It doesn't seem right that Gordon “Grubby” Clark will be immortalized in cement in front of Huntington Surf N Sport near the Huntington Beach Pier on July 31. In a perfect world, the 2015 inductee to the Surfers' Hall of Fame would be immortalized in foam–as in polyurethane foam, not saltwater foam produced by crashing waves.
Clark is the founder and namesake of Clark Foam, a company that started in Laguna Canyon, moved to Laguna Niguel and was the leading producer of polyurethane foam surfboard blanks from the early 1960s through 2005.
At its height, Clark Foam produced an estimated 90 percent of blanks sold in America and 60 percent of those sold worldwide. Surfer magazine named Clark the 10th most influential surfer of the 20th century and in 2002 ranked him No. 2 behind Quiksilver CEO Bob McKnight on a list of the “25 Most Powerful People in Surfing.”
“We're stoked and excited to induct Gordon Clark into the 2015 Surfers' Hall of Fame,” said founder Aaron Pai. “Gordon's impact on the surfboard industry stretched across five decades and included many significant technological developments that improved the 'surfing' experience for millions of surfers across the globe.”
Born in Gardena on Jan. 19, 1933, Clark learned to surf while attending Pomona College in the late '40s and '50s, where he earned a B.S. in engineering. He landed his first paying job in the surf industry was when he was 19, working for the legendary Tom Blake, inventor of the surfboard fin after going to Hawaii and running out of money. From Blake, Clark was able to learn the history of surfboard construction dating back to the 1920s.
Along the way, Gordon met designer and shaper Bob Simmons, who shared experiences he had with the EPS/epoxy surfboard technology that he had invented in 1948. In 1955, after spending two years in the Army, Clark began working as a laminator for Hobie Surfboards, which is where he began to develop polyurethane foam molds because balsa wood was becoming too costly and hard to find. In June of 1958, Hobie Alter started mass production of his foam blanks, triggering an incredible demand, and Clark made an amicable split from Hobie in 1961 to form Clark Foam. The rest is history (that you can read more about on the next page).
Joining Clark as a 2015 Surfers' Hall of Fame inductee are Floridian CJ Hobgood, who won pro surfing's world title in 2001 and later added the 2007 U.S. Open to his trophy collection, and John Davis, the first captain of the nascent Huntington Beach High School surf team in 1967. Their induction in front of Huntington Surf N Sport begins at 10 a.m. Friday, July 31.
More on Grubby Clark and Clark Foam courtesy of the Surfers' Hall of Fame …
* Clark Foam developed inexpensive, steel reinforced cement molds that were hydraulically operated which allowed very accurate mold tolerances. Over the years this technology was improved, eventually allowing dozens of different mold sizes for different markets and types of waves. This saved on raw material as well as shipping and labor costs.
* Another notable achievement was the “hot coat” or “fill coat;” the coat of resin put on the fiberglass after the layup. The original reason was to eliminate the “itch” caused by sanding fiberglass, but a side benefit was keeping the lengthwise strength of the fiberglass. This technique was universally adopted throughout the foam surfboard industry.
* By the end of 1968, Clark Foam was making all its own resins from commodity chemicals bought by truckload and stored and processed in large tanks, eliminating 55-gallon drums, labor and waste. Clark also kept a full wood mill on the premise, making the operation virtually self-contained.
* In 1969, Clark Foam introduced the first full container load and rail car shipments to Hawaii, the East Coast and a number of foreign countries. This development greatly expanded the available of quality blanks and surfboards outside of California.
* In 1974, Clark Foam built the first hydraulically operated glue presses. This innovation led to very close tolerance gluing and eventually over 5,500 rocker templates kept in a computer database.
* In 1978, Clark Foam began an ongoing effort to utilize computers (using custom software developed by Clark) to boost productivity, improve quality controls in the manufacturing process, fine tune inventory control and ultimately offer a wider selection of products. This created a wide range of close tolerance blanks, saving raw material and shaping labor.
* It was estimated that Clark sold about 300,000 blanks annually in the early 2000s, which were distributed through warehouses in Florida, Hawaii, England and France. The Clark plant had three shifts and was often open seven days a week.
* Clark constantly updated and refined his product, and remained in contact with the surf industry by sending out long, detailed memos with titles like “Analysis of Future Trends in Surfboard Construction.” Gordon Clark attributed his success to the fact that nobody else wanted to do the job. “There's nothing romantic about foam,” he said in 1972. “It's dirty, messy and smelly, and nothing you'd dream of doing for a career.” Hobie Alter stated that Clark became the blank king because he's “unbelievably efficient.”
* In a move that shocked and briefly paralyzed the board industry, Clark shuttered his business in December of 2005. At the time of its closing, there were about 70 blanks in the Clark Foam line, ranging in size from 5-foot-9 to 12-foot-8 along with seven different foam densities, a number of center-cut wood stringer choices, and thousands of rocker options.
* Many of the Clark Foam molds had been designed by the world's top surfboard shapers, including Dale Velzy, Rusty Preisendorfer, Pat Rawson and Dick Brewer. Not long after his business closed, Clark moved to his 52,000-acre central Oregon ranch and began raising cattle and sheep.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.