The new cloth on the block

Stu Nettle
Design Outline

When it comes to making greener surfboards, fibreglass is the most overlooked part of the process.

Of a surfboard’s three major components: blank, resin, and fibre reinforcement, the latter is assumed to be the least noxious, so toxic foam and polyester resins are usually the first to go, swapped out for recycled blanks and various types of bio-resins, while it’s assumed that because fibreglass is derived from natural products - mostly silica but also limestone and other minerals - that it gets a pass mark on the green scorecard.

Yet despite its relative virtues, fibreglass has some questions to answer regarding production and manufacture.

For one, fibreglass is made by heating the aforementioned mix of silica and minerals, in the process releasing greenhouse gases such as nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.

Also, most of the fibreglass made in China is “baked glass”, meaning silicone is added before it’s woven and then baked off afterwards. Similarly, additives are used in Volan cloth. The trade name ‘Volan’ refers, not to the light green coloured fibreglass so admired by loggers and hipsters, but to the chemical added to make a heavy, flat weave cloth bond to a surface - in this case foam. Volan is made from Chromium (III) Methacrylate which is a known carcinogen.

Volan cloth on a classic log

The toxic properties of fibreglass aren’t unknown in the surf industry and over the last decade many shapers have been testing alternatives. Hemp cloth and flax cloth are two of the more common replacements though both have shortcomings in that they’re harder to sand and, most importantly, they lack the tensile strength of fibreglass. Durability has to be part of the eco equation.

To remedy this, many shapers wrap a board in one layer of hemp or flax cloth and then seal it with a layer of glass for strength. It’s not always apparent to the consumer that they’re riding a board with fibreglass as the glass is clear while the underlying hemp or flax is visible. Nor is it an ideal situation for the eco-minded shaper who’s forced into the compromise.

Basalt has been used as a fibreglass alternative for two decades, mainly for specialised work in aircraft and the aerospace industry, but more recently as a substitute for steel rebar to reinforce concrete owing to its exceptional tensile strength and low manufacturing cost.

Damien Bensley from Colan Fibreglass came across basalt cloth in 2011 while making a hybrid fabric for a swimming pool company. “Basalt isn’t as strong or as light as carbon, “says Damien, “but it’s definitely stronger than normal glass. In fact, it’s very similar to S-glass.”

The ‘S’ in S-glass stands for ‘strength’, it’s a high performance alternative to normal E-glass in surfboards.

The latest roll of 4oz basalt cloth by Colan Australia

Basalt cloth is similar to fibreglass in that they both rely on extractive industries, however as basalt is an igneous rock - formed from molten lava - it releases no greenhouse gases during the heating process. That smoke you see bellowing from volcanoes? Most of it is ash and steam but it also includes greenhouse gases released from molten rock. The absence of trapped gases in basalt make it inert and ideal to work with, while its volcanic origin makes basalt the most common rock on Earth.

It also takes less energy to turn basalt into cloth as the material only has to be heated once. There are approximately half as many steps as fibreglass manufacture.

Down at the factory level, basalt cloth, at least the small amount that’s been manufactured for surfboards, contains no additives like silicon or Volan.

To date, most of the basalt used by Colan was being turned into tapes and reinforcement patches. Dylan Perese from DP Surfboards has used them with great results, while Slater Designs has two models, the No Brainer and FRK, that use basalt cloth as reinforcement along the stringer. Most of the demand, however, was coming from the smaller board makers.

Slater Designs have incorporated basalt reinforcement in their LFT technology

“About five years ago we started working with John from Sanded who was doing lots of research into basalt cloth,” says Damien. “Back then, the size of the basalt strand was similar to carbon so he wanted to replace it with basalt. Basalt is more durable than carbon, not as brittle. And it’s also cheaper.”

“With John’s encouragement, we then started to weave basalt strands into E-cloth,” explains Damien. “Just for specific areas where we wanted strength. And really, it’s gone from there.” Each time Colan has made a new basalt product it’s been eagerly picked up by board makers with a nose for alternatives.

“It wouldn’t have happened unless there was demand from the backyard eco guys,” says John Dowse from Sanded at Long Jetty on the Central Coast of NSW. “Of course there’d be a big uptake [in eco materials] if guys on the CT rode them, but we’ve got to this point simply by those smaller guys wanting better boards.”

As anyone who’s tried to market green products will tell you, goodwill will only get you so far. If the alternative doesn’t stack up in price and performance it’ll remain a niche product. But Damien and John’s early experiments with basalt were bearing fruit and that encouraged Damien to weave a full width cloth of basalt.

“John said we needed to be able to do a whole board,” says Damien. “So we managed to find a supplier that makes basalt thin enough and light enough to weave basalt cloth.” Late last year they produced their first roll of full width basalt cloth. They’ve made a few more since then, each one closer in feel and form to standard 4oz fibreglass cloth.

A year ago, Robbie Marshall at Soul Arch Surfboards took 18 months off board-building to concentrate on testing new materials before relaunching into the market. The developments in basalt were perfect timing.

“I’ve made five of six boards using basalt cloth and they’re second to none in strength,” says Robbie with obvious glee. So far he’s only used basalt with a layer of 4oz glass over the top but the strength exceeds two layers of 4oz fibreglass.

“I’m still testing, so haven’t done pure basalt yet,” explains Robbie. When it comes time to open the order books again, Robbie will primarily make timber veneer boards but he sees basalt as being complementary to the timber aesthetic. Basalt cloth is a copper colour which Robbie says matches cedar perfectly, so his aim is to retain the aesthetics while losing the weight of timber boards.

John Dowse is confident basalt can also make inroads at the other end of the market. “Basalt is stronger than S-glass and it’s light, so it lends itself to high performance boards.” To date he’s only made a basalt/innegra board but a full basalt cloth board - no fibreglass - is in the order book. Keep an eye on the comments below to see how it goes.

5oz basalt hex weave on the deck with basalt strands through innegra on the bottom, as made by John Dowse at Sanded

Theoretically there should be no difference in performance between basalt and fibreglass, so then what about the price? “It’s a little more expensive than E-glass,“ explains John, “but not as expensive as S-glass, and nowhere near as expensive as carbon.” In other words, it’s right there in the mix. Unlike other green alternatives the end price of basalt boards should be comparable to fibreglass boards.

If we’re looking for drawbacks, reasons basalt may not become popular, then it lies in the colour. Basalt cloth is coppery brown and, at this point, there’s no getting around the fact boards made with it will also be various shades of brown. Surprisingly, John Dowse isn’t perturbed by the earthy aesthetic.

“Years ago there’s no way people would have a brown board, but now people actually want them,” says John. The reason is that the smaller backyard shapers want to signify their eco credentials. And why not? They’ve been the impetus in this transition away from noxious materials so let those brown boards signify their effort.

Dylan Perese can see brown basalt catching on, but he can also see the limitations. “There’s only so many looks you can achieve with it,” says Dyl. “It’ll fit into everyone’s eco model but I’m not sure how it’d go across the range.”

However, surfboard consumers are a fickle bunch. We thought parabolic stringers looked odd when they first hit the market, likewise stringer-less boards, and each of those features became normal over time.

Basalt cloth hits all the marks on the green scorecard, while theory says it should perform as good as fibreglass, plus it’s got a price point to push it into the mainstream, but unfortunately it’ll be that most superficial criteria of all - how it looks - that’ll decide how many coppery brown boards we see at the beaches in years to come.

Comments

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 1:21pm

I'm not really hung up on colour- obviously white is the most aesthetically pleasing as it lends itself to having colour and designs added, but price I believe followed by performance is what mosj surfers are sensitive to.

If it surfs well and comes in at a decent price, I don't see why these wouldn't sell. The colour may actually help signifying a surfers green credentials.

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 1:44pm

In my eyes, the board in the bottom picture looks stunning - the top at least. Looks a bit like a quilted-top guitar Not so keen on the yellow bottom, but I could live with it.

If manufacturing the basalt cloth is simpler than fibreglass, and the raw material is so abundant, shouldn't it be cheaper (all else being equal)?

sanded's picture
sanded's picture
sanded commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 4:45pm

Thanks Pops
Yellow was to show more contrast as this board was made for the show room as we get so many asking what does these cloths look like on a board. We are glassing a new board next week with one layer all over of 4oz 100% Basalt cloth next week . Will post on our instagram (and if I can work out how to post pics on here) once finished.

With the expense question the Basalt fibre is dearer than E Glass but cheaper than S glass and with our 100% basalt cloths they are priced that way, with our hybrids that's slightly different as when they are weaved we have to employ a person to design the weave and cost of other fibres also goes into the mix. We do this all and make in Australia (95% of all our cloths are made in OZ! As we are committed to keeping surf manufacturing in Australia) so labour costs are higher but we can really develop something unique!

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 7:06am

I'd love to see that (the 100% basalt cloth all-over). I'm not on Instagram, so hopefully you can work out how to post the pics here!

That makes sense r.e. the labour &design costs of doing the hybrid weaves too. What kinda ballpark ($$) are you looking at for a 100% basalt board?

And do you know whether there's a material data sheet for the basalt cloth somewhere? (Would be interesting comparing it's strength, elasticity, etc with convential glass fibres).

sanded's picture
sanded's picture
sanded commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 11:59am

Hey pops
for a board builder to replace normal Eglass cloth for Basalt it would be about $10 dearer in costs in a 6ft board

This video explains the differences in Basalt to Fiberglass quite well, yes its a few layers in the panel but it shows the impact strength.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7tvhl9rBNE

i'll try and find our results of our Material data tests but i'm sure if you google it you would find a version on the Composites World website.

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 12:10pm

So really, cost is near-enough equivalent. Interesting.
I'll check the video after work, thanks.
Yeah, I'll see if I can find it on composites world or matweb...

Onenut's picture
Onenut's picture
Onenut commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 1:54pm

Mmmm yummy yellow
Cue in jaws theme...... now

Eugene Green's picture
Eugene Green's picture
Eugene Green commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 2:49pm

Sharks can’t distinguish colour.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 3:54pm

"They call it yummy yellow," said Handley. "Mick was telling me the fishos over there call it that. When a boat goes down it's always the swimmers with yellow life jackets that sharks go for."

http://www.uvnnwx.live/news/surfpolitik/2015/07/20/what-can-be-done-pr...

(I have no idea if the hypothesis is valid, but it's been raised before)

bishopdom's picture
bishopdom's picture
bishopdom commented Thursday, 4 Jul 2019 at 8:47pm

Did a shark tell you that?

bill-poster's picture
bill-poster's picture
bill-poster commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 2:08pm

Good old rock, nothing beats rock.

fitzroy-21's picture
fitzroy-21's picture
fitzroy-21 commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 2:54pm

Except paper...... :)

yocal's picture
yocal's picture
yocal commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 2:19pm

Dark colours melt wax in the sun. otherwise i'm all for it...

I wonder whether there is a potential upside in UV damage resistance

Go deeper Taylor, go deeper!

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 2:39pm

Another good article, love these design and material articles.

Personally i dig boards that are not white, hate it when boards yellow.

That snake skin looking board looks cool, but yeah would get hot in the sun.

P'tai's picture
P'tai's picture
P'tai commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 2:46pm

How long do you leave your board sitting in the sun? Out of the cover run down to the water, then hey presto, the wax is water cooled! If not chuck you towel over the board, with the deck down. Boards no matter what the construction should always be in a cover to protect and insulate. When laying flat, deck down.

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 3:00pm

Here are a couple of my efforts using a combination of basalt, innegra and regular fibreglass cloths:


The one on the left is glassed with flax cloth.

Don't let the bastards grind you down

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 3:01pm

Fuck. Why won't the images post?

Don't let the bastards grind you down

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 3:01pm

Fuck. Gimme a sec...

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 3:12pm

Nice one Stu, thanks.

Don't let the bastards grind you down

sanded's picture
sanded's picture
sanded commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 4:30pm

Thanks for posting Surfstaved!

Tarzan71's picture
Tarzan71's picture
Tarzan71 commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 11:23am

These boards look great, who is the shaper? website please....

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Sunday, 30 Jun 2019 at 2:39pm

Not that I want to hijack the thread, but that'll be me.
https://seadragonsurfboards.com/

Don't let the bastards grind you down

Max Wax's picture
Max Wax's picture
Max Wax commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 8:24pm

I actually really like the look of the basalt inlay, great job surfstarved. My hipster friends love a good inlay too, maybe it'll be a hit on their gato logs haha

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 3:52pm

Love'em.

Have that bespoke look about them.

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

dastasha's picture
dastasha's picture
dastasha commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 4:16pm

I put grey pigment in a brushed on filler coat on one of my boards.
Good idea at the time, but not so great when I noticed the extra heat absorbed by that board on a boat ride in the tropics.
That and an experience with a juvenile dolphin getting a little too close...

The basalt cloth looks the same as carbon at first glance.
How does it wet out compared to carbon or S/E glass? The wet out characteristic varies according to manufacturer from experience, probably varying chemical content.

Does it retain its colour when wet out?
I reckon a carbon weave looks great when finished properly.

sanded's picture
sanded's picture
sanded commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 4:28pm

Thanks Stu for bringing this cloth to everyones attention!
We have been playing around with alternatives in composites and this is the one that shows more promise than most in surfboard manufacturing to be an equal alternative to your normal fibreglass boards. Personally I agree with Indo - dreaming that boards that are not white do have place in the industry, just how big will be up to the consumer.

dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000 commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 7:08pm

Black is a shit colour for a surfboard, I guess a coat of 2 pac would fix that. How green is 2 pac?

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 5:30am

Don't know much about his politics, but he was a great rapper.

jaunkemps's picture
jaunkemps's picture
jaunkemps commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 7:07pm

Excuse me if l missed a detail somewhere but what material is the base weave and how do the manufactures bond the basalt to the weave or cloth, do tell ??

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 7:10pm

The base material is basalt, nothing added or bonded. Basalt is melted at about 1,500° and the liquid is blown through tiny holes to make strands of filament which are then woven into cloth. You've essentially got a rock in fabric form.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 7:43pm

things of stone & wood ;)

def going to do the next wooden one in this. What's the best bio resin?

brutus's picture
brutus's picture
brutus commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 11:31am

VJ , there are a lot of epoxy resins out there at the moment that easy to work with stay really white , but have lost a lot of strength in having faster Gel times , and loading up the resin with optical brightners.....
I use an epoxy from Burfords , which is by far the strongest , then there is Kinetics easy to use , white but not as strong........but both resins do not have the toxic styrene smell , but still are pretty toxic ....more to come on this as there is very big discussion going on , " What is a sustainable Surfboards?"

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 4:22pm

cheers for the tips Brutus and the mention of which are the strongest. Do you know of any crew who have had adverse reactions to the epoxies, or sanding the epoxies?

My 2c for truly sustainable is paulownia, either chambered lengths or plank on frame, the most kind glue you can find, and an oiled finish. Those ones, you really could light one up in a pyre on a beach to pray for swell!

brutus's picture
brutus's picture
brutus commented Saturday, 29 Jun 2019 at 10:38am

yeah there are quite a few people who's sensitivity to epoxy usually shows up pretty quickly , they get swollen itchy hands and fore arms , some people use full work suits with big vapour masks.........it's commonly a reaction to the high levels of ammonia which is used in the epoxy catalyst....very nasty shit the epoxy catalyst . That's why when you really think about it , even the bio epoxy has to use the same catalyst , so how much resin by way of mass , actually goes into the board ...less than 1% , so really does using a bio epoxy really help on the enviroment front.
Sanding the boards is fine , we even use a capfull of styrene paraffin in the hotcoat/filler to make it easier to sand ........the thing I love about epoxy is there is no toxic smell , which makes factories and workspaces nicer to work in!

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Thursday, 27 Jun 2019 at 8:21pm

This looks good. I've done some testing for a friend on different flax boards and found them quite stiff and lacking flex. Be great if they have "normal" ride characteristics with S cloth strength. I've a twinnie in S cloth that's 5 years old and barely a mark on it, but the weight is noticeable.

I'm not cheap,
But I'm free.

brutus's picture
brutus's picture
brutus commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 11:35am

yeah Flax is like a poor mans carbon , stiffens the board , thats why I think that for stringerless , fishes probably best design.......I think about 7years ago I won the best eco board at the Boardroomshow/Del Mar ..all bio epoxy , recycled Marko Stringerless , Flax deck....still very stiff!

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 11:26am

Just ordered some cloth for my next board and gonna do the glass vs basalt test myself.

Same shortboard as I've ridden the last few years, but different skin.

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 11:56am

Would love to hear how it goes, Stu - keep us posted!

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 12:18pm

Will do.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 12:45pm

Oi Nettle how about you finish the Balsa board first ...

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 12:47pm

Even I'd forgotten about that! Hell of a memory you got, Udo.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 12:04pm

Lennox Point is basalt columns.

whats to stop me taking in a block of basalt and saying I would like a board glassed with this please sir.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 12:17pm

Nothing except for a kiln, pultrusion machine, and weaver.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 4:24pm

and militant hippies, when Freeride tries to mine it.

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 4:28pm

Not to mention the crusty, grumpy as fuck old shaper who'll more than likely tell him to stick it up his boat ramp...

Don't let the bastards grind you down

kneepete's picture
kneepete's picture
kneepete commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 12:35pm

Good reading in this thread. Informative.

Grub Screws's picture
Grub Screws's picture
Grub Screws commented Friday, 28 Jun 2019 at 4:13pm

Seems to me like basalt ticks all the boxes except for the most important one....looks. Older surfers won't care as much but younger surfs def will, so how that plays out in the marketplace, I can't say. Longboards and hi vol boards in basalt, everything else in clear glass?

There's potential for pigment to achieve the white colour but there's an added cost, and how do acrylics go if the shaper is pitching eco? Maybe soy ink, though I dont know much about it.

It's a great direction though. The shift is slow but it feels like it's happening.

Dagobar's picture
Dagobar's picture
Dagobar commented Saturday, 29 Jun 2019 at 1:57am

Thanks for the article and if I had the choice would buy a board using basalt cloth because I always choose the eco option if it’s available. Brown is the colour of my skin! Proud Koori my country my heart so I’d have no problem with it’s colour if it performs. Why do u surf and what do u value. are appearances most important? How often do you surf 1 out? All marketing questions for the manufacturer or what surfers stand for. I come from the salt water people.

On a side note about a year ago I was surfing with a lad that made his boards using silk cloth. He said the strength was unsurpassed but hard to work with and not cheap. Mass production would change that so my point is it’s up to surfers if they want to buy cheap Chinese surfboards or stand buy what is meaningful to them.

捕鱼达人3