Hey everyone! I felt this was important topic to tackle for my first real blog post, because it seems to be a subject that carries a lot of misconceptions. So I’d like to take a moment to clarify some information about the two different construction types, the physical properties of the materials and my personal preferences/opinions regarding them.
First up: “poly” construction. Poly gets its name from both the resin AND the foam: polyester resin and polyurethane foam. Poly is the traditional surfboard building materials used since foam core surfboards were invented, and is still the most widely used construction method today. Poly is often incorrectly referred to as “fiberglass” construction – the reason this is incorrect is because the same exact fiberglass cloth is used in both poly and epoxy construction types, it’s the foam core and resin that soaks into the fiberglass cloth (and foam) that differ. While poly construction in general is a bit heavier and isn’t quite as strong as epoxy construction, it tends to have a more consistent and predictable feeling underfoot. This is due primarily to a slower flex pattern and denser foam than epoxy construction, which basically causes less “surprises” and more predictability while surfing, especially when making hard or sharp turns. Poly construction tends to be more naturally conducive to color work, especially translucent resin tints – though I tend to have almost equal success with both construction types with forethought. Poly is also a bit less sensitive to water infiltration and heat than epoxy construction.
The name “epoxy” construction is a little less specific. Epoxy refers to the resin only – epoxy resin. The foam used for epoxy construction boards is called expanded polystyrene, or EPS foam for short. Again, the same exact fiberglass cloth that is used for poly construction is used in epoxy construction. Epoxy in general is lighter and stronger than poly construction, though the resin is technically more brittle. Epoxy construction boards tend to be springier and livelier than poly boards due to an inherently faster flex pattern and less dense foam. This springiness and liveliness can be considered less predictable and consistent underfoot, as it can create more “surprises” and less predictability while surfing. EPS foam has a bit more of a natural ability to resist heel dents, etc, than poly foam, though any construction type will heel dent over time, more so with heavier surfers and/or lighter glassing schedules and is natural in surfboard construction. Epoxy construction needs a bit more attention, especially if it has any medium or dark color work. Epoxy resin has what’s called a glass transition temperature, which is the temperature at which the resin will soften and become pliable and malleable. This temperature for epoxy resin is approximately 120 degrees Fahrenheit (for poly, it’s a good notch higher) – a temperature that can be reached very easily within a matter of minutes during the summer in, oh, let’s say…the inside of a car (hint hint! [side note: heat is the enemy of all surfboard construction types. They handle cold very well, but not heat. For the best care and longevity of your surfboard, don’t leave it in the car especially during the summer and cover it with a towel when you’re not using it on the beach. And NEVER clean wax off with a hair dryer or heat gun!]). Once it drops back down below that temperature, the epoxy will fully re-harden, but to whatever shape it’s “melted” to. Also, the foam can melt from this, too. Sounds pretty harsh – and it is – but it’s also super easy to prevent with the aforementioned super basic care.
That’s the basics.
So which is better? NEITHER! They each have their own inherent pros and cons, and beyond that, even more important is your own personal preference. That’s VERY important to remember. If you haven’t surfed both construction types and have any preconceived notions about either construction type, push them out of your head. Many people have the idea that poly is better because almost no pro surfers on tour ride epoxy boards. This is simply absurd! Believe it or not, a lot of pro surfers really don’t know or deeply understand what they’re surfing. They just get boards that their sponsors give them, they work for them and they’re used to them and they stick to it. Also important to remember: they’re pro surfers. The other 99.999% of us are not, and we don’t surf the best, more consistent waves on the planet for 3 sessions everyday. We typically need different equipment. On the other side, other people have the idea that epoxy is the only way to go because poly is so much weaker. Again, not really true. While epoxy resin is in general stronger, as I said before it’s also, technically speaking, more brittle (however, when properly glassed [which I do!], it nets a nice, strong board). Poly resin has a bit more give to it without being brittle, which can be a good thing for surfboards, as well. The great thing about getting a custom board from me is that (1) you can choose your glassing schedule (strength vs weight), which I’ll get into further in a later post, and (2) it’s important to me to get to know you as a surfer so that I can make my best recommendation for which construction type will most benefit you with your new board. So neither one is better than the other, they just have different properties; pros and cons. They both certainly have their own place.
So what place do they have? Well, again I’ll preface this with the personal preference clause – every surfer is an individual, and their/your own personal preferences are what’s most important for you – there is no right or wrong. However, here’s my current personal preferences (disclaimer! which do change and vary over time):
I tend to prefer poly for high performance shortboards (The Dream and Pipe Dream), midlengths (Coconut) and longboards (Banana Leaf, Beach Cruiser and Magic Carpet). High performance shortboards tend to be out in bigger, powerful wave conditions and the consistent feeling, flex and slightly higher density are all factors that I find creates a better, more consistent surfing board for those types of conditions, for me at least. Sometimes I find the springiness/liveliness of epoxy to be a bit too much in bigger, more powerful conditions, personally at least. For midlengths and longboards, again it’s a nice consistency which you definitely want in a 7′ to 10’+ foot board, and the bit of extra weight compared to its epoxy counterpart is a good thing – it equals momentum on the wave face.
I really like epoxy for performance-oriented summer series boards (Reviver and MicroJet), because I find the extra springiness/liveliness of epoxy construction really adds some positivity here. It adds a bit of energy to your surfing, which is a good thing in mushy, gutless surf; making it feel like you’re surfing a slightly better, stronger wave than you actually are. Plus, you get a bit of extra buoyancy from epoxy (compared to the same exact dimensions of volume of the same exact board in poly), which is another good thing is mushy, weaker waves. For other other summer series boards that are a bit more laid back in design and geared more towards pure fun (Mango Pit and Chia Seed), both poly and epoxy are great options, though I tend to prefer poly.
For the hybrid shortboards (Jet and Hips) and performance hybrid shortboards (Turbo Dream, Turbo Ripper and Love), you can really go either way and I’m personally split 50/50 between the two construction types, and I find the same trend with my customers. Some like the added float of epoxy and the extra springiness and liveliness; others prefer the consistent feeling of poly. It’s really a pretty even toss up in this category. The last couple years I geared a bit more towards epoxy, but as of recent I’ve really been enjoying poly.
Hope you guys enjoyed the read and learned a thing or two! Certainly a bit lengthy, but an important topic to know about. There’s a lot more to it, so if you have any questions, please feel free to email or comment below.
P.S. – You can also order your board as poly foam and epoxy resin! This is somewhat untraditional and is more costly, but on occasion I do have customers order their boards this way, usually for high performance shortboards/step ups for VERY heavy conditions. So it is an option! However, most of the time, poly or epoxy construction will do the trick.
P.S.S. – You canNOT order your board as EPS foam and poly resin – the styrene in the resin will melt the EPS foam on contact…and I’d prefer not to hand you a puddle of melted foam goo when you come to pick up your brand new custom board!