SAN FRANCISCO – Larry Gordon, who helped turn surfing into a mainstream sport with the foam boards he created at his California company, has died. He was 76.
Gordon’s wife, Gayle Gordon, told The Associated Press Saturday he died peacefully on New Year’s Day at his San Diego home after a lengthy illness. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 10 years ago.
“Very few people get to have a business and a life in their passion,” his wife said. “He got to live a life in the sport that gave him great joy.”
Gordon was a chemistry student at San Diego State University in the late 1950s when he started experimenting with foam materials at his father’s plastics factory and shaping boards in his friend and fellow surfer Floyd Smith’s garage.
At the time, surfboards were mostly made of balsa wood and were heavy and hard to maneuver. The polyurethane foam that Gordon and Smith used to build their boards were lighter and easier to ride, making surfing more accessible and helping drive its popularity across the globe.
Demands for the boards led the pair to move out of Smith’s garage in Pacific Beach and open a full-fledge surf shop in 1959.
By the 1960s, Gordon & Smith Surfboards became a leading manufacturer in the surf industry, later branching out into skateboards and surf wear.
Smith sold his share of the company in 1971 after expanding the line into Australia. Gordon & Smith is now run by Gordon’s oldest daughter, Debbie Gordon.
“We still shape and glass surfboards about a mile from where his first factory was,” his daughter said. “The reason he made surfboards and the reason we keep making them is for the love of surfing and the stoke it brings in giving people the best ride of their life.”
In 2007, Gordon was chosen as one of five surfboard shapers honored in the “International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame.”
Gordon is survived by his wife, his three children, Debbie, Eric and Erin Gordon, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.