The tried and tested method of moulding and mowing foam into the shape of a surfboard has existed for the better part of half a century. But now, as 3D printing has moved well beyond the prototyping phase, it was only a matter of time before that technology translated over to surfing.
Wyve, a France-based company operating out of Anglet (about 30 mins south of Hossegor) are using 3D printers to shape a whole range of surfboards, that utilise an internal hexagonal structure, filled with air (yes, air) rather than using traditional foam blanks.
The boards are still glassed with fibreglass, but the whole process promises to remove around 30 per cent of the greenhouse gasses emitted when shaping with a PU or PE-based blank.
As with all new tech that enters the surf-sphere, there's bound to be a number of nay-sayers – yet, this technology could be a significant shift forward in producing surfboards. As the bosses at Wyve say, 'they're not here to replace the art of shaping but hope this method will sit alongside what's come before, offering a viable alternative', much like wooden, hand-shaped crafts.
Naturally, we had questions. So we tapped up Wyve's Léo Kerhir to ask...
Let's take it from the top; how did you come up with the designs for 3D printing a surfboard?
LK: Léo Bouffier and Sylvain Fleury started thinking about it three-years-ago. Surfboards are known to be polluting the atmosphere and basically haven’t changed much over the past 60-years in the way they are built. They came up with the 3D-printing solution as the means to make more durable surfboards with cleaner materials, while pushing further the level of high-performance in surfboards.
The hexagonal design is thought to be three-times more resistant than a foam blank while keeping the needed flexibility. It went through a lot of research and development to reach the ideal design.
Sounds promising, what’s the feedback like?
Feedback is great! We’ve been working with local talents to test our boards on a regular basis and get feedback on top of our internal mechanical tests.
Testing and iterating has been the key to reach the level of high-performance we have today. Overall, surfers feel a much better wave entry and speed generation than with their everyday boards as well as a great strength impression of the board. We are still learning a lot from the tests in the water and keep improving.Pictures and edits speak more than words.
That's interesting, what's different about them then? What makes them tougher?
They are different in many ways. We replace the traditional foam blank by a 3D-printed bio-based plastic internal structure. While we still use fibreglass and bio-based resin, it is air inside the structure. Hexagons connect to each other and that allows the air to go through.
Our goal isn’t to replace all the traditional surfboard manufacturers or local shapers, but to offer something different to the market
There is a pressure valve on the tail that regulates by itself. The second use of the valve is in case of a ding. A traditional surfboard would soak the water and go yellow or soft after some time. We are able to drain the water out thanks to the valve. The bio-based plastic is hydrophobic so it doesn’t soak water.
About the structure itself, we are able to control the parameters such as the flex, mass repartition, strength in some key parts.... Weight wise, we are similar to PU boards.
Last but not least, it is way different – you can see through it!
You'll get a good look at what's below you. Walk us through the process – how long do they take to make?
Once the shape is decided by the customer, it goes to parametric design, then the 3D-printing starts. The machine will melt the bio-based plastic filament to drop it layer-by-layer, building the whole internal core of the surfboard. It takes between 20 and 50 hours of printing depending on the shape, the machines are running all day.
The remaining parts of the process are pretty similar to traditional surfboard glassing. We use fibreglass and bio-based epoxy. All boards are vacuum-bagged during the glassing process to have the strongest coat possible.
We have one particular process to glass it, which is the major change with traditional glassing.
If people are interested and want to order, would they go for their regular dimensions – or is it like-for-like?
Even though one of the main bits of feedback was that the paddling ease is better and they're more buoyancy than a traditional surfboard, we recommend surfers stick to their regular dimensions. That's because surfing these boards is relatively similar to their normal boards.
Do you think this a viable future for shaping? Feels as if it'll sit alongside traditional methods.
3D-printing offers tons of possibilities in terms of materials, weight, flex, mass-repartition and so on. On top of it, it is extremely precise to build custom boards on a large scale. We are convinced, 3D-printing is the future for intermediary to high-level surfboards since it allows surfers to reach better performance and new surfing feelings.
We all know shaping surfboards is not environmentally friendly – we touched on it before, but how do these boards compare on the eco-scale?
Regarding the internal core, we use bio-based plastic filament, that is called PLA. For the resin, it is 50 per cent bio-based. Our goal, on top of building surfboards with cleaner materials, is to build stronger boards that last longer.
Talking math, the Wyve manufacturing process emits 30 per cent less greenhouse gases than the traditional methods. Moreover, the board lifetime is twice longer than a PU or PE surfboard. We recently did a life cycle assessment of our process to help us improve even more, since it is extremely important to us since the very beginning.
When it comes to surfboard shaping, it is an art form. Some would see this as removing the art from the process. But there’s still a lot that that goes into 3D printing – do you think purists will ever try a 3D board – and how do you overcome some of the nay-sayers who are no doubt going to start saying ‘nothing is better than foam boards?'
There’s still a lot of hand-work that goes into the process. We are still designing the shapes and working on them in the same software as shapers. Then, the “post 3D-printing part” is just as important - we have a unique way of glassing our boards.
We are located in Anglet, France, with a lot of shapers around. They've all warmly welcomed us when we arrived here back in early 2020.
Nothing is better than making surfers try our boards to overcome those stereotypes. We make a lot of board test events and lend some testing boards to surfers that ask. Working with young athletes, local talents or free surfers has been the key as well. The goal is to show surfers that they can surf just as good, if not better, than with their traditional boards.
What’s the mission for the Hexa Surfboard? Is it to be a global company?
If we are delivering all over Europe for now, the other surfing continents are just around the corner. We have built one micro-factory in Anglet, which allows us to deliver boards over Europe.
Our goal in 2022 and in the years to come is to duplicate this “micro-factory” system in different countries, close to surfers and surf spots. We are already working with talented surfers worldwide.
Where can surfboard shaping go from here?
Our goal isn’t to replace all the traditional surfboard manufacturers or local shapers, but to offer something different to the market, in terms of technology, materials and surfing feelings.
Our approach is complementary to shapers since we work on the inner structure of the surfboard core. We definitely respect the art of shaping and are open to collaborate with some shapers to push the high-performance future together.