Italo Ferreira on the cutting edge of scented foam technology. Photo by Billabong.
“Smell it,” says Jamie Cheal.
Jamie picks a fingernail’s worth of foam out of the blank leaning up against his factory wall at Chilli Surfboards, and I lean over and suck in a noseful.
What the FUCK?
No weird chemical gassing-out reek … none of the dreamy toluene haze we all associate with the first bite of electric planer into hardened polyurethane foam.
Instead, there’s this vaguely sugary whiff, almost like, I dunno, molasses? There for a second, then gone. No more smell at all.
This is Varial foam, one of the first shipments of the stuff to hit Australian shores, and the reason it smells so sweet is that one of the ingredients in its otherwise completely secret formula is ethanol. Yes, this is a blank made partly from the same substance that makes drinking beer fun.
Recently signed by Billabong, Rookie of the Year and test-child for the future of board technology. Ferrari’s got a good thing going. Photo: Billabong
Varial foam is the brainchild of two childhood surfing friends from California: materials engineer Ed Conner, and former financier Parker Bornemann, who’s now full time Varialing. Parker spent a month in Australia late last year hauling blanks around to Chilli, DHD, Onboard and numerous other boardmakers. (Simon Anderson made a few for his young test pilots around Narrabeen over the Christmas break, the feedback’s been pretty stoked.)
Parker told SL as much as he could about the foam, which unlike conventional PU isn’t blown into shape inside a mould, but expands into a sheet which is then cut into blocks. It’s a bit like extruded polystyrene foam, but unlike EPS, seems to have an almost buttery consistency. And it’s not mindlessly light. “You can feel there’s a bit of substance in the middle of the blank,” he says, lifting and swinging it around — one reason why typical Varial boards don’t have stringers.
Chilli’s crew reckons there are no issues at any stage of manufacturing. Varial can be laminated with any resins you like. It’s rigid enough even without a stringer to be cuttable by modern CAD machines.
Parker says the foam can be blown to different densities to fit different design uses. One of Varial’s long term collaborators, John Carper, just made his ace test pilot Shane Dorian a 9’-plus gun. At the same time, Parker had a little quaddy thing in the back of his rental car, about which he reckons he was psyched.
SL just kept coming back to that smell. Quite a few of the new generation of materials coming out of the US right now can be identified by this lack of toxic reek. E-Tech Surfboards in LA, for example — with resins based on biotech ingredients, it’s the only surfboard factory in the world that literally doesn’t smell of anything at all.
We’re big fans of this movement toward lower toxicity in surfboard manufacturing — as much because maybe we’ll see less surfboard workers dying a bit younger than they really need to, as because of any massive greenery involved.
And if they help your board go better, hell, that’s a bonus.