Edison Conner and Parker Borneman, founders of Varial Surfboards
About 10 years ago, lifelong Santa Barbara surfer Edison Conner was studying materials science and engineering at the University of Pennsylvania when he came across a type of lightweight, super-strong foam. It had historically been used in aerospace technology, but Conner saw something that so many rocket scientists had overlooked: the potential to create a space-age surfboard.
Conner dedicated himself to studying the applications of the foam, as well as other aerospace materials, in surfboard design. Upon graduation he was awarded a grant from UPenn, and after enlisting lifelong friend and finance expert Parker Borneman, Varial Surf Technology was born.
“When we got started, the first design that we worked on had an aluminum honeycomb core with high-modulus foam in the rails,” says Conner. “It was 70 times stronger and much lighter than a regular polyurethane core, and it had more-responsive flex characteristics. It was as high performance as it gets.”
During the R&D phase, every surfer who tested out an aluminum-core board gave very positive feedback, and Conner and Borneman believed the new materials were a quantum leap for surfboards. But the cost of producing and distributing a wide range of shapes proved too great for the fledgling company; only a small number of aluminum-core boards were ever made, and even fewer sold. To keep Varial afloat, Borneman took a job at an investment bank and Conner was hired to design rocket parts for the aerospace company SpaceX.
“Our goal has always been to revolutionize the surfboard market through new materials,” says Borneman. “But it was clear that aluminum honeycomb wasn’t the best starting point, so we looked into other options.”
They shifted their focus away from the honeycomb and toward the high-modulus foam that they had been using in the rails. By making their cores entirely out of the foam, they could produce blanks that were still seven times more rigid, 20 percent lighter, and twice as strong as a standard PU board. And with the added strength, stringers were unnecessary, allowing blanks to have more consistent flex characteristics.
“What’s cool about the high-modulus foam compared to the aluminum honeycomb is that it’s something that shapers can process like any other blank,” says Conner. “But the boards that they make out of it have performance and durability that far exceeds polyurethane and polystyrene.”
Conner left SpaceX in 2013, and both he and Borneman have been fully committed to Varial ever since. They’ve spent the last year working closely with Surf Prescriptions’ Jeff “Doc” Lausch and his team riders in order to fine tune their foam formula, and they are now making high-modulus blanks for ...Lost Surfboards, Rusty, and SUPERbrand, among others. Although Conner and Borneman believe that Varial foam is definitely a step in the right direction, they think the most high-performance craft are still to come.
“We haven’t given up on the aluminum honeycomb,” says Borneman. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but I think these materials will change the way people look at surfboards.”
The Argentine-born New York-bred film-wielding madcap
Argentine-born New York surfer Tin Ojeda has a knack for making provocative pictures. His first short surf film, Kook Paradise, was a mockumentary poking fun at the Montauk surf scene through cheeky Bruce Brown–style voiceovers. In 2013 Ojeda made Daughter, featuring black-and-white surf footage laced with surreal images of a man reading a flaming newspaper, mannequin heads being hurled against a wall, and unmanned surfboards flying through the sky. Ojeda’s latest film is called Expencive Porno Movie, and although he claims there won’t be as much nudity as the title might suggest, it’s sure to be stimulating nonetheless.
SRFR: What’s your background working with film?
TO: I started making little videos with my friends when I was a kid growing up in Argentina, just shooting stuff on VHS tapes. When I came to the States I worked on music videos and some skateboarding videos. It was almost always digital, and I really wanted to make something with real film, but it was so expensive. When I made Daughter, I just said, “Fuck it” and spent all my money on Super 8 film. It was cool, but in the end I wasn’t really happy with the Super 8 quality. It looked sort of homemade, so I wanted my next project to be different.
How many innocent surfboards were destroyed in the making of Daughter?
[Laughs.] We went through a few. My buddy had a bunch of old boards that were past their prime, so we decided to paint different messages on them and throw them into the air. I liked the way the shots came out, but the boards got trashed.
So your new movie is going to have a very different vibe?
It’s going to be way different. Before I made Daughter, I was really into Jim Jarmusch films, like Dead Man, which was a really dark black-and-white film. So I wanted to make a black-and-white film that kind of fused art and surfing. But when I was done I immediately wished I had shot it in color. Surfing is such a beautiful thing to watch, and the colors of the ocean and the sky are very powerful. I got a lot of old 16mm film off of eBay for my new movie and it looks much better. There’s so much more detail, but it still has that warm, grainy feel. I always loved the look of the old George Greenough and Paul Witzig movies, and those were all in 16mm.
Where did you shoot the new movie?
There’s one scene in New York, but the film is mostly California. I went from Santa Barbara to San Diego and scored a lot of iconic waves and a few lesser known spots with some really amazing surfers. Right when I was about to head back to New York, the swell picked up and we started getting perfect Santa Ana winds, so I changed my ticket and scored the best footage of the movie over just a few days. It was 6 foot and offshore all day—just totally perfect.
The title is a little unexpected.
[Laughs.] I had made this T-shirt that said “Expencive Porno Movie” on it, and later I realized that would be a great name for my surf movie. After all, shooting in 16mm made it really expensive to make, and it is surf porn, or wave porn, or whatever people call it. I understand that it’s a bit misleading, though, because there’s no one having sex in it.
The 2014 Coldwater Classic Champ on winning the event and a new sponsorship
"Honestly, I haven’t even really been able to take it all in yet. Before this, I was actually setting up some job interviews and thinking that I might surf my last events in Hawaii this winter. Obviously this event win means a pretty big change of plans for me, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s hard to walk away from your dreams, so I’m stoked to have an opportunity to continue being a professional surfer."
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Shaper Marcio Zouvi breaks down Filipe Toledo's winning board from the 2014 US Open.