Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Controversial Surfboard Maker Back in Jacksonville Beach; Clay Bennett Opens a New Shop and Hopes to Repay His Debts and Clear His Name

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Controversial Surfboard Maker Back in Jacksonville Beach; Clay Bennett Opens a New Shop and Hopes to Repay His Debts and Clear His Name

Article excerpt

Byline: DREW DIXON

A Beaches surfboard maker who left town two years ago owing customers about $30,000 worth of boards or cash has returned, and is trying to rebuild his business and repay his debts.

Some people, including many in the surfing community, are trying to help Clay Bennett with efforts such as raffling off one of his surfboards.

Others are still holding grudges.

A Beaches business last week advertised on its marquee that they were raffling a "free Clay Bennett surfboard." But after one of the business' employees received negative feedback, the sign was changed to note a free surfboard raffle - without Bennett's name on the sign.

Bennett has opened a shop in South Jacksonville Beach with the support of several key leaders in the surfing community who are out to see the 1969 East Coast surf champion rebuild his career. He had run a shop in Atlantic Beach before temporarily leaving the Beaches.

While Bennett blamed the media and "Internet slander" for many of his troubles, he acknowledged he made some bad business decisions and he wants to rebuild his custom surfboard shaping business.

"I think there were a few malicious people - and I do mean a few - who sought to make this bigger and worse than it was," Bennett said Friday. "A lot of the people who are doing it don't even have an issue. They're just mean-spirited people."

Bennett riled some surfboard customers in 2007 because he owed them boards that had been paid for when he moved to Galveston, Texas, where he continued shaping boards. Bennett said he always intended to settle his debts, but when he was providing boards for prizes at a Gulf Coast surf contest, Florida surf Internet sites such as Fluidgroove and Surf Station lit up with criticism from some of Bennett's former customers. Others offered support for him, praising his skills and surfboard designs.

Bennett said he still is settling some of those debts, but after the Internet buzz and Shorelines stories detailed his troubles, his Texas business turned into a "disaster."

Bennett recently opened his Jacksonville Beach shop in a small industrial complex and began shaping boards again. He charges $500 to $600 for a longboard with no graphics; shortboards are less expensive.

He's getting support, at least in spirit, from some Beaches surfing community leaders.

Paul West, president of the U.S. Surfing Federation and Florida Surfing Association, said Bennett is a Beaches surf legend and that his troubles with customers were the result of haphazard business management. …

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