Thursday, September 24, 2009

Surfing, To Big To Fail, and Capitalism


*Monday December 5th, 2005 was a dark day at shaping bays and in surf shops around the country. Orange County-based Clark Foam -- far and away the world's largest supplier of surfboard blanks -- shut its doors after over 45 years in business due to a series of ongoing environmental and safety concerns.

*It's estimated that 90% of the world's blanks came from Clark Foam. Sure, there are other blank manufactures in Australia and a few here in the US, but no one is prepared to deal with the huge gap left by Clark Foam's closure. Surfboard prices will go up overnight and shapers still aren't quite sure what will happen next.

*Some folks think Clark Foam's closure is the beginning of the end.

*Grubby Clark, sole owner of Clark Foam and its patents, could throw in the towel on his long-standing battle with the EPA, effectively starting the board-building Great Depression. Can you say Black Monday?

*“This could be the surfboard industry’s H-Bomb,” says Randy Adler “I can’t even imagine how many people this will affect.”

*“This is going to affect everyone,” says a stunned Bob Hurley, of Hurley International

*Even those more apt to look for silver linings are having a tough time with this one. Overnight, the careers of hundreds of shapers and glassers across the globe are effectively over.

These were just some of the stories coming out that day in December 2005. The surf world had come to a stand still. Clark foam, the too big to fail in the surf industry had been pressured to shut its door by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. It was a shock to the system for sure, overnight the prices of surfboards had doubled and tripled, there was a panic from the industry. The future of surfboard building was uncertain, how was the industry going to survive?

In 2005 the economy was booming (bubbling), life was good, and the government did not bail out companies/industries that went out of business, especially the ones that were forced to quit by the government. Clark invented the polyurethane foam and blank designs used by surfboard shapers worldwide, in what was estimated to be a $200 million dollar (USD) industry in the U.S. alone. How could we allow a $200 million dollar industry to be so effected without the help of the government? If it was 2009, and we treated Clark Foam like the to big to fail companies of today, we the tax payers would give money to restructure, re-innovate and create something new and environmental friendly, whatever it took to be viable.

Well, government never stepped in and Capitalism roared it strength in the early first half of 2006 when shock gave away to opportunity. Diverse groups of entrepreneurs and suppliers quickly adapted and filled the void. Not only did new polyurethane companies step up, but alternative technologies popped up at a recorded setting pace. The surfing industry today is still seeing new technologies, which has pushed the sport to new levels. If you do not believe me read this article, excerpt from article:

“In the four months following the Clark closure, startup Just Foam (San Clemente, Calif.) grew from 3 to 26 employees and from 25 to 150 blanks produced daily on the strength of founder/president Scott Saunders' proprietary hybrid-TDI chemistry, which reportedly meets environmental regulations with unusually low VOC emissions.”

“In one of the more unusual developments, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories (Livermore, Calif.) are marketing TufFoam, a low-density, water-blown, modified MDI/polyether urethane foam.”

Gary Linden, now operations manager of Walker Foam (Wilmington, Calif.), a long-time Clark Foam competitor, admits that Clark's were some of the best engineered blanks in the world, but believes that Walker's TDI-based polyether urethane is denser, with better cell bonding.”

These are just a few of the examples...

With Clark Foam, polyurethane was roughly 90% of what surfboards were made of back then. Since the collapse, polyurethane has become more environmentally safe. Other new technologies including polystyrene, expanded polypropylene, compression molded, hollow(using aerospace composite technology), carbon fiber, and polyfoam have all come to the forefront in 4 short years. Each bringing with them lighter, stronger, and more durable surfboards, not to mention better performance, including Firewire—my preference in surfboards.

Unfortunately for America we have missed this opportunity for capitalism to step in. We have missed out on smaller, more innovating companies coming to the forefront and leading us out of this recession. To take us into new heights, producing new and better technologies. We have missed out on those same smaller companies to grow and to expand, to create new jobs for the unemployed. Instead we are stuck with the same companies that have made bad business decisions after bad decision while producing bad products. Now that they have the government on their sides they are "supposedly" starting to change their act, this time with the unlimited backing of us, the taxpayers.

Capitalism is a beautiful thing when is it given the opportunity to flourish. It is a shame that we are at a place which is a total distortion of capitalism. This is just the beginning, from here on out, it is going to be even harder. With the greed on wall street, the media, and the **sheeple that will hang onto Michael Moore's new movie "Capitalism", which will distort it even farther. I am sure that he will twist the movie to show that capitalism caused the economy to collapse. I believe he will not speak on that crony capitalism was the reason.

Please understand...Capitalism is not perfect, but it by far the best economic system we have and it is not an opinion, a theory, or hope. Captain Capitalism says it best:

Our ideology is based in truth. What makes us capitalists, and free-marketers, is the fact that our belief in capitalism is not a belief at all, but rather a knowledge, a knowing that capitalism is the best system. And it is because the truth forms our ideology, that capitalism will always surpass socialism and communism as economic systems.

Please pass along to anyone who has any doubts about capitalism and the theory of "To Big To Fail", as they obviously do not know America and what has made this such a great country.

**Sheeple - It is often used to denote persons who voluntarily acquiesce to a perceived authority, or suggestion without sufficient research to understand fully the scope of the ramifications involved in that decision, and thus undermine their own human individuality or in other cases give up certain rights. The implication of sheeple is that as a collective, people believe whatever they are told, especially if told so by a perceived authority figure believed to be trustworthy, without processing it or doing adequate research to be sure that it is an accurate representation of the real world around them.

photo by RB surfboards

Feel free to leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts!


  1. Excellent article. Too bad our current Prez isn't interested in business practices or capitalistic opportunities. Too busy "community organizing."

  2. Nice article. I love the surfing angle to drive home a point about our bigger economy. Sometimes a few trees need to be burned down so the forest can grow back stronger. We don't seem to be understanding this principle lately at the Federal level.