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A Complete Guide to Buffing a Surfboard
Published: September 9, 2021
A surfboard is a relatively light, narrow plank that is strong enough to support a person standing on it while riding a wave. Surfboards were invented in ancient Hawaii, where they were called papa he’e nalu in the Hawaiian language. They were usually made of wood from local trees and were often 15 feet long and very heavy. Over the years, major advances have been made, including the addition of one or more fins to the bottom rear of the board to improve directional stability, as well as numerous improvements in terms of shape and materials.
Today, surfboards are made of polyurethane or polystyrene foam and covered with layers of fiberglass cloth, polyester, or epoxy resin to result in a light and strong surfboard that is maneuverable and buoyant.
Reginald Sainsbury of Torpoint invented the polystyrene surfboard in 1960 while working for the Poron Insulation company, which was looking to expand into the leisure industry.
Carbon fiber and kevlar composites have been included in the recent development of surfboard technology, as well as experimentation in ecologically friendly and biodegradable resins obtained from organic sources.
If you are ready to invest in your own surfboard, you have to know how to choose the best board. And if you are making your own or want to maintain its shine and smoothness, you might want to read along.
Surfboard Types and Sizes
- 9’ and above
- Comes in single fin, tri-fin, and even thruster
- Very stable and stylish
- Great for beginners but also anyone looking to improve their level
- More adapted for trimming down the line, making smooth arcing turns rather than pumping and aerial maneuvers
Midsize or Funboard
- 7’ to 8’6” long
- Comes in any kinds of fin configurations, including quad or thruster
- Stable and has a high volume for high wave counts
- For small, weak swells and anyone looking to get more maneuverability compared to that provided by a longboard
Hybrid, Fish and Groveler
- 5’ to 6’11
- Comes in thruster, quad, or twin fins
- Short and maneuverable boards that are great for smaller, weaker waves
- Regardless of how weak the waves are, these shortboards are still a good option
- The traits of these boards improves their performance in small, mushy waves
- Great daily drivers for anyone looking to fit in a few sessions before or after work
- 4’8 to 6’6 in length
- Comes in thruster or quad fins
- These boards are thin, short with a pointy nose for maximum maneuverability in high-quality waves
- For advanced riders in powerful and high-quality waves
- For aerial maneuvers, tube riding, and competitions
- For anyone who wants maximum maneuverability and control
- Difficult to manage in less ideal conditions and for first-time riders
Step-up Boards and Gun Surfboards
- 6’6 to 11’
- Comes in thruster or quad fins
- Longer versions of performance boards to allow more stability in massive waves
- Similar to midsize and longboards in length and resembles shortboards
- More adapted to monster swells
- Fiberglass Surfboards
This is a classic, high-performance construction method for shaping surfboards wherein a shaper takes a foam base with a wooden stringer for rigidity and flex, and then, wraps it in a fiberglass weaved cloth before smothering it in resin. These boards can be somewhat fragile. Therefore, they should be treated with care when out of the water and kept in a protective bag or cover if possible. Denting on the deck is somewhat normal as your body weight and foot pressure can compress the foam. However, cracks need to be cared for and repaired to prevent waterlogging, which results in killing the board’s buoyancy.
In exchange for the fragility is the most beautiful surfboard construction with great flex patterning and exceptional performance.
- Epoxy Surfboards
Epoxy boards are the most common substitutes for traditional fiberglass boards. Those, instead of a thin resin coating, get a hard epoxy treatment. As a result, it dampens the board’s ability to flex in its maximum capacity but handles bouncing around in your car quite a bit better.
- Foam or Cork Surfboards
Foam surfboards are made of durable, soft, closed-cell foam to wrap the deck and rails and are great for keeping your chest from chafing while providing heaps of buoyancy. These boards are also low-maintenance as they do not require waxing and polishing.
- Lib Tech Surfboard Construction
The teams at LibTech also happen to be cold water fanatics, hence why they have taken what they know from the snowboard world and made some interesting applications to surfboards. They are using eco-friendly construction to create ultra-durable versions of lost surfboards’ shapes.
Here is how to determine how much volume a surfboard should have based on your level and body weight.
|Beginner||Whitewater/learning the basics||2L|
|Beginner to Intermediate||Paddling out/straight riding||3L|
|Intermediate||Shallow turns/trimming down the line||4L|
|Advanced||Aggressive top to bottom surfing||5+ L|
Surfboard Nose Shapes
The front half and the nose of the surfboard indicates how the board will perform when paddling because the nose of the board is the first thing that comes in contact with incoming water. Boards with a pointed nose shape help reduce drag by cutting through the water when paddling and also reduce swing weight when performing turns.
- Rounded Nose
- Boards with this nose shape are more buoyant and allow for more efficient paddling.
- Pointed Nose
- Boards with a pointed nose reduce drag and lower swing weight.
Rounded and wider noses are for increasing overall volume and buoyancy to be able to lift the surfer and board out of the water and allow for more efficient paddling.
Surfboard Tail Shapes
The tail and back half of a surfboard indicate how the board surfs while you are up on your feet and riding. The shape of the tail dictates how much the board’s rail is in the water while you are standing. Therefore, when a board has lots of rail engagement, it results in a lot of stability and lift, but also means that it is difficult to initiate a turn.
In addition, wider tails are more voluminous, providing lift in the wave, which can be great for small waves. Meanwhile, in larger and more powerful surf, a narrower tail is preferable. Furthermore, the width of the back half of the board contributes to the board’s rail-to-rail maneuverability.
All in all, this will give you an idea of how to think of tail shapes.
- Surfboards with pin tails are likely to have less volume and less rail engagement, which means more control in powerful waves and poor performance in weak waves.
- A wide squash tail helps generate lift and speed in weak waves and will not provide optimum maneuverability on big and powerful waves.
- Swallow tails are a bit of a hybrid because they have the rail profile of a wider tail but a cutout that provides a volume closer to that of a pintail, which allows you to dig into a wave and pivot your turns.
How are surfboards made?
Before buffing or polishing your surfboard, let us give you an idea of how it is made.
- Decide on a design – determine what type and shape of board you want to make.
- Start making a stringer – it is a piece of wood that runs through the middle of the surfboard.
- Glue the stringer between the foam – this is to give the board some flex and durability.
- Remove bulk foam – do this to make a rough surfboard blank.
- Make a rough shape – this way, you can trace your surfboard template.
- Cut out your template.
- Shape the blank and refine to make sure everything is even.
- Start marking and shaping the rail bands.
- Shape the type of surfboard bottom that you prefer.
- Rough shape the rail bands and remove excess foam to sharpen and smoothen everything.
- Set up the fin system.
- Install fin boxes.
- Seal the foam to avoid too much resin absorption and fill any holes and gouges.
- Before glassing, you can add some artwork. Make sure you use water-based paints.
- Glass your surfboard with the appropriate type of resin or fiberglass.
- Laminate or glass your surfboard.
- Trim and sand, and then, apply a coat of resin on the deck, bottom, and rails.
- Install the fin box, leash plug.
- Sand the hot coat.
- After this, you are ready to gloss-coat, sand, and polish.
Surfboard Finishing Phase
When constructing a surfboard, the final step will not only affect its appearance but will also impact how the board moves over the water or vice versa. It also influences the overall weight and strength of the board.
The most common final step in the sanding and glassing phase is the hot-coat, which is necessary to fill any gaps in the fiberglass weave that is left behind during lamination. This coating creates a stronger and smoother finish, which will prevent water from wicking into the foam and weave over time.
You can always otto finish a surfboard by sanding the hot coat or continuing with a gloss coat.
Here is some information about the finishing phase:
- Final weight: The more resin layers you add, the heavier the surfboard will be.
- Strength and ding-resistance: The more resin you put, the more ding and damage-resistant the board will be.
- Appearance: The surfboard finish determines whether it has a more shiny or matte appearance.
- Water flow and friction: The finish affects how water flows over the surfboard. Generally speaking, a totally smooth surface is going to be slower through the water because it creates direct friction between the material surface and water molecules. On the other hand, a slightly textured (usually microscopic) and rougher surface will pick up a layer of water that will allow water to flow over it, rather than the material itself, which makes for more or less speed.
Different types of surfboard finish
- Sanded Hot Coat
This is the lightest surfboard finish option, which is commonly used on high-performance shortboards to be able to keep its weight down as much as possible. Surfboards with only a sanded hot coat will be more fragile and more prone to pressure bumps and dings.
- Sanded Gloss Coat
This is essentially the hot coat step but repeated. The hot coat on the board is sanded, plus an additional application of a little more resin. Once the resin cures, it is sanded up to about 400 to 600 grits. This type of finish adds a little more weight, strength, and ding resistance. It also creates less friction with water than a completely smooth finish.
- Polished Gloss Coat
A polished gloss coat starts with some sanding as well but finishes with a polishing compound. It is then polished until it shines. This results in a nice glossy, smooth finish that is perfect for a classic log or retro shape. The boar’s smooth surface creates more friction with the water, but with enough weight on the board, you’re probably not going to tell the difference.
How to gloss polish a surfboard?
Essentially, gloss coats are a second layer of hot coat that is fine sanded, compounded, and then, polished to a shine. They are typically found on longboards and retro-style boards, where weight isn’t really a factor.
If you are making a longboard, opaque pigmented board, or tinted board, the colors will truly pop once glossed and polished. This process requires some special materials and tools because glossing/polishing epoxy has always been considered more difficult than doing it on polyester resin. However, you can also get a nice shine on epoxy using a few high-grit sandpapers before switching to your compounding bonnet.
- BRUSH ON YOUR GLOSS COAT
The process for applying your gloss coat is pretty similar to that of applying a hot coat. Since your board already has a smooth, sanded hot coat, all you need is a little bit less resin for your gloss coat. Still, use about 1 oz. of mixed material per foot of the surfboard length, and don’t forget to add two capfuls of Additive F to help the resin flow evenly on your board. Like hot-coating, you want to tape off the rails using a high-temp masking tape to keep drips from running down the rail. Additionally, if you aren’t satisfied with the sharpness of the board’s tail edge, you can use a gloss coat as a second chance to square it up using a small tape-dam in that area.
A useful tip while glossing is to use a razor blade to scrape off the bump of epoxy that is left along the tape border once the epoxy has set and is no longer tacky. It is easier to scrape off a small line of epoxy once it is soft (but not sticky). Do this twice, after you have glossed each side of the board, to make your final sanding/polishing step easier.
- FINE-SAND THE GLOSS COAT
Once the gloss coat has cured, the board should have a nice, shiny flat finish and be ready to sand. Because of lots of rough sanding on the hot coat, start sanding the gloss coat with higher grits. Most start with 320 grits to remove the shiny surface first.
Make sure to keep your sandpaper as clean as possible, and then, brush the buildup off with a wire brush. When you finish sanding the shine away, work your way up with progressively higher grits of sandpaper, where each grit removes the scratches left by the previous grit.
After 320 grits, move to 400, still using your power sander. You may also opt for wet-sanding at this stage. From the 400 grits, you may want to switch to hand-sanding using a soft to medium sanding pad. This should be the progression of grits: 600, 800, 1000, and 1,200.
Wet-sand all of these grits to help keep the sandpaper clean and cutting evenly. Run your sanding pad from nose to tail and tail to nose during these steps. Remember to avoid going rail to rail or in circles as you are only trying to remove the fine scratches from the previous grit.
Once you’ve finished wet-sanding to 1,200, it’s time to bring out your compounding liquid wool compounding bonnet. You should use your variable speed sander or polisher for these final stages. The goal here is to spread the compound on the board and spread it around while it is still in a liquid state. Work in sections with the compound, spread it around, and buff the board until the compound dries. Once the section is dry, move on to the next section, and finally, when all of the sections are dry, buff off the compound with your polisher or sander. Do not forget the rails. Cover the entire board with the compound. You can do so with the power polisher for there is no need to hand-compound at this stage. Once the compound is buffed off, you should hand-wipe the entire board with a microfiber cloth to remove any compound residue before you start with the polishing stage.
The final step in the process. To polish your surfboard, use a surfboard polish with a finer grit and foam polishing pad. Besides these two products, the polishing step is essentially similar to the compounding one. Remember to work section by section without forgetting the rails. Once the polish has dried, buff your surfboard with your polisher to bring it back to its original post-gloss shine. At this stage, take one final pass with a microfiber cloth, and you are done and ready to surf.
How to clean an old dirty surfboard?
To lengthen the life of your surfboard and keep it in great shape, you have to clean it from time to time to be able to prevent further damage. Rinse your board and wipe it down after each use because saltwater can really take a toll on the surfboards’ integrity. Thus, doing so helps prevent degradation and scaling from happening.
- Wax comb
- Special surfboard cleaner
- Warm water
- Coconut oil
- Put your surfboard near sunlight to soften the wax. If it’s a rainy or cloudy day, use a hairdryer. Remember not to apply too much heat, whether from the sun or an artificial source, to avoid unwanted damages.
- Create diagonal cuts using a wax comb. This technique is used to remove the wax more easily. Once done, flip the comb and use the sharp and straight end to remove or scrape the wax.
- Pour warm water over your surfboard to soften the remaining wax, and wipe it with a warm, damp cloth.
- Apply a surfboard cleaning spray/solution. Remove all the noticeable wax by spraying an even coat across the whole board. It is best to follow the instructions written on the cleaning spray/solution. After the suggested time has transpired, wipe your board down.
- Wipe down your surfboard with coconut oil. If desired, you can wipe a coat of coconut oil to give some more conditioning to the board, plus a nice, glossy coat. Let it dry and apply a fresh coat of wax or finishing spray.
How often should I wax my surfboard?
One of the most important gears required in surfing is wax, which can spell the difference between a great session and a wipeout. Waxing your surfboard will give you the ability to stay on your board through the waves.
Every surfer has their own opinion regarding how often to use wax and the types of wax they prefer. But, it is best to wax your surfboard before every surf session. While this can be a personal decision, the wax will let you stay and control your board.
Fully clean your board and re-wax it every 2 to 3 months or 4 to 6 times per year, and top it up before every surf session. Doing so will provide you with more grip to give your body enough friction to pop up and stick your board.
Wax is the only tool to keep your feet connected to the surfboard when you are out on the water. Without it, you will just slip off. You also need to remember that this wax can get dirty over time and lose its ability to provide traction. Thus, you have to avoid topping it up over and over as it will end up in a thick mess with less grip.
To make the best out of your sessions, replace your wax every couple of months by fully stripping the old wax and applying a new layer.
What causes surfboards to turn yellow?
White surfboards tend to turn yellow due to exposure to UV radiation. The surfboard’s resin and foam can slowly turn yellow if it has been under the sun for an extended period. However, most poly resins have a UV filter additive to protect themselves and the foam from UV damages. But, even if the resin has this additive, the board’s foam can still turn yellow eventually. Prolonged exposure to the sun can speed up this process. The board’s resin can also turn from white to yellow over time, but not as fast as when the foam is exposed to direct sunlight.
With this, we can say that exposure to heat and sunlight can degrade all surfboards over time, whether with or without UV stabilizers and inhibitors. Although it does not look pretty, yellowing does not necessarily mean that your board should be thrown out.
Pay attention to yellowing spots as it means the foam on that area might have gotten wet and may indicate possible delamination. At this point, the board needs a repair.
To prevent a surfboard from turning yellow, do not leave it under the sunlight after surfing. Rinse it with fresh water, cover it, and place it in a surfboard sack or board bag. Store your board in a dimly lit corner.
Polishing and buffing your surfboard can give it a fresh, smooth, and shiny look, while cleaning, waxing, and keeping it out of the sunlight when not in use can preserve this spick-and-span look and make your surfboard last for more years.
Also, a surfboard may come as a huge investment because of the benefits that surfing offers. That is why we recommend you take care of your board so that you can use it longer and maybe even pass it to the next generation or anyone who needs one.