Surftech's Randy French – A post-Clark foam Q & A

Randy French, owner of Surftech surfboards, has remained relatively quiet throughout the whole Clark foam fiasco. And with legendary shapers such as Rusty Preisendorfer joining in the Surftech crusade, you'd think French would be laughing out loud. However, not one to toot his own horn, and realizing this is not a pleasant time for many in the industry, French remains stoic and focused rather than giddy. This Q & A took place at Surftech HQ in Santa Cruz California in the latter part of December 2005.- Ed. Hey Randy, first off, what about this rumor that you are retiring?

RANDY FRENCH: (light laugh, casually commenting) Nah, that's not true. I do travel a lot, but I don't work every day. I have the opportunity now to pass some of my responsibilities on, and focus things I like to do, like R&D and new technologies. I do have a yearly travel schedule that takes me around the world: Hong Kong, Europe, Spain, Maldives, Indo, France, Australia, Hawaii…all business related of course. How long have you been shaping? And do you still shape surfboards?

RANDY FRENCH: I started shaping in 1968. I still shape boards, it is the heart of new design. I have been shaping new designs for Dino Miranda and Lance lately. I don’t have to shape, but I love it. I’m not doing production shaping, just for R&D and custom shapes. We have a great shaping bay here, and I work on improving design by shaping prototypes, and working with our team riders. So, how do you feel about the Clark Foam closure?

RANDY FRENCH: I think it was horrible how it was done. Most of the local shapers here in Santa Cruz, guys like Ward Coffey, Doug Shroedel, Pat Taylor, Coletta, Mark Goin, they are all lifelong friends. I hate to see my friends having this trouble. Everyone here at Surftech is bummed. We work with shapers from around the world every day. Part of Surftech is to support and help the shapers we produce boards for. What happened with Clark Foam has hurt the whole industry. We are really bummed about it. Has the Clark Foam closure boosted sales at Surftech?

RANDY FRENCH: A little, we have been busier. We have always had a problem keeping inventory though, especially with the popular models. We have been growing at a steep rate every year, and unlike other industries, there is no projections coming from the surfshops. There is no forecasting. For people relying on Clark Foam for blanks, there was flexibility. Clark could produce on demand. If production moves overseas, then it will affect that immediate availability that everyone was used to. Manufacturing will require pre-booking, not the immediate production flexibility that shapers have enjoyed here over the years. It will force the industry into forecasting their needs, instead of getting blanks as they need them. The surfboard industry will have to mature. What changes do you foresee in the custom surfboard industry?

RANDY FRENCH: Well, I think we are going to see different foams, new technologies, and more companies producing them. In the long run it will be a healthy thing. With more companies coming into the blank building business, it will prevent something like this from happening again. It will also force the industry into using different materials.
Things will never be the same as they were. Do you see a shift toward epoxy based products?

RANDY FRENCH: Epoxy technology as been available for years, and only a few people were willing to try it. Guys like Greg Loehr offered the industry epoxy based technology years ago, but not many people were willing to make that shift over. Now, the industry will be forced to try different materials. In the long run it will be a good thing. What types of innovation is Surftech working on right now?

RANDY FRENCH:: We have an aggressive R&D program here at Surftech. We are working on new technology constantly. At the tradeshows (Fla. and San Diego) in January
we will be releasing Tuflite2 and Tuflite3. We strive for approval on a pro level. We have guys like Shane Dorian testing them in Hawaii, fresh off the tour, saying that they could win an event on this technology. That is what we want to hear.