In the absence of now-closed Clark Foam's prodigious volume, remaining suppliers of shapeable surfboard blanks are striving to catch the market wave.
``The void will be filled,'' said Mark Jolley, president of Ocean X Inc. of Oceanside, Calif. ``U.S. and foreign companies are working to fill that void.''
Meanwhile, many board shapers are having difficulty obtaining blanks, prices have jumped on available stock and unemployment within the cottage industry is becoming a normal occurrence.
Clark Foam closed its Laguna Niguel, Calif., plant in early December, ostensibly for environmental safety concerns and liabilities relating to its use of rigid polyurethane foam. Clark had controlled about 90 percent of the surfboard PU foam industry worldwide.
Walker Foam of Wilmington, Calif., a longtime supplier with a much smaller business, is ramping up domestic production and, during February, expects initial ocean delivery of PU blanks from a manufacturing facility Walker has established in China.
Australian suppliers include Shapers Australia Pty. Ltd. of Currumbin, South Coast Foam and Fibreglass of Burleigh and Bennett Surfboards of Brookvale. Others in Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and several Southeast Asia countries also make surfboard blanks.
Some see expanded polystyrene as an answer for shapers.
Among others, ``Ocean X is trying to come out with something more environmentally friendly'' than PU, Jolley said.
Now in pre-production, the firm's EPS material ``acts like a urethane foam and shapes can be manufactured with the same processes,'' he said. Yet, EPS is ``completely different than what Clark was using.''
Jolley said EPS ``has its own challenges'' and is harder to machine and shape than PU.
Meanwhile, Ocean X continues work to bring to market an alternative board with twin-sheet thermoformed polycarbonate skins and, for rigidity, an injected foam core. Development began in 2003. Ocean X displayed the PC board in Milwaukee during the Sept. 24-27 thermoforming conference of the Society of Plastics Engineers.
Advanced materials are also in use. Karl Pope of Ojai, Calif., has his carbon-fiber bisect board on the market, and Graphite Master of Los Angeles and Hana Crew of Melbourne, Fla., have fabricated versions of carbon-fiber-reinforced surfboards.
Makers of mass-produced surfboards have a market opening. Machines replicate master shapers' digital designs.
A Bangplee, Thailand, plant makes boards under contract for Surf Technicians Inc. of Santa Cruz, Calif., and a Vannes, France, plant of Societe Bic's sporting goods division also produces in volume.
The recent market changes and the critical shortage of surfboard blanks are expected to be topics of discussion for many exhibitors and attendees at the Action Sports Retailer trade show, set for Jan. 20-22 in San Diego.