Surfer Ryan Burch turned from competition to board design, tinkering and experimenting to create a dazzling range of boards that stand as innovative and unique works of art.
Ryan Burch surfs longboards. He surfs fishes, shortboards, thrusters, quads, and asymmetrical boards that look more like installations in an art gallery than like serviceable craft. He builds everything he rides, and every stage of the process—the shaping, the sanding, foiling, and glassing—he does by hand.
But a little over six years ago, the then-21-year-old from Oceanside, Calif., was the opposite of a chameleon when it came to what he rode. He surfed milquetoast, low-volume thruster shortboards in all conditions. They worked. He was standout in the pro junior ranks and seemed destined for a career on the World Surf League Championship Tour.
Yet, he wasn’t satisfied. He dropped out of the contest scene and started experimenting with different varieties of boards. “I started searching for the truth and trying to learn beyond what people can teach you,” he says in a video that details his design philosophy.
In 2010, he shaped his first board. It was not conservative. It was a neon pink fish with wooden twin keel fins and a concave deck like a skateboard. He made more. Each board he surfs influences his shaping and each board he shapes influences his surfing. His apartment is filled with so many boards from different genres that it’s like stepping into a time capsule. You witness the evolution of surf craft.
Burch is now considered the primary influence in the alternative surfboard movement both as a shaper and a surfer. On a trip to Chile, Burch didn’t bring any boards. Instead, he shaped two tie-dyed fishes, and then preceded to tear apart the country’s left-hand point breaks.
“It’s the most renegade piece of cinema in surfing we’ve seen since Greenough slid on a f------ mat,” What Youth magazine said of Burch surfing those boards in Volcom’s feature film Psychic Migrations. The article also ranked him one of the 10 best surfers in the world and said his surfing “completely caught us off guard.”
What might have surprised even more people is that at the start of this month, Burch launched a website (ryanburchsurfboards.com) and is now taking custom board orders. In an Instagram post informing his followers of the website, he included a caveat.
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“About to start taking custom orders,” he wrote. “I’m doing all the shaping by hand so there won’t be a ton of them being made. I still want to surf a lot.”
We wouldn’t have it any other way.