Different Types of Surfboard Materials

Not all surfboards are created equal, and it's important to know what type of material you're working with, as well as what your options are, when it comes time to choose a new board. It's not unusual for boards of different materials to look alike, and it isn't always easy to note the differences between board types using only the naked eye. Fortunately, we've done most of the investigating for you, so here's the breakdown of material types and the pros and cons to each.


Polyurethane is one of the top choices for surfboards these days, and it's not hard to see why. Typically you'll see them referred to as Polyurethane (PU), Polystyrene (PS), or Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam. It's good to know that shapers have been favoring the polyurethane foam since the 1950's, and this is because it is very shapeable and also extremely light. If you look at the material up close, you'll notice it's fine and brittle, which means that you can shave off corners using sandpaper without cutting into it. For this reason, most custom boards are made from polyurethane.

As with anything, polyurethane does have its downsides. The material is highly toxic and can be potentially hazardous to those who work with it. It can also have negative effects on the environment, including possible contamination, as the product is non-renewable.


This is known as a slightly lighter alternative to polyurethane boards. While it may be lighter, it requires two to four times as much labor to shape. These boards are not quite as strong as their polyurethane counterparts, but the epoxy resin coating makes it strong enough that durability shouldn't be an issue. Polystyrene is more environmentally friendly than polyurethane, since it is recyclable.

Expanded Polystyrene

Made from an alternative version of polystyrene, these boards are growing rapidly in popularity. If you've ever seen the disposable coolers sold in the grocery store, then you've seen expanded polystyrene foam. This is also the same foam typically used for protecting packages during shipping. The foam is comprised of tiny foam balls that are compressed together by an adhesive agent. Of the three types of foam we've discussed so far, expanded polystyrene is the lightest.

Unfortunately, this foam is very difficult to shape by hand. As compared with polyurethane foam, if you took sandpaper to EPS, you'd end up taking off big chunks, as the material is not fine or brittle, or easy to shave. If a custom board is what you're after, it might be difficult to find a shaper who will be willing to work with EPS, simply because of the amount of labor involved. In fact, boards made from this material are usually constructed by machines rather than by hand, for this exact reason. It should also be noted that EPS foam is somewhat prone to absorb water, although recent technological developments have been able to improve this.

Other Factors

Two very important factors to consider when choosing a board are buoyancy and durability. When it comes to buoyancy, the lighter boards will naturally be more floatable than the ones made from heavier material. Of the three types of foams we've discussed, EPS makes for the lightest board with the lowest density, followed by polystyrene. Better buoyancy means a board will be better for paddling and maneuvering in the water.

While it would appear that PS and EPS boards would be the obvious choices when it comes to buoyancy, one must not forget to take durability into consideration. Polyurethane boards are by far the easiest of the three foam types to repair. These boards are better equipped to take on wear and tear, and can be expected to last longer than boards made from lighter, less durable materials.

Overall, there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the best material for a surfboard. As with anything, it is important to first understand yourself and your needs, particularly what you are looking for a board and what expectations you have when it comes to things like durability and performance. All types of materials have their own advantages and disadvantages, and a significant part of the decision is being able to identify what is right for you, and what will help you to have the surfing experience you're looking for.

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