Why are we not building surfboards and ships?

Why are we not building surfboards and ships?

Oct 01, 2021

The shortage of fibreglass and resin, important materials for surfboard building, boat construction and swimming pool manufacturing affects the nautical industry. 

Swimming pool construction has slowed down drastically. Surfboard manufacturers are disappointing customers who want to jump right into the water, and new boats have waiting lists that go on for months. The culprit: fibreglass. 

These materials reinforce and waterproof the underlying foam core of surfboards. This light and shiny material, used in many common outdoor products has grown the international commerce, and this has only increased prices and slowed down the process. 

hand holding a surfboard

Why are these materials important?

Fibreglass is manufactured by getting filaments from glass, and these are measured in microns  and then combined and woven in different ways. Some pool manufacturers exclusively use fibreglass, while most surfboards include a foam core that is surrounded by fibreglass and resin. Moreover, a ship’s hull is made from these compound materials. 

Manufacturers have been experiencing a shortage of fibreglass and liquid vinyl ester resin. These have gotten expensive and are hard to find. Different factors have contributed to the disruption in the supply-chain of fibreglass and resin. These drive-up the cost and demand for these materials. 

“It is very, very painful to have to tell people that they can’t run their businesses because you can’t give them raw materials, nor can you refer them to anybody else that can,” -Kent Wooldrige, president of the UMMA (United Marine Manufacturers Association).

Related article: Do you know how to choose a custom surfboard for you?

man swimming on indoor swimming pool

There is a new tariff in town

An important factor is the USA’s 25% tariff placed on imported fibreglass cloth and resin. This means manufacturers who relied on cheap materials from China now cannot afford to import these materials at a low cost. 

Also, due to the tariffs imposed by the USA government pushed chinese manufacturers to deviate their supply towards the internal commerce as well as increasing their exportation prices. Moreover, China has started to prioritize these materials for eolic systems that generate sustainable energy. As the turbine blades are made of fibreglass, the material is being sent to manufacturers in this industry. 

“Surfboards that used to cost $750 are now going for around $1000 - a price supported by loyalty to a brand that dates to 1970. Companies with shorter track records and lesser known brands might not be able to command those premiums.” -Bloomberg. 

white boat docked

Storms hold back fibreglass and resin

Suppliers are overwhelmed by the new tariffs. Moreover, Texas suffered a winter storm this year that affected its electricity infrastructure and shut down key chemical manufacturing plants in Houston. This forced two of the United States biggest epoxy producers - Olin Corp and Hexion Inc. - to pause production. 

Considering the cost of other raw materials, labor and shipping containers, what used to cost around $2000 now has gone to over $20,000. This has forced many recreational-product distributors and retailers to be unable to restock inventory. 

This has led manufacturers to try to import more materials from Southeastern Asian countries, as these are not affected by the higher tariffs. However, it is a slow process that leads customers to pay more. 

Finally, the pandemic increased the hardships of the supply chain when the chinese manufacturers of fibreglass closed up. This skyrocketed the global demand for these products. Hopefully now that we are slowly recovering from the impact of the pandemic, prices for fibreglass and resin go down. 

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