Traditional Fiberglass VS Epoxy VS NexGen... So Which is Better?
One of the biggest questions I get is what's the difference between epoxy, fiberglass, and this NexGen I've been hearing about? In this post I'm gonna go through what the pros and cons to all them are so you can hopefully make a better educated decision.
Traditional Glass - 60+ Years old and still kicking
Your traditional fiberglass construction (also referred to as classic or PU or poly or glass) is the classic construction of the surf industry. It's what boards have been made out of for the last 60+ years. PU construction starts with a polyurethane foam blank and a wood stringer. These boards are then traditionally shaped by hand and wrapped in fiberglass and polyester resin.
- Cuts Through Chop - A poly blank is a fairly dense foam. This gives you a board that sits lower in the water and makes those rough and choppy days a little smoother as your board will cut through the chop well. This is a benefit not only when you're paddling out because it will help you keep your momentum up but it will also be smoother on the water when riding.
- Responsive - Another benefit to the poly blank is the spring it provides. A poly board will feel more lively under foot more often than not. This can make your board more responsive and more performance driven.
- Better Graphics - Because the foam is more dense and the resin of a poly board is transparent your graphic choices on them will usually be greater. If you think about it, a dense foam will create a smoother surface on which to paint. And because the resin is transparent, you can do all sorts of inlays and laments that can have all kinds of cool effects on the graphic scheme.
- Weight - A poly board will typically be a little heavier than other constructions. This is mainly because of the dense properties of polyester foam. Other than heavier just being annoying, it can also make your board tougher to handle in the water.
- Fragility - Polyurethane resin, although it flexes well and can make your board more responsive, it also makes your board more prone to dings and dents. This can cause frustration in many ways... cost of repair, cost of replacement because it can wear out faster, being without a board while it's getting repaired, and can look used and beat up earlier in it's life span.
- Sun Damage - We all know that sun can be hard on our skin if we're exposed to it too much. Well, your surfboard is the same. Too much heat and UV will cause the materials in it to breakdown, making your board more fragile. It will also cause your board to turn a not so lovely shade of yellow. :)
- Environmentally Unfriendly - Because poly foam is quite a bit more dense than its cousin below, it can be a bummer when it ends up in the landfill. The materials take a LONG time to decompose and because they are more fragile, the chances of a poly board ending up in a landfill are greater.
- Price - This is a con to some and not to others. All our poly boards are built right here in San Diego and personally shaped by Bill Minard. Because we build them locally, there is an inherent cost increase that comes with that. Some don't want to pay the increase, others will only buy boards built locally, and shaped by a master. Just depends on your priorities.
Epoxy - Finally a good alternative to classic glass
Epoxy boards, although they may appear to be new to the surf industry, have been around for quite a while. It has only become mainstream recently as the foam/glass/resin combo has been perfected. Epoxy boards will typically start with an Expanded Poly Styrene (EPS) foam blank with a PVC foam stringer. These boards are usually shaped by either a machine or by hand. (We choose to have all ours shaped by hand. It keeps people employed, and the art of surfboard shaping alive. Nothing quite like hand built if you know what I mean.) The board is then wrapped in fiberglass and covered in epoxy resin.
- Lighter - Your standard epoxy board can be much lighter than a poly board. This is nice not only when you're carrying it to the beach, but can make moving the board around in the water more comfortable.
- Stronger - Epoxy boards will 10-15% stronger than poly boards. This is great when you tend to be harder on your gear. Whether you're in the water, walking from the car, or putting it away at the house, there always seems to be objects that jump out there and smack your board. If not for the strength, you could be going to the repair shop a whole lot more.
- More Buoyant - EPS foam is a lot less dense. This makes the board sit higher in the water and float better than a poly board. The benefit here is that your paddling will be easier and in some cases (not all) you can surf a shorter surfboard and it will still float you great.
- Environmentally Friendlier - The piece of an epoxy board that is a little more friendly is the decomposition process of EPS. It's less dense and therefore breaks down faster.
- Stiffer - Because the board is made of a much stronger resin it can make the board stiff. This can be a positive or a negative depending on whether or not you're used to surfing on a poly board. For some, a stiffer board can be less responsive, for others it will feel more lively. It just depends on what your used to. If you're new to surfing you probably wont be able to tell the difference.
- Sun Damage - Epoxy has it's own issues with the sun. The paint on an epoxy surfboard won't fade because it's the last layer to go down, but the inside materials of an epoxy board expand under extreme heat and UV. This can cause a problem when the board is left in direct sunlight for too long. Because most epoxy boards aren't vented, the expansion caused will make the board bubble and de-laminate. You're fine if you're just going back and forth to the beach or if you're in the water, but if you're gonna hang out on the beach for a while with the fam or friends you will need to keep it covered up. A simple board bag will save you a lot of heart ache... get one if you own an epoxy.
- Bouncy - Because the surfboard floats higher in the water, when the waves get choppy, it can feel like your board is bouncing off the chop. This is more annoying than anything else but it can also reduce momentum down the line.
NexGenTM - A perfect combination of both poly and epoxy
NexGen is an exclusive here at Degree33 that we are pretty proud of. It has the benefits of poly and epoxy without most the drawbacks. It really is the Next Generation in epoxy construction. NexGen starts like most epoxy surfboards with an EPS foam core. However, with our shorter boards (typically under 7'6"), you will notice that they're stringerless. This keeps the weight down and is unnecessary on the shorter stuff due to the strength of the resin. On the longer boards, they will have a wood stringer like the poly boards do. The other main difference is with the glass and resin. The resin is an epoxy resin but its strength to flexibility properties are drastically improved. This allows us to use much less fiberglass than other epoxies (see the benefit below).
- All the benefits of an epoxy plus...
- Super Light - Like I mentioned above, because of the resin we can use much less fiberglass than other epoxies (less than half). This allows the NexGen boards to be as much as 10% lighter than standard epoxies, which are already lighter than poly boards. This light weight is what attracts most people to NexGen.
- Superior Flex - One of the drawbacks to most epoxies is that they are stiff. This is the main reason why some seasoned surfers won't surf them. However, with NexGen the flex characteristics are in line with a poly board. This will give you increased response off the bottom and more snap off the top. The flex benefit is due to the advanced resins we use on the NexGen models.
- More Maneuverable - Because of the reduced weight and increase in flex, the maneuverability of the NexGen is greatly increased.
- Better styling - Epoxy surfboards can sometimes look plastic, but with NexGen, the resin is transparent like the poly's. This gives the board a more natural look and makes it look more like a traditional surfboard.
- Too Light - Really there are only a couple of drawbacks to NexGen. Some people think they are too light. This can make your board feel too bouncy. I'm not sure I understand or agree with this one but I have heard it... once. :)
- Sun Damage - This is a con to all surfboards. The same applies here as it does with epoxies but also poly. The resin is transparent so the foam can yellow.
- Cost - Cost is really the only issue here. On average a NexGen board will be $100+ more than an standard epoxy. An acceptable downside for many.
- Durability - NexGen boards are less durable than our standard epoxy (that's where the performance characteristics come from), but still more durable than a traditional glass board.
Here's the bottom line, it ultimately comes down to your personal preference. Around the warehouse we like NexGen and Poly. One of the things that is really attractive about our fiberglass boards is that they're all built right here in San Diego, and personally hand shaped by Bill. This is a major bonus to have a master like him be the hands behind your craft. All our epoxies and NexGen's are still designed by Bill, but he doesn't shape them personally. All constructions have their pros and cons though. Really it's just your call.
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