Welcome to the WEBER TECH CORNER. This is a periodic release dedicated to helping educate our customers on anything and everything surfboards. From construction methods and materials to surfboard designs to fins, we are hoping to shed some light on all there is to know about the products we love. If there is something that you are interested in that we haven’t covered, e-mail your topic request to me and we will add it to our list of topics. Thanks everyone and enjoy! . Shea Weber Dewey Weber International, Inc.
WEBER TECH CORNER
Surfboard Construction Method Discussion Part I: PU/Polyester by Bill Bahne/Fins Unlimited & Shea Weber/Dewey Weber Surfboards
Since the mid 50′s when polyurethane (PU) foam was first used in surfboard construction, it has been the material of choice for surfboard shapers to use as the core for surfboards. It is an excellent, lightweight, easy-to-shape material and its fine cell structure allows for intricate detailing of contours. Also, it is compatible with polyester resin used in laminating the fiberglass skin of the surfboard.
What Is It? Polyurethane foam systems are derived from petrochemicals and come with a lot of environmental considerations regarding storage and handling. In the case of Clark Foam, the chemicalthat received
negative press was TDI (toluene di-isocyanate) – the “A” side component of his formula. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named TDI as an Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) because breathing the vapors can cause severe respiratory problems. Some blank producers have therefore turned to using MDI (methylenediphenyl diisocyanate) which has a vapor pressure 2,500 times less than that of TDI. With the main concern being the safety and health of their workers, blank producers are now instituting measures that will protect their workers. This is important as the future will probably see stronger guidelines for using both type of isocyanates from OSHA and the EPA.
Why Was There A Problem? Clark Foam was the dominant manufacturer of polyurethane surfboard blanks for the past forty some years, but on December 5, 2005 Grubby announced his decision to shut the business down. This
abrupt closure left the U.S. surfboard industry without a major blank supplier. Every board builder had to secure a new supply of surfboard blanks mostly coming from Australia, Brazil and South Africa. There were a few glitches at first but there is now plenty of foam. Board builders were faced with consumer reluctance to buy a new surfboard that was built with something other than a Clark foam blank. Today, in the current world market of foam surfboard blanks, there are many equal or better than a Clark blank. And, due to the new competitive nature of the blank industry, board builders and consumers are going to benefit because blanks are going to get lighter and stronger and make a more durable surfboard as technology advances.
How Have We Worked Through This? Manufacturers: In regard to brand management, board builders need to give their retailers and customers as much information as possible to make them comfortable with purchasing their surfboards. This includes info on the foam they are using. The foam industry has become fiercely competitive. The worst thing we can do is to keep our customers in the dark. As the customer, you want and deserve to know what products your boards are being made with. To this day, PU/ Polyester is still the most dominant construction method for surfboards, but don’t be afraid to ask your retailer what constructions they stock. In the future, we will discuss other construction methods (custom EPS/Epoxy and composite epoxy).
Consumers: Ask questions! Your retailer should encourage you to ask questions. If they don’t or
they can’t answer your questions, it may be a good sign that you are buying your new board from the wrong shop. If you are unsure of what foam your board suppliers are using, don’t hesitate to ask. If they can’t give you an educated and confident answer, that is your first red flag. The best way for retailers and consumers to overcome uncertainty about the products they are buying is to help educate them. This is an exciting time in board building with a large variety of building materials. At the same time, board builders have a responsibility to help educate their customers on what materials they are using, what the characteristics are and what it will mean for the end consumer. Communication between manufacturers, retailers and consumers has never been more important.
Where Are We Headed? If there is one thing that Clark’s 2005 closure has hopefully taught us is that putting all of our eggs in one basket is not smart business. As hardgoods brands, we have the ability to dictate what materials we use (or don’t use), how our product is made, where it is made, and most importantly, how the product is perceived and valued. Board builders owe it to their customers, as well as the pioneers who helped revolutionize this industry, to push the envelope of research and development. As our valued customers, you deserve no less!
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