The act of surfing is presumed to have started just after people started swimming, therefore, there is no certain date when the first surfboard was made. The first surfboard was likely to have been a broken part of a tree.

The first recognized surfboards were made from three different types of trees', the Acacia Koa, the Artocarpus Altilis, and the Erythrina Sandwicensis.2 They were made with two different types of designs, the Olo and Alaia.3 The Olo board varied in size, which could weighed up to 90kg. The Alaia board was usually thinner and weighed up to 45kg.4 The early surfboards were extremely heavy, hard to paddle and maneuver.

Material Changes


1926- The hollow board: constructed of redwood, which allowed the board to be lighter, which made it faster.5
1932- Redwood, Balsa and Plywood: These woods allowed the board to be lighter, more efficient, faster in the water and easy to shape.6
1946- Fiberglass: Allows the board to become lighter, therefore, makes it easier to move.7
1950- Polyurethane foam: Developed so the board would be even lighter but still strong enough to withstand the pressure of crashing waves.8

The changes in the materials of the board has made it become more efficient for different types of surf and different styles. Thesedays we use boards that combine a polyurethane foam in the centre, a wooden stringer (commonly redwood) to give it extra strength, a coat of fiberglass and a top coat of an epoxy base. The board also has reinforcements on the ends and sides to keep certain parts strong.9 This is a typical board for beginner and intermediate surfers.

Manufacturing and Chemical Composition

Polyurethane Foam

Firstly, Polyurethane is formed by two monomers. The Polymer is formed when an Isocyanate (petroleum byproduct) reacts with a diol (complex alcohol) to create the Polymer. Below is a diagram of the diisocyanate and diol reacting together to form the polymer of polyurethane.10


Once the Polyurethane is created it is formed into a chain bond, pulled together by attraction between the molecules. This formation is low density as there is much air space in the polymer.


Resin has been a vital part of surfboards all throughout history; they keep the board from soaking in water and becoming damaged. Polyester resins are the most commonly used11. The resin is formed by Condensation Polymers. These polymers are formed by two functional groups (atoms that are responsible for characteristic reactions) reacting together and producing water as a by-product.12 This forms polyester, a reaction of dicarboxylic acids and diols, which forms ester links and water.13


Environmental Impact



Polymers that are used in surfboards derive from petroleum, which is a non-renewable source. Firstly this is an issue as it cannot be replaced, which means the substance is very precious and should be used cautiously. Polymers have limited biodegradability and do not break down from natural forces due to their synthetic properties, e.g. durable, resisting breaking down, this is causing issues for landfills pilling up. The manufacturing of polymers can also leach toxins and spread environmentally harmful chemicals through the air.14

Another environmental issue is animals digesting the parts of the polymer. If a board breaks in the water, traces of these polymers will be left behind, firstly causing pollution in the water and if digested by an animal the board it will clog their digestive system and cause illnesses due to the toxic chemicals.15

The disposal of boards is a big issue. An average Polyester Short board has approximately 400lbs of Carbon dioxide (CO2) and an epoxy Long board is around 1,000lbs of CO2. So when someone throws away a board or breaks one, another board is bought causing even more CO2 to be made. The decomposing of a surfboard also takes many years, leading to build up the landfills.16 CO2 is a bi-product of surfboard production, it is a greenhouse gas, which causes more and more heat to be trapped in the atmosphere. Therefore, if the production of CO2 increases it will cause the atmosphere to heat.17

Ways to reduce the environmental impact

1. Buy a personalized surfboard for your specific weight and the types of waves surfed, this will assist in a longer board life.
2. Repair boards as soon as they get damaged, so less damage can occur.
3. Sell and Buy second-hand surfboards to reduce the amount that are unused.
4. Do not buy a new board for the sake of it.18

Macroscopic properties table

Material Property and Definition Uses
Polyurethane foam (Board) Durable- How long the item lasts It is important that the board is durable so it is able to be used for a long time, therefore, making it appealing to consumers so they do not have extra expenses upgrading or buying new boards.
Polyurethane foam Low Density- There is a low mass to the volume Low density is vital in boards so that there is volume to stand on, however the mass is low, making it easier to move and guide through the water.
Plastic (Leg Rope) Ductile- The substance can be drawn into a wire This is essential as the wire needs to be out of the way, but still effective in keeping the person and the board together.
Plastic Flexibility- How easy the substance can move The plastic needs to be able to move into different shapes, as when surfing it needs to move with both the surfers foot and back of the board, and have little resistance.
Rubber (Grip Mat) Friction- The ability to cause resistance between two surfaces The rubber needs to cause friction to keep the surfer on the board, this is also important for the stability of the surfer
Rubber Waterproof- The substance is able to withstand water As a surfboard is in regular contact with water it needs to be able to withstand large amounts and not deteriorate.
Fiberglass (Fin) Hardness- To resist denting, scratching and breaking. It is important as surfers frenquently ride over coral, so the fin needs to be able to not break when toughing the reef or another solid object. It is also important that it can handle the force of the wave.
Fiberglass Low Friction- The ability to have little resistance between two surfaces The fin needs to have have low friction with the water, so the board can glide across with little drag. Drag is caused by the water being displaced, making an uneven and unbalanced ride.
Balsa Wood (Stringer) Durable- How long the item lasts The wood is the core strength to the board, it needs to last the longest as it cannot be replaced.
Balsa Wood Hardness- To resist denting, scratching and breaking. The wood in the middle of the board needs to strong as the middle occurs the most force due to the surfer standing in the middle of the board.

Picture References

(In order of appearance)

The evolution of surfboard N/A, Photograph, Hang Ten With Surfing, accessed 02 March 2013, <>

Surfboard Parts N/A, Diagram, Hot Tamale Handcrafted Surfboards , accessed 02 March 2013, <>.

Polyurethane 2012, Diagram, SMRUBBER, accessed 02 March 2013,

Polymers N/A, Diagram , Science Aid, accessed 02 March 2013 <>

Picture: Carbon Emissions from Surfboards N/A, Chart, Surf Science, accessed 02 March 2013, <>.

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