FOAM PARTY

WHEN YOU OR­DER A NEW BOARD YOU THINK ABOUT THE SHAPE, DI­MEN­SIONS AND POS­SI­BLY A FANCY SPRAY JOB. AS LONG AS IT PAD­DLES WELL AND GETS YOU WHERE YOU WANT TO BE ON WAVES THEN YOUR SHAPER WILL BE HAPPY. BUT WHAT OF THE DARK ART THAT PRO­DUCES THE FOAM?

Carve - - CONTENTS - IN­TER­VIEW AND PHO­TOS BY SHARPY

Ever won­dered where the meat in your surf­board’s fi­bre­glass sand­wich comes from? We hit Pro­foam to find out how blanks are born.

While re­search­ing rocker, tail shapes, con­caves, fin sys­tems and vol­ume do you ever give a thought to the meat in your fi­bre­glass sand­wich? The foam blank is the heart of your board, and not all foams are cre­ated equal.

Pro­foam, pre­vi­ously Home­blown based near Portreath, is now headed up by Martin Mynne who took over from Tris Cokes (of Tris Surf­boards fame). We went for a look at the process of tak­ing chem­i­cal soup to a ready for shap­ing blank.

First up what the hell do you do here?

Make surf­board blanks from start to fin­ish. We blow the foam on site, try and source ev­ery­thing as lo­cally as we can and we're re­ally try­ing hard to head down the green path as much as we can. We’re talk­ing to chemists at the mo­ment and we’re de­vel­op­ing new for­mu­las for a whiter, greener foam, so we can have bar­rels of chem­i­cals with­out skull and cross­bones on them.

Has the chem­istry changed since the ‘60s?

Not for most man­u­fac­tur­ers, for us it has, as the com­pany was orig­i­nally started with a dif­fer­ent for­mula. An MDI ver­sus a TDI tech­nol­ogy, one is ba­si­cally a lot less volatile than the other. The MDI (methy­lene di-phenyl di-iso­cyanate) which we use, which took a lot of time to per­fect, is safer for the end user, safer for us blow­ing it and it doesn’t be­come air­borne like TDI does. So the shapers aren’t get­ting ex­posed to any­thing bad ei­ther. TDI (toluene di­iso­cyanate) is toxic as hell, car­cino­genic, and ex­plo­sive, a to­tal night­mare.

There must have been a lot of cul-de-sacs with re­gards to try­ing dif­fer­ent chem­i­cal mixes?

I’ve only been in­volved less than a year. I’ve come from a com­pos­ite race boat back­ground, so I’ve got lot of con­tacts in the chem­i­cal in­dus­tries, so I’ve been pulling strings with peo­ple there. It’s an av­enue that wasn’t open to the old own­ers. We’ve been work­ing on new stuff for six to eight months so we are bench test­ing new for­mu­las now.

WE BLOW THE FOAM ON SITE, TRY AND SOURCE EV­ERY­THING AS LO­CALLY AS WE CAN AND RE­ALLY TRY HARD TO HEAD DOWN THE GREEN PATH AS MUCH AS WE CAN

Must be a long process to ex­per­i­ment with blanks?

You can’t just knock some­thing up and put it out on the mar­ket. It’s a lot of work, a lot of test­ing be­fore you can even blow blanks. But when we do we’ll give out some free blanks to the shapers to try then get feed­back from them and get their rid­ers to try and de­stroy them.

We’re work­ing with quite ad­vanced chemists so they’re giv­ing us mixes to try. It’s sub­tle changes. They’ve been here on site so they know what we are try­ing to achieve. The prob­lem they’ve had here over the years is the yel­low­ing of the foam. The trade off with the safer, less pol­lut­ing method of pro­duc­tion is the blank goes yel­low quicker. They all do even­tu­ally due to age and UV ex­po­sure what­ever the method. The only way to get a pure white board is to spray the foam be­fore glass­ing. Which makes a lot of sense, there’s no point mess­ing with the chem­istry of the whole blank for a su­per­fi­cial sur­face ef­fect. Whiten­ers af­fect the re­ac­tion for the whole blank so it’s a tricky one to work with. As surfers we’re vain and want pure white boards, if we were happy to ride patchy brown boards we could make re­ally en­vi­ron­men­tally sound foam. Polyurethane foam with­out ad­di­tives isn’t the nicest colour but it’s the safe and more en­vi­ron­men­tal op­tion.

Is most of the foam used in the UK blown in the UK?

No. We’re the only UK man­u­fac­turer of blanks, so there are still plenty of im­ports. We are here to com­pete with that. The ad­van­tages of us be­ing here are ob­vi­ous. We are down the road, you need a spe­cific blank, say you want to work on a gun blank, we can work with them on that and share the costs of moulds, you want to do a cus­tom rocker we can do that. Or­der turn­around is fast. You’re not wait­ing on a con­tainer ship to chug across the At­lantic. Our foam is as good as any other foam on the mar­ket and it’s non-pol­lut­ing, re­spon­si­bly sourced ma­te­ri­als.

Clark Foam is the his­tor­i­cally fa­mous US blank man­u­fac­turer, did they close be­cause the EPA was on their ass for cut­ting cor­ners?

They used the TDI chem­i­cals, nasty air­borne

volatiles, you wouldn’t have been al­lowed in to to take pho­tos of the blow­ing process. It’s nasty stuff. Full res­pi­ra­tion suits and all that to work with it. To do that process you’d need a site big­ger than our whole op­er­a­tion just for the fil­ters and scrub­bers. They wanted to move it to the Mex­i­can bor­der and keep on pol­lut­ing us­ing cheap labour. Breath­ing that stuff in isn’t any good for you. Un­der­stand­ably us­ing those chem­i­cals is pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive for good rea­son. Our process makes the health and safety side a hell of a lot eas­ier.

Be­fore Pro­foam what was your path?

I’ve gone full cir­cle. My first job was ac­tu­ally on this es­tate: polishing wind­surfers and surf­boards for Lim­ited Edi­tion when I was 15. From there I learnt to sand, lam­i­nate and then went away and did some boat build­ing for a few years. Then Chops Las­celles called me to come run his fac­tory as he wanted a rest. That turned into an eight year stint. We were so busy, putting out a 1000 boards out a year. Then I went back to the rac­ing yacht build­ing side of things. Amer­ica’s Cup and Volvo Ocean race stuff. Worked on five dif­fer­ent Volvo boats and re­cently been work­ing with Hugo Boss on their Vendee Globe boat.

How much is an Amer­ica’s Cup boat?

Five mill for the full pack­age. It’s pretty nuts. They’ve just re­leased a new rul­ing so its back to mono­hulls as the cata­ma­rans were more about the tech not about sail­ing. So now it’ll come back to more real sail­ing ex­per­tise. I keep my fin­ger in that world with main­te­nance con­tracts still.

Where’s the ma­te­rial re­search hap­pen­ing?

F1 is glam­orous but it’s a pro­duc­tion line laser-cut­ting car­bon, boat build­ing is a lot more creative, so for what we do the boat side is more rel­e­vant. They are the av­enues I have to draw tech­nol­ogy from. It’s not a fast process. There aren’t any other guys to com­pare notes with it’s a niche op­er­a­tion. But our foams are used out­side of surf­ing, tool­ing, signs, model mak­ers, so we’ve got other guys to cre­ate for.

How long does it take to make a blank?

From wet chem­i­cals it’s 10 min­utes to pour, 20 min­utes to ex­pand in the mould, then we cure them overnight. It’s like some­thing out of Wal­lace & Gromit as you’ll see in a minute. It’s a mad ma­chine with a com­put­erised pour­ing head. One thing with our method, our foam is con­stant den­sity all the way through, which makes the shapers lives a lot eas­ier. Im­ported foam gets softer in the mid­dle with a harder crust. It’s also closed cell which is wa­ter­proof so handy if you ding it.

Fi­nally what do you want peo­ple to know about Pro­foam?

We want to push it to surfers, we’ve got a mas­sive car­bon foot­print, wet­suits, boards, leashes and travel. And peo­ple are pay­ing over the odds for shadow shaped im­ports. Buy­ing your blank and board from guys down the road is a start at least. Ship­ping miles are re­duced and it’s sup­port­ing lo­cal shapers, Markie, Skin­dog, Luke and loads of oth­ers are do­ing boards equally as good as any­ones. Make a re­la­tion­ship with some­one here. And they’re now work­ing with foam that makes their life eas­ier. Con­sis­tent den­sity foam is so much eas­ier to work with than the al­ter­na­tive. The boards go well which is the main thing and we can make their work eas­ier. We’re work­ing on a new gun blank with Luke, one that the guys surf­ing Mully will be rid­ing, rather than work­ing from a cut down long­board blank. We just want to in­no­vate and be at the heart of peo­ple’s boards in the fu­ture.

FROM WET CHEM­I­CALS IT’S 10 MIN­UTES TO POUR, 20 MIN­UTES TO EX­PAND IN THE MOULD, THEN WE CURE THEM OVERNIGHT

Left: Badger & his mad ma­chine. Top: the pour. Above: the blown foam. Be­low: re­mov­ing the rough blank from the mould. Top right: Qual­ity check. Right: Once the blank is cured overnight it can be sawn in half for the stringer to be glued in. That's John's

Mynnzie and the cur­ing cabi­net

In ad­di­tion to reg­u­lar wooden stringers the fel­las are work­ing on Proflex re­cy­cled plas­tic stringers which seem to be work­ing a treat

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