Polyester, epoxy, P/U, popout… stand up paddle surfboards are build with a variety of methods. Many top shapers are even building the same exact shapes with several methods of construction. Which one is best? Each board building method has its own set of strong points. This article will help take some of the mystery out of stand up paddleboard construction so you can make an educated buying decision so you’ll know exactly what’s under your feet when you step up on your next stand up paddleboard.
Traditional Polyester (PU) Construction
This is the standard construction for most custom shaped prone paddle longboards and shortboards. A polyurethane blank, often referred to as PU blanks are hand shaped and wrapped with sheets of fiberglass fabric and polyester resin. These boards are usually built by 3 people, the shaper, the glasser, and the polisher. The shaper uses specialized tools and years of experience to shape the foam blank to the exact specifications for the rider. Next, the blank is handed to the glasser who lays several sheets of fiberglass cloth over the top and bottom of the board and then saturates the cloth with polyester surfboard resin. After the board is shaped and glassed, the board is sent to the polisher who sands off the rough edges, makes sure the rails are just right, and puts that shiny finish on your board. PROS: Custom shape, most shapers have the tools to build one, natural flex in the performance of your board. CONS: For a stand up paddle board, this construction is heavy and prone to ding when you bump it on the car or hit it with your paddle. The foam is open-celled and is prone to absorbing water after getting a ding.
Traditional Epoxy Construction
These boards are built exactly how a traditional PU board is built except the materials are different in two ways. First, most of the foam cores are a closed cell foam similar what your cooler is made of that you take with you to the beach. Secondly, an epoxy resin is used instead of a polyester resin. PROS: This construction has become the standard for stand up paddle surfboard construction because it is lightweight and stronger than polyester construction. You can still get a custom shaper and your board will be less prone to ding and you won’t need wagon to get it to the beach. Also, some foam cores are somewhat water resistant if you happen to ding your board. CONS: Less natural flex in the board. They are quite stiff, however, many stand up paddlers believe a stiffer board paddles faster. Unless you’re a pro, you probably won’t notice a difference.
The lightweight characteristics and extreme durability, make this is a favorite of many stand up paddlers and board producers. There are many variations on this method of construction. The construction begins when the shaper creates a “plug” for the factory. The plug is a shape that will be exactly reproduced over and over again. A mould is then built for the shape which is then injected with polystyrene foam. The result is a foam core exactly like the original template. This foam blank is then glassed with epoxy resin and fiberglass often with high heat and high pressure thus creating a shell on the board that is more durable than any traditional method of board building. These boards are often finished with a tough skin and painted. The finish usually appears even and plastic-like. Each company has its own variation on this construction method. PROS: There is often a lot of research and development that goes into a board before the plug is made. This means there’s a good chance you’ll get a proven shape. This is generally the most durable construction available. CONS: The shape will not be customized for you. You’ll have to find the board that best fits your weight and riding style. The paint jobs are prone to chipping. It doesn’t affect the strength of the board but paint chipping happens.
Machine Shaping: Both epoxy and polyester blanks are often machine shaped before they are glassed and finished. Basically, the shaper designs the board on a computer and puts the blank into a machine which scrubs out the general shape of the board. Then, the shaper will add the finishing touches to the board by hand before sending it off to the glasser. Machine shaping saves time for the shaper which usually reduces the time a costs to produce a board. It also makes it much easier to get almost an exact replica of your board in the future since it’s stored on a computer file.
Price Point: All board construction methods are priced about the same.
Glass Thickness: As you do your research, find out how many layers of fiberglass are going on the top and bottom of your stand up paddle surfboard. Fiberglass cloth thickness is measured in ounces. Lighter glass jobs will be more lightweight and may have a little more flex to them, while heavier glassed boards are more durable and stiff. This applies to traditional and pop-out construction. A super light glass job for a stand up paddle board would be 1 layer of 4 oz. on the bottom and a layer of 6 oz. and 4 oz. on the top. With this, you’ll need to be gentler with your board and will probably get pressure dings on the deck of your board. Pressure dings don’t always affect the integrity of the board but may eventually cause problems. Be sure to have a thick deck pad installed if you get your board glassed light. A heavier glass job would be 2 layers of 6 oz. glass on the bottom and 3 layers of 6 oz. on top. With epoxy resin, this would be a strong board. Some board companies may glass their boards thicker or thinner than this and with reason, so be sure to ask.
Although this is by no means the definitive article on stand up paddle surfboard construction, now you have some basic knowledge that will help you in making your board buying decision. Happy paddling and remember to surf with respect and safety. Also, feel free to comment or add to this article below.