In the summer of 2006 Wes Lakey had an epoxy epiphany. Lakey, a San Diego surfer and composite expert with a background in the aerospace and automobile industry, walked into a surf shop just as the shop manager stared blankly at $6,000 worth of brand new longboards—all ruined—shriveled and disfigured beyond repair, the result of misguided use of epoxy resin.
“That’s when it hit me,” explained Lakey. “I knew the surfboard industry didn’t understand epoxy, at least as thoroughly as I did. The Clark Foam closure had flooded the market place with EPS foam. The time was right.”
“I remember a light went on, and I filed it away,” explained Lakey. “I was in the hot rod business, not the surfboard business.”
Later that day, serendipitously, Lakey dropped by Rusty Preisendorfer’s factory. Preisendorfer was fuming. A team rider’s epoxy board had just been ruined—it was too hot outside. “That’s when it hit me,” explained Lakey. “I knew the surfboard industry didn’t understand epoxy, at least as thoroughly as I did. The Clark Foam closure had flooded the market place with EPS foam. The time was right.”
The greatest single technological advancement in the surfing industry was the post World War II introduction of fiberglass adhered to foam using resins. Surfboard production shot through the roof as industry icons such as Velzy, Noll, Harbour, and Hobie pumped out thousands of boards.
As the years moved on the aerospace industry continued their R&D on composite construction. Respected scientists discovered that vacuum bagging the two products makes a stronger bond. The resin-to-glass ratio was mastered. Today there is no guessing. Vacuum bagging is the laminating process for industries using composite construction. From boats hulls to household appliances to space shuttles, vacuum bagging is how it is done.
Surfboard manufacturers have toyed with vacuum bagging in the past, but for the most part, glass shops have relied on hand lamination. It is economically more viable and expert laminators can dial in the perfect quantity of resin to glass by hand. Many have been doing it for more than 30 years. The surfboard building process runs smoothly and has been doing so for 40-plus years.
Nevertheless, it does seem odd that someone in the surfboard industry hasn’t picked up on vacuum bagging technology on a mass-production level. It is a process that has been around for decades and one that every other industry has R&D’d to death.
Enter Wes Lakey.
Lakey, and his shop Wet Glass, has it figured out, and is pumping out vacuum-bagged boards for established shapers such as Rusty Preisendorfer, Glen Minami, Jason Stevens, Stu Kenson, and Tim Bessell. And surfers such as Jamie O’Brien, Nate Yeomans, and Sunny Garcia are raving about the responsiveness of the boards.
“The thing is, because of my background in composites, I’ve already gone through the learning curve. I understand epoxy. A glass shop would go out of business trying to figure out what I already know. For example, we eliminate the hot coat,” explained Lakey. “Don’t need it. A hot coat on an epoxy just adds about a pound of weight and makes the boards stiffer. We’ve got a proprietary secret process.”
And the secret is out, at least the light and strong result of the Wet Glass process. “The boards are so lively,” said 2000 World champion Sunny Garcia, whose been riding the Wet Glass laminations for a few months now. “It’s sort of hard to explain. You have to ride one. They’re springy and positive and very exciting to surf on. And they are light.”
“The flex characteristics are dynamic in a vacuum-bagged board,” explained Lakey. “The boards load up tension through turns. The tensile strength differences and flex characteristics are different due to the vacuum bagging process. It’s taken us awhile, but we've got it really dialed now. They are super strong and super light.”
And the boards are relatively eco-friendly. It is epoxy resin. That means no fumes. No waste. There can’t be waste. Lack of waste it what makes it fiscally feasible for Wet Glass to stay in business. Margins are thin. Therefore it is crucial for Wet Glass to have the resin quantities needed for lamination exacted. There is no resin waste, no floor build up. “For foam, glass, and resin, this is about as green as you can make them,” explained Lakey.
The end result of Lakey’s Wet Glass entering the market place is threefold: an environmentally friendly surfboard that is strong, light and built in the USA by passionate surfboard makers.
The Wet Glass process is strong and light and can compete on that level with the sandwich-construction boards coming from Asia. “You can jump up and down on these boards. This process creates a very strong board,” explained Lakey. “Look, anything will break given the right circumstance.”
Will Lakey’s serendipitous foray into the surfboard market turn out to be a windfall for surfers? We’ll have to wait and see. One thing is for certain: The surfboard consumer gets a custom-shaped surfboard that is extremely strong, is extremely light (as light or heavy as you want), is environmentally sensitive, reacts dynamically, and is made in the USA. What’s not to like