Better Surfing Through Chemistry

Grubby Clark was a surf-world oddity: a hot-rodder and ex-army man, with a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

On a slow weekday afternoon in 1957, three years after Hobie Surfboards opened for business, a resin salesman walked into the shop and handed Hobie Alter a small white chunk of synthetic material about the size of a cigarette pack. “It was hard and dense,” Alter recalled. “You could just barely dig your fingernail into the surface.” Polyurethane foam was just then coming onto the commercial marke...

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