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Epoxy Epoch

So I'm not going to tell you that I've been a huge proponent of alternative surfboard construction all along, because I haven't. I wish I could tell you that I was all-in on figuring out how to get away from Polyurethane foam and Polyester resins, but I wasn't. It's not that I didn't support a more sustainable surfboard construction, it was really just about me being selfish. I didn't care for the way most new constructions floated and flexed, so I stopped wasting money trying them out.

The standard non-PU/Poly construction method involves a process using lighter foam made from Expanded Polystyrene, or EPS, with Epoxy resins and/or fiber woven cloth. Originally shapers were carving from an EPS blank much like a Poly blank, using a wood stringer. But I had a couple of these in the early 2000's made by Gee Rainbow, and they didn't work out. I found them to be too light, too floaty, and too different from what I had become accustomed. I stopped trying them. Fast-forward another dozen years, and alternative constructions made from modern eps/epoxy/carbon fiber technologies are now getting a lot of attention, and some big brands have put them into mass production. So for 2022 I decided to give them another go.

I was super scared to try ANYTHING stringer-less, but I'm now a half-dozen boards into the experiment, and I think I'm over my fears. It does get a little more complicated finding boards for myself because I'm 6'3, 200+ pounds. I also like to surf in winter when I'm wearing a bunch of thick rubber. So take my reviews for what they are and make sure you factor-in these things when ordering a board for yourself. If you're looking at the bigger brands like Firewire and Lost..., you're more than likely stuck with the stock sizes that they crank out with a machine... there's no special ordering a Lib Tech. But if you're willing to wait a little longer, there are a bunch of options for ordering a custom alternative construction from some of these guys - as well as a bunch of local hand shapers. I really like the Quiet Flight shapes, in alternative constructions, made out of Central FL. And I've been eyeballing Arc Surfboards from Rhode Island for a while now... some really clean looking, epoxy-based beauties coming out of Timmy Smith's workshop.

I'm sure there are a lot of people making great boards using alternative materials, but I can only talk about what I've tried. I think that I've ridden enough variety to say that Lib Tech/Lost's ecoIMPACTO collaboration is the most premium of the new big brand constructions, with Old City Epoxies/Lost's Black Dart using carbon fiber, as my overall favorite so far (mainly because they look so good, and I can order a custom Dart). Firewire's Helium construction felt pretty good as well, but I wasn't totally in love with the stock dimensions... boards in my size were kinda thick for my liking, and made timing good waves in Costa Rica difficult. I will also add that all three of these constructions in fact LOOK amazing, and these sticks will hopefully stay "new" for longer. I fully endorse Lib Tech, Black Dart, and Helium. While they are all different, I honestly haven't been disappointed with any of these alternative board construction purchases in 2022.

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Lib Tech Mervin Manufacturing, Mike Olson

  • models tested: Puddle Fish

  • shaper: Matt Biolos

  • dimensions: 6'0 x 22.25 x 2.75

The ecoIMPACTO construction by Lib Tech is a premium product that makes use of environmentally friendly materials. And just like many other stringer-less eps/epoxy contructions, it is light and flexy. In fact, out of all the new constructions that I've tried, I find the Lib Techs to be the best of them all. They are slightly heavier, sit lower in the water, and have a lot of spring out of turns. You can actually feel the board load up, before it snaps back and squirts you out of a turn. The first few times I really laid into a turn on my Lost Puddle Fish, I wasn't ready for that burst in energy. Now, it's become the only reason I ride this board. I like it backside, as a quad, coming out of a top turn. It's also indestructible as far as I can tell. I surf it no leash, in shorepound, where there are plenty of rocks, and I've yet to ding it. This thing is straight out of the future. I use it in winter AND summer, excelling in waist to chest high, cleaner conditions, without a lot of wind. I oversized this one on purpose, to account for winter rubber. I'm looking to order another Lib Tech if I can find the right size in one of my favorite Lost shapes.

Terrible and small, riding a 6'0 Lib Tech, looking for just one lip smacker... goal achieved, sorta.

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  • models tested: Puddle Fish, RNF, El Patron

  • shaper: Matt Biolos

  • dimensions: PF 5'11 x 22.11 x 2.72, RNF 5'11 x 22.10 x 2.62, EP 6'3 x 20.12 x 2.82

I kept seeing these Black Darts, coming out of Florida and I was intrigued. I remember how futuristic the first carbon fiber board I ever saw looked to me, that Tesla board. I was super curious to see if someone had silenced the critics about carbon fiber cloth, about it being too stiff, too hot, and too brittle... something about the fibers being too directional. Carbon fiber was dark and sexy, but it attracted light, which meant heat. Up until recently, carbon fiber cloth was used on eps/epoxy boards to strengthen them up, to compensate for no stringer. Usually a strip down the middle, or some kind of patch on the tail, or on the rails. Enter Drew Bagget of Inspired Surfboards. His partnership with Lost... seemed like a good match for me. He was using carbon fiber cloth on the entire deck, wrapping it just around the rails (see new Double Darts). They looked amazing on the internet, so what could go wrong? Florida shaper/manufacturer + Lost shapes?!?! Looked like a WIn-Win situation to me.

So I custom-ordered a trio of shortboards in Black Dart construction through the Catalyst Surf Shop website, based out of Melbourne, FL. It's a solid website, with a really cool custom board builder feature. You gotta check this out. This page is like Weird Science meets Board Porn. I'm regularly building boards on this page, putting them in 3D view, and then admiring them for hours, from every angle, with a bra tied to my head. Okay, the bra part I made up, but this one time I was designing away, at a late-night hour, and I clicked the ORDER button, and then it happened again, and then again.... no self control. It was done. I had ordered two custom fish, and a high-performance round tail. They were three of my favorite shapes from Matt Biolos, but brand new, machine-cut, made-in-my-home-state, and in this new Black Dart construction.

I requested Miami Dolphin colors, foreseeing Tua Tagovailoa's success this season. And Drew Baggett turned them out, looking so choice. They even got some love on Instagram the day they were finished. I was pumped. But how good would they ride? Answer: So far really good. So good in fact I'm considering taking the 6'3 El Patron with me to Hawaii in January (relax, I'll be surfing the south side, not getting killed on the north shore) but I'm seriously considering bringing an eps/epoxy to HI for surfing head high range waves. I liked the way it worked in overhead Hurricane Fiona surf and I want to test it out without the cold conditions, high winds, and wetsuits holding me down.

What I like the most about the Black Dart boards is how they don't sit on top of the water as much as other alternative constructions. They do have a more floaty feel than PU/Poly, but I find myself adjusting quicker, and getting to that space in my head where I'm just surfing, not thinking. I'm riding a 5'11 in a pair of 5mm boots, in knee to waist high junky surf, making these boards work at 49 years old... so that's pretty exciting to me. I'm also riding them in chest to overhead surf, and they're holding just fine. This entire quiver might actually be surfable through many different winter conditions, and that's not even what I bought these for. My initial assessment of these boards is that the Black Dart construction only enhanced the shapes. It allowed me to go back to shorter dimensions from my younger days by giving me some extra float... while still giving me that low enough profile to forget I'm on an alternative construction. I'll also add that it was much easier to adjust to the El Patron and Dominator shortboards, than it was the fishes. The fishes already had foam and float, so the riding on top of the water sensation felt more pronounced. The answer there is to slim them down like these Black Darts, or just stick to PU/Poly. I realize this may not be a popular take among big brand board manufacturers, because everyone's fish inventory is mass produced, from alt materials, packed with extra foam so customers catch more waves... performance be damned! But this Black Dart construction from Old City Customs is an option for a custom build, and Lost... aren't the only shapes to choose from. There are more than a few east coast builders using Drew's Inspired technology.

As small as it gets, knee high, barely rideable, on a 5'11 at 6'3 200lbs... Black Dart = lots of float

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FIREWIRE HELIUM TECHNOLOGY Firewire Surfboards, Dan Mann

I'm saying the jury is still out on these two boards. While they do in fact work, I've only ridden them a half dozen times between the two. They live in a secret bodega, close to my favorite place on earth. So hopefully I get another session or two on them next time down. I will say now that they catch waves on-time, not really early, and are fast and loose. You are riding higher up on the surface and that sensation takes getting used to when you're in waves where you want to burn some speed or make a top turn. The timing and rhythm of Avellanas, a break I surf a lot, was tricky on these boards because it's a fat wave, but once in, you don't want to race. Also, some spots local to where I stay are powerful and wedgie, so I didn't want to be sitting on top of the water all floaty. Rather, I want a low-profile, and to set my rail and go. So I found myself choosing my older PU/Poly boards over these brand new beauties. And probably just for the familiarity and the types of waves I was surfing. If I brought these two Dan Mann boards to Guiones... it would be game on. Lumpy, rippable walls? Yes. These boards will be amazing on that wave.

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The last alternative for me to try was a hand shaper using materials other than PU/Poly. So I recently ordered a remake of a shape Gee Rainbow single-fin fish pin that he made for me back in the day. (And when I say "recently ordered" I mean 2021, hahaha) Gee will SAY that this smurf blue, wing-tailed shape was a "prototype" that he made for himself, but I rode that thing at Spanish House one day and I'm pretty sure he never did again. Commandeered successfully. That board is retired, as an ornament in my living room these days. But Gee is no stranger to eps/epoxy, he's been using them since Clark Foam closed shop more than 15 years ago. He's doing some old school board building these days, glueing his own eps blanks and carving his outlines and rockers from a much larger block of foam than most. From there he's doing some proprietary stuff to make them strong while still maintaining their pop. He's making boards that are very sustainable, but labor intensive. So there may be a light on in the shaping shack, I heard from somewhere, and a brand new single fin epoxy hand shape on the way!?? Bro, my 50th birthday is coming up next month... let's make it happen! Hope you're surfing where you are.

This one will work in winter!
Seaweed soup... on the 5'11 Lost Puddle Fish in Black Dart Construction. 5mm Boots with a hooded 3mm suit, no problem!


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