There has been a lot of buzz surrounding carbon fiber surfboard constructions in the last year or two, and for good reason. Not only has there been a handful of new carbon infused techs launch into the market place fuelling the hype, but now more than ever surfers are embracing innovation within the surfboard category as a whole and it’s been a long time coming. With new materials and techs, come questions… Rightly so. The benefits, the pro’s & the con’s but more importantly the differences and impact from a performance and functional stance. People ought to know more about what they are investing in and what they are feeling under their feet because ultimately, they will get the most out of their boards if they do.
Hayden created and patented the first and the original carbon fiber surfboard tech, FutureFlex, back in 2006. The stringer-less parabolic carbon rail construction was designed with a unidirectional flex pattern that’s lighter, faster and maintains that new board feel a lot longer than a traditional PU. You can spot them a mile away from the signature black carbon frame outline along the rail and bright white EPS foam. But like anything, surfboards, whether it’s the shape or technology, all boil down to personal preference.
First a little background…. Many may not know that the FutureFlex (originally known FiberFlex) launched into the market place more than a decade ago. It was one of the first alternative surfboard technologies to gain global market acceptance due to the popularity of the Hypto Krypto (the ideal complimenting shape), and the first to become a worldwide best seller which in turn has helped opened doors for other new technologies and innovation to take place – and perhaps influence a bit of that carbon trend we’ve seen recently. Haydenshapes DNA is threaded with carbon fiber at the core. So who better than to probe on the topic of Carbon than Hayden Cox himself?
As a choice of material, why Carbon Fiber?
Back in 2004 when I was playing around with the concept of FiberFlex at the time, I wanted to source a material that could be 100% controlled. The most common and traditional surfboard tech is PU (Polyurethane) which contains a wooden stringer down the center. As a material, wood has a heap of environmental influences to consider as it is natural fiber. You can’t really control the precise outcome. ie. knotts, grain textures and the drying process. Carbon Fiber is far more predictable, stronger and extremely lightweight. It took a couple of years in R&D to get the concept of FutureFlex right before launching it, so much so, that I ended up creating and customising the carbon fiber material that I was using to get the perfect balance of flex and usability in the manufacturing process.
In your opinion, what do you think the main functional / performance benefit of using carbon fiber is?
Carbon fiber as a material can alter the flex pattern very quickly. Carbon fiber reinforced plastic (epoxy resin) is over 4 times stiffer than Glass reinforced plastic, almost 20 times more than pine wood. So using carbon fiber to create the major flexural component of the board is going to affect the flex more sensitively than a wooden stringer and hence the need for precision in the design and amount of carbon to use. Once knowing the type of flex and the amount, you can control and alter it with very consistent and small increments. Another key benefit of using carbon fiber is it’s strength to weight ratio being almost twice of E Glass fibers. There are many more details when it comes to carbon fibers, but it is the design and combination of all materials used in a surfboard construction that can affect the over feeling and performance.
Creed McTaggart riding the Untitled model in FutureFlex, captured by John Respondeck.
What waves do you think it suits best? How much does board shape influence this aspect?
The feeling of riding a FutureFlex board is slightly different to that of a PU, although the speed and timing of the flex is very exciting. You will find the board responding to your movements and pressures much faster (quicker recoil to the boards original shape) which delivers you faster acceleration to get you up to a plane and gliding across the wave. I relate the make up of the FutureFlex construction and fibers to that of a car’s suspension where it’s flex is tightened up, being very reactive and sensitive, similar to a Formula 1 car. This means that in the types of waves that you want to have any gain in acceleration and sensitivity the FutureFlex construction will feel the best under your feet. In the types of waves, generally bigger and more powerful waves with texture on the wave faces, you want are more subdued feeling where the board is dampening and absorbing some of that wave energy allowing you to stay in control. The point at which you want this lively feeling of the FutureFlex construction is up to the individual, so go and ride it and feel that for yourself.
Craig Anderson riding the Hypto Krypto in FutureFlex, captured by Iker San Martin.
How would you differentiate FutureFlex from the other carbon fiber techs that we’ve seen recently?
I can only really comment on what I know through and through and that’s FutureFlex because that is the one that I personally designed and surf. In saying that, I’ve learned a lot about different materials and obviously the impacts of carbon and how its placement on a board will affect the function. I geek out on materials. Some of the newer techs have incorporated carbon fiber as a feature which is probably more about aesthetics than flex – the performance impact is a lot more subtle, which some might prefer. For FutureFlex, carbon fiber creates the entire frame and strength and there is no mistaking how it feels compared to a traditional PU construction. Because of the way the crystals of carbon fibre orient in long flat ribbon or narrow sheets of honeycomb crystals, the strength is higher running lengthwise than across the fibre. That is why designers of carbon fibre objects specify the direction the fibre should be laid to maximize strength and rigidity in a specific direction. At the end of the day, if a surfer is stoked on what they are riding then you’ve done your job as a shaper. Diversity is great thing and seeing new techs launching throughout the industry as is something I’ve championed from day one when I started Haydenshapes nearly 20 years ago. I always look at the bigger picture.
Why do you think surfers need to know more about board constructions and what they are riding?
Well… It can’t hurt? Surfboards aren’t cheap… Especially if you are buying into technology because they sit at a more premium price point and for very good reason. Material costs are higher, they are a far more of an advanced product to build so having more of an understanding of your board is a good thing because you start to look at it differently and appreciate certain aspects of it more. Put it this way… I have NEVER snapped a FutureFlex board, ever. The construction isn’t unbreakable – no surfboard is and I’d never say that FutureFlex wont break. All boards have a breaking point. For me, I think that because I understand the ins and outs of that tech better than anyone, the materials etc I have a better understanding of how to use it and get the most from it. Ando very rarely breaks his FutureFlex boards and he pushes them to the limits more than anyone… He’s been riding them for 11 years so he is super tuned into the tech. It’s like a high performance car. If you understand the engine, the horsepower, conditions it suits and how it handles etc you can better drive and control it. You’ll enjoy it far more, care for it better and get more use out of it.
Why the change from FiberFlex to FutureFlex?
When I launched FiberFlex in 2006 there were a couple of key factors that ultimately set it up to fail… 1, the GFC hit soon after and retailers just couldn’t support it during that period and many business, particulary young ones, sadly folded. 2, the business model I designed simply didn’t work. Today, FutureFlex is signature to Haydenshapes but back then it was licensed out to other brands like Lost, Chilli, Rusty, CI etc… I didnt have confidence in my own brand at the time to propel it forward but relying on other brands to push it just didnt work. 3, the market in general wasn’t quite ready for new technology like this and the price point attached. Timing is everything. The market has to be ready to embrace certain innovation, no matter how cool a product may be. Six years after I first launched FiberFlex and was on the cusp of bankruptcy after the failed business model and in a final bid to resuscitate, I signed a global distrubution deal that would take my brand and tech from 20 retailers to 1000 and from 3 countries to 70. FiberFlex was a name trademarked by G&S skateboards in the US, so in order to properly expand internationally, I changed it to FutureFlex. Materials, design and logos stayed the same. The business model shifted to aligning it and pushing it with Haydenshapes only and that was actually the key to making it work. Sometimes you just gotta fail at something first, but also have confidence in your own ability as opposed to relying on others. I stood by my design though and I’m glad I did. I break down the full story in my book
New Wave Vision (buy here), including all of the failures and challenges for those interested. That’s about as candid as I’ve ever gotten.
How can surfers learn more about their boards? Particularly from the brands that extend beyond the local beach?
Regardless of how much Haydenshapes has grown from the earlier days of just selling to locals in Mona Vale, Sydney, Australia, customer connection has always been a priority for me. You can’t lose that. You can learn a lot from reading online and the brands who really care about tech and constructions of their product will ensure that they have information and content available to customers and the right staff who can help educate surfers on materials and what they are buying. Contact the brands and shapers and ask questions…Surf mags do a good job of interviewing credible sources for certain stories and features regarding boards as well. Stab, What Youth, Surfing Mag etc. Avoid youtube reviewers incentivised by board brands in return for glowing reviews or online forums. I occasionally jump onto different forums every now and again and have a good laugh at the majority of the advice served out on there. It’s self sabotage trusting what you read on there. Each to their own. Surfboards are pretty personal, more so than a lot of other industries, and everyone will claim to be a guru of knowledge yet are generally quite misinformed or have no idea. The ones that actually know what they are talking about have gone out and built successful brands, or have landed jobs that qualify them to answer certain questions in a way that is valuable, non bias and not just shit talking. Those are my thoughts anyway.
Advice on carbon fiber repairs?
Ask the brand/shaper for their recommendations directly… In our case, we use our own carbon fiber that is exclusively available to us only. Thus, going direct is the best option because you get the real deal as opposed to an off-the-shelf alternative. There are some great repairers out there though which brands will often recommend if they can’t fix locally.
You can also check out Quick Fix Board Repair guide HERE.
What’s next in surfboard construction and innovation? Where do you see it heading?
I think that the industry is in the best mindset that it has ever been in. To date, surfboard innovation has been relatively incremental and it’s been small steps in order to ease surfers and the market into change. You can go mental with materials, but managing an attainable price point is a key factor and a challenging hurdle. I think we’re all in the lab at the moment experimenting and searching for the next thing. Good times.