Clark Foam closing its doors...
December 7, 2005 8:44 AM   Subscribe

Thinking about shaping a new fiberglass surfboard? Better get your blank quick... Clark Foam, the largest producer of polyurethane foam surfboard blanks for the last 40+ years has closed its doors due to environmental regulators.
posted by rodo (39 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Even outside of California's strict regulations, one almost has to work in a clean room environment to properly meet standards regarding prep work, shaving disposal, etc.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:06 AM on December 7, 2005

The environmentalists, they're after our surfboards !

Our children !

Western Civilization !

Err....oops, that's James Dobson's claim, more or less, except for the surfboards......hmm......hey ! I bet there are some gay surfers. who have been stockpiling boards so they'll be the last ones to be kings ( or queens ) of the beach.

I'll have to tell Dobson. Maybe he'll tack it on to the list.

Anyway, humans are a really inventive lot. I wouldn't worry about the boards : a substitute, benign foam will quickly bring the boards back. Surfing will continue.

Along with Western Civilization.
posted by troutfishing at 9:18 AM on December 7, 2005

Oops - I should have written there "that's Dobson's claim about gays, except........"
posted by troutfishing at 9:19 AM on December 7, 2005

I heard about this from of all places the surf report I call on a nearly daily basis this morning. I figured the newer board shaping technologies had forced Clark Foam out of business but to hear the reason given in the LA Times story is shocking. I had no clue my current sport of choice has an environmental cost.
posted by photoslob at 9:19 AM on December 7, 2005

I've got China on hold, I'll get right back to you...
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:21 AM on December 7, 2005

I just read this last night looking for info about Malik Joyeux's death at Pipeline.

Damn Grubby, try to be a little bit cleaner.
posted by Relay at 9:26 AM on December 7, 2005

I've got China on hold, I'll get right back to you...

HAHAHA I was thinking exactly that !!
posted by a3matrix at 9:27 AM on December 7, 2005

StickyCarpet, sure, China could probably make the blanks, but they don't have any of the formulas for the resins used.

Clark has kept this stuff secret since almost day one (although Greg Noll had a good guess at it, and his dad Ash tired to back engineer it with some success).

It's not just the shape and the material used, its the density and distribution of the foam.
posted by Relay at 9:29 AM on December 7, 2005

It's a shame new board materials don't grow on trees...
posted by biffa at 9:35 AM on December 7, 2005

Relay: you'd be surprised what can be done with a mass spectrometer and an electron microscope.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:35 AM on December 7, 2005

Bring on the wooden longboard renaissance!
posted by fandango_matt at 9:37 AM on December 7, 2005

The Clark Foam site is still up.

I've been around their main plant. It smells funny.

My dad collapsed a lung shaping his own surfboards back in the late 70s. He almost died. Use a respirator, kids!

Regardless, I'll always see that Clark Foam logo and smell surf wax, neoprene and salt water.

Pee in your wetsuit! It keeps you warm!
posted by loquacious at 9:40 AM on December 7, 2005

Heh. Do you have any idea how much a laquered Balsa longboard weighs? Sure, it's the forefather technology of surfing, yadda troglodyte yadda, old men of the water, due respect, so on and so forth, but you might as well be riding an unpeeled lodgepine log.

I'd rather body surf. Gimme some Viper fins and the Wedge or 15th street on a good day and I'm set.
posted by loquacious at 9:44 AM on December 7, 2005

Just this morning I was wishing that I'd gone the surftech route rather than fiberglass, for the durability. Now I also wish I'd gone that route because this Clark guy seems like a jerk.
posted by Llama-Lime at 9:45 AM on December 7, 2005

I know, dude. I was just making funny like ha ha.

Not long ago I saw an older guy with what must've been a ten-foot board--how he and Duke Kahanamoku and the rest did it, I'll never know. It's like riding the Tour de France on a Schwinn Cruiser.
posted by fandango_matt at 9:50 AM on December 7, 2005

Whew, I thought they were outlawing the actual foam sheets, it's just turning them into surfboards that is the problem. I intend to use the same proccess of fiberglass over polyurethane foam to make a camping trailer next spring and I thought I was going to have to go out and snap up the sheets of insulation I'll need.
posted by Mitheral at 9:54 AM on December 7, 2005

Glass... mobile home?
posted by loquacious at 9:56 AM on December 7, 2005

This post annoys the hell out of me. Do you realize the language used in the FPP is completely biased?

Attributing this closing to "environmental regulators" is a nice way of avoiding the real issue of why his shop was shut down: it pollutes the fuck out of the environment. I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts the EPA has numerous studies showing that the chemicals Clark uses leach into groundwater, cause cancer or birthdefects or retardtation, or any other number of really nasty side-effects when concentrated.

Maybe, (*MAYBE*), the environmental regulations are over-zealous, but I seriously doubt it. What it boils down to is everybody says they support a clean environment (I'm sure Clark does), but when it comes time for you, personally, to make a sacrifice to reduce pollution, every body is like "Whoa! wait a minute!" Argh.
posted by teece at 10:11 AM on December 7, 2005

I forgot to add: it may be other issues that shut Clark down. OSHA may have evidence that the work procedures Clark uses may cause serious long term health problems, etc.

The fact that he is facing criminal charges in relation to this is very, very telling.
posted by teece at 10:14 AM on December 7, 2005

teece-I had pretty much the same reaction to the language (with a bit less vitriol) as you did. Both Clark's letter and the FPP make it sound as if there is no reason aside from a perverse love for fucking business men that the "regulators" might have had for their actions. Clark also does a good job of making it sound like he was the victim of a specific vendetta against him, which seems unlikely. I'm always interested when people involved in outdoor sports are against "environmentalists." It happens a lot in tral running, where people will complain about something which may make their life more difficult but which ultimately preserves their ability to do what they love to do.
posted by OmieWise at 10:21 AM on December 7, 2005

OK, OmieWise is right, too much vitriol. Sorry.
posted by teece at 10:26 AM on December 7, 2005

*trail running*
posted by OmieWise at 10:27 AM on December 7, 2005

I don't think that the post's language was overly biased. It's just stating the facts as they are known from limited sources, and I don't think anyone here has said that being shut down is a bad thing.

Clark's letter, though, is indeed indicative of someone harried, confused, and probably negligent.

Speaking from personal experience, though, the Southern California AQMD and the Orange County Fire Authority are a serious pain in the ass to deal with.

The AQMD is hyperzealous, but that's their job. On one hand, SoCal has the best air quality that it's had in years and decades. On the other hand, many business have been shut out, legislated or priced out of existence.

Frankly, unless things have changed recently I can't even go in the water in SoCal anymore. Every time I've tried to go body surfing I've gotten sick - ear and nose infections and such.

And it's not due to industrial runoff. It's due to dog shit and bacterially loaded effluent from storm drains and sewage plants. I don't see anyone calling for a ban on stupid dogs or humans shitting everywhere.
posted by loquacious at 10:36 AM on December 7, 2005

loquacious writes "Glass... mobile home?"

The plan is to construct a tear drop trailer using a GRP/foam composite . I hope to both save 100-150 lb or the equivelent Al-Plywood-Foam-Plywood sandwich and have compound curves (Tri-Magnum proof of feasability).
posted by Mitheral at 10:36 AM on December 7, 2005

save 100-150 lb over the equivelent Al-Plywood-Foam-Plywood sandwich
posted by Mitheral at 10:38 AM on December 7, 2005

And it's not due to industrial runoff. It's due to dog shit and bacterially loaded effluent from storm drains and sewage plants. I don't see anyone calling for a ban on stupid dogs or humans shitting everywhere.

Where I live (SW UK) this is exactly what we have. Fines for people whose dogs shit anywhere, a culture where people use the toilet (?!) and high water charges for sewage disposal and programmes to ensure clean water outflows and clean beaches. Not been sick since I moved down here and I go in pretty regularly, can't remember any of my regular surfing friends having any problems either.

Surfers may be interested i this report on the eco-board, a combination of balsa, plant resin and hemp cloth. Compostable after you've done with it. Currently weight means that professionals won't have much use for it but apparently good enough for a beginner.
posted by biffa at 10:52 AM on December 7, 2005

There's an episode of Dirty Jobs that covers a surfboard shaper. It's nasty. And pretty hard. Worth watching.
posted by smackfu at 11:14 AM on December 7, 2005

" If you even talked to anybody about alternative technologies or different foams, he would blacklist you"

Contrary to the tone of the post, it sounds like a case of good riddance.
posted by 2sheets at 11:18 AM on December 7, 2005

biffa: Where I live (SW UK) this is exactly what we have. Fines for people whose dogs shit anywhere, a culture where people use the toilet (?!) and high water charges for sewage disposal and programmes to ensure clean water outflows and clean beaches...."

We have that in the US too (I'm not sure about CA, but I'm sure Cali is more vigilant than they used to be), except for high water charges-- but that's cause we have so much damn water (in most places anyway).

Actually, I'm not too clear about the programs to ensure clean water either. We have something, I'm pretty sure. It's a total lock on the dog shitting rules tho. We have them in spades, at least on the East Coast.

We just don't spend a lot of effort enforcing our environmental regulations, especially in the last--oh, 6 years or so.
posted by illovich at 11:31 AM on December 7, 2005

Contrary to the tone of the post, it sounds like a case of good riddance.

My sentiments too, 2sheets. The man could face criminal conviction for breaking environmental or workplace regulations, according to his own words. From my understanding of such things, behavior has to be cravenly negligent, repeated, and knowingly in violation of regs., in order for criminal charges to even be considered.

When I used to deal with enviro regs (asbestos) in an ancillary fashion it was a) a pain in the ass, with good reason; b) never a matter for criminal courts. If you broke the rules, you got your job shut down, and maybe paid a fine. There was not even a mention of criminal charges.

I wonder just how much of a cravenly indifferent asshole this Clark guy must have been to get criminal charges filed against him. The guy most likely has been feeding lead paint chips to kids for years (metaphorically speaking), and didn't care. Good riddance.

If an irreplaceable source of surf boards disappears, well, it's time to face the reality of where those boards were coming from, and find a better way to make them.
posted by teece at 11:31 AM on December 7, 2005

Note in his letter he mention " We have three ex-employees on full Workman’s Compensation disability – evidently for life."

According to this, neither the EPA or the OCFA considered him not in compliance. He was citied for minor violations in 2003, asked to come into compliance by May 2004, and did -- thus, no fines, no nothing.

Something's not being said here.
posted by eriko at 11:37 AM on December 7, 2005

I think the saddest part is that the letter is from a supplier to his customers, bemoaning his business problems due to environmental regulators and regulations and expressing regret about not being able to provide his product any longer.

You truly do vote with your wallet. If consumers knew about the pollution risk of the products they were buying, I wonder if they would still have purchased so much of the product.
posted by VulcanMike at 11:45 AM on December 7, 2005

Well taking the long view here Grubby (ironic nick-name, huh?) has seemingly been at odds with the "authorities" (various bodies over his many years in the business) for many many years, decades actually.

Anyway, that's the rep he's had in various publications that I've read over the years.

If he's screwing up stuff that bad, then OK, shut him down.

The next question becomes: where do we get blanks from?
posted by Relay at 11:55 AM on December 7, 2005

I work in a chemical field with has significant health risks to our employees (my self included), and I'll tell you we take workplace safety extremely seriously. Due diligence is the first thing on every manager's lips. It's very easy to open yourself personally let alone your employer if you don't do your homework properly.

Incidence of liver failure and cancer are all too common in chemical and industrial settings like this one---several people in our lab have been touched by liver problems (caught at a very early and reversible stage by our health monitoring program). It's really easy to get cavalier with things like this because they sneak up on you over the course of the years.

Actually, given that his workers are foam carvers, I'd offer serious money that at least part of his OSHA problems relate to inhalation of small particles. We're born with a certain lung capacity and we don't get any more, ever. You can't improve your lung capacity with exercise, for instance. One single bad incident of particle inhalation can reduce lung capacity by a couple of percent. Too many exposures and you're on oxygen for the rest of your life.
posted by bonehead at 11:55 AM on December 7, 2005

Compliance with OSHA and EPA regulations is a cost of doing business. If you can't pay that cost, either get the regulations changed, or get out of the business. Whining to your customers that the big bag government is forcing you to quit is bS.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:39 PM on December 7, 2005

It's a bag. It's a big bag . . .
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:40 PM on December 7, 2005

get the regulations changed

How do you do that?

Whining to your customers

posted by event at 1:15 PM on December 7, 2005

Hello, epoxy. Hello, new foams, new sandwiches, lighter and stronger boards. And don't say goodbye to custom shapes just yet. The industry will adapt.
posted by dontoine at 2:03 PM on December 7, 2005

The right way to address this issue is to get rid of the humans.

Take the shaping knives and sanding blocks out of their hands, and put them in front of CAD workstations. Build an automated CNC factory in Montana where land is cheap and capture ALL of the milled off material. Recycle the excess material and build custom designs in arbitrary quantity.

You could do the same thing in China too, but I suspect Montana would not be significantly more expensive. Shipping would be much cheaper.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:20 PM on December 7, 2005

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