Surfboards - epoxy or fibreglass?

Find out which is best with CHOICE’s round up of the latest surfboard options.
 
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  • Updated:10 Dec 2007
 

01 .Hit the surf

Surfboard
Once daylight savings kicks in and the temperatures rise, the sand, surf and sun start to occupy many people’s thoughts. A new surfboard for Christmas may also be on the agenda, either getting back into surfing to recapture past glory days or maybe pestering the parents about learning to surf for the first time.

Recently, a new type of mass produced epoxy surfboard has arrived on the market which the makers claim is more suitable for novice surfers than the traditional fibreglass surfboard. Surftech are the largest manufactures of this type of board at the moment, producing the Tuflite board, with other companies producing epoxy boards or using different materials and processes than the traditional method including Firewire and Resin8.

All the companies advertise these boards as generally being more durable and more buoyant than a traditional fibreglass board, ideal characteristics for people wanting to get back into surfing after a long layoff period or beginners who may require a bit of help when paddling for a wave.

Please note: this information was current as of December 2007 but is still a useful guide today.


Video: Surfboard comparison

Video: Surfboard comparison

We test a wide range of epoxy and fibreglass boards to see which comes out on top.

We test a wide range of epoxy and fibreglass boards to see which comes out on top.

 
 

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02.Epoxy or fibreglass

 

Epoxy boards have a plastic looking finish compared to traditional polyester (fibreglass) boards. Epoxy construction has been used in the windsurfer industry for several years and is becoming more common in the surfing industry.

Although professional surfers have ridden epoxy boards in competition, they are still primarily aimed at the beginner or recreational surfer, as well as older people wanting some help to get onto the wave.

The most significant difference between the molded epoxy boards that CHOICE tested and fibreglass boards is that you know that an epoxy board from a particular mould is exactly the same size shape and weight as the next one.

How is an epoxy board made?

An epoxy board starts with a light Styrofoam core which is sandwiched with high density foam sheets and reinforced with glass and epoxy resin. The board is then compression-moulded, creating a lightweight board with a hard outer shell. None of the mass produced epoxy surfboards are made in Australia, with countries such as Thailand working on a surfboard design created and shaped by a master shaper.

While it is possible to get custom-made epoxy boards, the labour involved makes it more expensive. Many professional surfers argue that the inability to have an expoxy board hand-tuned by an experienced shaper or sander is a disadvantage, but unless you’re getting ready to head out onto the world circuit this may not be a major issue to you.

How is a traditional fibreglass board made?

A polyurethane/polyester board or 'fibreglass' surfboard involves a significant amount of hand shaping in both the preparation of the core or polyurethane foam blank, as well as the final sanding to get the finished product.

The blank is shaped as far as possible to the board’s specifications and a piece of wood or stringer is incorporated into the middle of the blank for added stiffness and durability. The blank is then covered with a fibreglass cloth and laminated with polyester resin. The board is left for a period of time for the resin to set and finally the board is sanded to the final specification.

Overall, the epoxy board seems to be able to handle the general day to day bumps dings and day to day impacts better than the fibreglass board, with no major advantage when it comes to a more forceful impact out in the surf.

There is no doubt that our panel found the epoxy boards easier to paddle, catch a wave and turn. However the more proficient surfers found a slight loss of control when carrying out more radical moves.

Duck diving, where a board is pushed under an oncoming wave, was found to be slightly more difficult when using a epoxy board.

When it came to picking a favourite, there was no strong preference for one material over another from our trialists; some even liked a mix of epoxy and fibreglass boards depending on the size.

Although there were clear differences between the epoxy boards and the fibreglass boards according to our trialists, the differences were harder to quantify in our test labs. Regardless, there is no doubt that they provide another option for surfers of varying experience and fitness and that can only be a good thing.

Results table

Full results for all models are shown in the table below.

 

Ease of use Features
Material Length Ease of use Score (%) Move through water (%) Paddle to catch wave (%) Getting up (%) Turn the board (%) Duck dive (%) Weight (kg) Length (m)
Epoxy/Tuflilte 6' 1" 84 90 92 90 80 70 2.76

1.83

Polyester/Fibreglass 6' 1" 84 90 80 90 90 80 3.11 1.83
Epoxy/Tuflite 7' 0" 76 80 84 80 70 60 3.65 2.11
Polyester/Fibreglass 7' 0" 78 80 80 80 80 70 4.26 2.11
Epoxy/Tuflite 7' 11" 77 90 88 90 80 40 4.74 2.40
Polyester/Fibreglass 7' 11" 78 90 88 80 80 40 5.99 2.42
Epoxy/Tuflite 9' 6" 74 90 92 90 80 20 7.95 2.87
Polyester/Fibreglass 9' 6" 62 80 84 80 50 20 8.21 2.87
 

How we tested

  • All the boards in the test were weighed and then measured, including length width and depth.
  • Ease of use was assessed via a field trial conducted at a well known surf spot called 'the Farm' just south of Wollongong.
  • Each board was trialed by 5 surfers of varying degrees of proficiency who then answered a questionnaire.
  • Following ease of use testing, one polyester/fibreglass board and one epoxy resin board was subjected to a series of durability tests including impact resistance by dropping weighted wooden blocks from various heights onto the rail (the side of the surfboard) and the top of the surfboard.
  • Imprint resistance was also assessed to replicate general use out in the water.
  • At the completion of the test the depth at each pressure point was compared with the pre-test depth.

Fibreglass surfboard

  • Fibreglass surfboard cross sectionPolyurethane blanks have been the traditional choice for the core of a surfboard since the 1950s.
  • A wooden stringer is incorporated into the core, running the full length of the board to give it extra rigidity.
  • A fibreglass cloth is then laid over the blank like a sheet and cut to shape. The board is then covered in a coat of polyester resin with the shaper controlling the thickness of the resin depending on the properties required for the surfer.

Epoxy board

  • epoxy surfboard cross sectionStyrofoam material is used as the core for the board with fibreglass material and epoxy resin poured into a mould. This results in a hard outer shell and a soft, lightweight inner core.
  • The board is then hand sanded and polished ready to use.

 

Accessories

  • Surfboard finsFins are an important part of the boards’ performance and can be altered to suit both the surfing conditions and your experience. Generally, a larger fin area to will give you more drive through the wave while smaller fins will allow you to 'skate' across the wave. When fitting your fins, make sure the central fin is concave on both sides and concave on the outside for the fins on the left and right side.
  • A leg rope is a crucial piece of equipment, as it means you don’t have to swim back to shore every time you fall off your board. A standard length leg rope of around 7 or 8 feet should be fine for most situations, unless you plan on going out in very large surf then you may want something a little longer.

05.Trialists favourites

 

Except for duck diving, the epoxy boards scored the same or better than the older 'fibreglass' style boards, although in most cases the difference was only slight.
While all of our user trialists referred to the added buoyancy of the epoxy boards, there was no overriding preference for one particular size or material across all our trialists.

Jye - Ex-World Title Competitor

  • 6’1” boards: "Fast reactions and easy to paddle."
  • 7’ boards: "The epoxy was harder to duck dive although I got used to it and was working well through the flat sections. But I’d probably lean more towards the polyester board."
  • 8’ boards: "The epoxy floated and paddled really easy but was harder to duck dive. I’d go with the fibreglass board as the epoxy was just a little too thick around the rails."
  • 9’6” boards: "Nose ride on the epoxy was very good, bit more responsive and a lot easier to get used to."

Favourite boards

  • 6’1” epoxy
  • 7’ and 8’ boards in fibreglass
  • 9’6” epoxy

Dan - Australasia Pro Junior Series competitor

  • 6’1” boards: "The epoxy was easier to paddle and better getting through the back sections of the wave."
  • 7’ boards: "The epoxy was easy to paddle."
  • 8’ boards: "Great fun on points with the fibreglass.
  • 9’6” boards: "The fibreglass was a lot more tanky (heavier) than the epoxy."

Favourite boards

  • Most fun: 8’ fibreglass
  • Easiest to paddle: 7’ epoxy
  • Best performance board: 6’1” epoxy

Tony - Surfschool teacher

  • 6’1” boards: "A little faster (epoxy) maybe too much buoyancy for my weight but it was very fast."
  • 8’ boards: "The epoxy was lots of fun, paddles very well and maneuvers very well but in the fat sections can get bogged down."
  • 9’6” boards: "Definitely go with the epoxy board as it keeps the speed up no matter where you are on the board."

Favourite board

  • 9’6” epoxy

Tess - Seven years surfing experience

  • 6’1” boards: "More slippery on the wave as the epoxy is more buoyant and sits up a bit higher. I’d probably stick with the fibreglass."
  • 8’ boards: "I’d stick with the epoxy although it’s not very fast, overall there didn’t seem to be a big difference on the wave but the epoxy felt lighter and easier to use."
  • 9’6” boards: "I’m into the extremes and loved the epoxy big mal."

Favourite board

  • 6’1” fibreglass and 9’6” epoxy board

Rhys - Recreational surfer

  • 8’ boards: "Of the 8’ boards, I found the fibreglass board gave me more control."
  • 9.6’ boards: "I really enjoyed the epoxy 9’6” board as it felt a lot lighter than the fibreglass board not as heavy in the turns."

Favourite board

  • 8’ fibreglass

No matter how good your new board is, if you don’t know how to use it properly you’ll never enjoy the experience to its fullest. Also, a sound knowledge of the ocean environment and how to recognize shifts in the surrounding weather patterns is crucial to ensure that you don’t become another tragic statistic.

If you’ve ever wanted to be at one with the wave, now is a great time to learn to surf by joining on of the many surf schools available around Australia. The lessons learned will not only help you get up and away more effectively, you will also learn a greater appreciation of the power of the sea and how to recognize what to do in various situations.

Surfing Australia (www.surfingaustralia.com) provides information on your nearest surfing school in each state or you can visit your local surf lifesaving club for more information on local schools.

Other surfboard options

Although not considered on par with fibreglass boards when it comes to performance on the wave, a soft-top board can be great fun to learn on while still being able satisfy surfers as they become more experienced. The soft-top was designed to fill the gap between sponge boards or coolites (which offer safety but lack performance) and fibreglass boards (which offer performance with little safety and poor durability).

Unwritten laws

Learning how to co exist out in the surf can often be as important as learning to stand up on a surfboard, with several 'codes' to adhere to if you want to ensure a trouble free day at the beach. Rules such as giving way to the person on your inside (on your left if you are going right on a wave and your right if you are going left) will keep potential conflict to a minimum.

Also, if the person has 'My Brother’s Keeper' tattooed across his chest, let him have the wave no matter what the circumstance...