February 13, 2006
Rocket Science May Hold Key to Surfing’s Future
SAN FRANCISCO -- 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 on Monday.
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 worldwide.
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 technology.
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 associate.