Interview with the two surfers behind Varial foam
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 29 April, 2015 - Why are surfers so resistant to change in surfboard materials? The act of surfing is done through a torrent of changing mediums: wind, tide, swell - they all fluctuate. We, apparently do not. Consequently we’ve been using the same basic polyurethane foam blanks for about 60 years. But two entrepreneurs are seeking to change that.
In October of 2013 Varial Surf Technology (Varial) headed by Edison Conner and Parker Borneman, set out to remove the variables in surfboard blank production and debuted their new foam to the surf industry.
They’ve developed a new foam blank that they claim is lighter, stronger and doesn’t require a wood stringer (since wood quality varies in each stringer, so will a board’s flex)
There’s no stringer in Varial blanks. You claim a flex pattern similar to PU blanks. How is this possible?
The magic of Varial Foam is that it has 7X the modulus of PU or EPS foam. Modulus is a technical term for the foam’s rigidity. The enhanced rigidity of Varial Foam compensates for the lack of a wood stringer. So in terms of the overall bending and twisting flex, a Varial Foam blank has almost identical flex properties to a PU blank with a stringer.
That’s the holy grail for new board technology, to mimic a wood-stringered PU blank, but also to have more strength than PU. Are Varial blanks stronger than PU?
Yes. Boards made with Varial Foam are 30% stronger and 25% lighter than a stringered PU board with the same glassing. The high-modulus property of Varial Foam does an excellent job of supporting a surfboard’s fiberglass skins and preventing them from buckling.
We agree that it’s important for any new, lighter, and stronger technology to have similar flex to a PU board. That makes the transition easy for both the surfers and the shapers. However, Varial Foam takes this a step further and actually improves flex by removing the slushy feel created by the softness of PU foam.
Polyurethane foam left and Varial foam right at 70x magnification
Explain how you are actually improving flex compared to a PU board.
Traditional surfboard foam is relatively soft. The force you put on a PU foam board during a turn mostly goes into squishing the foam, which eats up energy. The high-modulus (rigidity) of Varial Foam provides a much more sturdy base under your feet, allowing you to push directly against the water and flex the board more through turns. When a flexed Varial Foam board unloads it pushes you out of a turn with what Mason Ho calls a “spurt.” The closest analogy is the switch from driving a slushy old Ford suspension to a tight and responsive BMW. The difference is really noticeable after you’ve been riding Varial Foam and then try surfing a standard PU board again.
Do your boards have to be glassed a certain way? I’ve noticed Lost Surfboards tends to glass them in Hydroflex but Surf RX doesn’t.
You can glass Varial Foam with either epoxy or polyester resin. Designing a board’s glassing is another way that shapers can put their personal touch on boards built with Varial Foam cores. …Lost likes to go all-out and use Hydroflex’s high-tech, high-performance epoxy glassing. Doc (at Surf Prescriptions) does Hydroflex Varial Foam too, but he glasses most with polyester resin because Varial Foam is so strong to begin with and because it helps keep the boards affordable.
Shane Dorian is a big backer of Varial Foam © Ehitu Keeling
What about pricing for Varial blanks?
Varial Foam is a premium, performance material adapted from an advanced aerospace formula. As a result, Varial Foam blanks are more expensive than traditional blanks. This translates to Varial Foam boards being around 30% more expensive than traditional boards with the same glassing.
We know longer-lasting products are more eco-friendly because they last longer and don’t need to be replaced. What about the process for making Varial blanks, is it as toxic as with PU blanks?
Varial Foam is made in a highly-engineered process that is very different from the way PU blanks are made. While the details are top secret, we can tell you that the manufacturing process poses no health risk to workers. This is one of the reasons it is easy for us to keep Varial Foam manufacturing in the US, setting us apart from the majority of traditional surfboard blank companies.
Lastly, isn’t it easier to start, say, a clothing brand than breaking into something as stubbornly status-quo as surfboard construction? Why did you choose this path?
Our motivation has always been to revolutionize surfing by adapting advanced materials to surfboards. Almost all other sports they have seen dramatic advancements in materials technology over the past 60 years. Surfboards are probably the only piece of equipment for a major sport that still uses materials from the 1950’s. Without a doubt it was a tough problem to solve, but in our minds the potential for a revolutionary breakthrough always justified the years of sacrifice and painstaking R&D.
Surfers at the top level of the sport have already pushed the limits beyond anything we could have imagined, and that’s all been done using antiquated materials. Just imagine what they can do if the materials in their boards can elevate their surfing instead of holding it back. We’re already seeing the impact with surfers like Shane Dorian, Mason Ho, Mikey Bruneau, and CJ Kanuha. And this is just the beginning. Stay tuned because the Materials Revolution is alive.