Surfboard shapers are using more cores of fused expanded polystyrene foam as the industry becomes more competitive and experimental.
In December 2005, market-dominating Clark Foam of Laguna Niguel, Calif., stopped manufacturing traditional rigid polyurethane foam blanks and closed its doors, blaming government regulators and anticipating liability issues.
While the closure disrupted the surfboard industry, it opened avenues for large-scale research and development in the use of various materials for surfboard cores and decks, and it prompted a large number of imports, now beginning to slow as domestic production increases.
Board makers and shapers are experimenting with and marketing versions of twin-sheet polycarbonate, aircraft-type carbon-fiber laminate, PVC sheet, acrylic sheet and other materials, in addition to PU and EPS.
It is too early to tell what core will prevail in the market, said Steve Sales, a representative with White Hot Foam in Oxnard, Calif.
White Hot Foam uses a specialized EPS bead and tightly regulates time, volume and pressure parameters to create blanks with material consistency down the decks, Sales said.
The material is called surf-specific EPS, trademarked SS-EPS.
White Hot has ``the best board foam now,'' said legendary surfboard designer Renny Yater in an interview at the Action Sports Retailer trade show, held Sept. 7-9 in San Diego.
White Hot Foam, a division of ProWall Building Products Inc. of Oxnard, obtains output from ProWall's Casa Grande, Ariz., plant, which has two foam production lines. ProWall's primary business is to make foam for tongue-and-groove construction materials. ProWall uses one line to make surfboard foam to a higher standard than its traditional foam products such as architectural shapes, drywall backing, roof insulation sheathing and rigid insulation.
White Hot Foam cuts and glues the blanks in its Oxnard facility. Lengths range from 5-14 feet, and wholesale prices are from $50-$250.
Sales said White Hot Foam's competitors include Carlisle Cos. Inc.'s network of Insulfoam plants and Atlas Roofing Corp.'s three Falcon Foam sites.
Sales said EPS has won about 15 percent of the Southern California market for surfboard blanks, virtually all since Clark's demise in late 2005.
For the global market, Austin Foam Cores LLC owner John Silver estimated EPS accounts for at least 30 percent of surfboard blanks.
There are about 15-18 makers of PU cores and seven or eight producers of EPS cores, said Silver, whose EPS surfboard blank maker business is based in Santa Ana, Calif.
Silver predicted a significant shakeout for the industry in the next two to three years. ``The consolidation has just started,'' he said.
Austin Foam uses blocks of custom-made closed-cell EPS foam and upscale Idro molds in producing its surfboard blanks.
``Austin and White Hot are the only two U.S. makers of foam blanks,'' Silver said. The material, called EPS X2 foam, is environmentally friendly and 75 percent of the waste is reused.
Austin Foam Cores is a division of custom fabricator Austin Plastics Inc., also of Santa Ana.
WNC EPS Blanks of San Diego entered the surfboard blank market in early 2006 as an extension of a sister firm's longtime use of EPS architectural foam for columns, roof lines and decorative exteriors.
Using Navagent Inc.'s Surf3D Pro software, WNC learned how to design and make surfboard blanks up to 12 feet in length from EPS blocks. The operation uses computer numerically controlled machines and foam-cutting hot wires and is established as a separate division of parent firm Walter N. Coffman Inc.
WNC stringer choices include Italian mahogany, basswood, red cedar, spruce or PVC.
Among makers of finished boards, Aviso Surfboards of Minden, Nev., showed products with four carbon-fiber laminates encasing two layers of high density closed-cell foam with a hollow interior air space.
Aviso said its fused boards are at least six times stronger than PU boards and 2½ times stronger than EPS boards. Aviso's team has defense industry experience with composites on radomes, electronics covers and jet fighter nose cones.
Another exhibitor, Firewire Surfboards LLC of Cardiff, Calif., uses an EPS core with a 1-pound density and embeds a springlike suspension in the center of the board. The suspension works in tandem with parabolic balsa wood rails. In Australia, Firewire is based in Gold Coast and manufactures in Burleigh Town.
Nearly two dozen makers of surfboards and blanks exhibited at the show, which had displays from more than 500 action sports brands.
The sports group of Nielsen Business Media, a division of Nielsen Co., organized the event.