Surfers often follow a herd mentality. (Haven't you noticed that every time you pick an empty beachbreak peak to paddle out at, someone will paddle up right next to you rather than to the identical empty peak down the beach?) For better or for worse, we tend to pick surfcraft the same way: by riding whatever looks safe and familiar instead of experimenting with exotic shapes and materials.
Former aerospace engineer Edison Conner and business wiz Parker Borneman have been doing their best to change that mindset by reimagining the way surfboards are engineered from the inside out. You've probably heard of their company, Varial Surf Technology, which made a splash in the industry a few years ago with the release of Varial foam, a strong, lightweight, stringer-less blank that caught the attention of many of the world's top surfboard manufacturers, including Channel Islands, …Lost, Sharp Eye and more.
But Varial is more than just a foam company. Their latest technology? Infused Glass.
"Basically, we figured out how to vacuum bag a surfboard all in one shot. And while vacuum bagging itself is nothing new, we're able to do 100 percent vacuum-bag infusion with either polyester or epoxy resin," explains Borneman. "The vacuum-bag process gets the fibers in the cloth really flat, which in turn provides a lot more strength. It also significantly reduces the amount of resin used, so you're getting a ton of liveliness in a board with way less weight."
"The quality and level of technology in these boards is comparable to any aerospace structure," says Conner. "And when we infuse with polyester resin, there are almost no styrene vapors released into the air, meaning there are also significant safety and environmental upsides to glassing a surfboard this way."
Lighter. Stronger. Safer for the environment. The Infused Glass process checks three important boxes. But how do the boards actually work in the water?
According to World Tour competitor Caio Ibelli, who's been riding Xanadu boards made from Varial foam and finished with Infused Glass for the last seven months, they work extremely well. So well, in fact, that he's collaborating with Xanadu and the guys at Varial to build a quiver exclusively using this tech. According to Ibelli, these craft are so strong and reliable that he'll be able to dramatically reduce the number of boards he has to drag around the world on Tour — no small feat, considering most Tour surfers lug eight to 12 boards to each event.
"Once we can get my quiver completely dialed, I won't have to travel with two boardbags anymore," Ibelli explained shortly after finishing runner-up to Jordy Smith at Bells. "I'll be relying on one or two boards for an entire event, which is huge and something that I've never been able to do before."
For Conner and Borneman, having a Tour surfer of Ibelli's caliber providing feedback is invaluable when it comes to honing the process and getting the desired results. And not just for Ibelli — their goal is to bring something to the surf industry that not only helps shapers make better boards, but also gives those same boards a much longer life expectancy.
"Caio has been so articulate with his feedback," says Conner. "And though his boards can be made extremely light, strong and flexible, that's really just a base to work off of to create the optimal board for all different types of waves. Caio has helped us really understand that for a powerful surfer in waves with a lot of push, you actually want the board to be a little stiffer and heavier. And we're now able to precisely customize the weight of each board to whatever he wants, so it's opened up another element of board design for him."
With Ibelli putting on some of the best performances of his career on Tour this year, Conner and Borneman are hoping surfers everywhere will see the potential benefits of this technology, giving the rest of the herd a new example to follow.
[Featured Image: Caio Ibelli. Photo by Moran]
[This feature originally appeared in SURFER 58.4, “Life & Death of Waves,” on newsstands and available for download now.]