person working on a surfboard blank
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PU Board or EPS Board: Which One Is the Best?

There are two main types of surfboard blanks: PU (polyurethane) and EPS (expanded polystyrene). Learn which one is the best for you with the OMBE guide.

There are many comparisons in the surfing world that can be deemed polarizing. Be it John John Florence vs. Filipe Toledo, longboard vs. shortboard, or Indonesia vs. Costa Rica, the answer to any of those will infuriate at least some among us. In today’s topic, we’re posing a question that arises even before a surfboard is shaped: polyurethane foam vs. epoxy foam.

Back in the day when Gerry Lopez wasn’t even aware of a wave called Pipeline, and riding big waves was only a theme for the elderly to scare children on campfire nights, surfboard shapers would duel, one holding a saber made of PU foam and the other a mace made of EPS foam to decide which one was better. Okay, well, not really.

In such a case, this would be a guide on medieval combat. Since it isn’t, let’s find out what PU and EPS boards are, what the differences between them are, and what they’re exactly good for.

PU and EPS Boards: What Are They?

surfboard blank

Before delving right into the complex world of surfboard manufacturing, you need to have a basic understanding of the process. For example, you need to know that, in almost all surfboard constructions, the first material you have is the foam blanks of your board, which constitute the core of your board.

Although surfboard technologies advance quite quickly in this age, and board builders are getting more and more innovative with every passing day, there are still two main options for these blanks: PU blanks or EPS foam blanks. With the former, you get a PU board, and the latter will result in epoxy boards.

So, what’s the difference?

History and Characteristics of the PU Board (or Polyurethane Blank)

clayton nienaber shaping a surfboard

When surfboard tech wasn’t as advanced, and surfing was only a recreational and ritual activity for the Hawaiians, surfboards were mostly made of wood. In the 1950s, though, pioneering surf entrepreneur Hobart Alter altered the surfboard scene by experimenting with balsa wood, which allowed him to come up with new PU foam formulas. His experiments resulted in the conception of polyurethane blanks that were much easier to shape than your natural wood.

That wasn’t the only merit of the PU blanks he came up with, either. They were more lightweight, they didn’t soak water as wood did, and they were much more buoyant, which dramatically improved the performance of surfers. Naturally, his business grew; he set up a factory and appointed his fellow innovator Gordon Clark as the head of the company. Soon enough, Clark Foam started dominating the blank industry.

If you read our guide on how to make your own surfboards, you probably already have an idea about how to make PU boards as well. First, you shape your blank in accordance with the surfboard template you have in mind. Then, you’ll have a fiberglass cloth over that core.

After that comes the time to apply resin, and to finish a PU board, you can use either polyester resin or epoxy resin. Even when you use epoxy resin, your board will remain a polyurethane one since what matters is its core, and its performance will change only slightly. Do note that epoxy resin might be a bit pricier than its alternative.

History and Characteristics of the EPS Board

different surfboard shapes

It’s not clear when the first EPS board was constructed, but it’s been in the surfing world probably since the 1970s. Yet, due to the more affordable nature of polyurethane blanks, EPS had never managed to make it to the spotlight until the new millennium.

In 2005, Clark Foam had to cease their operations because the way they conducted their business wasn’t in line with the regulations of the Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA). As there was no other company excelling in the production of surfboard blanks or even trying their hands on different PU formulas, the shapers were inclined to seek alternatives. The only alternative happened to be EPS (expanded polystyrene).

Luckily, expanded polystyrene is also a more eco-friendly option than polyurethane. First and foremost, there’s a considerable level of chemicals, known as volatile organic compounds, released into the air during the production of polyurethane, which is harmful to both the air and the water. In the production of EPS, the release of such chemicals is less by a staggering percentage: 75%.

Moreover, despite its many merits, such as affordability, and despite the big strides in recycling programs all over the globe, polyurethane remains unrecyclable. Expanded polystyrene, on the other hand, is a recyclable material, which further helps its eco-friendliness. It also renders it more affordable in the long run since you can give your old EPS board to a recycling program when you’re done with it and get some payment in return.

The shaping process of EPS is quite straightforward, too. The sole difference is that the only resin you can employ on an EPS blank is epoxy resin.

PU or EPS? Which Board Should You Get?

surfboards in varying shapes and colors leaning on a wall

Well, it’s no secret that the effects of the climate crisis are on an alarming scale, and that will soon affect the joy we’re getting out of surfing since we’re conducting our business right in the middle of nature.

So, even if you weren’t considering yourself to be an environmentalist so far, it’s never too late. The good news is, nowadays, there are more and more surfboard brands that emphasize more sustainable production by running their own recycling programs and using recycled raw material in the making of their boards. All things considered, the answer inevitably seems to be EPS.

That being said, there are certain performance differences between the two. For instance, boards with a polyurethane core will have more density in comparison to those with EPS cores, so they’ll sit deeper in the water. For those who want to sink the rail to the wave and have more of a surfer feeling, that’s the logical choice.

Boards with an EPS core, on the other hand, entertain more buoyancy, and as buoyancy is an important factor for beginner surfboards, they’re mostly seen as small wave boards. Regardless, there are many high-performance and big-wave-friendly EPS boards on the market as well, as they’re lighter, which makes them more suitable for busting airs. Moreover, they’re more sensitive and responsive to the movement of the waves, which makes them the preferred option for advanced and pro surfers.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly for some, PU boards are more affordable than EPS boards. Yet, as we said above, the recyclable nature of the EPS can render it more affordable in the long run.

Wrapping Up…

Of course, the aspect of environmental friendliness aside, you cannot just go on and purchase a surfboard because its raw material sounds cool. Put simply, you need to identify what you need to improve your surfing first, and then go and make a purchase accordingly.

To that end, you can read our detailed guide on surfboard shapes, or you can enroll in our program: Get the Right Board. As our head coach Clayton Nienaber is an accomplished board shaper, it’s highly likely that you’ll find that program beneficial.

Written by
Nico Palacios
surf coaching