Saturday, March 22, 2014

A fun product development story

This article has been knocking around my coffee table for months, regarding the birth of Hobie Alter's surfboards:
One day in 1957, my resin salesman at Reichold Chemicals came by and handed me a piece of polyurethane foam. I poured some styrene and resin on it, and it didn't melt. So I started building a fiberglass mold for a surfboard with it, which I knew was the future. I rented a building in Laguna Canyon that became a secret shop, and after two years of experimenting, we built the molds and got it done. We replaced the balsa wood with the foam, and the boards were strong and light. We started selling the foam-core boards, kicking up production to 20 boards a week. 
I was making enough to cover everything. We lived in a cheap house on Dana Point. We cleared more than $10 a board, which sold for $100 each, and we made 200 boards a week at the peak. 
It's neat to learn how chemistry helped the surfing industry. (Think he was using PPE with that styrene?)


  1. Surfboard shaping and chemistry overlap a huge amount. I'm always glad I was a chemistry PhD as it gave me access to the lab after hours and I could do my ding repair in a safe environment with a labcoat, gloves and good ventilation. Plus acetone for cleaning up at the end

    Otherwise I would have been using resin, methyl ethyl ketone peroxide catalyst, styrene and toxic dust in my garage, probably in a t shirt with no mask.

  2. Of course they wore PPE. A bandana over the mouth works really well and it's easy to still smoke a cigarette, unlike when you wear one of those fancy respirators

    1. I know this post is tongue-in-cheek, but you might be dismayed by how accurate it (still) is.

    2. That was my basis for the comment.

  3. I worked at a summer camp where we had to do our own repairs to sailboats, windsurfers, etc. This of course necessitated a lot of fiberglass and resin, with most work performed in a small unventilated room. There were several of my colleagues who soon realized if you worked without a mask you could get yourself into a pretty good state without having to pay for fancy intoxicants. Ah, the invincibility of youth...

  4. Good to know about your experiment with polyurethane foam which converted it into useful thing. Good to know about your work. Thanks for sharing.

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looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20