A.J. Finan In A Vacuum

CoreVac: Vacuum Bagging To A New Level

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A.J. Finan is a 30-something shaper from Melbourne Beach, Florida. With twenty years of shaping experience to his name, and an engineering degree from the University Of Central Florida, A.J. and his label Cannibal surfboards have become a solid fixture in surf shops up and down the Eastern seaboard. In certain situations though, shaping can lend itself to a monotonous, industrial-like process—mowing foam to fill orders and nothing more.

In 2006 A.J. began tinkering with new board constructions, as any curious mind constantly on hyper-drive tends to do. Most summers he loads a U-Haul trailer packed with boards and makes the trek up I-95, stopping at every one of his accounts. On this particular trip, when he arrived at the Surf Shack in Ship Bottom, New Jersey he emerged from humidity appearing to be hopped up on even more Red Bulls than normal, going a mile-a-minute about “vacuum bagging.”

He had found a new vigor for shaping, as what began with one vacuum bagged board (actually a half carbon fiber, half polyester concoction), four years later has transformed his entire production over to vacuum bagging and away from polyurethane. The creation of his new vacuum bagging company, CoreVac, has moved surfboards to what he believes are the fastest, most durable, lightest, and efficient quite possibly on this Earth by creating a controllable environment within the bag to get the most out of higher-grade materials. We attempted to get into the mind behind these potential game changers.—Ryan Brower


Explain how your vacuum bagging technique is different from the way a board is traditionally made and glassed.

A.J. Finan: We shape it just like a normal board—we’ve got myself, Rich Price, Jeff Haney, and a few other guys doing the shaping. So we get a standard board shaped or off the machine, and we take that and do nothing else to it except for bagging it.
The bagging technique is really what took me three years to refine. And that’s where I guess the gist of it is. They’re made from a conglomeration of synthetic materials, a much higher strength of aerospace fiberglass, synthetics that comprise durability as well as abrasive resistance. We use a lot of cross-weaves, which are bi-directional glasses. Straight up and down weave is just incredibly weak. We’re all about what vectors are covered, what directions of possible breaking points are covered. And when we bag a board we flatten the fibers, which makes them straighter and incredibly stronger than they’re even rated at.

What about resin?

On a regular board it’s all based on 50 percent resin, 50 percent fiber. We’re based on about 75 percent fiber and 25 percent resin. You get a better board when there’s less resin because the resin is the weakest link. Plus, we’re getting three boards per gallon of resin. It usually takes about ¾ of a gallon per board and we’re getting three boards out of one gallon.

Approximately 99% of the foam that does not go directly into the surfboard is taken back by the manufacturer here in the States to be recycled. The other 1% AJ inhales while shaping.

Approximately 99% of the foam that does not go directly into the surfboard is taken back by the manufacturer here in the States to be recycled. The other 1% AJ inhales while shaping.

What makes resin the weakest link in the shaping process?
If the temperature changes in your factory by one degree the resin will shrink differently, so you get a different shape every time. Our boards get bagged down in position, it can’t move. A typical poly you can’t get the same board twice. Not because the guy didn’t shape the same board twice, but because resin shrinks every day. We can get the same board and the same quality, or we can adjust. So if you want more rocker in the tail we jump the position of it or switch trays on your board.

How does all that translate out in the water?

Basically it just takes less energy to create more speed—you don’t have to pump as hard. And if it takes less energy you can focus more on the controls, technique, all extra things besides generating speed. If you wanna be there, you’re there. They’re that fast, that much quicker, and they’re that easy. It’s basically a shell construction. So when you’re loading up the front foot, since its all shell, you’re dispersing that energy throughout the whole deck of the board, to the bottom, through the rails, and it just spreads the energy.

All the benefits aside, what have been the biggest limitations of these?

Getting all these quantifiable benefits across to the surfers and into the shops. But I think we’re ready. We can finally produce twenty boards a day. The key is most people who get into bagging build one, two boards a week. We’re building 15 to 20 boards a week, every week. If you can get into ten a day like we used to build with polys, then you’re making it worthwhile. Plus, you have to be very precise in your approach, and the materials are obviously a bit costlier.

What was the spark for the complete divergence away from typical materials for you?

Shapers have been relegated to using crap, cheap fibers. We were always getting beat down, not able to command more money for what we were doing. So I started focusing on the guys who had money. And now it’s the guys that don’t have money that realize they can get a board that lasts two more years—they don’t have to fix dings all week long. Some of our boards out there that have been under a rippers feet for a year and a half and don’t have a ding. They’ll buy this stuff because it’s got value. A board with better value and a better ride.
For more info on CoreVac, head to cannibalsurf.com/boards.html.

Florida pro surfer Zander Morton attests to the lighter, stronger, faster capabilities of CoreVacs. Photo: Miller

Florida pro surfer Zander Morton attests to the lighter, stronger, faster capabilities of CoreVacs. Photo: Miller