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Surfboard-foam company's closure makes waves in SLO

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For years every Friday a shipment of surfboard blanks from Clark Foam in San Clemente arrived at Shane Stoneman's house in Los Osos. The shaper then hauled the white foam blocks up to his shop in the hills of Cayucos where he ran a special foam-adapted planer, also provided by Clark Foam, over the boards until they took their shape, soon ready for countless days in the water.

Last week, surfers and shapers like Stoneman were caught off guard when Clark Foam announced that it was shutting down and would no longer be producing surfboard blanks. According to an LA Times article, Clark Foam was responsible for about two-thirds of the surfboards in the U.S.

"Their service was good," said Stoneman about Clark Foam. "When I heard the news I just didn't believe it." Stoneman said he never felt the need to stockpile blanks because of Clark Foam's excellent service.

On Dec. 5, Gordon Clark sent out a fax to his larger clients announcing the closure of Clark Foam. Clark cited legal ramifications if he continues producing blanks, due to increased concerns over the environmental impacts of foam production.

"For owning and operating Clark Foam I may be looking at very large fines, civil lawsuits, and even time in prison," Clark wrote in the fax. But Clark's comments have come under some question after Environmental Protection Agency and Orange County Fire Authority officials did not corroborate Clark's drastic claims.

Smaller-scale shapers like Stoneman heard of the Clark Foam closure through the grapevine, and immediately started buying up all the blanks in the county.

According to the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association, retail sales for surfboards were $200 million nationwide in 2003. A single board, which used to originate in Clark Foam's factory, passes through the hands of a shaper, an artist, a fiberglasser and a retail store, all of who make a profit off of it before it makes into the hands of a surfer.

The closure of Clark Foam has raised numerous concerns about the productions of surfboards. Will there be a shortage of boards in the next few months? Will the void be filled by cheaper producers from overseas? Will the hiatus in foam supply squeeze smaller scale shapers out of the business?

There are alternatives to Clark Foam, said Stoneman, like foam made of polystyrene instead of Clark Foam's polyurethane, but many surfers are hesitant to embrace new and different boards.

Stoneman said he's going to start playing around with polystyrene blanks in the beginning of next year, but because polystyrene doesn't have the same shaping and fiberglassing properties, making the decision to switch is going to take some serious consideration, he said.

Stoneman, who said he has about 15 blanks left, has received numerous requests for boards. And with the closure of Clark Foam, the price of boards just went up, too.

"Everyone wants a board, and all of sudden everyone's willing to pay top dollar for it."

 

-John Peabody

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