Larry Gordon and Floyd Smith grew up in the same Pacific Beach town. It was small by modern standards with a population of about 40,000 when they started Gordon & Smith Surfboards. Although they were a year apart in age, they hung out at the beach with the same group of water-loving friends who had gone through the local schools together. At that time, the schools they attended (Pacific Beach Junior High and newly built Mission Bay High School) were part of the admired school system of California. They received a great college prep education. Included were shop classes involving wood working, drafting and mechanics. The lives of Floyd and Larry merged in high school, where they ran track and during college, where they worked at Gordon Plastics (owned by Larry’s Dad).
The haze was in the air that late summer of 1959 and the swell was strong. The garage behind Floyd Smith’s apartment on Balboa Ave, in Pacific Beach had been converted to a surfboard builder’s workshop. Their experiment with blowing foam at Gordon Plastics had paid off. They were able to use about 70% of their foam blanks. The blanks were taken from Gordon Plastics to Floyd’s garage in Pacific Beach where they were teaching themselves how to shape and glass the boards. At this point, Floyd’s experience included a 9’10”balsa board he had bought the summer of 1957. He had stripped it down to the balsa, reshaped and glassed it.
Fleeting thoughts of this being a hobby to satisfy their personal surfing needs quickly vanished. Floyd’s garage soon became the place to order a board, and watch it being made. Word of mouth was the best advertising. From the very beginning, Gordon and Smith had the benefit of an interesting and passionate customer base. One time they ran out of wood strips to glue up the blanks. The customers were going to be picking up their boards later in the week. They ended up routing out the center and pouring a mixture of resin and glass into the center strip to make it look right. The story was told that this new innovation was “just as solid as wood, in fact, none of these have ever broken in Hawaii.”The resin strip didn’t seem to cause a problem for the board or the buyer. Only 50 boards with this type of stringer were ever made.
The light and maneuverable foam blanks made surfing possible for a wider demographic group which included younger kids, girls, and even older guys returning to surfing for a second time. Floyd and Larry were so busy with the challenges of the present that they had no time to think about the future. They dedicated themselves completely to the tasks at hand and rarely thought ahead more than a week at a time.