Austin Plastics: A New Generation Of Foam Maker In The Surf Industry

On the ground floor of Austin Plastics; (Left to Right)
Steve Hjemstrom, John Silver, Jeff Silver
Last week, sat down with John Silver and Steve Hjelmstrom; two of the minds behind the company Austin Plastics. With their Huntington Beach location, they are set to take the surfboard foam industry by storm.

SURFING: Basically, we've been told that you guys are starting something new up here in Huntington Beach. Can you elaborate on your operations here and how it will affect the surfing communities ability to get foam for surfboard blanks?

John Silver: Basically the entire tapestry of the industry has changed. We have to thank some of the pioneers like Greg Loher and Javier from Epoxy Pro who have been experimenting with epoxy for the past 25 years. But in the past five years the evolution has just exploded in terms of quality, consistency and a product that I personally believe is better than any polyurethane / polyester board. They ride better, they're more lively, and the flex characteristics make it a really high performance board.

What is your timeline for getting this into shapers hands so that it is in turn available to the general public?

John: Well right now there are various different foams out there, and the most construction-oriented foam used to build epoxy surfboards is EPS. It's sound, it's weathered the test of time, and built properly, it's a much more durable board. There are a lot of people that want to jump into the game after Black Monday (Monday December 5th - the day Clark Foam closed its doors). It will be a matter of production space, delivery and quality that will support the industry in Southern California. We have been looking at doing this for 2 years, and it wasn't until Clark Foam stopped producing that really threw a wrench in the system and opened the door for us.

To answer your question more directly though - foam is going to be readily available from several different sources. Whether it is polyurethane foam China, or possibly from connections in South Africa, Australia. But to build blanks in California the way Clark Foam did is a thing of the past. And EPS foam is readily available - it comes from the construction industry. It also has a lot of government regulations to keep its consistency as well. What we're doing is using a CNC machine / computerized system to create high-tolerance rocker patterns, precise cuts so that glues that you use to put together the stringer and the foam is solid. All that stuff had to be taken into consideration. Plus you have to match your foam cuts to your stringer and rocker configurations for each individual shaper depending on what they want. And that is going to be our capability. The volume capability is just going to be who can buy the most material and have it on hand. Particularly the wood - that's a key issue. A great stringer is something that every board needs. That is something that we have found to be the same as polyurethane blanks.

One of the main issues with the closure of Clark Foam was the alleged problems with the EPA. Will there be a problem in the manufacturing process of your product?

John: For us it's a non-issue. Our process is not labor intensive - its more machine manufactured. The real key to epoxy boards is the actual glassing of the boards. The old way of glassing polyester surfboards involved a lot of VOCs (Volatile Organic Composites) and that meant you had to deal with the EPA and the local fire departments. And the writing was on the wall in the state of California that there was going to have to be a change. And with Grubby Clark closing the doors, alternative foam sources were going to have to be found and obviously epoxy has been experimented with and used successfully up to this point.

What it does is allow these glass shops to use items that are non-flammable, no VOCs, more environmentally friendly materials. And the strength of epoxy is also well known. The US government uses all sorts of epoxy resins for construction of different types of projects. They don't use polyester for a certain reason - it's just not that strong.

You can use these materials and create more of a safe environment more so than you ever could in the past.

Here’s how it arrives: in massive blocks
What about availability to smaller, non-brand shapers? Is the smaller shaper going to be overlooked in the whole revolution process for the sake of big accounts?

John: The industry in general has always been a grass-roots industry. It's kind of neat. That's just how it is. EPS is a foam that is available, and everyone is trying to lock their portion of it up so they can build their product and sell it cleanly. But there is a lot to go around and everyone should be able to get what they need in order to build their boards.

Steve: We intend on servicing everybody. And we're currently working on a procedure that will make worth our while and theirs to use our product. We're just fine-tuning our business to meet their needs at this point. The big accounts like Rusty and the like are always going to be a big portion of our business, and we want to be ready for it. But we will always have a channel for the smaller guys as well.

So how does someone who is interested in your product contact you?

John: Well, the company name is Austin Plastics Foam Cores. We're located at
15571 Chemical Lane
Huntington Beach, CA
92649Our email is