Marcus Da Silva and Raul Espinosa as two of the hardest working valets on the Cardiff-by-the-Sea strip. In September I was over at their house and I noticed a few blanks in the corner. "What are those for?" I asked. "Those are sample polystyrene blanks [blanks used with epoxy resin]. We're importing them from Brazil and we are going distribute them in the U.S.," Marcus replied. "The company name is Keahana." Not thinking much of it, I wished him good luck. Little did I know these two Brazilian entrepreneurs would play a role restoring some order to the Clark foam madness.
Last Friday, on the way home from work I ran into Marcus and asked him how his blank business was going since “Blank Monday”, the day Clark foam closed up shop. "Things are going really well, really well," he replied.
A little history about Keahana: From the origins of an aeronautical project (Rigid Wing), "Carcara" Flavio Roberto Guimares decided to make a surfboard for his brother, a professional surfer by the name of Christiano Guimares. Christiano was impressed with the lightness and speed of the surfboard. Initially they were expensive but the performance was unquestionable.
At first common Styrofoam blanks and epoxy resin, which were available at the time, were used. Problems arose: areas of a broken board would become spongy, and if it was submitted to heat over 140 F the board would delaminate. After two years of research and thousands of boards later they realized there was nothing on the market to meet the needs of a quality board with the current state of epoxy resin at the time. They worked hard toward their goal of building a manufacturing process not solely based on a final quality product, but improving the quality of working conditions that are unhealthy in terms of a conventional surfboard. "We believe that we carry a unique product, with better performance, quality and durability. Now we have the rights to sell in the U.S.A., and with a lot of work, we are going to show that our product will make the difference," says Marcus.
Although some may say these guys were at the right place at the right time, Marcus will tell you differently.
SURFERMAG.COM: Tell me about the start of Keahana.
Marcus: I started the business when I lost my job in the bank, back in January, and I went back home [to Brazil]. In my first day there I met my good friend and he introduced me to this guy that owns Keahana and we went to a bar.
After a few beers we started to talk about business and I told him that I lost my job in the investment bank that I used to work [in La Jolla]. He told me that everything happens for a reason, and he was looking for someone to represent him in the U.S., so I got the job and I became his distributor in the U.S. When I got back to the U.S., I started my own business and got my seller's permit. Our first container arrived last month, and since I didn't have all the cash and time available to work with Keahana, I invited my roommate Raul to join me. He was someone that I could trust, plus he had good ideas, time, and the money that was needed. A few weeks later Clark Foam went out of business, and we started to get really busy.
SURFERMAG.COM: What surfboard companies are experimenting with your blanks?
Marcus: Currently, companies such as Lost, Channel Islands, Xanadu, Sharp Eye, Mystic, Plus One, and many others have been testing our product. Some of the positive feedback that we have gotten is that we are the only company in the Western Hemisphere, if not worldwide, that manufactures all the components, blanks, resin, hardener, oven, cloth, fins, fin plugs, and fin tools necessary to produce a surfboard.
SURFERMAG.COM: Raul was telling me the other day how you had someone flown into the States and he was going to work with your potential buyers.
Marcus: We brought a specialist who has been working with Keahana products for more than eight years to show the surf industry about our concept.
SURFERMAG.COM: How much have sales increased since Clark Foam closed?
Marcus: At our headquarters overseas, we are currently selling an estimated 1,000 Keahana Kits per month. Obviously our sales have grown here in the U.S., but we want to emphasize the fact that Keahana is not a company trying to capitalize on Clark closing. It was merely a coincidence that Clark Foam closed as Keahana was entering the U.S. for the first time.
SURFERMAG.COM: Why should a shaper go with your blanks, resin and fin systems?
Marcus: Again, Keahana is not just another company entering the market trying to capitalize on Clark Foam closing, but rather we are introducing a technology that has been researched and developed by aeronomic engineers for eight years. These engineers experimented with a resin that originated from airplane wings, which eventually evolved into our product today.
Our goal was to create a product with better floatation, more durability, and at the same time lighter with better flexibility than what was currently on the market. Not only did we meet our goals, but we were also able to create a product that generates more speed, projection, and maneuver recovery. Keahana also created an environmentally safe resin with a more "shaper-friendly" foam.
Keahana's fin system is the lightest, weighing only 50 grams installed, thus it does not unbalance the surfboard. Also, because the system is installed before the lamination process it does not allow water infiltration. Another important part of the fin system is that when the surfboard suffers pressure on the deck, the fin plugs are not pushed through the board because the system has a wider base [no foundation]. This eliminates the possibility of water leaking through the plugs creating saturated foam and eventually causing the fins to break.
SURFERMAG.COM: Tell me why your product is gaining popularity. Why are so many good names interested?
Raul: Let's be honest—the largest foam manufacturer closed his operation. It will change the entire way surfboards are going to be researched and developed. We are not trying to compete with the polyester boards, but rather introduce our product and let the surfer choose what fits him or her best. And we do believe that we have the best.
As we stated above, it is a mere coincidence that Clark Foam closed as our product was being introduced in the U.S. We also want to stress that we are not only introducing a better, more unique product, but also a concept that allows shapers to produce quality custom epoxy surfboards in their own shop rather than ordering them from abroad.
SURFERMAG.COM: When you say shapers will be able to provide a custom epoxy, tell me what you mean.
Marcus: The Keahana concept is totally the opposite of mass-produced surfboards. It will allow shapers to keep their art when shaping surfboards because they will be able to continue developing their own lines, styles, curves, models, which vary from board to board.
SURFERMAG.COM: How easy are your blanks to shape?
Raul: Keahana developed a blank of expanded Styrofoam that does not eliminate gases when machined because it is pre-expanded with water steam. If you compare the Keahana blanks with a polyester blank, it is easier to shape.
SURFERMAG.COM: What do you have to say to those who still don't believe in or like to use epoxy?
Marcus: We believe Keahana has developed a surfboard that combines the advantages of both polyester and epoxy. It has the flexibility of polyester with the durability and floatation of epoxy combined with better performance. It is not our job to say epoxy is better than polyester, but rather present our new technology and let the surfer decide. In this time of change and advancement of technology, why wouldn't you give it a try?
SURFERMAG.COM: If a shaper wanted to get in touch with you to see your product how would they? Is there a website or contact information you'd like to supply?
Raul: The website is www.keahana.com and the phone number for contact is 619-261-7485, or 949-903-3540
SURFERMAG.COM: For the future?
Raul: In the future, we want to always be looking for ways to continually improve our product and/or look for ways to develop a better one. More importantly, still surfing! We are all surfers at heart and are just stoked to be able to work in the surf industry, especially in the Keahana Family! Flavio Carioca, and how he spent eight years researching and developing this product. After thousands of test boards, he has created a product that we believe will maximize performance in the water. Credit is due where credit is deserved, and that is in the hands of Flavio!