Firewire Flexplanation with CEO Mark Price
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 13 November, 2015 - The hot-button topic of the day in surfboard design is flex. In the same way fins weren’t given too much attention back in the day, (all ‘80s thrusters had pretty much the same template), or when we used to order our custom boards without cubic litre knowledge, flex is now getting a closer, well-deserved look.
Proper flex in a board will transfer energy when the rider weights and unweights on a wave. If done right the flex in a board will act as a spring to launch the rider into and out of manuevers. Flex also helps a board fit into a wave.
One of the first surfboard manufacturers to focus their work and philosophy on flex is Firewire Surfboards. We spoke with Firewire CEO Mark Price to learn how flex affects performance and what Firewire does to ensure consistency of this oft-overlooked element throughout their line.
Mark, how important is flex to a board’s performance?
In our view its critical. Would you ride a snowboard or skateboard that had little or no flex? Maybe if you just wanted to go in a straight line as fast as possible, but when you factor in the actual maneuvers associated with surfing a wave, the right degree of flex and rebound is vital.
The biggest complaint we hear about alternative constructions is that they don’t have that familiar flex pattern that polyurethane boards do - the boards many of us grew up surfing. Is there such a thing as a ‘Goldilocks’ flex pattern that is just right?
Great question. I think that particular ‘conventional wisdom’ is often put forward by surfers who have never ridden Firewire technology, and who tend to lump all EPS/Epoxy boards in the same bucket. In our opinion, the primary advantage of Firewire technology is the fact that the boards are lighter and stronger, especially from a deck-compression perspective than a traditional PU surfboard, and by removing the center stringer there is more flex and resultant rebound than the vast majority of stock PU boards sold at retail.
So the question then becomes, if that's such a good thing why aren't more WSL surfers riding them? When it comes to the top WSL surfers, I’d argue that they are already getting ‘Firewire-esque’ performance because their boards are built ultra light and they do flex more than stock PE/PU as a result. The downside is that they are not durable enough to offer to the everyday surfer, whereas Firewire can sell the same tech at retail. In addition, we are still a relatively new company and many of the world’s top WSL riders have long-standing relationships with their existing board designers that go back many years and it’s difficult to change that.
We’re also about to release quantifiable data that was developed in conjunction with Red9, using accelerometers and other on-board testing equipment on all three of Firewire’s technologies and a stock PU board in the exact same shape. That data clearly showed that Firewire’s LFT and FST tech pulled more G’s during turns and the turning radius was more critical. That would make sense when you think about how flex increases a snowboard’s performance for example.
Polyurethane breaks down after a while, changing the flex properties as the board ages. Does Firewire do something to structurally maintain the same flex pattern for the life of the board?
Yes, we use the Balsa wood parabolic rails to control the flex on FST and a high density aerospace composite on LFT – both of those material have an infinitely longer ‘optimum performance period’ before they fatigue, unlike PU/PE which can break down in months. I have Firewire boards that are 3-4 years old and are just as lively as when I first rode them. In addition sandwich construction with the right materials generally creates a much more stable, durable construction than a single density PU core with a PE resin lamination. I’m sure most structural engineers would confirm that.
With PU boards you can pick two identical models with the same dimensions and they might ride differently due to subtleties in stringer densities, PU blank density as well as glassing and sanding differences. If I take two of the exact same Firewire models off the rack, will they both perform identically?
Certainly much closer than two PU/PE boards, and that is due to both the materials we use and the strict tolerances we implement throughout our production process. Every individual blank is weighed before and after machining to make sure the densities are consistent with our spec. Thereafter the boards are weighed after every step throughout the build and compared to spec. Plus we use mechanical resin dispensers to combine the exact ratio of resin to hardener and overall resin quantity for lamination. Look, there are going to be some minor variances due to sanding for example, but far far less than most PU/PE boards. We also randomly break boards to test the break point, as well as subject them to compression and sheer testing with sophisticated testing equipment in our factory.
Do the flex properties of FST, LFT and Timbertek vary from one another? - Meaning will a Spitfire model in Timbertek surf differently than a Spitfire in FST or LFT?
Yes. Timbertek is the stiffest construction which is close to a PU feel but with slightly more flex, while FST and LFT are very close to each other, with increased flex versus TT. As mentioned, when we release the data developed in conjunction with Red9 we’ll include quantified differences as opposed to 'less versus more' etc.
In closing I think its also worth dispelling some of the other myths about EPS/Epoxy, such as the ones that they don’t work in choppy conditions or in big waves. EPS and Epoxy are simply materials, the exact performance depends on what you do with them.
Therefore I don’t think blanket statements like that have any merit. Michel Bourez won the 2014 Margaret River WSL event in 6-8 foot surf with a heavy crosswind, and he also won the Sunset event in 6-8 foot Sunset on Firewire's FST construction. And of course Sally’s win in Fiji was also in challenging conditions, not to mention the injury that she powered through. Does it take a few surfs to adjust to Firewire’s flex and materials – probably. However, there is no question in our minds that Firewire’s tech performs at the highest levels in the vast majority of surf conditions.
Michel Bourez © WSL/Cestari