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Introduction to Bamboo Theory

For the last 30 years I have been blessed with the input, vision and opportunity to follow my passion of Natural Fiber Composites - NFC. What was first envisioned while waiting in a gas line in the 1970’s is still valid today. Manmade, energy intensive and polluting materials are getting more expensive not only to our wallet, but to our health and the environment here on Test Tube Earth.

What I have developed is a system that results in light, strong, well performing environmental surfboards that allow shape changes. In other words, the Bamboo Surfboards by Gary Young of today are not molded.

I first put forth the “bamboo theory” as a surfboard skin in this brief Surfer’s Journal write-up in the mid 1990’s………. two years later I had built and was testing the first Bamboo boards.

Bamboo is becoming the darling of many green products today due to its natural beauty, inherent strength and potential sustainability. Independent testing has shown that bamboo/epoxy also has a much longer fatigue life than fiberglass/polyester laminates.

An amazing wealth of bamboo information is in “Bamboo, the Gift of the Gods” by Oscar Hildago-Lopez, available at www.bamboodirect.com. Be sure to check out page 186.

 

"BAMBOARD" - Bamboo prototypenumber 4 - March 1997, Big Island

 

2001 Top and middle: Bamboo veneer being shaved off.
Bottom: a bamboo culm in the machine ready for peeling.

When I say bamboo is “green” I mean it does not take much energy to prepare the bamboo fiber for laminating, as the 0.3 mm thick veneer air dries quickly. It can be cut into strips and woven into mats or used as a “uni-directional” fiber in laminates."

After over 10 years of bamboo board making, I would estimate that each layer of rotary bamboo veneer is roughly as strong as one layer of 4 ounce unidirectional fiberglass. Two layers of bamboo veneer with grains crossed, epoxy laminated and vacuum bagged uses less resin than a hand laid-up 8 oz. fiberglass. On bamboo NFC surfboard decks I use as many as five layers of bamboo in high stress areas. In the fin box area, up to three layers of bamboo are used.

From 1997, Packy Jones (L) and Gary (R) doing the “rocker flatten” on an 8’-10” bamboo stringerless woven bamboo # 4 (see previous photo of tail) that is still ridden today. Make sure there are no rocks (or sprinkler heads!) under the board. It is not suggested that you do this on a short board with a thin nose unless you stand 6 inches back from the tip.

 

These are truly “green” boards - the sanding dust is not itchy, the foam dust is recyclable, and the renewable bamboo fiber trimmings decompose into soil. Epoxy has very few volatile fumes, is stronger and is used more efficiently than polyester resin in regular boards. Very little epoxy winds up on the floor and very little acetone is used in cleanup.

Durability is often overlooked as an aspect of a green product. While it is true that rocks will always be stronger than a reasonable weight board, I pride myself in the lack of deck dents in a bamboo NFC surfboard - common with a comparable weight fiberglass board.

Cross Section - early BAMBOO SURFBOARDDS by Gary Young, circa 1999.
Overlapped rails, Extruded Polustyrene foam, five-layered bamboo deck, three layers on bottomm skins.

 

Ceviche Dave – look ma, no dents! ‘CD’ is rumored to soak his fish in lime and lilikoi juices. Kona 2006.

Fin box reinforcing techniques are unique – I use a higher strength Extruded Styrene (XPS) foam under the skin in the fin box areas that has a compressive strength six times higher than normal polyurethane foam.

While the rails are also hi-compressive strength Extruded Styrene foam, I have compromised a little compared to earlier bamboo board methods by using a small amount of fiberglass with epoxy on the rails which enhances flex, is easier to make, easier to repair and not quite so brutal if the rail thumps you when getting worked.

 

So if you do get a ding, it is ok to keep surfing but it is best to fix it properly as soon as possible if you want to minimize discoloration of the bamboo and prolong the life of your bamboo board....

Be aware that some are making “bamboo surfboards” with pre-laminated woven bamboo panels. Others are taking woven bamboo mats, gluing to foam and fiberglassing with polyester resin. If ANY other adhesive gets in between the epoxy and the bamboo, it will interrupt the bond and eventually delaminate. Polyester resin does NOT bond well to bamboo. Pre-laminated bamboo panels have water absorbing problems too, often due to funky, non-waterproof glues and voids.

Double Cross Section at fin box–BAMBOO SURFBOARDS, circa 2006. The three-layered bamboo-epoxy skin is recessed UNDER the Future fin box flanges for more strength. The fin box area is reinforced with hi-density foam and plywood, almost bulletproof. Rails are also hi-density foam.

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