Tom’s T-Shirt

12 . 10 . 14

Tom’s choice of t-shirt on the middle day of his “build-your-own” workshop week was wonderfully ironic.  He hadn’t thought twice when pulling it on in the morning and it took a while for it’s significance to be noted.  It quickly became the basis for some wonderful conversations throughout the day centring around the topics of environmental considerations in surfboard production and the stagnation in material developments, alternate construction methods and of course the enormous impact of Clarke Foam’s sudden closure back in 2005.

Gordon “Grubby” Clarke worked as a finisher for Hobie Alter in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was put in charge of Hobie’s foam-blowing operation to supply his factory and meet demand in the burgeoning post-Gidget surfboard market.  In 1961 Grubby struck out on his own though, and quickly built a reputation for producing the best close-tolerance polyurethane foam blanks, often blown specifically for larger surfboard manufacturers stock models.  In time Clarke Foam grew it’s monopoly to the point where it was estimated to supply 90% of surfboard blanks in the USA and had around 60% of the worldwide market share….until on Monday December 5th 2005 , when he closed the doors to his factory for good with no prior warning.

The closure of Clarke Foam on “Blank Monday” sent the surfboard industry into a state of panic.  As remaining stock was distributed amongst old and loyal customers and moulds and equipment were broken up, shapers across the USA and the rest of the world wondered how on earth they were going to fulfil their orders.  As the dust settled, however, it became apparent that alternative materials and construction methods had started to gain some legitimacy amongst the broader (and often blinkered) surf community.  All of a sudden there was the space and demand in the marketplace for something other than polyurethane foam and fiberglass, and wood as a construction material moved back from the fringes.  Polyurethane foam, fiberglass and polyester resin are, unfortunately for the environment, still the dominant material choices for the surfboard industry, but the fact that there are now choices and that many of the alternatives have a lower impact upon resources and the environment is a step in the right direction.

We use a minimal amount of (repurposed) foam in our hollow wooden surfboards, taking offcuts of (lower impact) biofoam from a local surfboard producer and placing them where the fin box will go if we are building a surfboard with a removable fin system set into the bottom.  So, we have Grubby to thank on several fronts, both for shutting up shop in a manner that forced a wide reconsideration of what a surfboard could be made from, and for being the father of the offcuts that we repurpose to hold the fin boxes in the tails of our surfboards.

Tom (left) and Luke (Right) joined us last week to build and shape themselves a wooden surfboard each; Tom crafting a Pieces of Eight and Luke an Island Hopper.  We had a great week in the workshop with conversation flowing as much as the tea that fuelled us on, and it’s quiet without them this week.  Congratulations on building such great looking surfboards guys, we look forward to sharing a few wintery waves with you both in a few weeks when you return to collect them.

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