Wait…That’s Plastic? (Sports Edition)

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9 things you might not know are made with plastics.

World-class sports require world-class gear. Amateur or pro, you may be surprised how much you likely rely on a plethora of plastics to do your best.

Regardless your sport, you’re probably wearing plastic fibers.

Young woman jogging outside in sunny autumn forest. She took a break to rest and drink water. The sun is shining in the background .

Next time you’re in a sporting goods store, check out the labels on the shirts, shorts, leggings, and other sports clothing. Nylon, polyester, acrylic, lycra, spandex… all plastic fibers that make up today’s modern stretchy, comfy, sweat wicking fabrics. And swimmers and surfers—can you even find a cotton swimsuit these days? (Plus, check out most of the safety equipment: helmets, shin guards, mouth guards… pretty much all plastics.)

That amazing women’s gymnastics team? They’re flipping over plastics.

portrait of young gymnasts competing in the stadium

Know what the “floor” in the floor exercise competition is made with? Typically the base layer is comprised of springs attached to multiple panels of glass-reinforced plastics (usually called fiberglass). These panels are topped with layers of plastic foam and then carpeting made with plastic fibers. The combination gives the floor a bit of a bounce to help gymnasts gain height while softening the impact of landings. Score that a 10.

Surfboards made with plastics? Right on…

Young woman floating on her surfboard, while resting from surfing

The original heavy wood surfboards have largely been replaced with lightweight plastics—typically a combination of plastic foam/s and composites—to provide improved buoyancy and wave riding action. (Oh, and those wetsuits surfers wear are made with plastics, too.) Plus, there’s a growing number of drop off points for old boards to be recycled, reused, or repurposed. Gnarly…

Play tennis? That racquet’s (typically) made with plastics.

Female tennis player holding racket at the court

“Isn’t it graphite?” you may ask. Yes. Graphite = carbon. Most modern racquets are made with composites, such as plastics combined with carbon fiber, typically called carbon fiber-reinforced plastics. They’re lighter weight, stiffer, and stronger than many of the previous materials used for racquets. Can you even buy a wooden racquet today? Well, maybe at a garage sale…

Goggles are glass, right? Uh, probably not…

Boy, wearing sports glasses, looking into the sky

Whether you’re riding a motorcycle, skiing, or swimming, it’s probably not the best idea to place breakable glass lenses close to your eyeballs. That’s why most sports safety goggles today are made with tough, shatter-resistant plastics, such as polycarbonate. You can even get prescription lenses, camouflage patterns for hunting, and designs that range from hipster to punk.

It’s just a simple bike, right? Nah…

A low angle view of a professional male cyclist riding on a flat deserted road through mountainous terrain under a dark and stormy evening sky at sunset. The cyclist is wearing generic cycling suit, cycling helmet and sunglasses and is riding a generic unbranded road racing bike. With motion blur.

This ain’t your grandfather’s bike. Professional racers use sleek bikes made largely from carbon fiber-reinforced plastics that combine low weight, high strength, durability, and reliability. And performance bikes at sporting goods stores now use this high-tech material for frames, handlebars, stems, seat posts, rims, cranks—even the intricate derailleur that quickly and precisely shifts the gears.

Check out your shoes.

young fitness woman runner running on sunrise road

When running, kicking, or jumping, most of us are doing that on cushioned plastic soles with durable plastic uppers and laces. Today’s high-tech, tricked out kicks keep getting lighter and lighter. And get this: Nike even uses recycled polyester plastic to make its lightweight Flyknit sneakers, diverting 182 million plastic bottles from landfills so far.

What’s that ultra-bendy pole vault pole made with?

Low angle view of a young man making an effort at pole vault competition.

Think that pole is made from a long length of bamboo? Not anymore. The 1950s ushered in the era of poles made from composites of plastics and glass fiber… and later carbon fiber. Today’s poles are stronger, lighter, and more flexible than ever, literally helping athletes reach new heights.

Play golf? Your “woods” may be made with plastics.

A mature golfer holding wood golf club in follow through swing having just hit golf ball. The golfer is dressed in a generic blue polo shirt, beige trousers and golf cap and is playing on a generic lakeside golf course under a bright summer sky with light clouds at sunset.

Aren’t those big drivers called “woods”? Uh, yeah, because the shafts historically were made from hickory wood. Lightweight reinforced plastics are now becoming prevalent in golf clubs. They can be swung faster, leading to greater club head speed… and maybe even a better chance at that hole-in-one?

Sports clothing, gymnastics floors, surfboards, tennis racquets, goggles, bicycles, sneakers, pole vault poles, golf clubs… Surprised?

See the original list of 6 things you might not know are made with plastics… and the sequelplus, the Great Outdoors Edition