Rocket science may hold key to surfing's future
Tue Feb 14, 2006 12:27 AM ET
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A material developed to protect electronics
in nuclear weapons could resolve a shortage after the major supplier of
surfboard foam suddenly closed its doors late last year, officials said
Surfers worldwide reacted with shock and prices shot up in December
after the southern California company that invented the foam and
fiberglass process used in most surfboards went out of business. Its
owner, Gordon Clark, was apparently tired of fighting environmental
regulators over the foam blanks that he supplied to surfboard shapers
Reading about that crisis in the world of surfing got Leroy Whinnery
thinking. A polymer chemist at the Sandia National Laboratories, a
national security lab in Livermore, California, he had been working on
a foam material to protect the electronics in nuclear missiles.
"I read in the paper about the surfboard foam core manufacturer closing
his doors and thought that this foam that I had been working on, if we
could get it to lower density, could be relevant and help the surfing
community," he said.
The problem with the old surfboard foam was the presence of a toxic
chemical called TDI. The Sandia material, which they call TufFoam, does
not contain TDI.
Whinnery said he has made a mini two-foot long surfboard with the
material, and the lab -- which is operated by a Lockheed Martin Corp.
for the U.S. Department of Energy -- is now trying to license the
If surfboard makers are interested, the proceeds could even ultimately
help national security, a lab official said.
"Essentially the taxpayer gets a return on the investment. When we get
licensing revenue in, that gets pumped right back into additional
research that the lab does," said Scott Vaupen, a Sandia business