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Surf World Reacts to Clark Foam's Closure: Who Will Fill the Void?

| posted on July 22, 2010

On the news that Clark Foam—the world’s leading supplier of surfboard blanks—had shut its doors Monday, shapers, glassers, distributors, and surf shop owners assessed their responses Tuesday.

In what can only be described as news staggering to the industry, Gordon “Grubby” Clark announced Monday that he was ceasing production of all foam blanks—halting what had previously been a 1,000 blank per day manufacturing cycle. Calls to Clark Foam confirmed that, indeed, the factory was being dismantled as of Tuesday.

Reaction to the news has been diverse. Rusty Priesendorfer confirmed that he was laying off portions of his production staff this morning, and said that, for his business, the news necessitates a re-prioritization of everything that’s done.

Meanwhile, some board builders are looking at this as a long overdue opportunity. “It’s devastating news,” says Sean Haggar, manager of Hobie Surfboards’ factory in San Juan Capistrano, “But at the same time it’s going to bring new manufacturers, new foam, new distributors, more options and more choices. Right now, any kind of option is an option, which is exciting. For us, we see it as a time to diversify, and not to be closed minded. With the end of this era, we’re looking at new methods and open doors to endless possibilities in manufacturing.”

Still, Clark Foam’s closing ushers in the end of a five-decade board builiding epoch literally overnight. A surf world that had been dabbling in new technologies is now thrust headlong into a search for a product that can fill a monumental void.

“It’s rocked our world, there’s no doubt about it,” says Duke Brouwer, marketing director of Surftech. “For us, it’s a huge, huge, huge bummer, which many people don’t believe. But for us, it’s personal—these are people that we have personal relationships with, and we don’t want to see them suffer.”

“Yeah, we’re stoked that people are taking a much harder look at alternative production processes,” continues Brouwer, “But we’re not stoked that it’s been this sudden turn, on these terms. Yeah, we’re stoked that people are realizing that there’s a better way to make a surfboard, but this isn’t how we wanted it done. I mean, there’s families that are in jeopardy of not putting food on the table, and that’s not how it should be done; nobody wants to see that.”

Board builders and retailers are making cautious reactions. Sean Mattison of SurfRide in Oceanside, who had declared Monday that he would instantly be raising all board prices by a margin of $100, decided today to maintain previous prices through the holidays. Meanwhile, Haggar of Hobie Surfboards says that he was offered $2,000 today for a board that had not yet been glassed, and though he refused the offers, Hobie would be raising prices by $100, “Not to be greedy, but to keep us afloat as we weather this storm.”

The search for foam is on in earnest, though some wonder who will fill the void. International suppliers are obvious replacements, though many wonder if they have the capacity to fulfill orders at the quality that people had come to expect from Clark Foam. Many believe that the solution to the absence of blanks will come by embracing alternative materials.

While all observers unanimously agree that this changes the shape of the U.S. surfboard building market, some believe that, in the end, this will be a good thing. One shaper speaking on condition of anonymity believes this liberates a stunted industry. “Grubby Clark was tenacious in the way he ran his business. If you even talked to anybody about alternative technologies or different foams, he would blacklist you, and that would ruin your business because you couldn’t keep up with the rest of the shapers. Now, at least, we can have a dialogue and really look at what the best way to produce a surfboard is.”

As speculation turns to reality in the days going forward, strategies should become much more clear. Stay tuned to surfermag.com for all of the latest information.