LONG BEACH, CALIF. — A lively surfboard market is seeing more production volume and various material changes. Surf Technicians Inc. of Santa Cruz, Calif., projects major growth this year for its licensed Surftech-brand surfboards.
"We've charted for 50 percent volume increase so we will probably go to 8,000 or 9,000 boards this year," owner Randall French said in an interview at the Action Sports Retailer trade show, held Feb. 5-7 in Long Beach.
"We have been doubling every year since we started in 1996," French said. He sold about 6,000 surfboards in 1999.
The firm employs eight in Santa Cruz for marketing and warehousing functions, has about 200 dealers along the West and East Coasts and contracts with a Bangplee, Thailand, factory to manufacture the lightweight boards. The plant employs 200.
"Basically, this is re-engineered windsurf technology akin to snow-ski technology," he said. "We expect to see other windsurf companies coming into this market."
The process involves vacuum forming one skin, pressure forming the other and using digitized master blank molds to create an expanded polystyrene core.
Multiple skins include a polyurethane topcoat; four epoxy-fiberglass surfaces and impact patches; and a 3-millimeter-thick, high density PVC sheet foam sandwich.
"Nobody has successfully marketed a surfboard with an alternative technology," French said. "This technology inherently is stiffer" than traditional boards.
Rusty Surfboards Inc. of San Diego is using more Owens Corning high-strength S-glass fiber for a flatter weave on high-end units.
"We have gone to using a tighter-weave fiberglass cloth for part of our production," General Manager Peter Johnson said. "We feel it makes the board stronger and lighter."
S-glass is used on one side of the board and adds about $10 to the cost of a short board.
"We normally offer [S-glass] with custom boards, and the customer absorbs that cost willingly," he said.
Lower-end manufacturers don't use the material because of the cost, he said.
Rusty Surfboards has used more S-glass in the past two years, although it did use the material in some earlier boards.
The sporting goods division of Societe Bic in France is exploring radical technologies and exotic materials for compression molding its high-end surfboards. The materials include carbon and aramid fibers.
"Some are coming in the next season," said Kenneth Hartz, regional sales representative in San Rafael, Calif., with Miami-based Adventure Sports Inc., a major Bic Sport distributor.
Bic makes boats and boards for windsurfing and surfing at a large factory in Vannes, France, and shares manufacturing technologies between the types of sports equipment.
Bic will use more "radical composites" while continuing to use stainless-steel molds for compression molding highly durable surfboards, Hartz said.
The firm makes the cores in-house and cross-links a foaming resin to the fiberglass cloth.
Bic also blow molds less-expensive surfboards, forming the polyethylene skins first and injecting polyurethane foam to achieve thickness. Those boards have more flexibility and lower performance expectations.
Family-owned Societe Bic also makes pens, shavers and lighters at plants in five countries.