Words & photos by John Streit.

In an ordinary industrial warehouse space in Norfolk, surfer/chemist Seth Brunner is creating something extraordinary. An unprecedented operation for the East Coast, Brunner is formulating, molding and building the literal core of the surf industry — surfboard blanks.

Unless you’re a gear head, shaper, pro surfer or sling surfboards for a living, the blank is something most wave riders take for granted. However, in Seth’s world concocting the best possible polyurethane is equal parts profession and passion that is Common Surf, the name of his current surfboard blank venture. Seth, a Virginia Beach native, began surfing during his high school years before dedicating his education to the study of chemistry at VMI. Grad school brought him out to one of surfing’s mecca’s — California — where he worked as a chemist for a biomedical company before shifting to a company that developed surface coatings — all in between surf sessions, of course. After taking some time off to travel, Seth returned to Virginia, where he began formulating polyurethane foam four years ago while working full-time for Mitsubishi Chemical.

Brunner is a true pioneer in that no East Coast-based company has ever produced surfboard blanks. Prior to 2005, a vast — and I mean vast — majority of the world’s blanks were produced by the now-defunct Clark Foam, which abruptly closed its doors that year and sent the surfboard-building world into a temporary tailspin. From Clark’s ashes rose U.S. Blanks, which before Seth set up shop was the only domestic producer of surfboard blanks.

Due to industry loyalties and tight lips involving foam formulation from those in-the-know, Seth started Common Surf from ground zero. Though this may appear to be a limitation, Seth saw it as an opportunity to innovate the process by relying on his scientific background and a old-fashioned trial-and-error. He’s been going at it full-time for the past year-and-a-half and truly believes that he’s crafted a superior product. His formula has received positive reviews from the initial shapers who worked with it, and more and more boards are hitting line ups across the Eastern Seaboard.

“The main hurdle is to get people to try it, then they’ll see how good these blanks are,” Seth says.”It’s as good, if not better, than any foam that’s made in the U.S.”

 

He hopes that over time, the quality of his product will speak for itself and locally-produced blanks will become a cost-effective leg up for Right Coast board builders. Common Surf offers 20 molds that fit a wide array of shapes, but plans are in the works to further expand these offerings, including blanks with custom rocker with virtually no lead time.

“The formula will prove itself over time,” Seth says. “We have 100 percent confidence in that.”

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