Editor's Note: In conjunction with our annual Surfboards Issue (On newsstands Nov. 18), we will be posting one interview per day with a craftsman who contributed to the issue. Some are the biggest names in the bay; others are underground and want to keep it that way. But all of them share an equal passion for the crafts that move us forward. In these tough economic times, they all have a lot to say on where their craft is going. This time, it's big-wave pioneer and early four-fin advocate Jeff Clark.
Name: Jeff Clark
Zone: Half Moon Bay
Years Shaping: 25 years
Boards Per Week: 10
Specialty: Big-wave gun, tow board, fun gun, quad gun
Is your business better or worse since the Clark Foam shutdown?
It's been a hassle trying to get good gun blanks. A lot of blank companies throw out this plywood stringer stuff. When you have one of your guys break three boards in a week, that gets expensive. The performance of a solid piece of wood is much better than a laminated stringer, the flex pattern is so much different on a board that has two pieces of wood glued together which is much more rigid and stiff and will break easier. Where a solid 3/4 inch piece of wood will flex with the glass job and they're much livelier.
Do you feel polyurethane foam/polyester resin will always be the dominant surfboard construction?
No, everybody and their brother is trying to push everything to China and other countries and their molded stuff. The hand-shaped surfboard is a dying art. I'm not going that way. If they want to buy their foreign-made surfboard at Wal-Mart or CostCo, that's fine but it shows in the water. What province in China did your board come from?
Do you think there’s an increasing or decreasing appreciation for a custom surfboard?
It's starting to become more appreciated. As long as you do quality work, you'll find that people really want quality over quantity. There's guys trying to sign me up for their molded board factories and I just don't think I'm gonna do that. I've always worked with my hands, I'm a third generation carpenter and there's something really satisfying about building something with your hands and watching one of your guys take off on a 20-foot bomb and tear it up.
Are quads declining or increasing in popularity?
Definitely increasing. Not so much in the shortboards. I ride a fish until it gets head high, but once it's head high I really like a tri-fin, they're super punchy. It's the most popular thing on tour. There's a different transition in the turns. The tri-fin, with that center fin, always keeps you connected, whether you're on one rail or another. The quad there's transition where you're completely detached from your fins during a transition. It's an interesting study. Some of the bigger wave stuff, where you need to cover a lot of ground, you need the quickness and the hold up high in the face, or just speed, quads are good.
What’s keeping you afloat? Custom clientele? Shop accounts? Surftech?
Not shop accounts, I don't wholesale boards. If people want my boards they need to go to my website jeffclarksurfboards.com or come up to the surf shop up here in Half Moon Bay. I build a lot of stock boards and people drop into the showroom in Oceanside and buy boards directly from me. I see a lot of people in the water that aren't good for them and they can come in and talk to me about why the board doesn't work. A lot of the general public would really like that information, somebody giving them the straight scoop and building them the right kind of boards. It's much more fun to see people enjoying surfing than having their leg shackled to something that doesn't work.
If it hasn't already, will your surfboard production ever go overseas?
Only if the EPA kicks us out of California.
What kind of music do you listen to when you shape?
The Mermen, Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Zeppelin, pretty much all across the board.
How much time do you spend on a single board?
I got one with a bent stringer the other day and I spent two and a half hours on a gun blank, that's crazy, but it needed to be done right. I was doing another one, and I have a program that builds the thing so good that I spent twenty minutes, that was just a short board. If you have proven programs that people really like, you really don't have to do a lot. Everybody complained about the machines early on, but they're so consistent if you're on a good one that it's a great place to shape your next master off of if you want to alter it, or tweak it, or whatever.
Do you spend more time on the computer screen or in the shaping bay?
Definitely in the shaping bay.
How important is teamrider feedback to you?
If you watch your guy do a grab rail cut back and go over a double up that turns into a twenty-foot face and pull it off, you just kind of go, 'all right, we're on the right track here.' My feedback is visual, when I watch them ride the boards through the water, I can tell if they need anything changed. And riding the boards myself, that pretty much seals the deal. I know what's going on by riding the boards and I can fix it, or change it, or enjoy it.
How often do you get to surf?
As much as the waves will allow right now. Next bump comes in, I'm going surfing.
Are you actively pursuing "greener" avenues in your surfboard production?
Yeah, we're kind of limited to what we can build the boards with. Surfboards just aren't green. It's like trying to say, 'we want to use greener gas.' Gas is still gas and you're still gonna put it in your car. We do what we can with what we got. What viable material do we have to make green surfboards out of? If it gets to a point where it's so expensive where nobody buys your board but it's green, then I'll just make surfboards for myself I guess. Where do you draw the line?
MONTH OF THE SHAPER:
DAY 1: William “Stretch” Riedel
DAY 2: Mark Price / Firewire Surfboards
DAY 3: Jeff Clark
DAY 4: Chris Gallagher
DAY 5: Matt Biolos
DAY 6: Geoff Rashe
DAY 7: Mark Wooster
DAY 8: Jeff Bushman
DAY 9: Rusty Preisendorfer
DAY 10: Rich Price
DAY 11: Shane Stoneman
DAY 12: Ricky Carroll
DAY 13: Xanadu
DAY 14: Chris Christenson
DAY 15: John Carper
DAY 16: Michael Walter
DAY 17: David Barr
DAY 18: Ben Aipa
DAY 19: Jeff “Doc” Lausch
DAY 20: Jesse Fernandez
DAY 21: Cole Simler