Clark Foam closure will pinch surfing biz
The company had an 80 percent share of the global market
Hawaii's surfing community suffered a punishing blow yesterday when Clark Foam, which supplies about 80 percent of the world's foam blanks used for shaping surfboards, was shut down for environmental and fire safety violations.
STAR-BULLETIN / 1995
Surfboard prices are expected to rise with the sudden shutdown of Clark Foam.
The closure of Clark Foam's manufacturing facility in Laguna Niguel, Calif., is expected to make surfboards more expensive to make and purchase, according to Hawaii surfboard businesses.
Clark Foam's lone Hawaii distribution center in Wahiawa also was closed, leaving three employees without jobs.
Clark Foam founder Gordon Clark, who had co-developed the foam mass-production technique in 1958 and founded the company in 1961, said in a letter to business associates yesterday that the company was ceasing production and sales of surfboard blanks immediately.
"I may be looking at very large fines, civil lawsuits, and even time in prison," he said in the letter.
Clark blamed the state of California and Orange County for the shutdown and said "they have made it very clear they no longer want manufacturers like Clark Foam in their area."
He said the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Orange County Fire Authority were concerned with Clark Foam's use of a toxic chemical, toluene di-isocynate, commonly called TDI. Clark said other concerns included the use of polyester resin, dust, trash and equipment that was built to Clark's specifications.
Louis Melton, sales and marketing manager for Honolulu-based Fiberglass Hawaii, said Clark Foam's closure will put a sizable ding into Hawaii's surfboard-making business, which includes at least 30 shapers, as well as other businesses involved in surfboard production.
"It's enormous and it's catastrophic, but, at the same time, is anything really that bad?" Melton asked.
"It's going to affect the market. There's no doubt about it. How extreme it affects it is too soon to tell."
Fiberglass Hawaii, which considers itself virtually a one-stop shop, supplies all the raw materials -- such as polyester resin -- to make a surfboard except for the foam blanks.
"So if the shapers don't have surfboard blanks, our business will be affected, also," said Melton, whose business also distributes fiberglass material for the marine industry, hobbyists and fabricators.
Peter Thorne, co-owner of the Factory in Wahiawa, laminates and finishes the boards that shapers bring into to his business.
"Them shutting down definitely will limit us," Thorne said.
"Clark Foam had a monopoly on all the foam coming into the island for years, and any time you have something like that pulled out from beneath you, it leaves a huge gap to be filled. And there's nobody really ready to step up and fill that gap."
There are three foam-blank manufacturers in Australia and a small manufacturer in California, according to Melton.
Demand clearly outstrips supply, Thorne said.
"One of the big ones in Australia has a three-year wait list to get foam from them, and I don't think the one in California has the production facility to meet demand," Thorne said.
"You'll probably see the prices of surfboards shoot way up and be harder to get."