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What is a Pop Out Surfboard? Traditional and Molded Surfboards Explained

July 30, 2022

What is a Pop Out Surfboard?  Traditional and Molded Surfboards Explained

There is a lot of talk among surfers about "Pop Out" surfboards.  You may be asking yourself, what is a Pop Out?  What is the difference between this type of board and other traditionally made surfboards. The words "Pop Out" usually has a negative connotation among surfers, especially those who have been involved in the traditional hand made method of making surfboards.  Are they bad?  Well that depends on who you talk to and what the purpose of the board is that is being purchased.  There are distinct differences between a Pop-Out (AKA Molded Surfboard), Machine Shaped and Hand-Shaped surfboard which we are going to unpack for you so you can make your own decision on what is best for you. Take a look at these two diagrams that show how these boards are made:

Before we get into all the differences between these two methods of making surfboards let's give a quick explanation of how a surfboard is traditionally made.  We start with a Polyurethane or EPS foam blank that is available in a rough shape that has a preset rocker (curve) and outline built into the blank.  This blank is traced out to a desired shape and size.  From here the shaper will use a planer to take off the excess foam to get the rough blank down to a more refined shape.  Once this is done, he uses a variety of specialized tools to refine the shape to the exact specifications to include length, width, thickness, curve, and bottom contours.  This process can take from an hour to several hours depending on the complexity of the board.  Once the shape is perfected by hand by the shaper, the board is taken to the glass shop where fiberglass cloth and resin are laminated together to the the finished shaped blank to create the outer shell of the board.  This glassing process has many steps and people involved which is all done by hand by a group of experienced surfboard builders.  This includes laminating, hot coating, color work, sanding and fin box installation.  Bear in mind this is an abbreviated explanation of how a surfboard is made but the main point is that a quality surfboard requires a lot of talented human labor and careful attention.  Where this pays off is in the design of the board and the ability to create a board that rides extremely well and is still very durable.  In our case we have a master shaper Bill Minard that has been designing and shaping boards for 52 years now which is something we feel sets us apart from other surfboard brands.

MOLDED CONSTRUCTION (AKA POP OUT): This is by far the cheapest and fastest way to make a surfboard. Typically these are mass-produced EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam boards injected and then pressed in molds.  Whereas traditional boards are made using polyurethane foam "blanks" that are then cut and sanded by hand to fine detail by a shaper.  Several of the larger brands use a process of blowing polystyrene into preset steel molds. The molded blanks are then laminated in a mold, and finished with very little hand labor.  They use advanced automation to inject the styrofoam into a metal mold, then mix the resin and apply the fiberglass all with machines instead of human labor.  

In short, what they do is make a mold for the shape of the board, fill it with foam and then mass produce it.  Some are incredibly strong while others aren't worth the bubble wrap they're shipped in. Although they are a good deal initially, "Pop Outs" surfboards are known for being very stiff to ride and lack many of the performance characteristics a progressing surfer will need to advance in their skills.  The shapes tend to lack some of the finer details that come with hand shaping the rails and contours of the board.  Our personal experience having tested several of these boards is that they are basic and good for catching a wave and popping up but they can really limit your ability to progress as they tend to be thicker shapes, float too much and can often feel sluggish on the water compared to a traditionally made Epoxy or Poly board.

Identifying a pop-out can be a little tricky because the companies selling them don't call them pop outs and don't openly promote that they are making a molded surfboard. A well built surfboard is usually made out of a foam inner core, fiberglass cloth, and resin.  The foam core itself if hand finished which is what gives it the best ride feel in our experience.  One tell tale sign of a pop out surfboard is a fake stringer which is painted onto the board.  A real stringer is actual wood which you can see or the manufacturer will tell you that there is a wood stringer inside.  Degree 33 uses a wood stringer inside all of our Epoxy and Poly boards for  the perfect combination of durability and proper surfboard flex. 

The Pop Out surfboard is not evil, in fact they have a place in the market for people who are at the earliest stage of learning or they do not have the budget to buy a better surfboard.  It can be great for the first several months when you are trying to learn surfing and want to decide if you want to to stick with it.  This keeps the cost down and then when you are ready to go all in it is time to get a better board.  We suggest a board that is traditionally made by hand with a foam core, Epoxy or Poly resin and a wood stringer. Check out our full line of traditionally made surfboards here

So to summarize the differences between a Pop Out, Machine Shaped and Hand Shaped surfboard:

POP OUT: A board that is made in a mold and lacks significant hand work.  Typically made in a steel mold which allows the manufacturer to make them at a lower cost and get them made a lot quicker.  The process of hand building a surfboard with fiberglass and resin adds to the cost of a traditional board where a Pop Out eliminates much of this human labor or significantly reduces it to keep costs low.  This is ideal for high volume boards bring sold at a lower price point to beginner surfers.

MACHINE SHAPED: Machine shaped surfboards are becoming more and more common. It allows surfboard shapers to produce a board once and then have a CNC machine shape the boards from there on out. This can really make someone’s operation a lot more efficient allowing a quicker production time and higher volume... all with very little tolerance for error. The experienced shaper finishes all the fine details like the rails and bottom contour. This is the go-to method for accuracy and high volume production.

HAND SHAPED: They consist of a solid piece of foam shaped entirely by hand from a block to a masterpiece. The only variation in construction comes from the human hands and the slight difference they will make from board to board. This is where the master shaper shows their pure craft in creating a true piece of rippable artwork!  Think of it this way, any time something is built by hand, there is a certain level of finesse involved. Hand made furniture and hand built cars are two great examples. The craftsmanship, the attention to detail... it just takes it to a whole other level. It just feels better. You rub your hands over it and you can almost feel the passion emanating from it.

Degree 33 Master Shaper Bill Minard at work in the bay making a customer board

Degree 33 makes high quality hand shaped and machine shaped surfboards, both have their place which we will explain. 

For the discriminating customer who has the extra money to go custom and wants to control every feature of their new board (color, size, fin boxes, glassing) we make custom hand shaped boards here in San Diego.   We are proud to employ our master shaper as well as a dedicated glassing crew to build our custom shapes. 

Our higher volume production boards are designed here by Bill Minard and are precision CNC machine shaped, then they are hand finished by an experienced shaping and glassing team.  Using a CNC machine to make the initial design allows us to get consistency and keep up with the volume of boards that our customers demand.

No matter what your board style, experience or budget may be...Degree 33 has a board for every surfer!  We would love to talk with you about where you are at with your surfing.  As always if you have any questions on a board or need help figuring out what is best for you email us at surf@degree33.com, call (800) 920-2363 or stop by our shop.

 




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