2016 started off on a heavy note for the surf world, as Larry Gordon passed away in his San Diego home at 76 years old. Founder of the company, Gordon & Smith Surfboards and Skateboards, Larry helped shape modern day surfing with his customized foam surfboards. As a surfer himself, he knew what other surfers would be looking for and what they liked.
When he was three years old, Gordon moved with his family from Illinois to California. It was soon after their move that he got his first taste of surfing and the local culture. As he grew up, he spent most of his time between the water and the local skatepark – intermingling with surfers, both young and old. He would continue to visit these spots as he got older, learning what people were looking for, and often giving hometown boys their first taste of sponsorship.
In the mid 1950’s, Larry met fellow surfer, Floyd Smith. They forged a close friendship over the years, often surfing together at the local beaches in San Diego. In 1959 Larry attended San Diego State University where he was a chemistry student. In between classes, he and Smith started making surfboards out of Smith’s garage. This was the origins of their company – Gordon & Smith.
Gordon & Smith, known as G&S, were one of the first companies to bring foam boards to their home town. They knew the trends that surfers were looking for, and Gordon began to experiment with different foam materials at Gordon Plastics, his father’s factory. Success soon followed, and allowed Floyd expanding the business overseas in 1965 to Australia. For the several years that he lived there, Floyd flourished the business even more, gaining a new world wide loyalty amongst international surfers. He brought back different designs ideas and innovations when he moved back to the States.
Smith ended up selling his share in the business in the early 1970’s to pursue other interests, but still makes wooden boards in his garage to this day.
Gordon didn’t run away from a challenge though, even after the shortboard revolution of the late 1960’s pushed the G&S longboard out of fashion. This didn’t stop him from growing the business over the years. He continued to get top surfers to try out his designs and gained valuable feedback on how to improve his products. A variety of great surfers got their start into professional surfing by being apart of the G&S sponsored team. Many of them worked for the company as well, including Skip Frye – a San Diego surfing legend.
Larry led a group of surfers, who met every Saturday, until his body would no longer allow him to surf. He fought a battle against his body in order to continue the sport he loved. Surfing was his greatest escape, and he wasn’t going to let his ability to surf go easily. When he no longer could stand on the board, Gordon surfed on his knees instead.
Gordon is survived by his wife, Grace Gordon, his children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His daughter Debbie Gordon and son Eric have taken over G&S and will continue to run the company with the same values their father created. Larry Gordon is a true legend in the San Diego surf community and will be greatly missed.