Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Everything On The Inside (Part 1; Foam)

            Shaping surfboards is a lot like finding the right person to marry. Well, in truth it isn’t like that at all. There are however effectively enough similarities however that we could justify using such a dastardly bait-and-switch to reel you into part one of our six-part series on understanding surfboard blanks. Just as many Hollywood movies would have us believe about love, there is a right “the one” for any potential surfboard.
            The thing about picking the right one is that on the surface it’s a pretty simple equation. As long as you have your length, width, and thickness in mind, then the rest will fall into place right? Wrong. In case you missed it that’s only three things and again, this is a six-part blog. Now we’re not out to overcomplicate a simple thing, honestly. But we’ve been doing this long enough to know that when it comes to surfboard blanks, there truly is a hell of a lot more than meets the eye. That’s a thing that can really tangle a person up in the shape room if they come to the party unprepared.
            So we’re going to prepare you, and we’re not going to do it alone. The fine folks over at US Blanks, with their innumerable years of expertise have opted to weigh in on the matter as well. For now, we will begin at the beginning and start with the difference between polyurethane and EPS foam. Scoff at the simplicity if you must, but don’t be surprised if by the end of this all you have found yourself to have become much more particular about your blank selection. Enjoy.


Polyurethane vs. EPS Foam… What’s the Difference??


            Polyurethane Blanks: Polyurethane, or PU, blanks are generally the most common type of surfboard blank out there (and definitely the older of the two types).  Polyurethane is a type of plastic, which is poured into a hollow-cavity mold of specific proportions. Once poured, the PU foam expands to take the shape of the mold and hardens to become the surfboard blank.  (As you may know, surfboard blanks are made in a variety of shapes and sizes intended to closely meet the shapers requirements of a desired surfboard to reduce waste.  The blank roughly resembles the contours and shape of the finished board).
            Polyurethane blanks can be glassed with a variety of different cloth types and resins, which makes them a reliable and versatile choice…especially for beginners. PU blanks can be glassed with either polyester or epoxy resin, a choice that often comes down to personal preference.

Polyurethane Foam in action


            Expanded Polystyrene Blanks: Expanded Polystyrene, or EPS, blanks are much more recent option available to surfboard shapers, having come into popular use around the mid ‘90s. “EPS is a closed-cell foam, made up of tiny, hollow, spherical beads. In fact, EPS is made up of 98% air, which is the reason behind its lightweight. Common uses for EPS are packing applications (foam peanuts, ice chests) and construction applications (insulation, void filler). EPS is inert and non-toxic, both to the environment and one’s health. It is regarded as lighter and more buoyant than traditional polyurethane foam.” (Read More about EPS in depth here).
            EPS foam can only be glassed with epoxy resin, as polyester resin reacts negatively with EPS foam and tends to ‘melt’ the blank and ruin the board. The process of glassing with epoxy is a little more intensive than with polyester resin, as people often ‘seal’ their blanks with some kind of spackle mix to save resin/ board weight, as bare EPS foam tends to absorb resin directly into the foam. With the advent of higher quality EPS foam in recent years however, there is a dissent on opinion on how necessary this step actually is. The resin in general takes a fair bit longer to ‘kick-off’ when glassing a board, which is both a blessing and a curse and takes a little more effort to learn than polyester resin can.

Superfused EPS compared to Block Cut Eps


A Word on Foam Selection from the Experts at U.S. Blanks


            “Polyurethane (PU) is most common type of surfboard foam. US Blanks PU is made in Los Angeles from 100% solar power and is available in 6 densities (lightweight to very heavy). Any type of stringer wood can be used with PU foam and it can be glassed with either polyester or epoxy resin.
            US Blanks also offers 2 types of EPS foam: Block-Cut EPS or Superfused EPS. Block-Cut EPS blanks are cut from a large block of foam; therefore they are available in any range of dimensions (within 24’ x 4’ x 3’). Superfused EPS blanks are molded into a specific blank size (of which US Blanks offers 13 sizes). Because these EPS beads are fused into a smaller blank mold (as compared to the large block), the cell structure is tighter. 
            When selecting foam type, the differences are more a matter of preference than of quality. Surfers tend to like PU for it’s “traditional” flex and feel, and they comment that EPS is lighter and has more verve (or liveliness). As with most surfboard materials and design features, different surf conditions call for different board types. Many surfers have both PU and EPS boards in their quivers. 
            Once you decide which foam type is appropriate for your build, you'll be able to select the appropriate blank size.”

- David Scales, Creative Director at US Blanks


Polyurethane US Blanks



Check back soon for Part Two of our Six Part Series of Everything On The Inside presented by US Blanks to learn about proper blank selection.




Wednesday, March 01, 2017

The End of Everything: Looking back on the Clark Foam Legacy 12 Years Later


In 2005 Robert Kelly Slater won his seventh ASP World Title, famously to the ire of runner-up and long-term adversary, Andy Irons. In 2005 Ben Stiller made an unexpected cameo appearance in the Taj Burrow classic Fair Bits!, alongside the likes of super-talents such as the Malloy brothers and Rob Machado. In 2005 the ever-fickle Mundaka event was cancelled when the waves, in a less than shocking manner, failed to arrive. On December 5th, 2005, Clark Foam unexpectedly closed its factory doors forever.
            It’s been just over a decade since the surfing industry was thrown for a loop when it’s largest supplier of surfboard blanks called it quits, leaving thousands of board builders, industry insiders, and surfers scrambling for emergency solutions. Speculation over the cause of this sudden closure and what it would mean for surfing in general flew rampant (with varying degrees of truth and accuracy), and people were justifiably scared and confused. In the time since, much has been said and written about this incident, and of course the sport and industry has recovered, and in fact even grown, as a result.
            Yes, by now almost everything that could be said about this occurrence has been. Our intention is not to provide you a play-by-play history of the final days of Clark Foam. Even the most cursory Internet search will provide you with that information. The fact of the matter is that Clark Foam was both directly and indirectly a part of many peoples lives and livelihoods, and often time the true nature of any event lies in those more personal experiences. For the former employees and distributors of Clark Foam, this is truer than for most. Though Clark is no longer around, it’s legacy and standard for quality have shaped what the surfboard industry has become.


- Joey Estrada 


Planer with Clark Foam Badge

First things first, what was your job at Clark Foam, and what did that entail?

- Matt Barker, Product Creation Operations Director, Hurley: My contribution to Clark Foam started February 1981 and lasted thru September 2005.  That equals +50% of my life at the time, and over 50% of Clark Foam’s existence.
            My #1 Job at Clark Foam was to obsess on the current and future business, design, and material performance needs of our customers (shapers), and serve their evolving needs with innovative product offerings, quality product & services, through a collaborative partnership. In other words, the shapers directed our business. I was just the eyes and ears (and very lucky to have this vital role).

- Tami Mays, Teacher:
I worked for Clark Foam in the middle office accounting department from 1996-2003. I helped with customer service, order entry, accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, and other misc. office tasks.

- Matt Stevens:
Executive VP and front office grunt! Ha! I was responsible for delivering a quality product to the manufacturing floor, which in turn delivered a quality product to our customers. That entailed a little bit of everything from getting the hands dirty with blanks, to working in some complex systems and developing repeatable processes. To put it in context, this was one of the most highly customized manufacturing facilities to be found. I’m not talking about robotics or cleanroom high technology, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more finely tuned batch process capable of the same range of customizable options and quality.  My job, as it turned out, was really just to make sure our customers were successful. You wouldn’t believe how much energy went into making sure that when a shaper was ready to shape, they could work efficiently with the right blanks. That sounds pretty vague, but that was essentially my job.

- Craig Larsen,
Technical Sales at Composites One: I worked in the Front Office at Clark Foam, at first with Dick Morales and Matthew Barker.  At that time the focus was on working with customers, both local and foreign on orders, rockers, stocking needs, and credit. Basically inside sales.
            After Dick passed away, we were going through a lot of operational restructuring. Gordon, with the leadership of Kim Thress, was moving the plant into a “lean” operation. He restructured the Front Office to also take care of the inventory management, including the Hawaii and Florida warehouses, production “batch” planning and figuring out the truck routes. We were also busy working on new, efficient ways to increase production and accuracy (double checks) of everything we did at Clark Foam. We also helped deliver trucks. Lots of working on procedures and processes.  Anyone that has worked for Gordon knows his passion for process manuals.



What was your relationship with Clark Foam and how did you become one of their distributors?   

- Brad Nadell,
Owner of Foam E-Z: I had a close relationship with the drivers and the girls in the office.  The relationships developed from years of talking on the phone and in person as our business grew over time.  Becoming a Clark Foam Supplier spawned from us simply reselling the blanks to local shapers.  As time went on and we grew our reach to different board builders around the world, the numbers of blanks grew too.  Resulting in us becoming one of Clark’s top resellers in the world.

Clark was obviously hugely influential for the industry, both during its operation and after closed. What, in your opinion, accounts for this influence that set Clark apart?


- Matt Barker:
At Clark Foam- we always put the shapers (and end users) at the center of our business decisions.  Besides that, Gordon Clark is the smartest person to ever serve shapers (and surfing).  No one “pays attention” more that Gordon Clark.

- Tami Mays: Gordon’s niche was unprecedented. His corner on the market came from years of R&D to perfect his product.

- Matt Stevens: Nobody else could figure out how to do it better, or with nearly the same level of service.  Clark Foam was so far beyond what anyone else could put out in quality or quantity. It didn’t leave much room for other disruptive technologies or competition to emerge as a serious player. Beyond product, the service model was pretty advanced. Just think of this in Foam E-Z terms…whether you were out on an island looking for a tow-in board or an established board builder down the street trying to make a customer happy with a reverse rocker log, you could easily order up a blank with very specific bells and whistles and have it dropped at your doorstep in a matter of days, not weeks. For the commodity blanks that needed to always be available in Foam E-Z’s racks, we borrowed some smart ideas from others to make availability and replenishment really easy to achieve.  I’m not sure if I answered what made Clark influential as much as what made it so dominant and in control of their place in this little niche industry. 

- Craig Larsen: Clark Foam was very supportive of the entire market, especially the small builders, which was a huge influence on the overall market.  It used to drive the bigger builders crazy, but he was extremely supportive to the small builder because he knew from history that most of the innovation in surfboard design would come from the smaller shops because it was easier for the smaller builders to react to market needs.
             But the thing that really set Clark Foam apart in my opinion is the overall efficiency of the operation. That place was a well-oiled machine, every process thought out and documented. This efficiency led to a high level of service to the market. Sometimes it meant that we couldn’t bend for someone who needed a rush order, but with Gordon, the more efficient we were, the better service customers were receiving. Gordon is extremely efficiency minded.


How closely were you involved with Clark and their employees/operations? 

- Brad Nadell:
I became good friends with some of the drivers that delivered the blanks.  Most of these friendships still exist to this day.  As far as operations go, I wasn’t super involved.  The main interaction regarding operations was for Clark to understand our business model and for us to understand how things operate down there.  From that mutual understanding we together with Clark developed the method of keeping a consistent stock of blanks at Foam E-Z amid the high the demand that was put on us.


Brad Nadell surrounded by Clark blanks in the Foam E-Z warehouse

Was there much other competition with other blank manufacturers?

- Craig Larsen: Walker Foam and occasionally some various Australian blanks. Really mainly the shaping machines. He used to say that KKL was Al Merrick’s blank supplier, not Clark Foam.  To be honest, not a lot of competition. Back in the 60’s and 70’s there was a lot of competition, but most the companies crashed and burned over credit wars.  I’ve heard all the crazy stories of all the evil things that we did at Clark Foam, but while I worked at Clark Foam those stories were BS. There was a time in the late 90’s that we were definitely oversold and we had to put the market on allocation and make some hard decisions. Pretty stressful time. With that said, I would have hated to compete against Clark Foam, it was such an efficient machine and Gordon really understood how to add value beyond making a blank. There were a lot of value adds that customers really didn’t think about until after Clark Foam shut down. He made things very convenient for customers. Beyond the 70+ different blanks in 5+ different weights with an extensive custom rocker program, we had the keys to just about every shop in California so we could deliver blanks without customers being around.  Also the credit side of things was huge, we would work with just about anybody as long as you were actually a builder.  Because we didn’t have a lot of competition, our customers were a lot more accountable to paying Clark Foam in a timely manner. I’m sure after Clark Foam shut down, the credit side of things got ugly for all the new blank builders.

- Matt Barker:
Off and on there was competition- but our level of service, broad product offerings, and deep relationship with our customers were a very effective entry barrier for others just showing up on the scene.  Additional our highly efficient systems and processes allowed us to keep prices very competitive.  We basically kept competition to a minimum by doing our job really well.

- Tami Mays:
I wasn’t aware of any.

- Matt Stevens: No, not really. There was always something getting hyped up, some new blanks or “new” board building technology, but it was usually just hype or a recycling of something that had been tried before. As I recall, the Australian and Brazilian foam markets were well served by themselves. I’m not sure if there was ever the manufacturing capacity to support a market outside of their own anyway. Whether it was good foam or junk foam was always up for debate and depended who you talked to, but it did show up here or there sometimes. On a global basis, we shipped containers regularly to Europe, Japan, South America, and on occasion to other places we as surfers want to be (Central America, South Pacific, etc.). Never can I remember one shipping to Australia.
             We probably created competition elsewhere by shipping abroad, but only once in a while would a supply of Aussie Burford or Bennett blanks would show up somewhere and a container would get sprinkled around a local market. Same thing with the occasional domestic Walker Foam delivery you’d run across in someone’s factory. We didn’t see or know of much else with any regularity. New stuff would usually end up as shaping machine back room inventory when hand shapers got tired of trying to work too hard for a quality shape. Most shapers were all-in, but there were definitely those who were a none-at-all thing with Clark Foam, not much middle ground. So, yes, there was always some other foam to be found here and there, but nothing consistently or in steady supply. There was always someone pushing something new, ‘whiter or lighter’, but with very rare exception did that mean it was even close, let alone better.  I’m rambling here, but I could go on a bit on this topic…some fun stories of game changing alternatives to the PU blank, long standing feuds, egos, and myths of strong armed business tactics!

Was there much competition ever, at that time, from other blank companies who wanted you to sell their blanks? 

- Brad Nadell:
Before December 2005 (Blank Monday) there was really no competition.  Walker Foam was out there but I didn’t have the need to carry their blanks as Clark was servicing our needs extremely well.  That’s one of the strategies they used to insulate themselves against the competition.  From time to time Walker would hit us up to sell their blanks but nothing materialized until after Clark Foam was gone.

How often did you visit their factory, what was it like?

- Brad Nadell:
I visited the factory about once every other month.  Sometimes it was to check out operations other times it was simply to grab lunch with one of the guys.  The factory was really amazing to me.  Never before had a seen a factory where something was manufactured from start to finish.  Clark had everything in raw material form from the chemicals to the wood.  He had his own wood shop, tool repair shop, foam pouring shop, stringer cutting shop, gluing room, staging area, shipping area, and so on.  It was like a full blown city on a small plot of land set in Laguna Niguel.

How big was Clark’s operation at your time there?

- Tami Mays:
I’m not sure the exact number of how many blanks we shipped, but we did have over a hundred employees at the factory.

- Matt Stevens: 100 employees. The glue shop could finish slightly more than the foam shop could produce on a daily basis. There was a new batch of a couple thousand blanks being blown, glued, and shipped approximately every two days. Pretty sure it was approximately 960 vs 980 per day, but could be wrong. In each batch, we’d have a minimum of one, oftentimes two, shipping containers and local orders for delivery. I don’t recall how many blanks in inventory at the factory we could hold at capacity, but under periods of high demand, the inventory of uncut raw blanks could be depleted pretty quickly as the short term supply answer was to throttle up the glue shop and get blank orders out the door. The foam shop had more of a capped production capacity. The skilled foam shop workers were the longest tenured guys, and could run 24/7. The glue shop guys could get trained up and cross trained quickly at any number of positions and were able to run 5am to 10PM for everyday stretches with some creative scheduling.
            The constant balance of manpower and material resources was something else! Gordon introduced the ‘cubeta’ (Spanish for bucket) which was an employee profit sharing program based on a complex ratio of maximizing production while minimizing manufacturing resources. I never fully broke down the complexities behind it, but we all knew when we were working flat out for periods and it was kind of fun to watch the money in the cubeta grow. It was a pretty unifying tool for the troops, encouraging all 100 employees to be on the same page with production goals. We also had medical benefits and vacation accrual too. It was a pretty good size operation and it was fun to be a part of such a unique small to medium size business.

- Matt Barker: We strived to scale our production output to sufficiently service all our customer’s needs in a timely manner.  We had a pretty good track record of consistently taking care of our customers.

- Craig Larsen: Probably 110 employees. During the late 90’s we had the foam shop going 7 days a week 24 hours a day with very little overtime. This was a huge feat.

How did you first find out Clark’s factory doors were closing for good, what was your reaction?

- Matt Stevens: While everyone received the public facing notice of closure at the same time, there were some troubling signs coming up to that day. Matthew Barker had already moved on to work for Hurley (Matthew is an awesomely talented guy, and his career change timing was impeccable). Kim Thress had left Clark Foam a couple months prior. (Most everyone in-the-know of surfboard manufacturing knows Kim, knows of Kim, or should know that Kim has put more heart and soul into supporting the board building industry than almost anyone alive). Reed had recently retired after several decades of working for Gordon. And, even ‘Chuey’ had retired and left for Mexico. A full century of blank building knowledge and expertise right there had already left the building! The place was still in very capable hands though, including Gordon and Nikki’s very bright and recently graduated daughter Sarah. Gordon was under some real pressures, maybe not what the famous letter of closure to customers indicated, but not far from the truth either.
            Anyway, fast forwarding to the morning the whole thing ended, Gordon and Nikki showed up to the office mid-morning and for some reason I distinctly remember being on the phone with Pat Rawson and thinking to myself, this ain’t good. They walked in both visibly upset and called a meeting back in the maintenance room. I remember the walk back there thinking we would hear something awful like a malignant cancer diagnosis. From memory, it was me, Joel, Patty, Jeff Holtby, Sergio and Luis. Among other things, we were basically told that we just poured our last blank and we would be closing for good. The explanation we got didn’t allow for many questions.
            My reaction? I was stunned obviously. I had a wife and a brand new mortgage and no advanced notice. There were a lot of people, a huge community of board builders and Clark employees alike, worrying about providing for their own families too among other stresses when people find out suddenly that they have to stop making a living for a while. For a while, I carried around some guilt for letting down so many board builders that became good friends. Gordon gave everyone the option of staying on for a few weeks while the factory was gutted and either destroyed or auctioned off. Pretty stressful time, and I wasn’t very fond of being on the front lines of damage control with people looking for answers. I came to the conclusion that I, like our customers and every other employee, was just a casualty of a bad situation and so I decided to cut out after just a couple of days. It was a dark time, but I hope that everyone came out of the adversity a little better than they were before.

- Craig Larsen:
I had moved to Utah by then. My phone started ringing off the hook. Even had a couple people show up at my house in Utah asking questions about key Clark personnel.

- Matt Barker:
I received a phone call from a Clark Foam associate at the very moment it happened (I was actually standing in a tee shirt warehouse working on process improvements for Hurley). My reaction was three fold; concern for my longtime shaper friends (losing a vital business partner), and for the many dedicated employees at Clark Foam (losing their ability to provide for their families), and for Gordon having to fold up his life’s work.  It was a very tough day for everyone.  But like most things, it all ends up working out over time.

- Tami Mays:
I had left Clark Foam a few years before and, just like everyone else, was shocked when I heard the news of Gordon’s decision. I heard from a friend and I suppose I was relieved that I had moved on before it all went down.

How much forewarning did you have regarding Clark’s closure?

- Brad Nadell:
ZERO…  I was working at my home office when “The Fax” came through.  My only employee at the time called me and said something weird was going on.  As faxes go… this one especially was extremely hard to read as it had a white stripe going through it vertically.  Even though the fax was difficult to read we got the picture real quick.

Destroyed Clark Molds
 To a certain extent, Clark Foam was the surfboard-building life-blood for quite a while. Do you think there was a feeling of betrayal or unfairness at all after the doors were locked and the molds were destroyed?

- Matt Stevens: A feeling of betrayal is a good way of characterizing what a lot of people felt. I understand some of the reasoning behind it, but it probably could have been executed a little differently. Everyone has an opinion on this, how they would have done it. But in the end, sound reason and good judgment don’t always drive the outcome.

Tami Mays:
I’m sure that Clark Foam’s customers were left feeling cut off at the knees when Gordon decided to close. It’s unfortunate that it created such a panic and that it ended for many with a sense of betrayal. I’m hoping as the years have gone by that other manufacturers have filled the hole in the blank supply that Clark Foam left.

Matt Barker: I cannot speak on behalf of Clark or Clark Foam- but here are my two cents. Of course there are some people that would like betrayal to be the narrative- but that is mainly coming from those not close to the events and communication that unfolded.
            For the record, every shaper’s plugs (that new molds that subsequent molds are built from) where returned to the shaper/designer by Clark Foam for use with their future blank supplier (and to benefit the broader industry).  The molds themselves were destroyed as well as some unique equipment because this equipment was designed and built on site at Clark Foam, and would have carried a tremendous safety liability in the hands of others. 
            Additionally Clark Foam worked closely with its long-term customers to get them what they needed (Blanks) from the remaining inventory (which was very extensive).  I will leave the “why it happened” to Clark’s official announcement to his customers at the time.

- Craig Larsen: Gordon understood the history of the surfboard market better than anyone. He is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Every time I ever second-guessed Gordon, 6 months or a year later I would be proven wrong. Every time. So I’m not going to second guess him on how he shut Clark Foam down. He was always concerned about what was best for the surfboard builder and the overall market big picture. My theory (although probably wrong) is he shut the plant down suddenly, destroying the molds, because he knew this was fastest and best way for the market right itself.  What would the affect been to the market if he handled the closing differently? Better? Maybe for some, but maybe not for a lot of builders. Hard to say, but I’m not going to second guess him.



 What was it like for you, as a distributor, in the days and weeks following their closure? 

- Brad Nadell:
Extremely scary!  Basically didn’t know what the future would hold.  It was like there was not going to be any more milk available or toilet paper or really anything that we all depend on to survive.  I had to pull my roll up door down and lock the doors.  The phone was ringing off the hook and I swear we had like 200 messages in one day.  I didn’t open the shop again for four or five days.  Needed to sort out the situation and try to make the best decision for all involved.

 Did other blank manufacturers step up to fill the void immediately, or was there a vacuum of blank availability for a while? 

- Brad Nadell:
Well luckily for us Clark offered us a large number of their back stocked blanks.  Which we allocated this last gasp of Clark Foam Blanks to our customers in a very methodical way, as to try to take care of the shapers that took care of us over the previous twelve years. 
            After these Clark Blanks were gone (about two weeks), we started trying to figure out our next step.  I was meeting with blank manufacturers from all around the world.  They all flew over here after Clark closed and were trying to suck up the business.  Some of my competitors decided to bring in containers of blanks from around the world but we didn’t.  I reached out directly to Walker Foam and began a relationship with them.  Luckily for me Gary Linden was doing their customer relations at that time and we had a previous relationship as we had provided him blanks and tools from time to time. 
            The other key ingredient to this relationship was our proximity to Walker Foams factory.  Huge props to Walker Foam for supplying us blanks during a tumultuous time and helping us bridge the gap from Clark Foam to where we are today.  Unfortunately for Walker Foam, the over expansion to meet the demands of the market ultimately was their demise.


 You still have some of blanks you’ve held onto from Clark’s final days. Do you have a plan to ever shape those or will you hold onto them as a collector? 

- Brad Nadell:
I gave a few of the blank to some of our employees to shape up.  We need to check in and see what they thought.  I am keeping one or two in my rafters as a little memory of the Clark Days.

The Foam E-Z Clark Blank Collection

 Where did you move onto after working at Clark Foam?

- Craig Larsen: Gordon always used to tell us that Clark Foam was a great place to learn, but if you wanted to make a decent living you better go work somewhere else. It was the surf industry for god’s sake. So in 2000 I decided to take his advice and try to make a better living. He was right about learning a lot. I use knowledge I learned at Clark Foam every day in my job now.
            I left Clark Foam in 2000, first to Revchem doing technical sales. In 2002 I moved to Park City Utah to do technical sales for Composites One covering Utah and Colorado. I have customers that make everything from bowling balls to rocket ships, snowboards to rocket launchers. I miss the ocean, but not all the hordes of surfers.  Surfing sure got popular in the 90’s.

Matt Barker: I had previously left Clark Foam for Hurley about 4 months prior to its closing. I’ve been with Hurley for nearly 11 years. While at Hurley I have managed customer service & compliance, distribution operations, directed operations in our printables department, launched our sustainable business & innovation efforts (as well as helped shape and launch Hurley’s Born From Water- H20 initiative), led our Apparel Production Team, worked on wetsuit performance development, special surf projects, and currently our product creation operation. Each of these roles/contribution to Hurley were direct results of the deep experiences learned at Clark Foam. Hurley is a fantastic place to work (and was started by a shaper Bob Hurley). 
            The reason for leaving Clark Foam was the feeling that Clark Foam, like industries, were no longer going to be viably operating in much of Southern California due to the ever tightening regulatory requirements and unfriendly business environment.  So I realized that my family’s future provision needed a better long-term solution. I then found a new career away from plastics manufacturing.  It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I loved my work at Clark Foam, and I especially loved (and now miss) all of the great lifelong surfboard building friends locally and around the world, as well as my Clark Foam Family.  The good news is virtually all of the intellectual strengths of Clark Foam came back together in the form of U.S. Blanks.



Tami Mays:
The last few years I worked at Clark Foam I was taking classes to obtain my teaching credential. I quit when I was ready to student teach. I’ve now been teaching for 13 years.

- Matt Stevens: Baja for a while, Ha! As life goes, my next chapters have been better for me and my family. I had a friend who encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and get my act together a little bit for a more corpo gig. Maybe a little bit more money, but not nearly as fun as the good old days.


 How has the industry changed since Clark closed its doors, from your perspective as a business owner? Is there a greater diversity or access to blanks? 

- Brad Nadell:
It is a completely different world now.  Many different options as far as EPS and other foam manufacturers go.  The biggest difference for us is the fact that pretty almost all professional shapers use a shaping machine.  These cutting houses usually stock the blanks now and therefore cutting us out of the mix.  At one time you either had to get your blanks from Clark Foam directly, or from us or one of the other local blank suppliers.  We now service the home-builder more so than the pro-shaper, but still have our loyal clientele from the old days.  Whenever a pro-shaper needs a blank for a hand shape or any tools they still either stop by or call the shop.  A small number of pro-shapers who do not get their blanks cut buy their blanks from us

What sort of trends have you noticed in the board building world in the last 12 years? 

- Brad Nadell: The biggest one is a big shift away from hand shaping.  Also more unique shapes are being tested and surfed on a regular basis.  Definitely people are building boards on the thicker, wider, rounder easier-to-catch-waves spectrum.  Since surfing is more mainstream now entry-level boards cover a broad range.  Fishes, Mini-Simmons, stubbies… basically anything with volume seems to be hip.

What was your favorite memory from working in the Clark factory or with Gordon Clark?

- Tami Mays:
With such a small office staff, we really did feel like an extended family most of the time. I will always remember celebrating co-workers’ birthdays with cake! The relaxed and casual environment was comfortable and friendly, but it really was all business with many routines and procedures in place to make it run smoothly. Gordon was a big proponent of always learning more. He would go out of his way to help people acquire the skills needed to keep our factory on track.

- Matt Stevens: On the factory side, it was the scream of the stringer router, the faint smell of styrene, the pumping mexi music, and the good people I worked with.
            Outside of the factory, I had the privilege of peeking in on literally hundreds of shaping rooms and artists, soaking in as much as I could. I love surfboards and I love interesting people, and a decade at Clark Foam provided plenty of both. Can you imagine the thrill of Terry Martin saying, “Here, I’ll show you how…it’s just a dance”? Walking into a pre-dawn Natural Curves factory, fog and reggae so thick you could cut it with a knife, to meet Steve Coletta? Rich Harbour talking story (ask him about seeking legal advice from Gordon back in the day)… These guys were/are just legends! Wayne Rich shaping sessions… to a Rick Hammon quick tutorial on turning a rail… to stints in Wahiawa… the cast of characters and free shaping tips! Leading the herd was Gordon Clark, probably the smartest man I’ve ever met. He was good to me, and I think many board builders would agree he was good to them as well.


- Craig Larsen: Probably my favorite memory of Gordon was while I was still a fairly new employee I was in the same office doing work that Gordon and the fire department and county fire officials were in having a meeting. The meeting started to get heated and I remember Gordon looking at one of the officials and telling him “If this was Texas and you tried to do this to a business you’d be hanging from that tree outside this building.”  Scared the shit out of me.

- Matt Barker: My favorite memory as a surfer was being asked by Gordon to “stay on the clock and take Gerry Lopez surfing”. My first role at Clark Foam (when I was 21) was helping Gordon build a new Foam Machine (I helped with wiring and plumbing).  One day the wind was offshore, and there was a 6’ south swell and I was working on the Foam Machine.  Gordon called me from his home and said, “Are you busy?” 
            I said, “Of course.”
           
Then he said, “I need you to do something- don’t punch out, get your surfboard, drive to my house and take Lopez surfing.” I grabbed Gerry and we went to Salt Creek.  He had never ridden a thruster so we traded boards (mine was a 5’10” Max McDonald Thruster made with experimental “Ultralight” foam).  So we traded boards before paddling out.  One of the older guys at Creek that always treated me shitty like a grom and said to me, “Hey you see who that is,” motioning towards Lopez.
             I said, “Yeah I know. He’s here with me and he’s riding my board.” 
            The guy yells “Bullshit!”
            I go, “No really,” and lift Gerry’s board that I was riding up out of the water.  The look on his face was priceless.  That is one of the countless special memories while being a part of Clark Foam.
            So yes, I once got paid to take Gerry Lopez surfing... who can say that? 






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