Is The Salomon S-Core The Blank Of The Future?

If you think about it, surfboard blanks are the core of the sport — literally. There have been a few advances in surfboard technology (notably Surftech’s Tuflite), but the majority of boards use materials and construction techniques that have essentially stayed the same since the 1960s.

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Salomon hopes to change that. In April, the Annecy, France-based company, which falls under the adidas corporate umbrella, invited TransWorld SURF Business to attend the Salomon Masters, its six-star WQS event at Margaret River in Western Australia. The purpose of the event was to showcase its newest product, S-Core surfboard blanks, and to serve as Salomon’s launching point into the surf market.

The S-Core utilizes principles from airplane-wing construction — a sturdy but lightweight and hollow core that is reinforced by ribs. It’s estimated to be 30-percent lighter than standard blanks (four to five pounds for a 6’0″), and the structure of the blank can be custom-designed to shapers’ needs to reinforce key areas.

Shapers can choose from different structural layers, materials, and stringers. The S-Core construction process allows shapers to fine-tune mechanical properties such as overall stiffness, compression stiffness, torsionability, and dampening to fit any surfer’s needs. Salomon has already acquired four key patents on the S-Core.

The Fourth Element

While adidas targets mainstream sports, Salomon’s mission is to reach participants in individual sports. So far, Salomon has successfully entrenched itself in three factions of the individual-sports market — mountain, outdoor, and in-line — and now it has its sights set on a fourth element: water.

As history shows, water doesn’t mix well with money. The domestic surf industry’s past is littered with futile attempts from large non-endemics to enter the surf market (think Nike ACG). However, unlike those who have tried (and failed) before, Salomon is approaching this market from a unique angle: technology. By giving shapers the line of hollow, high-density S-Core blanks, Salomon hopes to uses its vast R&D resources to woo both shapers and surfers to its program.

So why is Salomon interested in the surf market? Diversity. “In the U.S. market right now, our business is driven by winter sports — roughly 75 percent of it,” says Bo Johnson, boardsports director for Salomon North America. “A long-term strategy for the brand has been to diversify our product offering into spring and summer, and this is the next step in that direction.”

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“Shapers aren’t really happy with traditional blanks today,” says Laurent Nevejans, director of surf marketing for Salomon. “They’ve evolved in terms of shapes and so on, but they feel limited because of the technology they’re using — nothing’s new. There was a need, so Salomon said, “Okay, maybe we can do something with our technological know-how and experience so we can work with shapers and try to set up something new for them.'”

Salomon doesn’t plan to manufacture Salomon-branded boards. It will just produce the blanks. “Salomon has a very strong technological history,” asserts Nevejans. “In surfing, we know the key people are the shapers, surfers, and so on. Shapers are really building the practice and the sport. They are building the magic of the sport.”

Startin’ From Blank

Salomon’s roots are planted firmly in research and development. At its headquarters in Annecy, France, there are more than 800 employees — and many of them focus primarily on R&D. Last year, Salomon enlisted Pascal Vergne, an engineer and surf manager for the brand, to gather some of the best shapers from the world’s surfing epicenters like Hawai?i, California, Japan, Europe, and Australia. Salomon is combining these extensive resources with an A-list crew of shapers, dubbed the Red Circle, to develop the S-Core blanks.

Salomon is using their feedback — and the input from a number of top surfers — to devop S-Core. Salomon initially recruited French shaper Pierre Cazadieu, former WCT surfer and West Oz shaper Dave Mac Aulay, and Hawai?ian shaper Eric Arakawa to aid them in the S-Core development. Eventually, other shapers joined the mix to complete the Red Circle (for now), including tri-fin inventor Simon Anderson, Australians Greg Webber and Darren Handley, South African Selwyn Van Wyk, and Al Merrick. Together, according to Arakawa, they form a shaping collective, hungry for new technology.

Salomon is not paying the Red Circle shapers, but they will get priority on S-Core production once it’s ready for market. “It’s a new and unique organization within Salomon,” says Nevejans. “We have some people working on this project at our headquarters and they’re using all the technology of Salomon.”

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Spearheading the project is longtime Salomon engineer Eric Metrot, one of the brand’s first snowboard designers. Metrot lives in Perth, Australia, which means he has a variety of consistent surf breaks at his fingertips — an excellent proving ground for the S-Core.

“We wanted to start it from a ‘core area where people are really dedicated to surfing,” says Vergne. “Of course there are many different places around the world, but for many different reasons we chose here because Eric Metrot was living here, and for the quality and consistency of the waves. For us, it was a key point as well because we really wanted to test some boards. It was really important to have a good quality of waves.”

Even though there are only a couple Americans on the project, Salomon plans to bring in more shapers as the S-Core moves forward. “There are so many shapers all around the world,” says Vergne. “We have to choose most of the best shapers to work with. As soon as we’re ready, we’ll begin to see more and more shapers.”

The shapers seem excited about their new endeavor and feel the technology is promising. “Salomon’s basically a technology-driven company,” says Arakawa. “I think they said they were 80-percent hardgoods. I just got back from the design center in Annecy and I was completely blown away. We have nothing like this in our industry — nothing.

“Their R&D center, which is 100-percent dedicated to just R&D, employs 800 people,” continues Arakawa. “The engineers and technicians are employed full-time to develop products for their team first so they can bring out production products for the mass market. Most of them hold engineering degrees — Francois Guers, Salomon director of advance research and concepts is a mechanical engineer, Pascal is a mechanical engineer, Eric is an innovator working with the airplane industry, and they have chemical engineers working on the products also.”

Reaching The Core

Salomon is keen on establishing itself in the surf market. One way it’s doing that is through event sponsorship. Salomon quickly acquired the naming rights of the six-star WQS Margaret River Masters contest for three years. The contest, held in April and won by Joel Parkinson, marked the company’s first step into the surf market.

“When Salomon enters a new activity, a new sport, it wants to be in the heart of the sport,” says Nevejans. “So that’s why we’re all working with the ‘core — it’s very important in surfing to be part of the scene, and the event, and the competition. Margaret River was a good match for this reason. To be the sponsor of an event is new for Salomon — it’s never been done before.”

Three days after the contest began, the company called a press conference in the town of Margaret River (approximately four hours north of Perth). Nevejans and Guers hosted the two-hour conference during with they outlined the company’s plans for the S-Core in front of their fellow Salomon engineers, the Red Circle, pro surfers, and media from around the world.

So what have they come up with? Although pleased with the product development, Metrot, Nevejans, Vergne, Guers, and the numerous other engineers involved maintain that S-core is still evolving. In fact, they say they are just halfway through the development process of the S-Core.

“As soon as we’re all together, we will go for it,” says Vergne. “There’s potential for the boards, but we still need to develop it more with the shapers. So what we really want to emphasize is the work with the top riders from each shaper and look for the best comments — then they will be able to sell it to more people.”

Surfers and shapers have already demoed early prototypes of the S-Core boards, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “I’ve had more flex out of one board than I’ve ever had in my life,” says shaper Greg Webber. “So we can now start to change the flex of the board significantly in terms of rocker and volume.”

“I reckon it’s lighter and the responsiveness is incredible,” adds current WCT surfer Jake Paterson, who worked with Dave Mac Aulay in comparing regular polyurethane blanks versus S-Cores. WCT surfer Shane Beschen also worked on a design with his shaper Eric Arakawa and noted that normal blanks felt dead after riding S-Cores.

Getting Down To Business

Will the surfboard industry, or even better, the American market accept Salomon’s S-Core?

“I think you’ll find some American shapers who will go, ‘Whoa, I’ve worked super hard for 30 years, I don’t want to risk anything,'” says Webber, who shapes boards for Taj Burrow. “But with Salomon coming in, and the technology and wealth they have, there’s almost no chance of this project failing from what I’ve seen of the S-Core and their principles and their approach.”

Even if the blanks catch on, they will likely only put a dent in Clark Foam’s dominance of the American surfboard-blank market — if that. (Clark Foam declined to comment on the S-Core.) “Clark Foam’s going to be around for a long time,” says Arakawa. “S-Core is a new technology, and it will probably be more expensive, but the people at Salomon expect it to be worth the cost. The whole dynamics of the way the boards perform will be worth the extra money. We feel like this could be something significant.”

And that’s the impact Salomon hopes it will have on the ‘core surf market. “The surfboard industry is not a huge business when compared to what Salomon does in skiing and snowboarding — that’s for sure,” says Vergne. “Our entry point is really to be dedicated to the sport of surfing. That’s why we spend a lot of time and money on R&D on the S-Core technology.”

Adds Johnson, “At this point market share is a consideration but not a priority. The top priority is to bring meaningful technology to surfing equipment through the shapers. In the near term, the goal is for S-Core to develop a small niche in the market.”

When exactly will we see the blanks in America? Salomon isn’t sure. “Over the next twelve months the focus will be to further the R&D process with Al Merrick and Eric Arakawa,” says Johnson. “We’re moving to the stage where they can really help us with it. The strategy is to add additional U.S. shapers within 24 months. Right now, since we’re only 50-percent complete with the R&D, it’s too early to say what will happen at a retail level.”

The blanks will be sold solely to the select shapers and won’t lead to Salomon branded boards. Cost is to be determined, but Johnson says the blanks will be “priced competitively.” In addition to blanks, the company has a surf softgoods line in the works internationally, but it won’t be seen on the domestic front for a long time. “The last thing the surfing market in the U.S. needs is another softgoods line,” says Johnson. “What Salomon brings are the resources to truly advance surfing equipment.”

And that’s what ultimately matters, says Arakawa. “The end of story is that the user is going to win — and that’s the bottom line.”engineers involved maintain that S-core is still evolving. In fact, they say they are just halfway through the development process of the S-Core.

“As soon as we’re all together, we will go for it,” says Vergne. “There’s potential for the boards, but we still need to develop it more with the shapers. So what we really want to emphasize is the work with the top riders from each shaper and look for the best comments — then they will be able to sell it to more people.”

Surfers and shapers have already demoed early prototypes of the S-Core boards, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “I’ve had more flex out of one board than I’ve ever had in my life,” says shaper Greg Webber. “So we can now start to change the flex of the board significantly in terms of rocker and volume.”

“I reckon it’s lighter and the responsiveness is incredible,” adds current WCT surfer Jake Paterson, who worked with Dave Mac Aulay in comparing regular polyurethane blanks versus S-Cores. WCT surfer Shane Beschen also worked on a design with his shaper Eric Arakawa and noted that normal blanks felt dead after riding S-Cores.

Getting Down To Business

Will the surfboard industry, or even better, the American market accept Salomon’s S-Core?

“I think you’ll find some American shapers who will go, ‘Whoa, I’ve worked super hard for 30 years, I don’t want to risk anything,'” says Webber, who shapes boards for Taj Burrow. “But with Salomon coming in, and the technology and wealth they have, there’s almost no chance of this project failing from what I’ve seen of the S-Core and their principles and their approach.”

Even if the blanks catch on, they will likely only put a dent in Clark Foam’s dominance of the American surfboard-blank market — if that. (Clark Foam declined to comment on the S-Core.) “Clark Foam’s going to be around for a long time,” says Arakawa. “S-Core is a new technology, and it will probably be more expensive, but the people at Salomon expect it to be worth the cost. The whole dynamics of the way the boards perform will be worth the extra money. We feel like this could be something significant.”

And that’s the impact Salomon hopes it will have on the ‘core surf market. “The surfboard industry is not a huge business when compared to what Salomon does in skiing and snowboarding — that’s for sure,” says Vergne. “Our entry point is really to be dedicated to the sport of surfing. That’s why we spend a lot of time and money on R&D on the S-Core technology.”

Adds Johnson, “At this point market share is a consideration but not a priority. The top priority is to bring meaningful technology to surfing equipment through the shapers. In the near term, the goal is for S-Core to develop a small niche in the market.”

When exactly will we see the blanks in America? Salomon isn’t sure. “Over the next twelve months the focus will be to further the R&D process with Al Merrick and Eric Arakawa,” says Johnson. “We’re moving to the stage where they can really help us with it. The strategy is to add additional U.S. shapers within 24 months. Right now, since we’re only 50-percent complete with the R&D, it’s too early to say what will happen at a retail level.”

The blanks will be sold solely to the select shapers and won’t lead to Salomon branded boards. Cost is to be determined, but Johnson says the blanks will be “priced competitively.” In addition to blanks, the company has a surf softgoods line in the works internationally, but it won’t be seen on the domestic front for a long time. “The last thing the surfing market in the U.S. needs is another softgoods line,” says Johnson. “What Salomon brings are the resources to truly advance surfing equipment.”

And that’s what ultimately matters, says Arakawa. “The end of story is that the user is going to win — and that’s the bottom line.”