CA Regs Cause Wipe-Out for Surfboard Innovator

While visiting the islands of our only mid-Pacific state last spring, I took up a sport new to me. Surfing. The rush of riding a wave is undescribable. It has become a minor addiction in the Shinghal house and we have made it a point to get away from our landlocked city to surf three times since April. Being novices, we do not really know the lingo, board brands or the major players in the game. However, there is a controversy this week that has board makers and riders talking the same language. Clark Foam, the company that has been perfecting the blanks for boardmakers since the 60’s, has locked its doors citing overzealous government regulation as a key reason. The EPA, the Orange County, CA Fire Authority and OSHA are all called on the carpet in a letter explaining his departure from the blank business. Gordon “Grubby” Clark said,

The way the government goes after places like Clark Foam is by an accumulation of laws, regulations, and subjective decisions they are allowed to use to express their intent. Essentially they remove your security, increase your risk or liability, and increase your costs. This makes the closing of Clark Foam and similar manufacturing and accumulation of issues and not a single issue. They simply grind away until you either quit or they find methods of bringing serious charges or fines that force you to close.

He pointed out an ugliness of our litigious society by saying,

Our official safety record as an employer is not very good. We have three ex-employees on full Workman’s Compensation disability — evidently for life. There is another claim being made by the widow of an employee who dies from cancer. According to the claim chemicals and resins at Clark Foam caused the cancer. A few years ago we had one of those horror stories one hears about lawyers. Almost $4,00,000 in lawyers fees and the ex-employee suing Clark Foam got $17,000. The Judge in the lawsuit advised me “this is just the cost of doing business (in California).”

I’m sorry, three long term disability claims in forty years? That doesn’t seem excessive to me. But maybe I am practical. I think that it is evident – even if you are not libertarian – that regulation is about to wipe out an entire industry. I think that Mr. Clark sums it up nicely,

“When Clark Foam was started it was a far different California,” Clark wrote. “Businesses like Clark Foam were very welcome and considered the leading edge of innovation and technology. Somewhere along the way things have changed.”

You can say that again, Grubby.

UPDATE by Stephen Gordon: Reminds me of a book I once read.

  1. Here is what I don’t understand. Yes it costs lots of money to grease the bureaucratic wheels. But your talking about an 8 figure business here that controls 80-90%(reports differ) of the market. How hard would it be to find investment capital to bring everything up to code and pay the ridiculous lawyer fees? Anyone with a half a brain for business would be able to keep this company up and running…and profitable. I think grubby just wanted out, plain and simple. What’s sad about the situation is that the same foam (actually it will probably be of lesser quality) is going to be produced in a country that doesn’t have the environmental regulation that we do in the U.S., and there will still be pollution, possibly more, and people will still die from the carcinogens that are used to make foam. Somewhere like…China?

  2. Asia is the next logical place. They are putting out sub par blanks now but are nothing as far as competition. From the letter, I take it that he is just too beaten down to continue. He is mid 70’s, I think, and seems tired of the never ending red tape.

  3. Being “free country” Gordon “Rat” Clark can do as he pleases. By his act he is a kin to men like Ivan Boesky and Ken Lay. Men who reap huge fourtunes upon the backs of literally thousands of other’s labor. Famous fo prosecuting business practises that eliminate competition to the extent that people are forced to buy from him, he by rights owes it back to see that his selfishness does cause ruin on those same people. This ass has no one but himself in mind. But he owes a huge debt to those who loyaly bought his product for decades. Folks made plans, took mortgages on humble dwellings for their families, based on Clark Foam’s business. But in a cowardly act based on nothing more than greed, Rat G. Clark broke the social contract with those whom he shold be standing tall to befriend. He did not put up the good fight, and now he will go down as a coward, a rich coward, but a coward none the less. May God have mercy on him. Clark will need it. He’ll meet him sooner than later I’ll wager.

  4. An isocyanate polyurethane chemical factory in laguna niguel? How strange is it that is still existed at all? And that a 74 year old guy would like to call it quits? If there is a demand there will be an oversupply of people willing to fill the void with new surfboard blanks. The foam is nothing special, it is part of the whole “mystic” that non-technical people have used to make sense out of the surfing cosmos. The myth of Clark foam, is second only to the myth of hand shaping. Get over it.

  5. I’m a retired surfer who now works as a corporate Environmental Helath & Safety Officer. I have a BS & MS in Environmental Sciences. Seems to me you should have hired a cat like me to keep your booty out of trouble. Navigating the serious waves of the EPA and OSHA in California without a lifesaver is pure madness. You have to have someone who knows every single rule and regualtion but more important, this person must know all the unwritten meaning and spirit of each standard in 1910,1926 and Title 8. An Ex-surfer like me would have helped for free Bro! Your busniess didn’t have to end like this, there are ways to stack the deck in your favor, you just didn’t have the right person in place to help you and all your workers understand all the hazards and responsibilities while working with chemicals at reportable amounts, aslo you needed a HAZWOPER specialist to keep you from getting in trouble with hazardous waste issues. Sorry to see you bail! To bad the right people weren’t around! Rob