Is Polyurethane the Best Material for Your Surfboard?



Surfboards weren't always the sleek, custom-made models they are today. In 1947, a scientist and surfer named Bob Simmons started experimenting with polyurethane. The old wooden boards were quickly replaced by polyurethane ones. By 1956, Dave and Roger Sweet were selling the new foam surfboards in Santa Monica, CA. Although boards can be made of other materials, like polystyrene, polyurethane remains a popular choice for surfers. A quick review of the facts can help you decide if polyurethane is the best choice of material for your board.

Overview

Polyurethane foam is made up of polymer chains connected by urethane links. The foam is low-density; it is produced in blocks and cut into shapes. Surfers (and surfboard makers) cut the foam into the desired size, shape, and thickness. After smoothing it, they place fiberglass over it and brush hot polyester or epoxy resin on it. When it has dried, been sanded, and the fins and leash added, the surfboard is ready.
The polyurethane foam absorbs water; the fiberglass and resin help to coat the foam and keep the water out. Combined with the foam's tendency to turn yellow in sunlight, polyurethane foam boards may not have as long a surf life as boards made from other materials. If there is a crack or soft spot in the board, it could crack and fall apart. Polyurethane boards cost less to shape and finish, which is one reason they are so popular among surfers.

Review

Between polyurethane and polystyrene, polyurethane has the better reputation for performance. It has better flex energy than polystyrene. Polyurethane boards are easier to make and shape. They can be glassed over with either polyester or epoxy resin; some boards take only epoxy resin.
Polyurethane boards may be cheaper, but for a reason: they break down more easily than other kinds of boards and may need to be fixed or replaced more often. Polyurethane foam contains carcinogens, which are cancer-causing agents. When it is in surfboard form, polyurethane can't be recycled. It is not as environmentally safe as other foams, like polystyrene, which releases less toxic gas.

pros

Polyurethane is easier to work with when making a surfboard. It can adhere to various resins. It can be shaped and finished nicely. Surfers believe that is has a better flexibility and feel than other foam boards. Because they take less time to make, polyurethane boards are inexpensive, making them affordable to surfers.

cons

The carcinogens in polyurethane foam, and the fact that it can't be recycled, are less attractive to the environmentally conscious. Polyurethane boards fade to yellow over time, requiring touchups and refinishing. They also absorb water, making them more prone to breaking apart. The costs may rise, depending on how often you scratch or crack a surfboard.
Since its discovery in the 1940s, polyurethane has found a home in the surf community. Surfers continue to use polyurethane to make their boards. Polyurethane boards take less time to shape and finish; they are less expensive to make than other boards. However, they may break more easily, and need to be replaced. Polyurethane foam is not good for the environment, as it could release carcinogens into the air. Considerations like your budget and your eco-concerns are factors in deciding if polyurethane surfboards are the best pick for you.

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