The 2016 Winter Surfboard Trend Report

970x546-TRT-SurfBoardsNew Materials, Tech, & Innovative Shapes Mix with Traditional Practices

*This trend report was originally printed in the Winter 2015/16 print issue of TransWorld Business. 

Art: Jamie Padilla

Surfboards are experiencing a revival of shapes and styles--a trend that means nothing but good things for the overall health of the industry.

From performance short boards to step-ups, fish, grovelers, and hybrids, brands are honing in on technology to increase the life and response of boards, while keeping a keen eye to price point and demand.

Surf Ride Surfboard Buyer John Ennis says the local market at the retailer's Oceanside and Solana Beach, California, locations reflects this broad overarching trend: "People are starting to look for their 'good wave' boards in anticipation of the upcoming El Niño," he says, mentioning that board sales have run the gamut from contemporary performance shapes to a "resurgence of the long board market."

Manufacturer Firewire has seen some fluctuations in consumer demand, and are following those leads with strategic investments and collaborations: "Our strength has traditionally trended toward the hybrid shapes, but more recently, in collaborating with designers like Daniel Thomson and Jon Pyzel, we have really seen a lot of growth in the high-performance sector," says CEO Mark Price. "We have also had a big uptick in our long board demand thanks in great part to the Taylor Jensen series."

There is a trend of quality over quantity, and retailers doing a better job, slowly being able to raise prices a bit, and being rewarded with bigger margin.



The majority of manufacturers we talked to sell the greatest volume of boards in the U.S., although many indicated expected growth from emerging markets.

The majority of manufacturers we talked to sell the greatest volume of boards in the U.S., although many indicated expected growth from emerging markets.

For Channel Islands, growth in Latin America and Indonesia has been identified as a promising trend. The bulk of ...LOST's international market runs on locally built boards across Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Peru, Tahiti, and Costa Rica, says Founder Matt Biolos. "The boards we build domestically are sold here in the U.S., Japan, and a few really small markets like Israel," he adds.

Firewire is on pace to produce 15 percent more boards this year than in 2014, according to Price.

Pyzel Surfboards currently produces more boards domestically, but expects that gap to close as the company continues to partner with licensees in key international markets, explains Founder Jon Pyzel.

The manufacturer also just opened a second factory in Oceanside, California in early 2015, which has allowed them to increase production and lower turnaround time, without sacrificing quality. So far, the company is on pace to double its board production compared to 2014.



Carbon seems to be the keyword around surfboard tech moving into 2016.

GSI recently launched its Carbon Vector technology, which acts like a trampoline net, helping distribute tension across the entire surface of the board to produce a lively yet controlled flex pattern with memory recall. The tech is made up of a stringer-less, high-density custom shaped EPS core laminated with biaxial fiberglass, epoxy resin, and a distinctive carbon fiber webbing positioned on the bottom and around the rails of the board.

...LOST has developed a new take on carbon technology, CarbonWrap, which it's introducing to the market in early 2016 after years of team testing and intense refinement at the brand's Gold Coast and California R&D factories. The tech features strategically placed carbon fiber "wraps" around a stringer-less EPS core, providing an engineered flex and resulting in a lively performing board, Biolos explains.

Over at Firewire, the brand is sticking with its Timber Tek, which was incorporated into the line last season, and has quickly become the brand's fastest growing board build, CEO Mark Price says.

For Channel Islands, the latest technology making waves is the brand's online board builder, which allows both customers and retailers to virtually step into the shaper's bay, scaling and designing their own custom boards using CI's CAD program in real time, explains Anderson. The program also allows for custom selection of construction, logos, and materials.

Channel Islands is also focusing on reducing its footprint: "We have been using eco-resin in our internal glass shop for over a year, and now require it be used by all our external laminators, as well," Anderson says.

Some brands are still approaching materials in a traditional sense.

Small tweaks include improved resins that are easier to work with and much clearer than their counterparts, as well as stronger, more flexible cloth, according to Rusty Preisendorfer.

"We are always after faster, lighter, stronger, with optimum flex," he explains. "The customer has to be prepared to pay for the costs of new technologies, unless they are made in Asia," he adds.

Rusty is experimenting with some technical constructions, such as Hydroflex and XTR--a closed-cell foam that is both extremely light and strong. Pyzel and …LOST also use these constructions. Pyzel says his favorite alternative is XTR hands down: "XTR rides similarly to a standard PU board, so it's easy to get used to."

Innnovation happens over time, points out Preisendorfer, and as these changes unfold, it has a ripple effect on the way our industry thinks about the overall art of crafting boards. Of such new, emerging technology, Preisendorfer says "it will affect design just as changing from wood to foam did," adding that most innovative ideas need to be championed by high-profile athletes before they are fully adopted by the industry.

He also believes that while these innovations have their place in progressing product, it is the sum of many small changes that will add up to increased performance and durability. Making the process more automated with design software and machines isn't necessarily "what's next," especially as our culture leans more toward a hand-crafted experience.

"There are a growing number of young 'shapers' that do not use a Skil planer,"Preisendorfer says. "It's too easy to 'borrow' a design from an experienced shaper and go to a DIY service. Machines and a good glass shop can make a rookie look pretty good, and with social media the cost of entry is zero." But, for those who have seen five decades of board shaping evolution like Preisendofer, this doesn't replace the level of experience and intuition developed over time.



The constant search for a more diverse board in has led to the rise of boards that can function well in a multitude of situations. Much like the trend we're seeing in snowboarding, surf shapers have been leaning toward boards that make the experience a fun, seamless one.

"Hybrids are taking over," says GSI's Mark Kelly. "They are more popular than ever before."

The Hypto Krytpo remains HaydenShapes' best-selling board, garnering recognition for its blend of modern performance features and traditional shape, as well as its versatility.

Firewire's best-selling shape is Daniel Thomson's EVO, a shorter, wider board with a rounded tail designed to perform well in a range of smaller to overhead waves. Thomson has become known for his experimental approach to surfboard design, utilizing elements of boards that work well to create the most efficient experience in the water.

Surf Ride's Ennis has seen this shift at the retailer's SoCal locations. "We are still doing quite well with the 'Fishy,' in-between boards," he confirms, with best-sellers ranging from the EVO, …Lost's Puddle Jumper, SUPERbrand's Fling, and Channel Islands' Mini and Hi-5.

Rusty concurs: "For the last 10 plus years, we have seen a steady increase in practical and user-friendly designs that are geared for getting maximum enjoyment in everyday conditions," Preisendorfer says, adding that the brand still sells "quite a few boards that are geared for better surf," like the Blackbird and Slayer.

For the last 10 plus years, we have seen a steady increase in practical and user-friendly designs that are geared for getting maximum enjoyment in everyday conditions," Rusty Preisendorfer


The fin market is creating buzz, particularly around the 5-fin set up: "It may be 50 percent or more of the boards we build now," says Biolos.

Shapers like Pyzel and Preisendorfer agree that the recent explosion of the 5-fin option has helped grow business and improve the overall consumer experience. "A lot of customers aren't sure and want to understand how the different fin configurations work," says Preisendofer.

For Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina's Sweetwater Surf Shop, fins are the most consistent hardgood in terms of sales, according to manager Spencer Lem, who points to new templates and systems that have recently been introduced. "Plus, it's much cheaper and easier to try a new set of fins than a board," he says.

Most recently Sweetwater has been doing well with Futures Blackstix and Generations lines, and has seen an uptick in interest around the tool-less FCS 2 system.



The future looks "narrow and deep" for surf hardgoods, according to Biolos. He sees a trend of quality over quantity, and

"retailers doing a better job, slowly being able to raise prices a bit, and being rewarded with bigger margin."

It's no secret that online sales are gaining traction, yet all of the brands we spoke with are still finding ways to support the foundational brick and mortar locations.

Rusty and …LOST host specialty retail events to connect with customers one-on-one, and Biolos says he personally visits dozens of retailers annually, alongside the band's reps, team riders, and marketing crew.

"We also invite a few retailers down to our factory each summer and take them on a tour, and then for a surf and lunch," he adds.

The meetings give them time to hear direct from their customers, and discuss ideas and innovation around surfboard design and construction.

Firewire's Price says it's up to brands and retailers to maintain the culture we have created, especially as surfing prepares to grow on the world stage through major athletes, large-scale contests, wave pool technology, and the sport's impending inclusion in the Olympics. Still, he doesn't see the need for a local retailer disappearing anytime soon due to the regional nature of consumer demand: "Not many Surfboards are being sold in Ohio," he points out.

"That shop experience is something we really value as a culture and sport--our customers want to put the board under their arm, they want to see the bottom contours, rocker, they want to feel it," says Price. "Of course, times change and it will evolve as the general market is doing, but probably never quite to the same degree."