Kapolei company filling surfboard void with alternative
By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Andrew Gomes
The abrupt shutdown of the world's dominant surfboard-core manufacturer last month has spurred a Kapolei-based plastics maker into supplying an alternative foam core used for epoxy-coated boards.
The move by Pacific Allied Products Ltd. could help boost sales of epoxy surfboards in Hawai'i and bolster business for local shapers hurt by the shortage created by the closure of California-based Clark Foam, which supplied an estimated 90 percent of all traditional surfboard cores, known as blanks.
Epoxy board production has grown in recent years, but remains relatively unpopular with surfers because the boards typically cost more, are less flexible and are not as easily made by most local shapers used to working with Clark foam.
Clark made blanks from polyurethane foam that board makers shape and coat with fiberglass and polyester resin.
Epoxy boards are made with polystyrene foam — the kind used in foam coolers — coated with epoxy resin.
Nearly all epoxy surfboards are made outside Hawai'i, according to local shapers and retailers.
But after Clark shut down, Pacific Allied said it began to get a lot of inquiries from local surfboard shapers about supplying epoxy board blanks.
Pacific Allied has made polystyrene foam for more than 40 years for everything from coolers to packing peanuts to some of Honolulu Hale's giant Christmas decorations, including Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
The company had experience supplying local windsurfing board makers with blanks for years, but hadn't produced blanks for surfboard shapers until Clark created the huge void.
Pacific Allied said it has made roughly 100 surfboard blanks, and has the capability to produce as many as 500 a week.
Demand, however, is difficult to predict. Surfboard shaper Carl Schaper said he started working on obtaining polystyrene cores two days after Clark closed, and has finished a couple of epoxy boards.
Schaper, who had experience working with epoxy boards in Florida, said he has another 20 blanks ready to be coated.
"I've got orders for it," he said, adding that he's not sure how much market share epoxy boards will gain while traditional cores are in short supply. "Nobody likes to change."
Schaper said resin and other materials for epoxy boards can cost $20 or $30 more than for fiberglass boards. Epoxy boards also take a bit more work. But with surfboard prices up since Clark's shutdown, epoxy board prices can be more competitive.
However, traditional blank manufacturers have been trying to rapidly ramp up production in China, where there are fewer environmental constraints working with highly toxic polyurethane foam. That could affect supply and demand for fiberglass and epoxy boards.
Schaper said he will keep making regular boards using contacts who can supply him traditional polyurethane cores from Thailand and Australia.
"I'm kind of playing it by ear," he said.
Travis Hashimoto, assistant manager for Fiberglass Works, a Town & Country subsidiary, said the company will likely be making epoxy boards for its stores using another version of polystyrene foam from outside Hawai'i.
"We will start selling them," he said. "They're just not very production-friendly. If you're not experienced with it, you can't just jump into it right away."
Hashimoto said epoxy boards in Town & Country stores are made outside Hawai'i. Fiberglass Works has made 50 to 100 epoxy boards for T&C-sponsored surfers over the last couple of years with extruded polystyrene, which is put through a die to form the foam and is blue.
Pacific Allied, founded in 1965, makes an expanded polystyrene formed by heat. The company takes 16-foot blocks of foam, and cuts them into surfboard blanks.
Reach Andrew Gomes at firstname.lastname@example.org.