SAN DIEGO - Innovators in bodyboard materials are upgrading the standard polyethylene foams of yesterday to PE hybrids, as well as polypropylenes and cross-linked polystyrenes. Lighter and stronger boards were displayed at the Action Sports Retailer trade exposition, held Sept. 6-8 in San Diego. In the past 15 years, users have created a culture and art form that was reflected in the exhibits. Tom Morey introduced the concept of bodyboards in 1971.
As a measure of the sport's popularity, this year's 10-event Global Organization of Body-boarders' tour offers more than $200,000 in prize money for men and $100,000 for women.
At one time, a ding to a bodyboard meant trashing it; now the boards are more durable. Corpo-rations take notice of the broadening market base, which sometimes causes discomfort for smaller firms.
David Cunniff, an innovator who was a professional boarder for a decade, knows the feeling, and markets aggressively to keep his brand growing, he said in an interview at the trade show.
As a co-owner of a 3-year-old firm, he has seen Custom X Bodyboards climb toward the top of the high-end market in California and Hawaii surf shops.
Marko Foam of Corona, Calif., steam-presses Arco Chemical PS beads with PE to form the Arcel core for Custom X boards. Sealed Air Corp.'s Biola, Calif., plant provides tight-cell decks under exclusive, one-year development programs.
``We make it thinner with higher density and get a stronger deck,'' Cunniff said.
Custom X is incorporated as Superior Foam Products Inc. The firm employs 13 and occupies a 4,400-square-foot facility in Oceanside, Calif.
Morey Bodyboards showed prototypes of its 43-inch-long Mike Stewart Launch Vehicle. The product features a PE deck with a soft middle and hard forearm pads, palm grips and thumb grooves. DuPont Surlyn low density PE covers the slick bottom.
``People launching 10-20 feet in the air need a better shock absorber in landing on the water,'' said staff designer Steve Moran.
The new product should be available in a few months, retailing for about $200 in a market with boards going for as much as $300.
Morey, formed in 1971, manufactures bodyboards in Tijuana, Mexico, and used a volume thermoplastic as a reinforcement. Toymaking giant Mattel Inc. acquired Morey in 1994 and operates the El Segundo, Calif.-based division as a surf-shop supplier.
Australian manufacturer Manta Surfing Products Pty. Ltd. reports that Japan's bodyboard market is strong.
``Our sales into the Japanese market have doubled every year for the past four years,'' said John Hubbard, partner and director of Manta, based in Kirrawee, New South Wales. He believes Manta leads some 25 companies annually selling about 200,000 professional-quality bodyboards in Japan.
For Manta's new Energy series of bodyboards, a Japanese firm supplies the PE core while an Australian extruder uses Surlyn to make the slick bottom.
Manta employs 32 and occupies a 50,000-square-foot facility.
Another Australian firm, Hydro Surfing Products Pty. Ltd., displayed a prototype of its new Bodygun hand board, which is used with swim fins. A Sydney, Australia, firm injection molds the board with self-skinning urethane.
The 131/2-by-71/2-inch board, a modern adaptation of a small flat planing surface, retails for $29, about one-third of competitors' models, according to Hydro owner Don McCredie, a former world and Australian bodysurfing champion.
Hydro is a 10-year-old firm in Avalon Beach, Australia.
Bodyboard maker Toobs skipped San Diego.
``We will exhibit in Long Beach,'' said co-owner Buzz Morasca, referring to the Action Sports Retailer expo scheduled for Feb. 11-13. ``Now, most buyers are looking at winter lines.''
Marko Foam furnishes Toobs with Arcel plank, and Foam Distributors of Haywood, Calif., supplies Dow Ethafoam plank. Sealed Air supplies 6- to 8-pound-per-cubic-foot, one-quarter-inch sheet foam. Voltek of Coldwater, Mich, supplies Toobs' proprietary bottom skin, extrusion coated by Conplex of St. Augustine, Fla.
Formed in 1988, Toobs employs 25 and crafts 150-200 boards per day in a 15,000-square-foot facility in Morro Bay, Calif. The boards retail for $100-$150.