You know right away when it happens. You're cranked deep into a turn or settling back to Earth after a brief episode cheating gravity, when you sense that sudden tug from below followed by a feeling like the anchor has just dropped. It's clear your deck has taken a hit. The question now becomes, do you take it to the local board medic or nurse it yourself?
Sometimes the situation is pretty cut and dry. Deep, gaping wounds accompanied by hanging sections of edge or shattered core sections generally require treatment by a trained professional with a practiced hand, specific materials, and specialized tools. But just about anything short of truly catastrophic can be handled in your home shop with a modest investment in equipment and practice.
To begin with, it's important to inspect the injured region closely and determine the true extent of the damage. Look for any signs of cracking along the edge and for any separation (delamination) between the edge and sidewall or cap section. Look closely at the actual area of damaged plastic (base material, usually referred to as P-tex). Does the damage extend through the base to the internal fiberglass or core? Examine the plastic immediately surrounding the wound. If it appears whiter than the surrounding healthy base, it has likely separated from the core and will have to be dealt with as well.
Using an X-acto or razor knife with a fresh blade, cut away any hanging or abraded plastic. Be sure to remove any of the previously mentioned white delaminated areas. Failure to pay attention to this detail will seriously weaken the final repair.
Once this debriding process is completed, it's time for the disinfectant. I think rubbing alcohol works best for this job as it's often readily available around the house, nontoxic, and leaves no residue. But remember, it is FLAMMABLE. So, douse your smokes and be sure the alcohol is well out of the way when we get to the point of using heat or open flame in the actual application of the repair. There are other nonflammable citrus-based degreasers available; look for them at a local hardware store.
If the damage extends all the way to the core or runs along the inside of the edge, a very thin layer of five- to fifteen-minute epoxy provides a substrate for the repair plastic to hang onto. Plastic will bond pretty well to itself, but it won't stick to steel, paint, or fiberglass. The epoxy provides the bond in these cases.
Okay, now it's time to fill the hole. But before diving in, wear something in front of your eyes and pull back that nappy ponytail; smelling your own hair burn is simultaneously disgusting and terrifying.
Different techniques and materials are used to repair plastic bases professionally. The quality and longevity of the repair depends on the method and your attention to detail. The most common in the home shop (yet not often used anymore in pro service shops) is the “drip candle” method, where a stick of plastic–a P-tex candle–is lit with a propane torch (don't use a butane lighter, it can explode in your hand) and dripped into the wound. It takes a little practice to accomplish clean repairs without leaving big chunks of carbon in the molten material. Carbon appears as black residue in clear plastic, weakening the repair job and making it look ugly.
The trick is to make the P-tex candle burn with a small, blue flame. This is achieved by holding the burning end of the candle close (within a couple millimeters) to the metal scraper held in your opposite hand. Place the scraper and burning candle right next to the base and actually drizzle the plastic into the damaged area. Avoid any yellow flame to prevent carbon from forming, and roll any incidental carbon chunks onto the metal scraper. With a little practice you'll become pretty adept; let's just hopee you don't have to practice too often.
The pro's choice is the extruder gun. This is a device that works like an electric glue gun, melting the P-tex without igniting it. By pressing the heated metal tip directly against the board's base and slowly squeezing the molten plastic into the damaged area, a “weld” of sorts (rather than a plug as in the drip method) is created. When the plastic is in the wound yet still molten, squish it tightly into the repair with the metal scraper. This is a much more durable and attractive repair, but it requires the purchase of the extruder (costing anywhere from 100 to 250 bucks, and available through pro-tuner repair suppliers, see sidebar) and the appropriate plastic repair sticks. It's a bit more of an investment, but well worth it if you really want the most inconspicuous and durable repairs.
Unless you're independently wealthy or are one of the dwindling tribe formerly known as paid pro snowboarders, it's a hateful feeling when you let a rock swat your deck. Being the actual medic who brings it back to health is a soul-cleansing process and can make you feel even closer to your pride and joy.
A lot of the e-mails I've been receiving have dealt with how to find the tools and supplies you need to dive into these Tech columns. Here are some of the suppliers I like to use; most do catalog sales.–C.D.
Alpine Tools alpinetools.com
Reliable Racing reliableracing.com
Sun Valley Ski Tools svst.com
Tognar Toolworks tognar.com