March 21, 2008

Surfboard industry struggling in Brevard

Many boards in storage, fewer buyers


When Clark Foam shut down in December 2005, shock waves rippled
through the surfboard manufacturing business.

The closure of the California-based company that counted thousands of
U.S. surfboard shapers among its customers is still being felt, and
the situation is now exacerbated by the high cost of fuel, a weak
dollar and an inventory glut that together have walloped the surfboard

The Clark Foam “blank” — a polyurethane block of foam with a wooden
“stringer” up the middle from which most surfboards in the United
States were shaped — went away, and national and local retailers

The source for millions of domestic surfboards was disappearing, and
retailers made frantic calls to get less expensive surfboards before a
predicted price hike set in.

“People were worried,” said Mike Bates, manager of Spectrum Surf Shop
in Indialantic.

After the Clark closing, “the price of the polyester boards continued
to increase” said Greg Loehr, founder of Resin Research of Indian
Harbour Beach.

It seemed the perfect time for shapers who work with epoxy, a product
more akin to Styrofoam, to see an increase in their business.
Retailers started to carry more epoxy boards, which were growing in

But, Loehr said, the panic that retailers felt the day Clark Foam
closed had already resulted in thousands of orders for cheap boards
from overseas, Many of those boards coming to Brevard County.

“There are 16,000 surfboards sitting in warehouses in Brevard County
that they can’t sell,” Loehr said. “And more are on the way.”

Amid the glut, however, epoxy boards have grown to take up about 20
percent of the surfboard market and involve an increasing number of
Brevard businesses.

Loehr said one saving grace for his epoxy boards is that his
technology hasn’t fallen on hard times the way polyester boards have,
but, he said few retailers are doing well these days.

Nick Piette, manager of Quiet Flight Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach, agrees
there’s a growing business in epoxy. Still, he sells about 80 percent
polyester, or polyurethane-based boards.

“Our main business is polyester, and now we’ve been hand-making epoxy
boards,” Piette said. “The difference is the epoxy is lighter and more
ding-resistant, but they still have the same breaking point. Epoxy has
a little more float, so there’s give and take between the whether you
want an epoxy or a polyester board.”

Spectrum’s Bates said epoxy boards are selling a little better than
they were a few years ago. But, “overall, sales have been pretty bad.”
He estimates the store has dropped 20 percent in hard goods sales —
items other than clothes — from last year.

Matt Kechele, a former pro surfer who shapes surfboards in Melbourne
and sells them to retailers across the country, said the market has
been hurt by the influx of cheaper boards.

“A lot of the intermediate surfers are going with the cheaper boards,”
Kechele said. “That’s a market that all of us have depended on as part
of our staple.”

Piette said he observes a lot, as Quiet Flight is located in Cocoa
Beach, where spring break is under way.

“We’re kind of like everyone else, board sales are down everywhere,”
Piette said. “But we’ve noticed more surfboard rentals.

“People are coming into the shop. You just have to keep yourself
afloat until the business turns around.”