Clark And I: How Will Clark Foam’s Closure Affect The U.S.? Some U.S. Shapers Weigh In

posted by / News / December 9, 2005

The surfing public was taken by surprise when it was announced on Monday December 5th that Clark Foam had closed its doors and would no longer be fulfilling orders for polyurethane foam surfboard blanks.

Industry-wide, surfboard manufacturers were caught in a crisis. Panic set in. Message boards lit up with end-of-the-world dramatics. Surfing would crumble. All of our boards would now come from China. Custom surfboards would become a thing of the past. Some were comparing this foam crisis as the surf industry’s own 9/11. A wake up call long time in the making.

But was it all really that bad?

Huntington Beach shaper Barry Vandermeullen weighs in;“I’m really optimistic — both really excited and nervous. Without sounding cheeky, I think this will be a positive thing. I also think it might be premature to switch completely to epoxy, just because as soon as a cheap polyester foam alternative springs up, people will likely jump right back on it.”

Twenty five-year epoxy champion Greg Loehr, while shocked by the news, is excited about the opportunities Clark Foam’s closing presents to the greater boardbuilding communities:

This one happening will transform and unite the US surfing community like nothing has before. We are going to see this incredible change transform our equipment and the American surfer. I can’t believe how proud I am right now to be a part of this and to see this coming together in every coastal town in the country. It’s absolutely inspirational.

Everyone is important, everyone is a contributor. I’ve spoken to so many people from every corner of the country and everyone is pulling together. There aren’t any west coast, east coast, hawaiian, gulf coast or great lakes surfers anymore. We are all AMERICAN surfers. We are all one and we are the greatest surfing nation on earth. We won’t give up, we won’t be beaten by this.

What about the overall costs of boards? Will manufacturers raise the prices on their boards?

Rusty Preisendorfer of Rusty Surfboards tells us what to expect;

“Yes (prices will go up); any urethane foam we source will be substantially more expensive than Clark.

“We are unsure as to quality and selection. Most other blank makers have some shortboard blanks in the mix and maybe a few longboards. There is going to be a serious problem getting polyurethane foam for some alternative shapes (i.e. classic fish types), big-guy type boards, guns, and no one at this point does anything like the Desert Island type blank. Clark did a fantastic job of providing the full spectrum. These other makers will have to be willing to make new molds, which takes time.

”Another huge consideration is actual supply. We have fixed overheads, as do our glass shops that we subcontract to. As the number of units drop our cost per unit goes up.

”Imagine you have your name on a {{{lease}}} and you have several roommates helping with the rent, utilities, etc. All of a sudden your roommates bail and you get left holding the whole ticket on your own…you are liable for the whole number. Chances are you are going to have to downsize or move back in with your parents.

”I also have shapers that have been with me for 10, 15 and some, almost 20 years. I have office personnel that have been with me for a long time. I’m going to do everything possible to keep them on while we work through this.

”The short-term ramifications are real and serious.

”I am stimulated by the challenge and I believe in the long run the surfboard industry here in the US will be in a better place.”

But what about current surfboard prices? Some customers have reported seeing board prices soar anywhere from ${{{100}}} to $400 more than originally priced. Will boards that have been shaped with Clark Foam now become collectibles? At least one shop has vowed to keep the situation from getting out of hand;

Pete Stirling of Rip Curl Surf Center in San Clemente gives us his bottom line:

”No Rip Curl shop will be raising prices. We will not be taking the oportunistic approach adopted by many shops in the area and will continue to do everything we can to avoid the craziness associated with the blank shortage. That means not taking advantage or our loyal customers.”

So what does all this mean? What should we take away from this information?

A few things:

1 – Expect board prices to go up. Increased costs for raw materials means added expenses that are incurred by the manufacturers. And who pays for that? The consumer. If you want a superior product, you’re going to pay a little more.

2 – We have plenty to be optimistic about. Shapers have never previously been pushed very hard to experiment with alternative materials. Now is as good a time as any for them to try new materials and options.

3 – Ask questions. Go straight to the horse’s mouth. Ask your shaper how much it’s going to cost you to order an epoxy board versus an imported polyester board. Ask what the benefits are. Ask about the environmental impact of all your options. Juts keep asking questions.

4 – Remain calm Listen to Florida shaper Matt Kechele, who says, “Lets let the dust settle and go from there. Nobody really knows for sure what is going to happen.”

And remember – the shaping world was caught just as off-guard as you and I. In the words of Barry Vandermeullen, “I was sitting there as Gordon Clark’s now infamous fax was coming in, just waiting for that final page to come that said ‘Ha-ha, just kidding’. It never came.”

If you’re looking to order a board from any of the shapers mentioned in the above article, you can contact them at the following:

Matt Kechele – www.KecheleSurfboards.com

Rusty Preisendorfer – www.rusty.com

Greg Loehr – (321) 779-2639

Surf Prescriptions – www.SurfPrescriptions.com

Barry Vandermeullen – (714) 969-4304

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