OC Register article - 12/18/05

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

More than 130 surfers, board shapers and suppliers gather at Cerritos College to learn new ways to make surfboards without using cores from Clark Foam.


The Orange County Register

NORWALK - Like many in the surfboard industry, Larry Myers wonders what the future holds.

The Huntington Beach surfboard maker and seller is exploring new materials, now that the primary supplier of lightweight foam cores, Clark Foam, has suddenly shut down. Myers and more than 130 other surfers, surfboard shapers and suppliers attended a Saturday information and demonstration session at Cerritos College to learn about alternative substances and methods.

“In the surf industry, (Clark’s shutdown) is a very big deal,” said Myers, 48, owner of Harbor Isle Surfboards. “It has turned everything upside down for everybody. I’ve never seen anything like this. It cut me off 100 percent, right out of the chute. For a lot of people, this is their livelihood.”

Surfer Chris Schroeder, 31, concurred.

“It’s affecting the industry huge,” said the Fullerton resident who makes boards as a hobby. “A lot of people are not making surfboards anymore.”

Clark Foam of Laguna Niguel was the world’s largest supplier of polyurethane cores, or blanks - considered standard for the modern surfboard. With little warning, the company permanently ceased operations Dec. 5.

That left surfboard shapers and suppliers scrambling, because Clark held 90 percent of the blank manufacturing market in North America. The company produced roughly 1,000 foam blanks per day to meet worldwide demand.

Since Dec. 5, there has been a polyurethane core shortage, as well as reports of scattered layoffs among surfboard makers and shapers. Retail prices on surfboards have skyrocketed, with increases of $100 to $400 at most stores.

Saturday’s session had an air of urgency to it, as attendees wondered if alternative materials being introduced - such as extruded polystyrene (EPS) and extended polystyrene (XPS) - would match tried-and-true polyurethane. But there was also a sense of possibility, as professionals using these new materials gave demonstrations and showed off boards made with EPS.

Surfboard shaper Paolo Bianchinotti called the day Clark closed “the happiest day of my life.”

“Honestly, Clark kept guys like me in a production mode,” said the 32-year-old San Clemente resident, who lost one job but gained customers in his own business. He specializes in making EPS blanks and boards.

“The whole industry is based on volume. Now everything’s going to change. Clark had cornered the market. Now it’s a whole different ballgame,” Bianchinotti said.

Some veterans in the industry showed up to Saturday’s session, including Rich Harbour of Harbour Surfboards in Seal Beach, Bob Bolen of Surfboards by the Greek in Huntington Beach, and representatives from McCabe Surfboards and Eaton Surfboards.

“I want answers because I’ve been at this for 47 years,” said Harbour, 62, who brought an extensive list of questions. As a result of Clark’s shutdown, “there are some guys who are not going to make house payments,” he said.

Bolen, 63, commented that the Clark closure “caught the industry flat-footed.”

“The industry will have to grow if it is to continue,” he said. “Seminars like this will help sustain a lot of the businesses and help some people along.”

The forum was organized by Terry Price, chairman of the manufacturing technology department at Cerritos College, which offers classes and sessions on plastics, composites and surfboard construction.

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