A Brawnier Resin: Enter DHP

The modern surfboard is weak and fragile — and expensive for what it can offer in terms of durability. A surfer can buy a new board one day, only to have it snap in half the next or disintegrate within two months. Is this justified, especially when the cost of a new shortboard can top 500 dollars?

Mark Tolan, the founder of Alive Surfing Technology (AST) and creator of DHP resin, doesn’t think so. “The materials we use now are the same {ones that} we used in World War II,” says Tolan. “It’s been 50 years, and nothing’s changed.”

But Tolan, 22 years old, wants change. He recently developed a new supposedly stronger, more flexible resin called DHP, for Durable High Performance, that should challenge the polyester-resin establishment — or at least make board builders reexamine the materials they currently use.

Tolan’s certainly taken a look at the current standard surfboard recipe of polyester resin, fiberglass cloth, and a polyurethane blank. Tolan has discovered that resin, not foam, is the weakest link in the composite. Conventional polyester resin does not fuse with the fiberglass cloth and the foam core, which makes for a brittle, fragile final product that’s susceptible to delamination and snapping. To avoid this, Tolan’s developed — and continues to refine — DHP, which, he says, creates a stronger bond between the foam, fiberglass, and resin.

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The genesis for DHP was in 1995 when Tolan was a participant in a mentorship program through his high school at SwRI (Southwest Research Institute), a nonprofit applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization based in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas. There he studied, among other things, polymers.

“In high school, I never fit in with the educational system,” Tolan says. “I was bored silly in all my classes. I enjoyed the science classes. I took every single science class my school offered, and got all As, but I did horrible in English, art, and history.”

Though his mentorship didn’t produce a definitive answer in his quest for improved surfboard materials, it gave him confidence that a breakthrough resin was within reach. He put his research on hold while he attended college at Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego. But toward the end of his junior year — and after encouragement from friends who’d seen, ridden, and liked his initial board made with DHP, dubbed “Brown Bastard” — Tolan dropped out of school and immersed himself in the project. Eventually he came up with a working formula for the new resin.

Tolan enlisted classmate and artist Javan Van Gronigen to help him refine DHP, plan the company, and launch AST softgoods. Together the duo created The Trinity Projects, which currently serves as an umbrella company for AST and DHP, AST softgoods, and other projects the company may choose to undertake.

DHP is the part of The Trinity Projects’ business that’s created the most buzz thus far. At September’s ASR, AST’s Santa Barbara rep Daniel Bacquet had many attendees shaking their heads in disbelief as they watched him jump repeatedly on an AST board, rocker down. The board he bounced on (made with DHP resin, a Clark Foam blank, and standard fiberglass cloth) exited the show without a single blemish — no dings, spider cracks, nor delaminations.

AST has seen similar results with teamriders’ boards. “Pro boards we got back have minor wear and tear,” Tolan says. “Who knows how fatigued the core is, but the wear and tear on the glass job has been extremely minor.”

A Product With A Lot Of Potential

So what is DHP, and how does it differ from polyester resin? Understanding the chemical compounds that make up DHP would probably require a degree in chemistry, but basically DHP is composed of a long chain of molecules that branches through and around the fiberglass cloth to create a bond that fuses with thfoam, rather than just sticking to it.

According to Tolan, DHP is more resistant to delamination and provides better long-term flex patterns. Tolan also maintains that DHP is less toxic than standard resin because it doesn’t use a solvent (styrene) like polyester resin does, and it emits fewer VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). “Styrene has a very low boiling point and thus evaporates rapidly at room temperature, pulling ester molecules into the air with it,” according to the AST brochure.

That all sounds promising, but what’s the catch? Cost. A surfboard made with DHP resin currently costs up to 100 dollars more at retail. It’s a substantial hurdle, but some boardmakers think there are customers who’d be willing to pay for the added durability.

“For a long time there’ve been a lot of alternative methods to make a surfboard with different cloths and foams, but the one thing that always puts a footnote on this is cost, the extra expense,” says Rusty Preisendorfer, who’s made a few boards using the new resin. “I think a small part of our customer base wouldn’t mind paying the extra 100 dollars for a product that is a lot stronger and lighter. The problem is the general populous is very price sensitive.”

Shapers and glassers are also concerned with other potential drawbacks. Preisendorfer says there are a few kinks with lay up and finishing that need to be worked out, although he notes the resin is promising.

“I don’t honestly believe it’s quite ready for the market yet,” he says. “There’re some issues with cosmetics and production that need to be resolved, and it will be more expensive. Ultimately, I believe that Mark’s a bright young man {who has} a product with a lot of potential. We really enjoy working with Mark and hope to possibly introduce it {DHP resin} as part of our product line sometime in the future.”

Epoxy Pro Founder Javier Huaraya-Pró has also worked with DHP resin and thinks it could catch on, especially if the price were to come down, and it were easier to work with. “If the resin and the whole process would simplify a little bit, it’s a good way to go,” says Huaraya-Pró. “Price is the first barrier.”

In addition, Huaraya-Pró says that the curing process could deter some glass houses from using DHP. In order to cure properly, DHP resin must be baked for 24 hours in a specially heated room (similar to a kiln that’s used for firing ceramics).

While that would require a glass shop to build an additional room designed specifically for heat curing, it would also cut two weeks off the recommended curing time for a polyester board, improving turnaround time from the factory to the end customer. “Boards can be fully cured and in the water up to two weeks earlier than normal polyester boards,” Tolan says.

Peter St. Pierre runs and owns Moonlight Glass in San Marcos, California and primarily laminates boards for Channel Islands, Takayama, and Evolution. He’s heard of AST and DHP, but has never used the product. But St. Pierre says he’s totally willing to try it: “As far as the cost, the workability, and the strength, it’s all to be seen. I’m stoked somebody’s working on it.”

St. Pierre says the timing of the new, potentially less-hazardous resin is perfect. California recently passed a law that mandates a reduction of VOCs in polyester resins, and that legislation goes into effect at the beginning of 2003.

“The resin we’re using now is going to be illegal in January,” says St. Pierre. “They’re changing the whole formula. {They’re} going to have to take VOCs out of polyester resin.” That, he says, will make resin — and boards — more costly, but hopefully won’t compromise the overall strength.

Tolan says DHP has come a long way from its initial inception, and the team continues to make improvements on the resin from The Trinity Projects’ headquarters in downtown San Diego. Tolan’s currently in the process of raising a second round of financing and hopes to have the funding secured by early next year.

In the meantime, AST is moving forward with its resin technology, and Tolan notes that DHP is available to every glass shop. He says he’s grateful for the support he’s gotten from shapers such as Preisendorfer, Jeff “Doc” Lausch, Casey McCrystal, John Carper, and Gary McNab. “Those guys have been all about doing new things and trying new stuff, and I couldn’t be more appreciative of those supporting my product up to this point,” he says.

From here, Tolan hopes more shapers, laminators, and ultimately surfers will give DHP a shot. “The people who’ve ridden this stuff have yet to come back and order a normal board,” he claims. Hopefully, he says, it’ll stay that way.

go. Tolan’s currently in the process of raising a second round of financing and hopes to have the funding secured by early next year.

In the meantime, AST is moving forward with its resin technology, and Tolan notes that DHP is available to every glass shop. He says he’s grateful for the support he’s gotten from shapers such as Preisendorfer, Jeff “Doc” Lausch, Casey McCrystal, John Carper, and Gary McNab. “Those guys have been all about doing new things and trying new stuff, and I couldn’t be more appreciative of those supporting my product up to this point,” he says.

From here, Tolan hopes more shapers, laminators, and ultimately surfers will give DHP a shot. “The people who’ve ridden this stuff have yet to come back and order a normal board,” he claims. Hopefully, he says, it’ll stay that way.