Poly or epoxy? This ongoing debate surrounding surfboard construction can be traced back to the '90s and gained traction in 2005 when Clark Foam, an industry giant and producer of polyurethane foam blanks for fiberglass surfboards, shut down.

Surfboard shapes, types of foam, and surfboard blanks, are polarizing subjects for some modern-day surfers and are entirely irrelevant to others. Many large-scale surfboard manufacturers like Lost, Channel Islands, Pyzel, and Hayden Shapes offer their models in both traditional PU (polyurethane) and EPS (epoxy) constructions to appease all surfers. Before examining the benefits and disadvantages of poly and epoxy foams, it's crucial to understand what they are.

What is a Polyurethane or Fiberglass Surfboard?

Polyurethane (PU) surfboards, colloquially referred to as "traditional surfboards," are comprised of polyurethane foam, fiberglass cloth, and polyester resin. PU surfboards often feature a strip of a wood that runs down the center of the board from nose to tail, called a stringer, which serves to reinforce, stiffen, and strengthen the foam blank. PU blanks are flexible and when combined with a wood stringer, fiberglass cloth, and resin, the result is a dense yet responsive surfboard. PU surfboards are generally heavier than epoxy boards due to their construction. PU foam blanks have historically been the preferred choice for handshapers as their compositional qualities are such that shapers can use power tools, planers, and other shaping instruments to make custom surfboards. That said, PU blanks are recently receiving more criticism due to the carcinogenic chemicals in polyester resin and consequent negative environmental impact involved in their production. Some companies, like Hayden Shapes, make PE surfboards. Like PU boards, PE surfboards have polyurethane foam cores but are glassed with epoxy resin rather than traditional polyester resin, resulting in a stronger final product that still possesses the lively flex pattern and responsiveness of a PU board.

What is a Polystyrene Surfboard?

Polystyrene (PS) surfboards have polystyrene foam cores and, while still dense, are lighter than traditional polyurethane boards. That said, PS blanks are not as strong as their polyurethane counterparts but are glassed with epoxy resin to increase durability. Polystyrene blanks are recyclable and significantly more environmentally friendly than polyurethane blanks.

What is an Expanded Polystyrene Surfboard?

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) blanks are made of an open-celled beaded foam version of polystyrene commonly known as Styrofoam. Epoxy surfboards combine an EPS blank with fiberglass cloth and stiff epoxy resin. If you've ever ordered take-out or grabbed a drink to-go, you're probably aware that expanded polystyrene is extremely lightweight but also delicate. As such, EPS is not an ideal material for hand-shaping and is generally used by surfboard manufacturers that use CNC and CAD equipment to design, shape, and create surfboards at a high volume. Boards constructed with EPS foam are lighter weight, produce fewer VOCS (Volatile organic compounds), and are often more buoyant than traditional fiberglass. Some brands, like Firewire, have pushed the limits of epoxy surfboards even further with the advent of unprecedented environmentally sustainable epoxy technology constructions including: Helium, Linear Flex Technology (LFT), and Timbertek. To date, Firewire is the only global surfboard manufacturer whose entire production has received ECOBOARD certification from Sustainable Surf.

What is an Extruded Polystyrene Surfboard?

Extruded polystyrene (XTR) surfboards are made of polystyrene foam that undergoes an extrusion process. XTR foam is a 100% closed cell polystyrene foam that is glassed with epoxy resin to create XTR surfboards. Extruded foam blanks are extremely buoyant, durable, and water resistant. XTR boards come in a variety of custom flex constructions including: Stringerless (XTR SL), Carbon-Kevlar® (XTR SL-CK), and Carbon Rails (XTR FX-2). This construction is ideal for the experienced surfer who has developed hyper-specific surfboard construction preferences.

So, Should I Ride a Poly or Epoxy Surfboard?

Unfortunately, the answer is still not an easy one. Here's a non-exhaustive list of factors to consider when determining what surfboard foam construction is best for you:

Weather conditions (wind, temperature, etc.)

If your local break is windy, you may want to consider a blank with more weight. PU boards with wood stringers handle wind chop better than epoxy boards and allow you to keep your board down on the face of the wave.  Companies like Lost have come out with C4 construction which laminates cork between the EPS core and fiberglass to dampen and smooth out surface chatter.

Type of break (point, beach break, reef, rock, etc.)

EPS boards are buoyant and sit higher on the surface of the water than PU boards. As such, they're a great option for catching mushier waves at deep-water breaks that require extra paddle-power and glide. However, when surfing steep and hollow waves, many surfers prefer the weight of PU boards, which sit deeper in the water and tend to feel more engaged.

Skill level

To some beginner surfers, the minutiae of board construction like surfboard foam, surfboard resin, and cell foam type makes no impact on their experience. Though, to an experienced surfer, the flex, drive, speed, and pop of a board might make a world of difference in a critical situation. On a base level, beginner surfers might benefit from the enhanced buoyancy, durability, and light weight quality of an EPS board, but that's not to say they couldn't just as easily learn on a traditional fiberglass board.

Whether you're a new surfer stepping off a soft top or a veteran shredder with years of hardened opinions, broaden your horizons and try both poly and epoxy boards. Check out Rider Shack's massive selection of new and used PU and EPS surfboards from industry-leading brands like Channel Islands, Lost, Firewire, Pyzel, and more! For more tips, tricks, and instructional guide.

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