Monday, September 11, 2006

The Garage Workshop

A recent William Finnegan article in The New Yorker, titled, “Blank Monday” reviews the struggles in the surfboard industry as a result of the abrupt closure of Clark Foam, one of the only producers of foam blanks, the raw material that shapers hone into surfboards. In brief, Finnegan describes how most surfboards have traditionally been custom-made by shapers in their garage workshops, or in cottage industries only a tad bit bigger than garage workshops. Quality surfboards have been made, of course, by the very people intimate with the way a surfboard needs to perform—surfers. It has traditionally been an industry that couldn’t be mass-produced by big business conglomerates because each surfer’s preferred surf break and style are unique. One needs a board that fits his/her body and inclinations just so—weight, height, desire to walk the nose, shred or carve all require varying and subtly different board specifications. Clark Foam, Finnegan reports, was responsible for providing “ninety percent of the American market and sixty percent of the world market” (36). Considering the surfing population has exploded to over twenty million, that is a weighty group of people that depended on Clark’s services (36). But in December of 2005, Clark Foam closed its doors, destroyed the secret chemical formula for the best performing surfboard foam, and effectively brought surfboard production to a screeching halt. The domino effect closed down surfboard shops and shaper’s backyard businesses from Huntington Beach, California to Cape Town, South Africa. Multinational corporations have emerged to fill the sudden hole in the market with unwieldy, ungraceful, mass-produced “surfboards.”

Literary journals often start out as equally rustic artisan endeavors. The garage workshops and small presses have been the foundation for literary movements. Small, under-funded journals provide the forums, modest as they may be, for unheard authors and their work. Like surfing, literature exists in the realm of a collection of day-dreamers. Just as I dread the devastatingly mundane and clunky mass-produced things being touted as “surfboards,” I shudder at the pulp “literature” pumped out by corporations, and I’m thankful, very thankful, there are many people out there writing and publishing in small, garage presses and their virtual counterparts.


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