Gordon Clark, the founder of the leading producer of polyurethane foam blanks from the early 1960s through 2005, is an inevitable name in the history of surfing.
Clark was born on January 19, 1931, in Gardena, Los Angeles, and he was raised in Whittier.
He learned to ride waves while attending Pomona College in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His first surfboard was made of redwood and weighed 90 pounds.
Before hitting 20, Clark had already learned the secrets behind surfboard shaping with Tom Blake and Bob Simmons.
The Polyurethane Blank Empire
Gordon, who earned a B.S. in Engineering, spent two years in the army and, in 1955, he started working as a laminator for Hobie Surfboards.
Rapidly, Clark began to replace balsa wood with polyurethane foam.
In 1961, Gordon Clark agreed on an amicable split from Hobie and founded Clark Foam.
In five years, he was already dominating the market of surfboard blanks. At its peak, Clark Foam produced an estimated 90 percent of blanks sold in America and 60 percent of those sold worldwide.
"Grubby" was an innovator.
He developed inexpensive, steel-reinforced cement molds, the "hot coat," the first hydraulically operated glue presses, and was a pioneer in the introduction of computers to boost productivity and improve quality controls in the manufacturing process.
The Abrupt Closure of Clark Foam
In the early 2000s, Clark was selling 300,000 blanks annually. His plant operated seven days a week, but he never considered himself a genius.
"There's nothing romantic about foam. It's dirty, messy, and smelly, and nothing you'd dream of doing for a career," Gordon Clark once said in 1972.
But the face of the surf industry would change forever in less than 24 hours.
On December 5, 2006, Gordon "Grubby" Clark abruptly shut down Clark Foam, which was then worth about $40 million.
Gordon Clark cited problems with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the chemicals and equipment he used and claims filed against him by former employees.
By Christmas, Clark had already destroyed his molds, and in a matter of weeks, he began raising cattle and sheep on his Oregon ranch.
The iconic surfboard blank manufacturer is a 2015 inductee into the Surfers' Hall of Fame.