James Lambert
Gordon & Smith surfboard founder, Larry Gordon, a follower of Christ, will be missed
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By James Lambert
May 23, 2016

As teenagers in the mid 1950's, Larry Gordon and Floyd Smith loved surfing. Both attended Mission Bay High School, where Larry graduated in 1957. Larry and Floyd's friendship and love of surfing eventually birthed Gordon & Smith Surfboards, a company that eventually gained brand recognition worldwide.

Larry Gordon's story began in San Diego in the early 1940s when his family moved to Pacific Beach (a coastal suburb in San Diego). According to Larry's wife, Gayle, Larry originated from a family line full of relatives with strong ties to faith, community, and family based business ventures.

In the late 1950s Larry attended San Diego State University, where he studied chemistry. It was at this time that Larry began experimenting with foam materials. Gordon's experiment with polyurethane foam morphed into the creation of foam surfboards for his new company. (Up until that time surfboards were primarily made of balsa.) In 1959, Larry and Floyd opened a store in Pacific Beach where they manufactured and sold their new product: foam surfboards under the name: G&S (Gordon and Smith Surfboards).

This innovation in surfboard design helped to transform the surfboard industry not only in Southern California but around the world. Foam boards are much lighter and are much easier to shape than the old traditional (balsa and wood) boards from the earlier part of the century. The next decade found Floyd moving to Australia where the surfboard industry was taking off. It was around that time that Larry bought out Floyd's interest in the company. Over the next few decades sales in Gordon and Smith surfboards began to explode, causing Larry to open other stores in San Diego and Orange County.

Despite his commitment to the business, Larry, a thoughtful and pragmatic man, became involved in a weekly Bible study with friends. According to Gayle, Larry did a lot of soul searching at this time, approaching his belief in Christ methodically. In the early 70s, while attending a service at a local Presbyterian Church, Larry heard a sermon by Rev. Chuck Smith. According to Time Magazine, Pastor Smith's church (Calvary Chapel) in Costa Mesa, CA. was known as one of the focal points of the 'Jesus Movement' that impacted thousands throughout Southern California in the 1970s.

Chuck Smith's speech that night touched the heart of the surfboard manufacturer. During the next year Larry attended Bible studies led by Mike Macintosh, the future pastor of Calvary Chapel's newest church in San Diego, Maranatha Chapel which later became Horizon Christian Fellowship.

The popularity of the new church was phenomenal. In addition to their Sunday services, the church began to regularly host Christian rock concerts at their North Park theater location. These events positively impacted the lives of many young people in San Diego who committed their lives to Christ in the late '70s and early '80s. The church even hosted an evangelistic event in the old San Diego Sports arena. Eventually the church would relocate to the Clairemont area of San Diego, under the name of Horizon Christian Fellowship. It was at that location that the church started a school (under the name of Horizon Christian School).

It was there that Larry served on the Board of Trustees of the church. Larry also exerted a profound and positive influence to many in the surfing community resulting in friends and other acquaintances coming to a relationship with Christ. On New Year's Day in 2016 Larry passed into the loving arms of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. On the 18th of January approximately 400 people participated in a 'Paddle Out' at Tourmaline surf-park celebrating his life. There renowned surfer and surf board shaper, Skip Frye, gave a stirring address recounting the spiritual influence his friend, Larry, made on his life.

Larry Gordon will be missed. His innovations in the surfboard industry will remain as his epitaph as well as his stellar example of being a true follower of Christ. For surfing history fans, Gordon & Smith still operates a shop in Pacific Beach, located at: 5151 Santa Fe Street, Suite A&B in San Diego. It's a fun place to visit and remember its former founder.

© James Lambert

 

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James Lambert

James Lambert has a broad business background. After receiving his undergraduate degree from Linfield College (McMinnville, Oregon), Lambert pursued a career in banking by working in various management capacities for Crocker Bank, San Diego Trust & Savings Bank and First Interstate Bank (between 1973 and 1995). By 1990 Lambert received his Master in Business Administration from National University (San Diego). For 3 years, Lambert also taught Finance at Mira Costa Community College... (more)

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