Surfboard Industry Wipes Out, Innovation Soon Follows

For decades, Gordon Clark and his company Clark Foam held an almost complete monopoly on the surfboard blank market. “Blanks” are pieces of foam with reinforcing wood strips (called “stringers”) in a rough surfboard shape that board manufacturers use to make a finished product, and Clark sold almost every single one of these board manufacturers their starting templates in the form of these blanks. Due to environmental costs, Clark suddenly shuttered his business in 2005 with virtually no warning. After a brief panic in the board shaping industry, and a temporary skyrocketing in price of the remaining blanks in existence, what followed next was rather surprising: a boom of innovation across the industry.

While the shock of Clark Foam’s closing sent a wave through the surfing community which resulted in a brief shortage of boards, an innovation boom was perhaps destined to happen. Since the 1950s there was essentially no change in surfboard construction methods, even though the shape of the boards changed from longboards in the 50s and 60s, to shorter boards in the 70s and 80s, to extremely thin, small, high-performance boards in the 90s. The vast majority of all of these boards were made with a urethane foam blank, shaped to size, and covered in fiberglass (a method known as “glassing”). Other minor improvements such as fin size and placement, the implementation of the leash, and the use of CNC machines for shaping all occurred while the board manufacturing method itself stayed relatively static.

Some of Firewire’s Timbertek boards. Not 100% wood, but foam core with a wood exterior and wood rails. Picture courtesy of Firewire

Since 2005, however, a flood of new board manufacturing methods have become available which has pushed the envelope of surfing far past the stale, monolithic boards of the past. One of the first changes was boards built out of polystyrene and finished in epoxy rather than fiberglass. These boards are stronger, lighter, and often less expensive than polyurethane/fiberglass boards and don’t get UV damage from sun as rapidly, although some surfers complain that they don’t have the same flexibility as a polyurethane board. Their light weight makes them exceptional for airs, though.

Other surf manufacturers such as Firewire have had good success with using a wood exterior on the board, rather than using only fiberglass or epoxy. This gives the board unique handling characteristics as well. Even boards that are made entirely out of wood are starting to make a comeback, as hollow wood boards, and even solid balsa boards are becoming more and more popular. Some other manufacturers are going in a completely different direction and are starting to use a carbon fiber reinforced polymer throughout the foam of the board which makes the boards incredibly strong and often eliminates the use of the traditional wood stringer.

Nontraditional board manufacturers made their debut since Clark Foam closed its doors as well. Lib Technologies, often known as Lib Tech, is famous as an innovator in the snowboard world. Snowboards haven’t seen the same constraint to innovation as surfboards had in the past, and as a result innovation is more forthcoming. Once that spirit was applied to surfboards, Lib Tech started finding success building boards that are essentially indestructible.

One of my boards, a Meyerhoffer XYZ. While not asymmetrical, it does have an atypical shape.

While all of these new methods exploded onto the market in the wake of Clark Foam’s closing, the obvious benefit here has been to surfers. Now, there are options for every style of surfing and every different surfer rather than a single style of board that would have been virtually the only option for a surfer as late as the early 00s. Beginners can find soft boards for $100, experts can fine tune their boards in new and interesting ways, and everyone in between can pick from a wide variety of different construction methods that suit their needs. There are even asymmetrical boards now too, for surfers who surf at particular beaches that have waves that break in extremely specific ways.

One of the less talked about benefits to this sea change, though, has been environmental impact. Clark Foam, when it was still in business, was known for clashing with the EPA since urethane foam production isn’t exactly the most environmentally friendly process. To add fuel to the fire, it seems like Gordon Clark was very set in his ways and was unwilling to work with the environmental regulators, instead preferring to shutter his business. Since they closed and the new blank manufacturers aren’t grandfathered in to new regulations, surfboard manufacturing has moved into the 21st century in terms of reducing its environmental impact. A lot of the compounds used still aren’t ideal, but improvements have been continuously made now that there is competition and innovation again.

Some famous surfers have gotten into the blank and shaping scene as well in an effort to improve the environmental impact that board manufacturing has. Rob Machado, one of the most successful and famous surfers still alive, now builds boards that are able to recycle the foam from waste packing materials, since foam-based surfboards are built essentially out of the same material as packing peanuts. Future improvements to environmental sustainability include experimentation with natural resins, as well.

The lesson that we should all take from the surfboard industry, though, is that we can often get locked into a method or technique without realizing that we’ve built ourselves into a prison that limits innovation in key ways. What would happen, for example, if the Linux kernel disappeared from existence? Surely there would be a brief panic similar to the surfboard scene post-Clark Foam, but in the end we might also see a similar innovative boom in computer science. There are other more relevant examples, like the fact that almost all bicycle frames are built by an extremely small number of factories owned by one or two companies. Could the bicycle world benefit from some innovation as well? What other things have we locked ourselves into?

84 thoughts on “Surfboard Industry Wipes Out, Innovation Soon Follows

  1. As we have explained to us “blanks”, “glassing” and “stringers”, why do we not also have explained what “airs” are (jumping)? The audience is primarily technical and probably already knew the first three, rather than surf bums who might know the latter.

  2. All the petrol comes from one or two countries….

    As do all the bananas, tea, coffee beans, cocoa, and many other things.

    All the above are silly examples, as silly as the linux kernel. However there is some things that could maybe do with real innvoation: monitor screens – mostly made by two or three company, repackaged by the rest.

    CPU’s….. amd or intel (ok maybe that one doesn’t matter so much to hackers.) Ardunio?

    Self driving cars…. we still only really hear about Tesla.

    Building materials could be an interesting one, I couldn’t name a single company who produces bricks, but I imagine there isn’t many…

    1. I would be thinking that brickmaking is still a regional business, because what they’re made from is heavy and they are heavy when made. Hence, shipping them from China isn’t going to be competitive.

        1. For good sound insulation you want a combination of light AND heavy material. If you are in a region where there is a danger of hurricanes a house built light as an aeroplane is also not the best idea. So basically it is good when bricks are heavy.

    2. I think you are trying to make a good point but acknowledge the flaw yourself and then bring up theories without checking them.

      As you point out coffee, cocoa, etc are produced in small regions of the world but that is a geographical problem not solved by some hacker without a lot of time to make a green house custom for those products.

      As for CPUs hackers have tried making their own but the fact is the hardware to produce such technology cost in the millions and so asking for a batch of 50 or so would make each one cost tens of thousands of dollars, good old laws of scale. PCBs have recently dropped in price for hackers but that is more because machinery cost have gone down and more people want small batches of PCBs hence the many board designs on a single run method that companies such as seed studio does.

      As for self driving cars that is a really terrible example. There have been countless companies investing a ton of money into it, Google has, Tesla has, basically every major car manufacturer has. Not really a point of contention since none of that matters until US law approves such things which will be quite a was away still.

      As for the production of bricks example:
      You can check the company that owns them but I can save you the time and say it is a lot more then two.

      Most parts of our economy are not monopolized, that said most people will fall into using the monopoly by choice. Think texas instruments calculators. I promise you there are plenty of other good calculators out there but the TI84 was THE calculator for over 30 years. (At least in American schools).

    3. >”Self driving cars…. we still only really hear about Tesla.”

      Why did you pick that example? There are no self-driving cars. Only “lane assisted” cars, and trams with virtual tracks a’la Google.

      1. It is clear you don’t live in the Silicon Valley. The roads are lousy with self driving cars. A four way stop intersection near me is quite popular for algorithmic testing. It is amusing to see the algorithms change over time. Sometimes too timid, sometimes too aggressive.

        Self-driving cars have a ways to go (ex: bad weather driving), but I already feel safer around the them vs. the distracted drivers.

        1. Perhaps I didn’t express myself clearly enough.

          There exists two approaches to self-driving vehicles today. One is the “autopilot”, or “follow the road / car ahead” version that doesn’t know where exactly it is or where it should be going because GPS isn’t fast/accurate enough for the purpose and it doesn’t have a detailed map of its surroundings because it hasn’t got the smarts to form such a picture, but it has limited AI that tries to guess by sonar/radar/camera how to stay on the road/lane until it’s time for the driver to take over. This version isn’t actually smart enough to navigate an intersection or go around obstructions – it’s programmed to stop, unless it interprets the situation wrong and drives you under a truck, or steers off the road; hence why, hands on the wheel at all times.

          The second is the virtual tram which has been taught a specific route(s) to follow, down to the inch by 3D lidar mapping and GPS, and it tries to stick to that virtual rail to drive between two points and react to any obstacles along the way. The mapping done by human operators also includes marking intersections, stop points, traffic signals or where to point the camera for the lights, speed limits, lanes etc. so the car’s AI is living in a pre-programmed “dream” of sorts like a sleepwalker that interprets its own location based on how well it fits its model of what exists in the world. It subtracts its internal model from what it is seeing, and everything that remains is something to potentially avoid. A puddle which doesn’t reflect the lidar is seen as a hole in reality and an obstacle.

          It doesn’t actually understand what those things are – it’s just “big blob, small blob, fast blob” etc. and based on some criteria it tries to guess whether to treat them as cars, pedestrians, cyclists… it can attempt to confirm the guess by visual recognition algorithms, but those are currently notoriously unreliable with lots of false positives and especially false negatives, or the particular object just isn’t programmed in, so it doesn’t really have much object permanence to avoid hallucinating objects, such as latching on to thinking a billboard is a bus waiting to depart. Things kinda flicker in and out of existence.

          The car isn’t observing and updating its internal model of the world in real time – because again the AI is too primitive to make that judgement – so it isn’t really driving by itself. It’s more like a blind man following a rope – it’s not self-guiding. As long as it’s holding on to the rope, it knows where it is and what to expect, but if it should ever lose track – suppose it gets blindsided by two large trucks – it may lose itself entirely. There’s an anecdote that one of the Google cars almost drove down a canyon because it mistook a trailer on the other lane as the canyon wall and thought it was on the wrong lane.

          So should you feel safer around them? Up to you, I guess.

          1. I guess you haven’t been following progress too closely then. There are no PRODUCTION self driving cars, but there are plenty of firms working on the tech to make them. They have reached the point where they can cope with complex intersections (like the above 4 way stop), navigating from A to B autonomously etc. Google for example have cars on the road that have a safety driver behind the wheel in case of problems, but otherwise are fully autonomous.
            GPS accuracy is another issue that is going away also. GPS block III and Galileo are both accurate to less than 1 meter (Galileo can work down to 1cm). This is plenty good enough for situations where road marking is limited or non-existent.

          2. You must not have to drive in a metro area in rush hour traffic if you don’t think humans are terrible drivers. Cut you off, slam on the brakes for no reason and ride your bumper. George Carlin said it best, everyone slower than you is an idiot and anyone faster is an a-hole… And everyone thinks that way, from granny to Tommy teenager.

            I can’t wait for the day when I can sit back and do paperwork or make phone calls while the computer does the inane task of keeping the car between the lines from point a to b without bumping into the car in front.

          3. >”GPS accuracy is another issue that is going away also. GPS block III and Galileo are both accurate to less than 1 meter (Galileo can work down to 1cm). ”

            Both trade speed for accuracy. It’s not possible to get 1 cm or even 1 m accuracy while moving.

            These are not not self-driving cars in any real sense, as I have already explained, any more than an automatic subway is self-driving. It’s programmed driving, not self-driving. You can’t just tell a Google car “take a left here”, beacuse it has no idea what an intersection is. You have to drive it around the corner first to mark down the exact line it’s supposed to be following, and then construct a map for it that shows what the allowable deviation from that line is (i.e. “what is road”), and only then will it repeat your performance to the best of its ability. The entire point of the Google car is that they’d eventually have mapped every single road like this, to provide a whole network of virtual rails for the cars to follow. That involves pre-marking every possible way you can take each intersection – such as providing the correct line to make a U-turn. If you don’t have that, and you tell the car to turn back, it won’t. It can’t.

            Self driving would imply that the machine itself is responsible for the necessary observation, interpretation, planning and execution of the turn, on the spot if necessary. None of them can do that.

            >”You must not have to drive in a metro area in rush hour traffic if you don’t think humans are terrible drivers. ”

            On the contrary. It takes a whole lot of perception and intelligence to drive in such a chaotic situation – something the machines don’t yet have.

          4. The problem with GPS/Galileo in the city is that you have a lot of multipath echoes which give you false readings, because the signal travel distance changes subtly depending on from where it bounces to your reciever, so you always have to average the results over a long period of time. Increasing the resolution of the signal doesn’t help when there’s these random path echoes that can throw you off 10-50 meters for any individual measurement.

            For a car to navigate on GPS/Galileo, it would need an update every 20 milliseconds or so. It takes 20 minutes to converge to 10 cm accuracy.

    4. > All the petrol comes from one or two countries….

      Uh, what? There are petrol refineries almost in every country. And certainly more than one or two countries have active oil wells also. So.. all petrol comes from about 10-20 countries?

      Same for bananas, tea, coffee beans, cocoa, etc. Just google e.g. ‘top 10 banana exporters’.

    5. The Linux kernel is a really bad example as anyone could pickup development of it since the source code is publicly available.
      More accurate would be if Microsoft went under as it’s software is closed source or if Intel stopped making X86 cpus.

      1. Anyone could pick up development and make a fork, but they’d be wasting their time maintaining their own special snowflake version that’s diverging from the mainstream.

        That’s the fallacy of choce there. You could, but what you actually need is a sane default. Doesn’t matter what it is, doesn’t matter that it’s not the best there could be, all that matters is that it’s the default so you can have -something- that works, that you can rely on being the same everywhere.

        So the point is that this need to standardize comes with a flip side of suppressed innovation.

  3. These innovative new building techniques existed prior to Clark Foam’s closing. Read the articles about the closing and most mention these alternatives.

    They were simply ignored by the snobbish community, going so far as to pay three times as much on second hand urethane boards to avoid being seen with the ‘cheap stuff’.

    People don’t stop innovating existing platforms. The community just doesn’t always appreciate such innovation or want to risk their money testing it out. Sometimes they just like to stick with what they know. e.g. Arduino, KiCAD, Linux, etc. Sometimes it’s a status thing. e.g. Apple, etc.

    Clark Foam was unwilling to work with the environmental regulators because…. California. California’s lawmakers have a long history of just banning things they don’t like. If Mr. Clark ‘worked’ with the EPA, he would first be in massive debt, then be massively fined, then be out of business. It’s an out-of-touch world, worse in the valley. Glad I left.

    Finally, thank goodness for patents. This is the perfect example of how they are intended to work. Now the detailed manufacturing knowledge is not lost.

    1. I’m not a surfer but I think one possible reason the design was so ubiquitous was the aesthetic. You go to a beach city and signs, restaurant tables, everything is made to look like a white surfboard with one or more wooden stringers.

    2. I grew up in Laguna Niguel maybe 3 miles from Clark Foam. My understanding both then and later on is that he was an absolute rat bastard to work with, and when the EPA eventually came calling his response was basically “fuck you” and he completely shut down the company overnight.

    3. California can be like Granby, Colorado. If some level of CA government wants your business destroyed *it will be destroyed*. It doesn’t matter how much you grovel and appease and go along with ever more insane rules and regulations, you’ll eventually be bankrupt or find it impossible to stay in business due to their attacks on things you use in your business.

      When the CA government sets its sights on you, there’s really only two choices. Close up shop or move to a State with a saner government. I suppose you could go the Marvin Heemeyer route but in CA it’s usually not a coven of bullying business owners conspiring to destroy your business. Heemeyer only smashed the businesses of the city government people who had ruined his business.

    1. Quite the opposite.
      The patent system like the library of congress was intended to preserve knowledge so when companies close that knowledge isn’t lost.
      In this case it worked. Clark’s gone, but the knowledge is available at the PTO.

      Clark licensed his patents to other companies, but I don’t think any lasted two years. Not because of their quality or Clark’s licensing terms, just because the community values ‘image’ too much to buy something other than directly from Clark.

      Wish HaD would do an article on how patents work. Too many misconceptions, misinformation, and just outright gossip. Patents can be manipulated and used as extortion, they can create a barrier to entry for smaller startups, and other downsides, but these are relatively minor compared to the benefits. There’s massive room for improvement with the patent system, but very very few appear to understand how they work.

      1. Good Lord, the line “Rob Machado, one of the most successful and famous surfers still alive” just made me crack up. This is one of only MANY reasons you will never see me surfing… Living in Minnesota and not being spry, like I never was, are also good reasons! :P

    1. I base success on whether or not you were a surfer whose voice was featured in the film “Surf’s Up” in which case it’s either Rob or Kelly Slater at the head of the pack. Perhaps this is just artistic license on my part.

  4. “The lesson […] is that we can often get locked into a method or technique without realizing that we’ve built ourselves into a prison that limits innovation in key ways.”

    Very wise words. For a much heavier case of that, see *cough* Germany *cough* Diesel *cough* internal combustion engine.

    Of course the investors will jump ship in time. The rest of society…

    1. >”For a much heavier case of that, see *cough* Germany *cough* Diesel *cough* internal combustion engine.”

      Do you really know what happened?

      First you have a popular myth that the automakers are holding back some mythical 100 MPG carburettor, or are suppressing electric vehicles etc. for the profit of Big Oil. Disregard actual physics and the state of the science. Second, you create a climate panic, peak oil panic, etc. to justify high taxes on vehicles and fuel for the profit of the government, and also environmental regulations with the hintergedanke that it will act as protectionism against foreign competitors and help your economy along. Of course, you also have a genuine interest in cleaning up the air, which is all well and good, but…

      So now you have a public that is under the belief that the automakers are cheating, and has voted for rules that punish the carmakers for not meeting completely fantastical fuel economy and emissions figures. Failure to meet these regulations is subject to severe punishments up to billions of euros a year so they are truly scrambling to keep up, and as they do so they pass the expenses onto the consumers. After all, in the mainstream market you got to make profit to stay in business – unlike companies like Tesla who simply cheat the money out of investors for decades on half-met promises and hype.

      As time goes, the public finds the cars are getting more expensive, fuel is fast approaching $10 a gallon, and yet no affordable alternative to the internal combustion engine in sight. Cars are getting smaller and smaller, and people -have- to switch to diesel in order to do their daily business. Diesel cars go from niche to 50% of vehicles on the road. Everybody blames the automakers, conspiracy theories abound, and the regulations get tighter year after year – so the manufacturers start to cheat as they cannot break physics.

      But, the authorities are allowing them to cheat because they know very well you can’t squeeze blood from a stone; the protectionism racket is still going on and the public cannot find out that the laws were a fool’s errand: they were effectively outlawing the ICE before any real alternative was possible. Actually enforcing the law and closing the loopholes would be political suicide, as cars and fuel would become totally unaffordable practically overnight, and the economy would go hang.

      As the regulations are, come 2020, the averge petrol car must do with half the energy output per mile than what today’s electric cars with their near-perfect efficiency can achieve. We are talking cars going along the roads at 62 mph using no more power than a 1980’s Honda Monkey. This is the reason why the so-called MPG gap has exploded to the point that you can simply assume the numbers are bullshit and the car will do the 5-6 liters per 100 km as they have always done.

      So have we painted ourselves into a corner with the ICE? Over the past 100 years, the competition has been between different types of engines that all burn some kind of fuel – a fossil fuel – and electric cars, and the electric cars have not cashed in their promise because the battery technology isn’t there yet despite our best efforts in multiple different fields from cellphones to satellites to develop the better battery or equivalent. We’ve not locked ourselves in to the internal combustion engine – it’s just that there isn’t anything else that is truly viable.

      1. Really. If the lawmakers were genuinely interested in cleaning up the NOx pollution from the cities, they would halve the fuel tax on gasoline, and ease the CO2/km regulation so regular otto engines could be sold in the future too. Also, outlaw ethanol in gasoline, because it produces acetaldehyde pollution which is a serious contributor to lung cancer and is generally a bad idea economically and ecologically anyways.

        Boom. No more point in driving a diesel car.

        The CO2 emissions would go up slightly and the tax income would drop, but at the same time billions of euros in public health expenditures would go away. Then, instead of trying to force pie-in-sky electric cars, they could instead focus on developing means to synthesize gasoline (or butanol etc. substitute) out of renewable energy, for which the technology already exists but it’s not going anywhere because the regulations are spelling a dead end for using such fuels.

        The true lack of foresight and innovation is in putting all our eggs in the electric car basket, and that bus looks like it might never come. It’s just a nirvana solution.

        1. If coastal cities were serious about cleaning up the air they would do something about how dirty shipping it.
          A single cargo ship can pollute more than all the cars in an entire city yet this would be very easy to clean up.

      2. “… you create a climate panic, peak oil panic, etc. ..”

        So the 1973 oil crisis didn’t happen, then? No climate change?

        It absolutely took this crisis, plus the EPA reacting to air pollution, to force US carmakers away from polluting gas guzzlers and into more efficient, cleaner engines. No panic fabrication required.

        Innovators like Tesla and others are bringing the all-electric vehicle to commercial viability, though people like you are lining up to crap on them.

        There’s no question that fossil fuels still win the energy density contest. But electric vehicles are already competitive for most urban use, even given the low fuel prices. Automakers will succeed or fail long-term based on how quickly they can get off of fossil fuel.

        1. >”So the 1973 oil crisis didn’t happen, then? No climate change?”

          I’m not saying these things aren’t happening – I’m talking about the panic-mongering that was used to drive otherwise unpopular decisions – like the early 00’s panic about the Hockey Stick Graph that was used to push through subsidy programs that didn’t end up reducing CO2 output, and instead tripled the electricity prices.

          >”Innovators like Tesla and others are bringing the all-electric vehicle to commercial viability,”

          Hardly. Elon Musk is a charlatan – he’s just cashing in on subsidies and people who fell for the hype. Right now the electric cars are unaffordable and inconvenient at best, and nobody has solved the charging infrastructure issue. Electric cars will come about if we get the better battery, and if we can actually manufacture them in the millions of units without exhausting our production capacities of lithium, cobalt etc.

          What Tesla is doing about it isn’t addressing the fundamental logistics and supply issues of the sheer scale of building terawatt-hours of batteries globally. The whole global industry has to scale up by a factor of 1000x and more, and that’s not even counting for all the batteries needed for the great renewable revolution, for grid backup etc. which is another 1000x increase in demand. You just don’t understand the scale of the problem.

          We simply don’t have the means to build the great electric future. It’s a complete pipe dream. For things like the renewables, there will be a need to store massive quantities of energy, and that’s only going to happen ecologically and economically by making synthetic hydrocarbons which can be burned for power, and as such there will be a supply of clean fuels which fit the existing infrastructure without extra costs – the question is simply, will you use it in the most sensible way?

          1. “Elon Musk is a charlatan – he’s just cashing in on subsidies and people who fell for the hype. Right now the electric cars are unaffordable and inconvenient at best, and nobody has solved the charging infrastructure issue. ”

            The Elon Musk hate is a bit of a tell, ok?

            Infrastructure is a chicken/egg problem. You won’t see commitment to the infrastructure til there’s wider interest and takeup of electric cars. Hybrid vehicles are already a no-brainer for commercial users. All-electric will follow suit.

            Battery technology is coming along; demand will drive innovation, and the economics will improve. A full battery industry will emerge, including battery recycling.

            This is a transitional period, and not only will the power sources change, but the nature of vehicle ownership and use will change too. Thinking that electric won’t be viable until electric vehicles are 100% drop-in replacements for yesterday’s ICE-powered car is a bit shortsighted.

          2. >”Battery technology is coming along; demand will drive innovation”


            While less than 1% of all cars are electric, electric cars now consume more than 50% the worldwide production of lithium cells. Demand will drive innovation, and it also drives the price up because of supply shortages, which means the electric car will remain a niche rich-man toy for decades and decades to come.

            >”The Elon Musk hate is a bit of a tell, ok?”

            No. He really is terrible. He’s the Steve Jobs of electric vehicles – back in the day when Steve Jobs called his engineers idiots for failing to turn ROM into RAM for the Lisa computer to have a proper OS – he promises a lot, delivers maybe half of it, behind schedule, and while the first project is still ongoing he jumps to another hype project that promises so much that the people forget to feather and tar him. His businesses run entirely on the basis of introducing new goals faster than the previous ones fail in order to pretend that he’s going somewhere with it.

            So far Elon Musk’s companies have recieved over $15 billion in taxpayer money and what do we have for it? Almost fuck all, because the limitations to the technology can’t be overcome by Tesla or Elon Musk. They can’t “innovate” thousands of lithium and cobalt mines to push the battery prices down, or solve the fundamental issue that a 100 kWh battery takes Megawatts to charge quickly and the local grids can’t handle it.

          3. >”This is a transitional period, and not only will the power sources change, but the nature of vehicle ownership and use will change too.”

            The more things change, the more they remain the same. For example, if people no longer own vehicles, then there’s no second hand market, therefore there’s no residual value for the first-hand cars owned by the businesses that lend them out to the public, which means such car rentals become more expensive than owning the car.

            Naturally, because the “publicly owned” car is now owned by someone who is trying to make profit on it, and has to discard the vehicle earlier than a private owner would, the cost per mile to the actual customer turns out to be greater. The logistics of it turn out to be less efficient than if most people just owned their own vehicles.

            As for the power source; I still predict that the battery electric car will go the same way as it did a 100 years ago. It will enjoy a brief niche role on the market while the synthetic chemical fuels become available, and then everybody tosses the battery out and replaces it with a fuel cell.

        2. >”But electric vehicles are already competitive for most urban use”

          Show me the electric car equivalent of a 5-8 year old second hand Ford Fiesta or any other small and popular peoples’ car.

          The vast majority, 70-80% of the car market is second hand because people can’t afford to spend so much on cars. The prolem with electric cars is that lithium batteries have a shelf-life looming beyond 8-10 years, so their value on the second hand market is also quickkly approaching zero.

          1. I’d like to know where all the people with HaD articles about taking apart Tesla (and other brands) batteries find them so cheap. The last time HaD ran such an article, I looked on and there was *one* Tesla battery available, for $15K.

          2. Part of the problem lithium ion esp those with cobalt cathodes are at a best a gap filler technology that was used as shortcut for performance in that application.
            What’s needed is a more durable battery.

          3. >”cobalt cathodes are at a best a gap filler technology that was used as shortcut for performance in that application”

            It is still the go-to option, despite the problems in safety and longevity, because there’s nothing else that works. You can have slightly better versions, but then the price goes up and the power/energy density goes down.

        3. Equating Musk with Steve Jobs is a funny choice. Just about everyone agrees that Jobs was instrumental in pushing forward some visionary ideas that we now take for granted. Pretty good for Apple shareholders, too.

          Seems there’s a multitude of opinions on how Tesla is doing. Here’s one:

          Maybe Musk is overreaching. The market seems to think he’s still a good bet. If not Tesla, then another company or two will win.

          Your unqualified claim that Tesla has ‘received’ $15B from governments is, as I mentioned, a tell about where you’re getting this information from.

          Your points about batteries, charging, infrastructure… all valid, but nothing rolls out 100% complete at once. These are the challenges (and opportunities) of a new growth industry. Likewise, ownership won’t instantly (or maybe ever) be mainly public or commercial… why would you think that?

          Hybrids preceded all-electric vehicles to the modern market, so a used Prius is a perfect example of an affordable cleaner car. When the electric car has been on the market for 6+ years, yes there will probably be a healthy used market in those too.

          1. >”Seems there’s a multitude of opinions on how Tesla is doing. Here’s one:”

            Yeah, the key point being “direct subsidies”.

            “Taxpayer money taken by Tesla
            $3B-CA Factory Subsidy
            $1.3B-NV tax incentive
            $45M-Discounted DOE Loan
            $90M-CA Alternative energy advanced trans. financing authority
            $517.2M-Sale of CA and other regulatory credits
            $284M-Federal income Tax credits for consumers of Model S Sedan
            $38M-CA rebate for CA buyers of Model S Sedan
            $126M-CA Self Generation incentive program
            $647,626-CA job training reimbursement
            Total Subsidy=$5,355,847,626″

            It’s a similiar story for SolarCity and SpaceX. There’s all these gotchas and small incentives and programs that end up with Tesla getting an indirect subsidy, which together amount to a whole lot of money.

            >”so a used Prius is a perfect example of an affordable cleaner car.”

            But that’s shifting the goalposts. If it’s cleaner cars you’re after, you could do a methane/lpg conversion for a few hundred dollars and run on biogas (ultimately on synthgas), be CO2 neutral and produce neglible particulate etc. emissions. That’d be far cleaner and far more affordable than any electric car.

            The point was, what is the electric car equivalent of a second hand Ford Fiesta – an example of a car that a lot of peope actually drive because that’s something they can afford – and the answer to the rhetorical question is: there is none.

            >”When the electric car has been on the market for 6+ years, yes there will probably be a healthy used market in those too.”

            Who would buy a 6+ year old electric car when you’d have to buy a new battery for many thousands of dollars couple years later? It’s like buying a second hand car in need of an entire engine and drivetrain overhaul – the car would be more valuable as scrap.

          2. >”The market seems to think he’s still a good bet. ”

            The market is full of people who were promised the Jetsons future, and when it failed to arrive they cling on to anyone who promises to make it true. It’s a sort of Stockholm syndrome or a battered person syndrome, where the victim keeps clinging on to their abuser and refusing to accept they’re being taken for a ride, because they find it more painful to admit that there will be no flying cars and space hotels on Mars in their lifetime.

            Elon Musk is playing perfectly to that crowd. Vacuum trains in tubes? Tunnels on Mars? Oohh… so that’s where all the money is going…

          3. >”Equating Musk with Steve Jobs is a funny choice. Just about everyone agrees that Jobs was instrumental in pushing forward some visionary ideas that we now take for granted. ”

            I was talking about Jobs at the time of his career when he was leaning completely on Woz, and got himself fired from Apple for being an egomanical princess. It was the time when he wanted to make the Lisa computer, but RAM was too expensive for anyone to pull it off, yet Jobs promised to make the machine by faking it using ROM.

            It’s a perfect parallel to the situation with electric cars now, because nobody can actually make one that fills all the boxes because the batteries are just too expensive, too unsafe, too heavy etc. but if you’re arrogant enough and tell a big-enough lie, you can fake it and get a bunch of investors throwing their money at you, and you can spend the next decade happily “developing” and simply waiting for the RAM or battery prices to fall.

  5. The nice thing about Clark blanks is that you could buy one in approximately the right shape, have at it with a plane, buy a fin or three and a leash plug, glass it up, and you’re in business. It made for very low cost of entry into making surfboards. Many of the newer methods are just more capital-intensive.

    Great to see innovation and the industry cleaning up. But sad to see the end of the lone dude shaping under a mango tree.

  6. The word missing from the write up is ‘pollution’. It is shorter the the euphemisms Bryan resorted to, “environmental impact”, “isn’t exactly the most environmentally friendly process.”

    1. That word isn’t missing. He wasn’t polluting.

      California’s EPA didn’t want Clark employees exposed to a toluene diisocyanate despite complete lack of data indicating it’s harmful in minute quantities. No degree of protection from the chemical, that Clark provided, was tolerated. The only other chemical substitutes were also banned. So no longer using it equated to no longer selling those kinds of boards and directly competing with established companies making boards considered ‘cheap’.

      If he transferred to some other kind of board, he would have been in massive debt and out of business within a year. If he moved out of California the community would no longer acknowledge his brand identity.

        1. Data to back up that exposure small enough is not harmful or exposure large enough is harmful?

          Yes, that’s how it’s done. Researchers expose humans to gradually large and larger amounts of a chemical to determine when it causes temporary, then permanent, health issues. The tests are obviously always continued to note lethal quantities.

          In all seriousness though, reference your link. It notes the chemical’s safe use in other industries when using protection similar to that used at Clark Foams. Without protection humans are exposed to LESS THAN 1/1000000th the amount of the rats in the experiments, and the exposure is indirect vs directly placed inside the body. With even a low level of protection, the exposure is orders of magnitude less. The lawsuits filed by Clark employees even noted their protection as better than the industry’s average protection level. Clark was willing to even improve protection levels, but understood that the EPA didn’t care about the employees, they just wanted to get rid of non-green or shiny businesses. California is a massive hypocrisy. If Clark Foams, made the ‘toxic’ foam cores in Nevada then applied a tofu/recycled tampon cover in California under a new company name, California would GIVE him money. Honestly, GIVE him money. This is what happened with the airplane industry, tesla, solar manufacturers, hell even the IC industry. They force companies to split up their business so the dirty stuff is pushed just past California’s borders.


  7. Well, the natural state of the capitalistic rat-race is that eventually one of the rats wins and everything consolidates down to a single or handful of players. Monopolies are generally bad for everyone involved other than the owner. There’s little reason to innovate. There’s also little reason to deliver quality or a low price, so the customers are pissed. And historically, it’s so big that workers come and go as interchangeable cogs in an established process. Busting up such monopolies is best… but the process can be disruptive for the general populace.

    A small niche market like surfboards, it won’t even be a news article. Big news for the niche, but the niche is so small that it won’t cause waves for it’s neighbors. Take something bigger, like let’s say the FED’s monopoly on the monetary system, and busting up that monopoly and encouraging disruption would be… holy shit that’d be devastating to the entire USA. Probably the world. Those “brief panics” and “temporary price hikes” are cute when it’s some surfboards. When it’s something like the financial industry, we call that an economic depression.

    And stepping back a long way, the same sort of thing happens in a revolution. The French revolution was probably a good thing in the long run, but maaaaaaan it sucked for a while after.

    Let’s aim for limited disruption of select markets where viable. And SLOWLY reforming the big lumbering clunkers.

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