Introduction: Electroluminescent & Glow-In-The-Dark Surfboard

About: I am a physicist, part time maker and electronics enthusiast. My projects revolve mainly around daily-use items, toys and decoration with a focus on unconventional mechanisms and high standard of design.

In my hometown riversurfing has a long tradition, people often also surf at night when the waves are less crowded. I always try to come up with new gear for night surfing like my surfboard LED strips and LED fins. In this project we made a "2001 - A Space Odyssey" themed surfboard for night surfing. The board lights up using electroluminescent (EL) panel and wire and glow-in-the-dark resin.


Step 1: Shaping the Blank

The surfboard blank was shaped from EPS by a fellow surfer who already made a few surfboards for himself. The board is quite small and optimized for riversurfing: 5'2"x18"x1.6"

On the bottom side dual tab fin boxes were added in a Thruster configuration.

Step 2: Laminating the Bottomside and Rails

We decided to laminate the backside and the rails with resin that was tinted with glow-in-the-dark pigment. The top side was protected with tape and then the backside and the rails were laminated with two layers of fiberglass closs and the tinted resin. The fin boxes were covered with two additional layers of fiberglass cloth for extra stability.

As you can see in the last picture there are some brighter and darker patches in the tinted resin. This probably due to insufficient mixing of the pigment and the resin but we don't really mind.

Step 3: Adding the EL Panel and Wire

The EL wire was cut to length and a cable with connector was soldered to one end. The cable on the EL panel was also cut to length. The picture on the EL panel consist of a transparent sticker that was carefully added to the panel. It shows a "2001 - A Space Odyssey" inspired drawing by Garry Brown.

Using a dremel tool I carved out a hole from the blank where the electronics will be mounted into an IP68 rated box. The box will sit under the tail pad. The EPS foam was removed completely all the way to the bottom glassing.

I also carved out a narrow line along the rail for the EL wire which was then attached using hot glue. The EL panel was fixed with double-sided tape.

For the cables I poked holes through the side wall of the box cutout and carved out a trench for the cable that goes to the EL panel. The trench was then covered with pieces of EPS foam to hide the black cable. Unfortunately, this is still visible after the glassing. Therefore, it might have been better to cut a narrow slight into the EPS and try to slide the cable underneath.

Step 4: Laminating the Top

The topside was also laminated with two layers of fiberglass cloth but using clear untinted resin. After that also the sidewalls of the box cutout were laminated so that there is no uncovered area of EPS where water could enter.

Step 5: Hot Coat and Top Coat

The fully laminated board was sanded and a layer of resin (so called "hot coat") was applied. Then the leash plug was added. Finally a second layer of resin was applied as top coat and the board was sanded again.

Step 6: Preparing the Electronics

I wanted to power everything with a single 18650 battery. The inverter of the EL wire came with two AA batteries (3V), i.e. it also runs happily directly from the Li ion battery (3.7V). The inverter of the EL panel needs 12V so I added a boost converter than can provide enough current (~2.5A). I removed the plastic cover from both inverters to make them fit into the IP68 box and fixed all the electronics on a 3D printed base plate. Both inverters use push buttons to skip between different modes of illumination (slow/fast blinking, "direction" of EL wire). These were replaced with IP68 rated buttons that were mounted into the lid of the box. In addition, an on/off button was placed between the battery and the electronics. All buttons in the lid are attached to the electronics with JST-SM connectors.

I also drilled holes in the sidewalls of the box for the cables to the EL wire and panel.

Step 7: Attaching the Electronics Box

The box with the electronics was placed into the cutout and the cables fitted through the holes in the sidewalls. The gap was then filled up with silicone. Finally, the cables to the EL panel and wire are again attached with JST-SM connectors.

After first use we noticed that there was water leaking inside the box through the holes in the sidewalls for the cables. Therefore, I later sealed them with epoxy resin.

Step 8: Adding the Tailpad

The idea was to hide the box under the tailpad. Unfortunately the box was a little bit to thick and sticking out, therefore I placed several layers of thick sticky tape around the box to even the height. The tail pad was then cut and attached to the lid of the box and the board.

I also decided to add a black "Space Odyssey" sticker to the bottom side of the board.

Step 9: Final Remarks

It was clear to me that this will not be a high performance surfboard. The board is a lot heavier than normal surfboards due to the electronics but also because the glassing turned out rather thick. However, when testing the board for the first time I was surprised that it performs quite good.

Some things to change in the future

  • have the box not sticking out of the board
  • custom smaller electronics
  • only single on/off switch
  • make the cable to the EL panel completely invisible
  • thinner glassing for reduced weight