between a single fin and a thruster. (Glide AND drive.) Usually better suited to front-footed surfers, the 5-fin combines a V-bottom with deep hourglass-shaped double concaves within the fin area. This helps to efficiently organise the flow of water through the tail and has other advantages as well. Fin drag is reduced, resulting in easier paddling and faster trim speed at the take-off. It is quick and lively rail-to-rail, and has great projection and flow through turns. The 5-fin can be a little stiff at slow speeds, but has a faster top end and more drive than a thruster.
The quad fin is a mix between a twin-fin and a thruster. Imagine cutting the center fin of a thruster in half and putting it out on the rails behind the lead fins so they can provide drive and hold, instead of just dragging in the centre. Since the trailers are farther forward, the board becomes looser as well. A quad will generally surf faster than a thruster and won’t lose as much speed in turns. Quads are usually best for back-footed surfers, but many folks can adapt to them.Background Photo: by Scott Winer. Kohl Christensen locks into another one in a seemingly endless week of A-plus surf in Fiji.