Clark Shutdown

No, not Clark Mountain, but I got your attention right? That reminds me, I got an email from Ethan Pringle recently who said he’s pumped to get back up there and give that cave some big love next year. Soo coool. And on that note, I want to take this time as well to congratulate Dave Mac on his resent ascent of ‘The Walk of Life’ E9. An ascent of an E9 is usually not very newsworthy, but when its original grade was E12, well then perhaps it garners some attention. And attention it has. Climbing Mag, Climbing Narc, Climbing this and Climbing that have already sprung at the chance to report all the juicy details I’m sure, so I will spare you, but when it comes to this sort of experience, it’s always much better to get the report from the mouth of those standing on the summit. Check out Dave’s blog, he’s done a fantastic job with his write up.

Okay, so moving on to the Clark Shutdown, it’s 8:00 am and the coffee is just now starting to kick in. Wink.

Not all of you are going to know what Clark Foam is, so I will attempt to recap. Clark Foam, was founded in 1961 by a man named Gordon Grubby Clark. What Clark Foam did was manufacture and distribute foam surfboard blanks for shapers and carvers around the world. In fact, Clark grew to the point where they owned a monopoly on the market. They settled on rigid polyurethane as the material for their blanks and ran this business for decades.

However, all of this came to a screeching halt (literally) on December 5th, 2005 when Clark Foam abruptly stopped answering phone calls and emails. No one could reach them, they were cut off from the world overnight. Surfboard companies all over the world began to panic. When visitors went to headquarters all they found was a chained gate. Everything was locked and shut down. The reason for this unexpected closure was due to harassment by government agencies and eventual legalities issued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency citing the materials too toxic for production.

Now imagine this. A premier surfboard manufacturer being shut down by the Environmental Protection Agency. Sounds to me like a paradox of sorts. Aren’t surfers supposed to be one with their environment?

Aren’t climbers as well? I mean, shit, aren’t all people and all businesses?

For those in the know, some of the same toxins that go into surfboards also go into climbing holds. A few years ago I looked into starting my own hold company, because I loved route setting and training for climbing and I thought it would be a great way to earn a living, until I looked into what goes into plastic holds; Silicone and rubber, polyurethane, paint, dye’s, casting, thickening agents, resin, catalysts, fiberglass, microfibers, not fun stuff…etc…etc… and I just couldn’t feel good about working with all these materials everyday. In fact, did you know that all the large hold companies now manufacture their products in China? And one company founder in Canada was forced to outsource his pouring due to a mysterious allergy to the ingredients? YIKES. I realized I would have to wear a rubber suit and an oxygen tank on my back to work with these materials.

But climbing is fun, surfing is fun. Surely something can be done.

Since Clark Foam shuttered, surfboard manufacturing has been inundated with new and innovative materials, such as carbon-fiber, hollow blanks, and new “Flex” materials used by other various companies. Also, there has been a small resurgence of wood. Wood shapers and wood riders are coming back to the sport they love and are realizing the joy of surfing is not just in the high tech materials or all the extra bells and whistles, it’s in the water, playing with the waves, the way it’s been done for hundreds of years.

So, check out one of my inspirational figures, Tom Wegener. This guy decided on a way of life that would work for him and he set out to make it happen. He now lives in Australia with wife and kids and shapes wooden surfboards for anyone who wants to buy them. Read a good interview here. He even makes some boards without any glassing at all called Alaia’s. And he’s not the only one, there are now a slew of wooden surfboard shapers around the world, from the boys in Maine called GRAIN, Timberline in California, even a guy here in Pemberton, BC builds boards for the cold coast. It’s amazing and I can’t help but get pulled into the worlds of so many amazing people working with their hands. When I see something that inspires me, I feel the need to share.

So, uh, yah, I just wanted to share that. Happy climbing or uh, surfing or whatever it is you do.

  • Very tricky! But also very interesting to read about other industries besides climbing from time to time.

    Love the blog btw, keep it up!

  • JD

    So when are you going to start marketing your “woody” walls? Seems like that should be the next logical step in green climbing.

  • Sonnie

    Narc, good to hear from you, glad you enjoy my rants, and yes, you too please keep it up mate, truly good stuff. I’m sort of out of commission right now, not much money for travel and all of squamish is covered in snow, so I get my daily fix through media such as yourself.

    JD. ha ha, yes, well, I’ve been thinking about trying to do something like this for a long time, I can’t help it, I just see the way some people interpret the world and I want to emulate that, the way Tom Wegener has, or the way Yvon Chouinard started patagonia and black diamond by forging pitons behind a tin shed, Prana, Joe Rockheads climbing gym, I look at most of my mentors and they all started from scratch, building products they love, working hard with the sun on their backs. I like change, and I like to see how other people are making a difference in the world, it’s a very exciting time. I’ll keep you posted. Life is good. Thanks for the note. Spread the love.

  • mint article. it was a mad time if you talked to shapers when clark shut down, one i know here in the uk knew it’s impact but he wasn’t worried, he saw it as an opportunity to use greener materials straight away. i don’t understand shaping in the slightest but what i know is there are hundreds of options for surfboards now. i know a guy with a carbon fibre board, people with wood boards and there’s been an influx of weird retro shapes, funboards and mals, all of which i think wouldn’t have been so prominent without the demise of clark foam.

    you’re definitely right sonnie, our toxic hobbies can always be cleaned up. tom wegener and grain are inspirations to surfers, and anyone interested in lowering their impact on nature.

  • El Crushonator

    Come on, Sonnie. Let’s see your 2009 Ticklist. All the cool kids are doing it! Haha

  • Charlie

    Coincidentally, I was sitting in the autoshop this morning waiting for a ride after dropping my car off and i was thumbing through a magazine and happened upon an article about the surf board shaper in Pemberton, BC. Super cool stuff he is doing, including using wood waste to fertilize his garden, and setting up a co-op for local wood workers to share post consumer waste for reuse as surf boards and the like.

    There is so much we can do as individuals to help easing the burden ous society puts on the environment. People don’t realise that if they actually pitch in, they will make a difference.

    Be the change you want to see in the world.

  • Sonnie

    Thanks guys, what great comments, it’s a small world eh. In response to El Crushonator, I had no idea this was the in thing to do right now, I better get to work with my pencil and paper. haha. I’ll make you a deal, I’ll share some of my projects with you and everyone who reads this, if you share yours with me, but I promise, mine won’t be nearly as exciting as say…Alex Honnolds or Daniel Woods (if they have one). I imagine Alex is going to try and free solo El Cap soon and Daniel will do, well, anything he wants I guess. As for me, I have a few trip ideas, I want to travel a little bit and see places without crowds, maybe if I’m lucky snag a few FA’s, I also have a few lines here in my backyard that would be as good and as hard as anything I’ve ever seen before. So I’m really looking forward to spring. Cheers.

  • Joel

    To be fair, everything that is made from synthetic materials involves chemicals that can have a negative impact on the environment. The shoe’s on you feet, the rope that you climb on, your harness, the keyboard you use to write your blog. So to single out surf and climbing companies is a bit silly, hypocritical actually. Do you still climb on plastic? If so you are endorsing the production of these “environmentally hazardous” products. I challenge you to go a week without using a single synthetic product. In the life we live today, impossible.

  • Sonnie

    Hey Joel.

    Of course you are entitled to your antagonistic opinion and I respect that (no matter how scary it is), and I don’t pretend to be any sort of angel, shit – I have as many vices as the next person – but I feel that you FAILED to see the point of my post. It was NOT meant to ‘single out’ the surf or climbing industries – in fact many of my best friends work in these industries and I know they feel the same way I do and are working hard to find alternatives – but I had no intent to bring down what’s wrong, more accurately I wanted to tell an interesting story about a company that we can learn a lesson from and raise the issue of what is right. I wanted to simply give HONORABLE MENTION to a few amazing people who are making POSITIVE CHANGES in their field. Thats all!

    I thought these guys are a great influence because they are shedding light on the matters we are facing as a global economy and they are finding creative and adaptive ways to be more in sync with their surroundings, what is so bad about this? I believe that small pebbles can create giant ripples and I was only trying to share an informative tale. Baby steps lead to giant leaps. Maybe I’m all alone on this? But I hope not.

    Honestly Joel, your comment worries me slightly, because it has more pessimistic references than optimistic ones. If feels as though basically you’re telling me the world is “impossible” to change, that it is what it is and we should just sit back and accept it. Well, that’s fine then – I’ll shut my mouth, I promise. I’ll start being “fair” and I won’t say anything more. We are all just going to die anyway, so we may as well just give up and roll with it. Let us keep pumping out toxic materials, let us keep consuming at ungodly rates because there is no hope anyway. Great perspective. Let us write depressing blogs about that too on our synthetic keyboards, let us spread the word about how we can’t fix shit, or make changes and the whole world is doomed.

    Personally, I think Tom Wegeners story is very inspirational, he represents fun, peace and sustainability (see his website) I’m sorry if you don’t agree and I’m sorry for trying to share the light and his positive vision. I have a dream that one day we can buy products that we know the contents inside (and waste) WILL bio-degrade safely and our children’s children can play from Rivers to Oceans, and run from Valley bottom to Mountain top without compromising their natural health. But it’s just a silly dream, it’s probably impossible.

  • Hey hey, your comments above regarding your intentions with this post and some… interestingly worded interpretation on Tom Wegeners story kinda brought a tear to my eye. Thanks for sharing your vision, I hope you never stop.

    Mad love to everyone reading 🙂
    -j.