Dr. Ognjen Markovic Ophthalmologist and Specialist in Occupational Medicine will discuss with you the Health Hazards of Surf Materials.

The European Association of Surfing Doctors is providing scientific facts for the surfing community; these facts are focused on health and health risks of the sport and environment we love. Let me take you to another scientific journey taking a zoom at surfboard materials, uniting Occupational Medicine, Chemistry, Surf Board craftsmanship and Material science.

Building a surfboard is an art, in the beginning of the surfing sport reserved only for a few. Those of the surfing community remembering the days of wooden boards without leash attached, were living witnesses of the tremendous evolution of the surf industry and we salute them! With the development of new materials and the exponential growth of the surfing population, surfing has become an industry based on chemical-, textile- and plastic industry. The development of surfing materials brought entirely new possibilities for the sport and went from incredible to awesome, producing drop in´ s, turns and aerials never done before. But this development has brought to us also a huge number of new injuries and health risks.

In most minds the long past days are forgotten where a surfer would surf on organic materials. Since the 30´s by Otto Bayer and especially since 1953 following the discovering of polimerization of Polycarbonates by Herman Schnell, everything has gradually changed.

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So what is the state today? For todays surfing we are using a board, leash, fins, wax and sometimes wetsuits. All of these gadgets we use every day, but what is hidden behind the different names of materials and brands? The wetsuit topic we have written about in our prior article. http://www.surfingdoctorseurope.com/2012/12/22/the-wonder-of-wetsuits/

Surf Board Materials

The material which a surfboard is made of is generally based on the discoveries of thermoplasts.


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Products like resins or foams are included in this group making the most part of board materials, but also fins are made out of plastic evolving form polymer technology. A polymer is an assembly of small organic molecules called monomers. “Poly” means multiple, and “mono” means singular. So Polymersmeans many monomers. There are many possibilities to use polymers and create all sorts of different material and properties.

Polyurethane and Polyurethane Foam

Polyurethane can be polymerized into many different forms. The surfboard producing industry is interested and using polyurethane foam being light, strong, low cost and tolerant to polyester resin. Surfboard foams range in densities some foam at higher and lower densities depending on the application. Relevant polyurethane foams for the surfing industry we can divide in two types called:

  1. Toluene diisocyanate, TDI

  2. Diphenylmethane diisocyanate, MDI

Almost all surfboard producers use or used TDI foams compared to the rest of the commercial industry who prefers MDI foams. Recent studies are showing medical an environmental impact of TDI foams. Generally speaking dissocyanates are not the health friendlies compounds, containing cyanate being a chemical bond well known to bear health risks.

Although the health risks of TDI are starting to become obvious the advantages compared to MDI are better flexibility, durability, shaping properties as well as perfect alignment with used resins for the finish and so TDI is still very attractive for the surfboard industry.

Other foams are also used to make surfboards like EPS and polyethylene (PE). EPS is commonly used with epoxy resins due to the fact that polyester resins dissolve polystyrene and PE foam is a material used for soft board products like boogie boards and soft surfboards.

Health Hazards of surfboard foams

Starting with the dissocyanates: which share a fundamental health issue causing asthma (1,2), under the olfactory (smelling) threshold. But also connections to carcinogenicity (cancer inducing) of TDI is discussed and evaluated (3) as well as the modification of immune system produced by these substances. (4)

There are also more simple, but very important examples showing the inaptitude of used materials. The experience of the longest serving surf teacher in Europe and Scout of the EASD, Tim Jones show us that one of the most common surf injuries in surfing beginners is skin abrasion by soft board covers.

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Producing unnecessary pain and injuries especially unpleasant in a water sports. The EASD is working on the answers for these problems! New and more appropriate materials and improvements of used materials are being assessed hoping to inspire the surfing industry to produce even better and healthier products.

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1.) Mechanism of E-cadherin redistribution in bronchial airway epithelial cells in a TDI-induced

asthma model. Song J, Zhao H, Dong H, Zhang D, Zou M, Tang H, Liu L, Liang Z, Lv Y, Zou F, Cai S.

Toxicol Lett. 2013 Jun 20;220(1):8-14. doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2013.03.033. Epub 2013 Apr 6.

PMID: 23566898 [PubMed – in process]

2,) Asthma Symptoms and Specific IgE Levels among  Toluene Diisocyanate (TDI) Exposed

Workers in Tehran, Iran.

Sharifi L, Karimi A, Shokouhi Shoormasti R, Miri S, Heydar Nazhad H, Bokaie S, Fazlollahi

MR, Sadeghniiat Haghighi K, Pourpak Z, Moin M.

Iran J Public Health. 2013 Apr 1;42(4):397-401. Print 2013.

3.) Hypothesis-based weight-of-evidence evaluation of the human carcinogenicity of  toluene


Prueitt RL, Rhomberg LR, Goodman JE.

Crit Rev Toxicol. 2013 May;43(5):391-435. doi: 10.3109/10408444.2013.790877. Epub 2013

May 15.

PMID: 23675773 [PubMed – in process]

4.) Combination of Leukotoriene Receptor Antagonist With Antihistamine Has an Additive

Suppressive Effect on the Up-regulation of H1-Receptor mRNA in the Nasal Mucosa of

Toluene 2,4-Diisocyanate-Sensitized Rat.

Kuroda W, Kitamura Y, Mizuguchi H, Miyamoto Y, Kalubi B, Fukui H, Takeda N.

J Pharmacol Sci. 2013 May 18;122(1):55-8. Epub 2013 Apr 25.

PMID: 23615224 [PubMed – in process]


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