Soundings: Season 5 Episode 5

Gordon “Grubby” Clark

On the evolution of surfboard design, market domination, perfecting polyurethane, government regulation, and Blank Monday and the end of Clark Foam.

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The mastermind behind large-scale production of the surfboard blank, Gordon “Grubby” Clark’s pioneering of polyurethane foam in constructing the modern surfboard enabled the progression of surfing as a culture. Enthralled by materials from a young age, Clark received a combined degree in math and physics from Pomona College before working as a glasser at Hobie Surfboards and as an apprentice to Tom Blake, inventor of the surfboard fin, while splitting time between Hawaii and California. When demand for foam boards proliferated across Southern California in the late 1950s, Clark was quick to employ his background toward industrializing and streamlining the production of polyurethane foam blanks, becoming the defining blank maker from the early ’60s until Clark Foam’s sudden and shocking closure in 2005. Since then, “Grubby” has lived and worked on a sprawling cattle ranch in Oregon, which is where host Jamie Brisick sat down and talked with Clark about the adaptation of modern surfboard design, the intricacies of foam and fiberglass, the value of an education in science, the emergence of computer programming, the shortboard revolution, and why he closed shop.

Produced by Jonathan Shifflett.
Music by PazKa (Aska Matsumiya & Paz Lenchantin).

Feature image by Sierra McClain/Capital Press.