Words by Jake Howard | Photos courtesy Varial Foam
“We started in my garage, then graduated to my parent’s garage,” says Parker Borneman.
Of course. Genius is always born in a garage.
A couple of years ago, Parker and his friend and business partner, Edison Conner, had an idea spark: make a better surfboard blank.
“Every other sport in the world utilises technologically advanced materials to help enhance performance, and we identified a lot of room for improvement in surfboard blanks,” continues Parker.
And like that, Varial foam was born. Growing up chasing point surf around Santa Barbara, Parker and Edison entered into the toxic fray of foam blowing on a unique trajectory. Edison is a certified, smart-as-fuck scientist. He holds a Masters degree in Engineering from UCLA and resume highlights include work on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger submarine. Meanwhile, after college Parker served time at financial institute Roth Capital Partners, where he learned a trick or two about how to grow a business. And if further proof were needed that their experiment is academia run amuck, the seed money for Varial came largely from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Venture Initiation Program. Needless to say, this isn’t your traditional backyard operation.
And now Shane Dorian is winning small-wave contests in the Maldives on their chemistry.
“We work closely with CJ Kanuha,” explains Parker. “Him and Shane were surfing together and CJ was riding a blank that Doc at Surf Prescriptions shaped for him. It kind of got going from there. We’ve had an amazing response from Shane, who’s continuing to work on boards with John Carper. We just sent them another batch of blanks.”
The sales pitch is that Varial foam is different than any other foam on the market, and not just because a stringer is obviously absent, but because the proprietary chemical composition produces blanks with far fewer variables (i.e. a uniform density throughout the entire core). Also, the foam’s unique rigidity is engineered to make boards more responsive and lively. Purportedly boards made with Varial foam will be 20 percent stronger and 25 percent lighter than a stringered PU board. They can also be glassed with poly or epoxy resin, as well as new techniques like vacuum bagging and Hydroflex technology.
Considering it’s been 10 years since the closure of Clark Foam rattled the surfboard industry to its core, it’s about time something new came around. When Parker and Edison started they literally had to plead shapers to whittle a board out of Varial foam, but today notable craftsmen like Matt Biolos, Glenn Pang, Wade Tokoro and Eric Arakawa are playing with it on a more regular basis. In Australia, Darren Handley, JS and Chilli are also experimenting. Varial just shipped three blanks to Jon Pyzel for a future John John Florence quiver.
At the moment they push out about 200 blanks a month and the focus has been getting the foam under the right people’s feet — like Messrs Dorian and Florence. Others testing the technology include Kelly Slater, Kolohe Andino, Joel Parkinson, Josh Kerr, Steph Gilmore and Dusty Payne.
“It’s critically important for us to work closely with the shapers, and that’s where we started,” says Parker. “But it’s also important to have the material validated by the best surfers in the world.”
An endorsement from a guy like Shane goes a long way in an industry that’s traditionally been very conservative when it comes to building boards. For now all things appear to be on the up and up for Varial. Last January they opened an office/warehouse in Ventura. They also report that all of their materials are sourced and made in the US, but won’t specify where the actual skunkworks is.
“We just hired our first full-time employee too, which is pretty exciting for us,” notes Parker.
From the garage to the top tier of the sport, if Parker and Edison aren’t careful they may just revolutionise an industry.