For thousands of years, the surfboard was initially composed of nothing but wood found on the islands by the Hawaiians. These surfboards were large, bulky, heavy, and cumbersome.
Surfers truly had to be in shape to carry them to and from the shore. Fast forward to modern times and boards are now only a tiny fraction of what they were. Additionally, the materials became more complex and synthetic in order to provide a light, yet buoyant and durable board.
But what are those materials that are used to make modern surfboards? What do each of them contribute to the surfboard and the board’s performance?
Here we will be going over the major components used in the production of surfboards and what role they play in optimizing the boards ability to help surfers stay afloat and keep it damage free.
One note before starting is that this breakdown will go into the most common design for surfboards and does not include the likes of all wooden or super soft foam boards.
Prolapse Polystyrene Foam and Expanded Polystyrene Foam are more modern foam types that are used in the center of the board to provide the overall rough shape. It’s also the component that gives the surfboard its buoyancy.
PPS and EPS weren’t always used, though. Prior to the usage of these modern foam, polyurethane foam was used. Typically, this type of foam is found in older fiberglass boards. Because it was very light and easily shapeable, surfboard shapers from the 1950s and onward used polyurethane.
The downside? It’s a highly toxic material. So, to prevent health issues, alternatives were developed, although it should be noted that shapers can and still do use polyurethane. It is just less common these days. Moving on to where PPS and EPS come into play.
Prolapse Polystyrene is a solid replacement. Not only is it lighter than polyurethane, but it’s also more environmentally friendly and recyclable. Huge upgrade there.
The only issue with this particular foam is that it takes much more physical labor to shape it. But hey, what’s wrong with building some muscle while making money? While PPS is not as strong as polyurethane, the addition of an epoxy resin makes up for it. More on that later.
The other foam, Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam, is another alternative to polyurethane and has seemingly taken the surfing world by storm. This particular type of foam is the same kind that makes up Styrofoam coolers or other foam boxes.
Small little balls of foam are crushed together with an adhesive, forming the foam object. The good news with using EPS? It’s the lightest of the three foams; however, shaping it is very difficult. Think of taking a sander to a cooler.
For this reason, EPS boards are typically made from manufacturers and machines, not hand shaped. Good boards can still be made this way, though. EPS boards are also more available and a little easier on the wallet.
Now, back to the epoxy resin. What does this do? Well, we need to start with polyester resin. This is the material that is used to make fiberglass. If the fiberglass was to be placed directly on to the foam core, it would be dissolved and you would thus be left with a hollow fiberglass shell.
The epoxy resin that coats the foam prevents this by acting as a barrier. Epoxy resin also makes for a stronger outer coating than fiberglass alone would. This is why a lot of novice surfboards have an epoxy resin, as it is less prone to damage and dings.
Additionally, the epoxy coating helps to prevent waterlogging that can occur with other strictly fiberglass boards. Again, perfect for a beginner because a ding or hard hit is not going to invite water into the board.
Known as polyester resin, this is the material that is traditionally used to create the outer coating of the surfboard. So how is fiberglass even made and how is it applied to the foam core?
Different materials that create glass-like sand are melted down in a furnace and then pushed through very small holes. This process is known as extrusion and produces long, thin filaments. These filaments are then woven into a polymer matrix and heated to ‘thermoset’ the cloth.
Fiberglass woven cloth is cheaper and more flexible than carbon fiber, while also being stronger than many metals and easily moldable. When being used to cover and wrap the foam core, more layers will be applied to the deck of the surfboard.
This is to lengthen the life and durability from weight being applied directly to it while standing. The bottom of the surfboard does not require extensive protection due to the lack of force being applied. If you ever hear the term ‘glassed’, they’re referring to wrapping the board in fiberglass.
Traction Pads are the rubber surfaces found on the back of the surfboard deck. These are usually associated with shorter boards, as they allow riders to pivot effectively, but a fun size or long boards can have them, as well.
Traction pads are made of various types of rubber, which assist with surfers gripping their board, despite copious amounts of water rushing over the top of it. Surfing wax doesn’t hurt the cause, either.
Depending on the make of the board and the desired use, fins are going to vary in their composition. For longer boards and those meant to cruise, having glassed in fins are perfect. When they’re said to be glassed in, it means that the board and fins were wrapped together.
The only downside to this configuration is that they can be difficult to repair and/or replace if something does happen. Replaceable composite fins are just that, replaceable and composite, meaning that they’re made up of more than one material.
Specifically, composite fins usually are made up of fiberglass laminate and epoxy. Plastic and rubber can sometimes be used. The deciding factor on which type to use is essentially personal preference. Do you like to cruise down the line on a longboard or catch aerials?
Are you surfing in water where there are shallow reefs or rocky shores? Do you like more bend in your fins? Would you like to be able to remove them? All the important questions in your decision. Check out the top 10 best surfboard fins.
These long strands of material travel longitudinally across the length of the board, meaning from nose to tail. Their simple function is to provide added strength across the surfboard.
The materials that are used to make stringers are endless, with some being composed of balsa wood, carbon fiber, or other compounds and materials. There is no usual suspect here. It comes down to the board designer and what lightweight and strong materials they want to use in its construction.
With the knowledge you now have in hand, go out there with confidence, knowing what the components of a surfboard are, how they’re made, how they contribute to the overall performance of the board and some alternatives to commonly used materials in the making and shaping of boards!
For the best surfing experience, you’ll want to invest in a surfboard that matches your bodyweight and skillset. Everything comes naturally once you dive into the ocean. For beginners, you’ll want something that will perfectly complement your weight range and surfboard material. On top of that, you’ll want to clean your surfboard thoroughly.
Keeping your surfboard clean is essential for surfing since you will spend the majority of your time on the face of your surfboard. If you’re a beginner and you don’t know where to look then we recommend checking out the top 10 beginner surfboards.