So, it's been a few months since the December '05 closure of Clark Foam, and the foam dust is just finally starting to settle. So, like, what happened? Did everyone switch to epoxy? Did a new foam titan rise the challenge? Did the entire market switch overseas? Just looking around, well, it's hard to tell. So we decided to ask a man with a finger in just about every surfboard pie out there. Rusty Surfboards is involved with Tuflite composite boards, Aviso carbon fiber boards, Solomon composites, EPS epoxies and a couple different types of standard urethane/polyester constructions, but more importantly, he's less concerned with trumpeting The Next Big Thing than he is with simply figuring out what people want to surf on.
SURFING MAGAZINE: What was your initial reaction when you heard Clark Foam had closed their doors?
RUSTY PRIESENDORFER: At first I was in shock, like, wow, it's real. We'd heard the rumors at noon and were just getting a shipment of blanks, so we were like, no, the truck was just here. It can't happen. And then we got the fax an hour or two later. So, it took me a day or two to digest, and it seemed logical to me to go full-speed ahead into these alternative constructions. It opened the door to new ideas. People think the Tuflite boards we released was a reactionary thing, but I built the 12 masters for those a year before Clark Foam closed. Then, also, throughout '05, I'd been working with John Parton, a surfboard shaper with extensive sailboard building background. So, he was very familiar with how to do custom composites and how to do EPS and epoxy boards.
Can you run us through the various types of boards Rusty is involved with?
Well, out of the molded carbon family, there were three or four to choose from and I decided to go with Aviso, 'cause everything's in-house and there's two generations of surfers building some incredible sail-racing equipment, and they're real into. So I've really enjoyed working with them. And we're also involved with Solomon. I was really intrigued by the performance aspects of their boards, especially in small surf.
How about your involvement with Tuflite?
Randy built me some prototypes 12 or 13 years ago, and even back then I was excited about doing something with them. But then he got distracted making sailboards and disappeared. I still have one of those early prototypes from that period. Randy and I had a solid dialogue for about a year before I decided to go with those. Really, philosophically I was in a place a few years ago where I was trying to save the domestic custom board business — if it was savable. Watching everything go offshore, philosophically, I was not in a place to do the Tuflite thing a few years ago. But I just had so many customers asking for those boards, I decided to go ahead and do it.
And the EPS/epoxy?
That's kind of a revisit, too. We dabbled in it back in the early '80s. People were goofing around with it back then, using 1 or 1 lb. EPS, but what was happening was the pro tour guys were having to slug it out in crappy surf and they really needed boards that performed in small, crappy Huntington surf. The crowning moment was when they decided to have an ASP event in Allentown Pennsylvania, and all the pros were freaking. How do we get a competitive edge in a wave pool? So, I build quite a few guys EPS boards for that thing. But the interest went away, because we couldn't get it to feel right. But within the last few months, we've been getting stuff that's much better. Probably the best EPS is going to be shape molded, similar to what Clark Foam did, so you can control the density variance: less in the nose and more in the tail to affect the balance and strength of the board. The big block foam is made in 4 foot by 4 foot, 12 to 16 foot blocks, and it's difficult to control the density. But when you're doing smaller shapes, you can use small beads and do a quick steam. You can really dial in and control the densities and get a blank that's virtually impervious to water.
Yeah, a small mold would be much better than those big blocks.
Definitely. But that's still gonna have it's place, too, 'cause it's still pretty pricey to make those molds; it's not like making a urethane plug out of concrete.
Any other types of materials you guys are working with?
Yeah, I've looked at urethane from probably 20 different makers. I've looked at five different urethanes that are MDI based, I've shaped a half-dozen Home Blown blanks from England; Home Blown is out of the UK, and using the reportedly more environmentally MDI-based urethane. A lot of the people manufacturing other in urethane applications have switched from TDI to MDI.
With so many smaller companies moving to fill the gap left by Clark, is it going to be easy for the smaller shapers — guys doing, like, twenty-some boards a week — to just go back to the status quo of polyurethane?
I would imagine by this summer there's going to be a glut of urethane foam. The whole EPS/epoxy thing has been alive and well and being developed by a small group of people for the past 20 years and, for the small boardmaker, I think it's a more ideal construction. These guys that don't make a lot of boards, they can hotwire their own profiles, they can make blanks for themselves quite a bit cheaper. The guys that make 20 boards a week, they would have the time to hotwire their own blanks. They'd have the time to wait for the epoxies to kick; 'cause even with the newer resins it takes a little longer to kick, so they don't go through the factory as quick as polyester. So, for the little guys that made the switch, I say, "Well done." The guys that are sitting around waiting for urethane… well, with EPS you get a lighter, stronger board and you're much more in control of your destiny if you figure out how to wire the foam.
What have the buyers been turning to since the closure of Clark?
I think there's been a little bit of a "wait and see". It certainly hasn't hurt my Tuflite sales. And the custom boards I'm building, every customer I talk to I get 'em to try EPS and I get glowing feedback. I'm honestly just getting a ton of great feedback. It's all I've been riding the past few months. And all my customers — young, old, modest ability to good ability — I've had not one negative thing come back to me about EPS. It's all been positive. So I'm encouraged. To me, it's an opportunity for this industry to ditch the wooden racket and move forward.