Beyond PU and Epoxy: 3D printed eco-surfboard construction

Surfboard makers have tapped the toxic bouillabaisse of polyurethane for more than 60 years now. In that time little effort was made to seek out alternative builds. And why bother? The petroleum-based recipe works, creating consistent performance sleds for most of us.

Epoxy once considered difficult to work with has become one of the preferred wave pool surfboard constructions. Less toxic than polyurethane, it still takes its toll on the environment. Also consider that traditional surfboard materials and the finished product travel thousands of miles, producing tons of carbon just to reach the end customer.

Through recycled plastics and 3D printing, Hexa Surfboards is making boards with a smaller footprint. The company stores customers’ files so they can print any surfboard order on demand.

The boards are unique. Hexa have replaced that off-white EPS or PU center with hexagons of recycled plastic filled with the ever-environmentally friendly air.

“The geometric shape is a classic doubled honeycomb pattern calculated to optimize the balance between the resistance of the blank and the volume of plastic used,” says co-founder Leo Bouffler. “After coating the core with bio-resin the air is trapped in the board. Besides the interesting design, it makes our surfboards’ lifetime is much longer. In the case where some water does get inside after a ding, you just have to get the water out and the core is still kept intact.”

Flex Properties

Epoxy and PU boards are limited when it comes to quantifying and controlling a specific amount of flex. You can order an extra carbon strip or get your board glassed heavier, but beyond Firewire’s option of different constructions, there are few custom flex-adjustable boards on the market.

“Our first prototypes we tested felt more like EPS than traditional PU,” added Bouffler. “However, we want our surfboards to reach at least the same performance level as traditional boards. The large variety of plastic we can work with combined with advanced computer modeling will allow us to reach this goal.”

There’s a theory that PU boards vary ever so slightly in flex due to foam density and subtle variations in the wood grain of the stringers. While that unquantifiable flex often leads to a “magic” board, the construction process is nearly impossible to duplicate.

“At the moment our algorithm adjusts the mass distribution, and therefore the rigidity of the board,” says Bouffler. “The next step is to precisely adapt the flex properties of each board to meet the needs of each surfer. To go even further, we can slot a few sensors into the board to get exact constraints applied by a specific surfer on a given wave.”

hexa surfboards

Environmental Properties

Besides inventing a build that makes a surfboard look really cool (transparent so light shines through) the board is glassed to meet eco standards.

“PU has great mechanical properties and is so convenient to shape, but it’s a disaster for the environment. We want to set eco-friendly surfboard standards through performance and design. That is why we use recycled plastic to make our blank and bio-resin for coating.”

While Hexa’s designs are highly customizable through the software and detailed 3D printing capabilities, there’s still a heap of human factors in their board-making process.

“Knowing that shaping is a strong knowledge and skill set, we are developing the parametric shape with experienced surfboard shapers. It allows us to customize the different parts of the surfboard and 3D print it easily. However, the glassing and fine-sanding are still handmade.”

Hexa Surfboards is just launching out of France. To learn more about their technology follow the slink.

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