From fishing rods and hockey sticks to recreational vehicles (RV) and bicycles, many types of sporting equipment have benefited from the light weight and high performance of composites for decades.

The growth of composites in sporting equipment is also expected to continue growing. According to the most recent sporting goods market report published by market research firm Lucintel (Irving, Texas, U.S.) in June 2020, the use of composite materials in the global sporting goods industry is expected to reach an estimated $579 million by 2023 and is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 3.2% from 2018 to 2023. Opportunities exist in a range of products including surfboards, skis and snowboards, bicycles, rackets, golf clubs, hockey sticks and fishing rods. Carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) composites are expected to remain the largest segment over the forecast period, with glass fiber composites experiencing moderate growth as well. Over this period, Lucintel predicts that skis and snowboards will remain the largest application by volume and golf equipment the largest by value, with fishing rods seeing the most growth over the forecast period.

Alongside the mainstays of the composite sporting goods market, innovations include new material developments for the increasing need for high performance in elite sporting equipment, such as NAWA’s (Dayton, Ohio, U.S.) carbon nanotube (CNT)-enhanced composites used to heighten performance on racing bike wheels, or aircraft-grade, carbon fiber intermediate materials launched by Teijin Ltd. (Tokyo, Japan) specifically for increasing quality standards in sporting equipment like tennis rackets. Another example is startup company JUC Surf (Jan Juc, Australia), which was founded in 2020 to build composite surfboards from recycled carbon fiber manufacturing scrap.

In airsports, BMW Group sub-brand BMW i launched its first electrified human wingsuit in November 2020, which features 13-inch carbon fiber composite impellers.

In watersports, Cobra International (Cobra, Chonburi, Thailand), which is known for its sustainable technologies and products such as its CocoMat coconut fiber technology and bio-based surfboards, has also moved into electric foiling surfboard market with lightweight, high-performance, high-tech Fliteboards.

The boom in bicycles
Bicycles continue to be the highest-profile market for composites use. Driven by many factors, including a surge in popularity for outdoor sports among 2020’s COVID-19-induced shutdowns, demand for bicycles has gone up. According to several reports, the market has also seen an increase of more than 13% for premium carbon fiber frames, and this trend is expected to continue.

In 2019, Arevo (Milpitas, Calif., U.S.) unveiled the world’s first 3D-printed carbon fiber unibody production bike frame at Eurobike 2019 in Friedrichshafen, Germany. In 2020, the company launched Superstrata, a direct-to-consumer Silicon Valley-based bicycle brand, said to be the world’s first made-to-measure, 3D-printed bicycle with an impact-resistant unibody carbon fiber frame. Following these successes, in May 2021 Arevo debuted Scotsman, a new electric scooter brand whose flagship product is a custom 3D-printed, carbon fiber/thermoplastic composite electric kickscooter.

Growth in composite sports protective equipment
For years, composites have also found uses in specialty, high-performance athletic shoes and protective equipment such as helmets. Especially over the past year, a number of companies have reported new innovations and products in this area.

For example, startup Carbitex Inc. (Kennewick, Wash., U.S.) has developed and patented a flexible, thermoplastic carbon fiber plate technology that is used as shanks or other components in athletic footwear and trail shoes, and in athletic helmets, shoulder pads and beyond into medical brace applications. Covestro AG (Leverkusen, Germany) has announced several collaborations to use its carbon fiber-reinforced thermoplastic Maezio material to enhance components in running shoes, basketball shoes and more. In September 2021, Salewa (Bolzano, Italy) launched a new lightweight hiking boot made with a carbon fiber/thermoplastic composite frame and toecap with materials from Xenia Materials (Mussolente, Italy). And in October 2021, CRP Technology announced that its Windform SP carbon fiber-filled material is used in the outsole, midsole and ribbing for specialty Pleko track spikes.

Beyond shoes, composites are being used in efforts to produce stronger, more impact-resistant helmets for athletic activities. Recent developments include a reportedly cost-effective, composite-intensive helmet designed by a team of researchers from Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (Singapore), in collaboration with French specialty materials company Arkema (Colombes, France). Helicoid Industries Inc. (Indio, Calif., U.S.) is also researching and testing a lighter weight, more impact-resistant protective helmet inspired by biomimetic design.