Building Ryan Burch

[Ryan Burch 2016, Photo by Chris Gentile]

Ryan Burch is one of those rare, hyper-talented people whose life is focused and pure. At 27 years old, he keeps the treacheries of ego, debauchery, and vain ambition at bay by staying true to himself and his personal mission. In other words, Burch has his shit together. He does what he is inspired to do, and he does it very well. Humbly. He works hard, because he loves what he does: surfing, traveling, and building surfboards. Don’t be jealous. Be grateful. Burch more than earned the life he lives. Surfing needs Ryan Burch, and Ryan Burch needs surfing. It’s a balanced equation, the sum of which is next level surfing on next level boards. Good for us, good for Ryan. 

From a practical standpoint, Burch’s life in recent years has been made possible because Volcom stepped up and gave him a salaried sponsorship with no strings attached. At the time, Burch was still working the floor at Hansen’s surf shop in Encinitas and living at his mom Lindsay’s house a few blocks away. Basically, his instructions from Volcom were to keep doing what he was already doing: shaping, designing, surfing, creating, collaborating. Volcom’s support allowed him to focus one hundred percent on shaping and surfing. It also gave him the freedom to travel and to evolve, rapidly, into one of the most influential surfer/shapers in the world today.

The following brief conversation barely scratches the surface of Ryan’s world. He’s done so much in the past few years, building hundreds of boards from start to finish and riding them around the world; it’s hard to do it all justice in less than, say, a hundred thousand words. I’ll take just take one example from Burchville that isn’t covered here: the asymmetric board he made for 1966 World Champion Nat Young a few years ago. Nat swears the board works so well at Angourie that it makes him feel 20 years younger. That’s Nat Young, surfniks, frothing over his custom Burch asym. This is a typical Burch story. He blows minds one surfer at a time, living for the next board he’s going to make and the next barrel he’s going to ride. Constant progression, always learning, always growing, always sharing. As I write this Ryan just landed in Fiji, returning for the second time in two months with a fresh new quiver and a ton of swell on the way…which renders the content of this post instantly passé. For Burch anyway. He’s already on to the next flurry of new experiences. But for the rest of us it’s a fresh little piece of surf history.

This interview was conducted in May 2016 in Fiji.

[Ryan Burch on a 6'5" Asym. Photo by Michelle Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

[Ryan Burch on a 6'5" Asym. Photo by Michelle Kenvin/Hydrodynamica] 

RICHARD KENVIN: So you moved into your new shop in Oceanside?

RYAN BURCH: Yeah, I got my shop, moved in about a month and a half ago. I used to shape there, I used to rent a room there from Chemistry surfboards. It was their shop before it was mine and I shaped there for about two years. Then they turned into a full shaping and glassing shop and my old room became the sanding room and they started growing so big that they were doing two thousand boards a year. That place is definitely not big enough to do that. So they’d built it all out, and when they moved to their new space they asked me if I wanted to take it over before they had to pay for everything to be torn down. It was perfect, it was ready to go. Since I moved in there I did a little decorating. There’s a showroom, a shaping room, a sanding room, and a small little glassing area and a bunch of extra storage. It’s pretty perfect.

RK: Are you going to do everything there in your shop? Or are you having other people do glassing and stuff?

BURCH: No, I’m just doing the shaping on the boards that I have for sale, and I get those glassed down at Diamond because the crew down there is just so good.

RK: So you work with Alex Villalobos?

BURCH: Alex Villalobos, yeah. Everything laminated by him so far.

RK: How's that going?

BURCH: It’s awesome. It’s good to work with him and the sanders there are super good, too. They do the nicest glasswork. Time wise, there’s just no way I could handshape and glass every board and still have time to travel. It’s hard to even just shape everything in time, between shaping for other people and shaping boards for myself. I’m doing my personal boards start to finish in the shop, and all the carbon-rail asymmetric stuff, I still do all that stuff, because the rockers can change after you shape the board. Like if I take one of those blanks down to the glass shop and leave it there for a week it might be different from when I dropped it off, so I still do all that stuff to keep a handle on it.

[Logger Burch, photo by Chris Gentile]

RK: So what did the Pilgrim shop order from you, what are making for them? Is that one of your first shop orders outside of Hansen’s in Encinitas?

BURCH: Yeah, it is. 

RK: You’ve been doing small batches for Hansen’s in Encinitas for a long time? 

BURCH: Yeah, I’ve done boards for them from before I’d even shaped a hundred boards, from when I used to work in the shop there. There’s actually a couple of my longboards floating around with the Hansen's logo on ‘em out there, it’s pretty funny. I’ve just recently tried to keep a little rack of stock boards in there. They’ve been selling them pretty quickly, which is awesome. 

The Pilgrim order is good, the first boards that I’ve ever shipped to the east coast. The custom orders were mostly asymmetrics, the round nose asymmetrics. Asymmetrics I see as a super high custom sort of thing, so that stokes me when people order those custom. Probably the bulk of custom orders I’ve got through my website have been asymmetrics. Actually kinda split between asymmetrics and fishes, everyone is psyched on the rainbow fish from Psychic Migrations. That’s another good one for me to make, but it’s a really hard board to shape.

RK:  I think the asymmetric, like the way you have it, is actually a really neutral, versatile board. I think people are going to be surprised on how versatile those boards are.

BURCH: That was my initial reaction when I first rode an asymmetric, was that it’s not as different as it looks. You think it’s gonna be some extreme change and it’s not. Once you get used to the fact that one side turns a little faster than the other it becomes second nature and in the end it’s just a surfboard.

[John Elwell and Burch. Photo by Ryan Field/Hydrodynamica]

[Burch, Elwell, Lucas in 2010. Photo by Richard Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

RK: I always thought, talking with Carl Ekstrom, just the challenges of any kind of marketed production thing on asymmetrics was daunting. But now I think it’s just the very early early stages of the design being accepted, once people ride them, they find they aren’t that crazy and weird.

BURCH: No, they aren’t. Asymmetric is such a broad term too, it could be anything, like the one Jon Roseman has here [in Tavarua], it’s so subtle, it just has a little two inch scoop out of one side of the tail, and that makes it asymmetric.

[6'2" Asym twin, Photo by Michelle Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

[6'2" Asym twin, Photo by Michelle Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

[6'2" Asym twin, Photo by Michelle Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

[6'2" Asym twin, Photo by Michelle Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

[Burch waves at Balaram Stack, Photo by Michelle Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

RK: So we’re just sitting here at Jon Roseman’s house in Fiji, after a pretty solid swell that you just surfed with Reef McIntosh and Balaram Stack, pretty much the first time you ever surfed Cloudbreak, and it looked to me like you’d surfed it a hundred times, which was pretty impressive. And you’d also never ridden any of your boards before, they were brand new, you debuted them all straight into solid 8 foot plus Cloudbreak. 6’2” asymmetric twin fins, asymmetric tri-fins…you were absolutely killing it. It was pretty incredible.

BURCH: I was drawing a lot from Indo experience, I mean I learned how to ride waves like that at G-land. I’ve been in the water with waves like that a bunch. The last two times I went to G-land it was like 10 foot every other day. I feel like that’s where the asymmetrics work the best, too. Like I’ve had the best consistency with 6’2” asymmetric step ups. It’s like the magic number, they’re long enough that you can still keep the rail straight. I like the double noses on those ones still whereas once I start to go up into like 6’6” plus range I like to pull in the noses out of practicality, you just can’t use six feet of rail all at once, but on the 6’2” they get more drive than any board I’ve ever ridden really. They are still small enough to be high performance when the waves are smaller but you can catch triple overhead waves on them if you put them in the right spot and they’ll surf them really well.

RK: Your shop is awesome, I’ve seen it, it’s really cool.

BURCH: The rent’s cheap there, I mean if I make three boards a month it pays the bills. But seriously, I’d like the business end of it to be there for me when I do slow down with surfing. But as far as I know my job right now is to go figure stuff out in the water and if I could do something really good for surfboard design in general…I’d rather be someone who got to try a million different things and if I got to share my knowledge and help everyone to make better boards that would be awesome. Who knows? Just the more I get to surf then the more I get to figure out my boards. I’m definitely starting to get to go from one sort of design thing to another, I feel like I’m narrowing it down kinda. It’s pretty fun to just surf and make boards for yourself and friends who surf really good.

RK: It seems that until a couple years ago when Ryan Thomas and Volcom dropped that edit where you were surfing Deserts and G-land, it was like, you weren’t even real until that came out. Then all of a sudden people were like, “holy shit, those weird boards he makes actually work.” And now you’re segment in Psychic Migrations on the rainbow fish is making people all crazy…so in a way just your surfing and the documentation of it and putting it out there is the way it spreads, more than any other way…

BURCH: Yeah, for sure.

RK: So you got a whole bunch more of that in the last week here in Fiji…There’s a couple guys that have been a part of the Hydrodynamica Project for years now who really picked up where people like Bob Simmons and Carl Ekstrom left off. From my point of view, that’s you and Daniel Thomson. You’re the ones that have been immersed in this stuff, like planing hulls and asymmetry, and taken it further than it’s ever been taken. For me when I look at your surfing there’s the alaia virtuoso element of it, longboard virtuoso, the Lord board, foam, that's like a direct link to Lindsay Lord, and your Simmons board experience because you’re experienced riding Simmons planing hulls, whether it’s the Casper or the balsa replicas…and dynamic asymmetry…the fish…I mean, like Daniel, you’ve taken the original concepts to the next level by making your own boards that are completely tailored and evolved for the way you want to surf and the waves you want to ride. Which has led to some amazing designs and amazing surfing by both of you, and by other surfers who ride your designs. I’m just going to shut up and let you talk about it. Maybe you could talk about your early triggers, getting into longboarding, that whole story.

[Ryan Burch 2016, Photos by Chris Gentile]

BURCH: All I rode was thrusters and that's what I knew growing up doing contests and stuff. So…I actually started with a stand-up paddle board, which is terrible, but it was the first thing I ever felt glide on, and the first thing that sort got me a little bit off the shortboard path. Then I rode a longboard, a single fin longboard that my friend gave me, and initially it felt like I was dragging a bucket off the tail. It was soooo slow but it was interesting to me to try to ride it. But when I built my first boards (which was when I built my very first alaia, too) we just kind of got some pine from Home Depot, glued it up together and…actually before any of that we were riding these little belly boards, me and my friend Eric [Snortum]. As kids, we found a broken piece of plywood on the beach, it was maybe a five or six foot piece, and we grabbed that thing and the first thing we did was break it in half so we could each have a board. That was kind of the very first time we were like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna ride something other than a foam glassed board that's in the shape of what we are supposed to be riding,’ ya know? And that was one of our first experiences ever in the ocean with something random where we were still able to have fun. But we didn't immediately go, ‘ok we should just drop everything and do this’ -- ‘cause we were still like ‘we wanna be pro surfers so we have to go this way’ ya know? And we were really young at that time, probably like age 12 to 14. We rode those things a lot.

Later we started making the plywood belly board things bigger and bigger and properly bodyboarding ‘em without ever having known anything about paipos or anything like that. That happened to be around the time that Tom Wegener was doing the first [paulownia] alaias in Noosa and those boards came over to California with Jon Wegener, who got a board to Rob Machado. The next thing you know we heard that Rob Machado was standing up on a piece of wood. And we were like, ‘no way, we were on the path to doing that…’ So kind of naturally, at the same time I got interested in riding a longboard and just screwing around with different stuff in my off time between competing on a short board in contests, we made a couple alaias and it was just super fun. It was trippy to learn, and it kinda just blew us away more anything. That we could stand up on this floatless piece of wood that we had to swim into waves. Just the challenge.

RK: So your early days, you were just being a normal competitive shortboarder kid… 

BURCH: Yeah, chasing the train…

RK: Maybe you surfed a little better than some other kids but…

BURCH: And worse than other ones…

RK: And along the way you stumbled on these plywood paipos, then discovered glide through a SUP, then started longboarding, and then became very experienced with finless, parallel rail, flexible alaia boards, Lindsay Lord foam, Simmons boards and fish boards…

BURCH: Well, it's the parallel lines, it’s all that kind of stuff. That kind of came from dabbling in the alaia and then meeting you and surfing those first couple times when we met and we surfed…when Lucas and I surfed alaias in the channel at Big Rock, remember that day? And you got that one video of me just spinning like that? I was so tripped out by those boards ability to do different stuff. I don't know, really, what I learned about the alaias all that much, more so than just kind of learning a new element of how to surf. I never really put too much thought into designing alaias other than just seeing what other people were doing and kinda tracing ‘em. I don't feel like I had that breakthrough where I was actively assessing the design and being creative with it, it was just learning to ride something different and that was the breakthrough. Learning to ride this kind of float-less, planing piece of wood. I mean that obviously gets you in touch with the planing element of surfing. Right there. Because you have this float-less thing that you’re up to your neck paddling underwater. Once you catch a wave and build speed and start planing it’s just the shape of that board that's giving you lift. It’s not float, it’s not anything else. It’s planing. That's what it is. It’s getting up on a plane, it’s like skipping a rock. It’s Bernoulli’s theory, all that kind of stuff and it’s… there’s nothing else that would display that sort of stuff like the alaia does. They’re really fun. They’re amazingly fun. You have to be creative, and have that struggle of paddling something that has no buoyancy, but then, you have moments on waves when you’re standing on those things just flying, you’re exhausted and kind of out of control and in control at the same time and it's the raddest feeling.

RK: How about foam? (“Foam” is what Burch calls the rectangular finless pieces of foam he rode in 2009/2010 that share aspect ratio and rail forms with Lindsay Lord’s 1946 planing plates as seen in his book The Naval Architecture of Planing Hulls.)

BURCH: Well I was dabbling with glassed finless boards a little bit, just took the fins off stuff, with that curiosity… to feel something different to riding alaias, something that floated and paddled better… and then I somehow got lucky enough to stumble on to that flexible closed cell foam [in the summer of 2009]. So foam, the very first one was kind of cut into, it had a Daniel Thomson Vanguard nose on it, it had a mini diamond nose on it -- remember that, when I first brought it down? I think I rode it that morning at Seaside, and then I brought it down to Lucas’ [Dirkse] house on Kolmar at Windansea and we surfed the little shorebreak there for the first time, and then I think that night I went and got more blanks and we cut ‘em and by the second day we just had those squares. We cut out the noses and squared them off and it was…on! Like that. Because the second I stood up on that squared off board it was like, oh my god! It held in all crazy. Like it planed, but it set in the wave, which was crazy. I couldn't have guessed that. I don't think I would have come to that point to be like ‘let’s leave the rails this square’ and make the shape that crude.   

[RK passes Burch 1st edition Lindsay Lord’s Naval Architecture of Planing Hulls. Burch opens to aspect ratio page with planing plate illustrations with aspect ratio images rated A1-A6, with A1 being longest and narrowest, and A6 being shortest and widest.]

BURCH: Where is the A6 page? There it is… look how clean the wake is… I like the little one…that's the A6 huh? I swear the A5 always looked like the board though, to me.

RK: That's what yours were, more like the A5…

BURCH: I mean that one board [A5] looks exactly like it, pretty much. Exactly like the piece of foam. (turns plate illustration page to camera) It's the square rails, too, that's what it is…I think that the square rails, from riding the Lord Board, is the frickin’ one design feature that I feel nobody else took seriously enough. It was like the key, key thing to have that [squared off rail] because it was a second plane. Like in that photo (Doug Wylie bottom turn shot below) you can see at that point I’m planing off just the rail.

[Photo by Doug Wylie/Hydrodynamica]

You load enough speed by using the bottom to let you skim across the wave, but then you turn it over and you have a plane there, so the whole experience is just this plane-y, floaty thing that you just cannot feel with anything else in surfing. And it planes off the face of the wave as well as up, there’s two surfaces that are deflecting at the same time. And if you’re only using a small corner of the board, this rail is almost just as effective as the bottom. Once there’s that much that's out of the water, the rail was the surface some of the time and you could feel it when you tipped those things up on rail. I started to realize it, and started to really pull the board, and pull it up in a way that you would trade planes, more so than just trying to deflect the whole time. You could over-vert the boards which was something I’ve never been able to do on any other board, on anything else.

RK: The one bottom turn at Little Point… 

BURCH: Yeah...

RK: Where you can see it tips over and then keeps riding…

BURCH: Where it tips and it like whhooomm… It takes off…it’s so crazy.

RK: It’s just riding on the rail…

BURCH: Yeah, that was crazy. It was pretty much the simplest thing, but it was perfect, as far as going out there and slipping across the surface of the water at such radical speed. It was just the most fully entertaining, crazy thing to try to wrap your head around. When I rode those pieces of foam it was like the experience kind of made everything else seem anticlimactic since then, you know? Like even designing and riding the asymmetrical twin fin boards…there’s still nothing like when we were riding those boards [Lord board] because we had to be…completely creative, for a little while. Like putting dimples in ‘em and stuff…we just made ‘em as slippery as we could possibly make ‘em. We didn't hold on to anything conventional. We got rid of everything. 

It was like learning how to ride a sled down a mountain and navigate through all this terrain and keep re-harnessing the craziest gravity energy pockets of it…we were just one hundred percent planing…I don't know, so much of it was like being at the top of the hill and falling down…a feeling that I’ve never felt in surfing. Like those couple waves at Little Point, the craziest thing was how the top of the wave was at my elbows when I was taking off and I just barely had the nose hooked over, and I was looking down. I felt like I was a little kid looking over the edge of a vert ramp with my arms dangling, looking down, it felt like that…that I was coming in from behind and rolling over it on this thing that was gonna just take off down the ramp and slip and slide out of control. I mean I’ve caught a lot of waves since then, but nothing felt that crazy. There’s something about the way it got in and the way it took off. I didn't do anything, but my body was just ‘ahhhahhaa aaaahhhhh!!!!’ Like this screaming state of like, ‘this is psycho! What the fuck is happening to me?!!!’ It was one of those moments that just, I don't know, I can’t explain it and I haven’t felt it since and I haven’t felt it on any other board, ever. You could say it’s magic, or you could say, yeah, you could say that surfing is just not as fun as that with fins. I know that. I don't care how good and planey your boards are. Once you have that feeling with those flexible, finless boards, without anything, there’s nothing else like it. And then learning to control ‘em was pretty fun, too. But the real crazy rides were those outta control moments when the board would just rocket ship on you and you were just hanging on.  

[Photo by Ryan Field, 2009/Hydrodynamica]

[Photo by Ryan Field, 2009/Hydrodynamica]

[Photo by Ryan Field, 2009/Hydrodynamica]

[Photo by Ryan Field, 2009/Hydrodynamica]

[Photo by Ryan Field, 2009/Hydrodynamica]

[Foam fiend, 2010. Photo by Richard Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

RK: It’s like once you start getting into all this stuff it seems there’s just so many options and opportunities for so riding so many different waves in different ways… 

BURCH: Which is crazy… I just think there’s a point in your gromhood when you’re just not educated to try anything else. The thrusters were kind of just…you just rode ‘em; I don't know, you just didn’t ask questions. That's what they presented you with, that’s surfing, that's what the media sells to you. I think the only real reason that groms are trying other stuff in a serious manner now, looking at pieces of wood and labeling ‘em as alaias and stuff is because of the influence of the media, because there has been exposure of that stuff. But then I think that element of play, when you’re a grommet, that's where you’re really able to find that sort of stuff naturally. Like that's how I found the path I’m on now. As a kid I remember I used to not know anything about fishes but I would cut the back fin out of thrusters during the summer time and then I would sand off the noses and make like these little 4’7” boards. I would try all sorts of little slidey tricks on ‘em but it didn't translate as being “real” surfing to me at the time…real surfing was on short board thrusters. I looked at thrusters like an opportunity to get a job when I got older. It was like school. You go there trying to learn stuff that will eventually make you money. And then riding all that other stuff was just that element of playing in the ocean, which, I think, everything I do now, more so, takes that course.

[Nat Young with a Burch board, 2014. Photo by Richard Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

[Burch line up 2014, Photo by Richard Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

RK: Talk about your finned boards.

BURCH: Ok, back to the finned boards. Yeah, that's probably another reason why the foam died, too, because that was also when I was starting to get the skill set in the shaping room to make the stuff that I wanted to make. And if I didn't have that, you know, if I was still clinging to a board that was easy to get and I didn't have to shape it myself…and I wasn't so interested in the shaping element… I probably would have pursued the foam more. But at the same time I was starting to make these asymmetrical boards. I still aspired to surf like the modern day professionals, big time, I wanted to do the airs and all that stuff, like watching a surf movie of guys riding thrusters still totally inspires me. So, I was making boards that made it easier for me to go out and try to do that kind of stuff. I made some boards after riding fishes, realizing how high performance fishes were, but I wanted to build in elements that made them draw lines that put them in the same spots that you’d put a thruster. And the logical way for me to do that at the time was to make those boards asymmetrical.  

Just for me, personally, I need that effortless ability to get speed. I love taking off on a wave and staying super high and just letting the board run and just…again, it’s back to the foam… you just have this board that's underneath you that's just this load up, like everything in the tail is just this plane-y, loaded up surface…it feels like you’re just deflecting so much. You can get up and just push against the water, like this attack…That's what I kind of view it as, you’re just taking off on this wave and just deflecting the whole time with the planing surface and the rails. I wanted that element to be really present in the boards I was making, but I wanted them to still fit in the pocket and arch and do tricks. But the real crazy part of it all is just that loading up and getting all that speed.

So I started making the finned asymmetrics and loved the way they worked and just want to continue to make them. Like sometimes I can’t justify making a symmetrical board when I go into the shaping bay because…I just think you have to change the sides to optimize everything…and I’m trying to milk the most out of it and make it practical. Make it as plane-y and as out of control as can be for however obscurely I want to ride a wave or, do the opposite and make it really traditional and kind of move towards more rail curve and build more control into the board. As I feel more ambitious and focus less on controlling the board I get wider and less forgiving, make the rails boxier and the rockers flatter and stuff like that. And it’s kind of all based on how well I think I can deal with the waves I plan on riding the board on, like how afraid of the waves I am, and whatever. Like however comfortable I feel on the wave, that's how far away from normal I can move on a surfboard design. I’ve felt that a lot in Indonesia.

I first went to Indonesia with Lucas like five summers ago and took a bunch of asymmetrical boards and fishes and rode a bunch of waves that are different from here. They have way more push. Indo made it so that I didn't understand why a thruster would be any sort of board you’d be trying surf a big triple overhead freight train wave on. Because after riding the boards I had made, just feeling the traverse speed they had to evade this moving wall I didn't really feel safe on anything else. I know even now when I’m surfing waves like that, compared to the guys who are just gnarly on thrusters, like the real barrel warrior guys, like I don't get tubed, compared to them. I outrun the shit out of it half the time, and the other half of the time it’s this crazy struggle to get back into the pocket but to me that's the exciting part, because I don't just fall into it and I’m not at the mercy of the wave. I’m actually making decisions and plotting a course. And that's what’s keeping the whole surfing thing really exciting is this ability to just…it’s how you feel when you look down the line, it’s what you see, and how you react that's super fun, and it's a mental challenge too, especially there, where there’s a risk of getting hurt. The fear element coming into that; being a factor. In Indo I feel like I really just flirt with the wave, just slowly gain confidence and ride deeper in it, but I’m always with that mindset to make it to the end of the wave. I don't have that like whatever you call it, like the big-balls-charging-gnarly-dudes. I guess you can call me a wuss compared to those guys. But I wanna take off on a big wave where I’m kind of pushing it to the point where I don't even know if can handle the wipeout, but still so confident in my skill and the boards that I can just kind of fuck with it and evade it, ya know?  Like pick on someone way bigger than me but never actually get in a fight, that sort of thing.

And that's what those asymmetric boards have been for me in Indonesia and other places. I have a lot of trust in them, I know what they’re gonna do; they let me ride that sort of wave the way that I want to. It’s all still so much of that speed element and that control and that lack of control that I kind of learned to love with the foam. Like back to that Little Point day…I didn't really fall, like the waves didn't eat me unless they were close outs. So that was when I was like, ‘that's what I have to keep doing [design wise]’ ya know? Just with more control built into it. So it's a little bit dulled down, but you’re able to change directions quicker and stuff and people understand it more.

RK: Can you talk a little bit about Simmons?

BURCH: Well, my take on Simmons is I look at it in comparison to all the other stuff that was coming out of that time. I think what I’ve gathered out of it more than anything is that it's a realistic approach, and I feel a lot of connections in that sense as far as designing goes, where I’m just really logical about stuff and I would think that he might be the same, but I don't know. That being said, he just like went ‘this will work’ and it does work, still. I mean I ride longboards a lot, I ride single fin boards, and I’ve ridden like old pigs, and D-fin stuff, and they’re soooo scary. Like I’m frightened to death to ride ‘em. And I was frightened to ride the Simmons boards, too. But that one day when we took them out in bigger surf it made sense, I felt like I could make waves. It had the same inputs, just without the same materials, as we have now. It wasn't lightened up and made into something that's more user friendly. (The board was a 10’6” balsa concave dual fin replica made by John Cherry, weight 50lbs.) They were still kinda big and old construction, but they had elements where you could do similar sort of input to ‘em, and ride waves and escape waves the same way we can do now on the boards that we’re building nowadays.

RK: How about Carl Ekstrom? 

BURCH: Carl Ekstrom’s the best. At the time when I made my first asymmetrical board it was just because I never got to ride one of the ones that Carl was making for you, [because they were regular foot set up] and everything about that first board was just all influenced by what Carl was doing with you. The fact that you really liked fishes and you were trying to integrate something a little bit more predictable on the heel side and that kind of stuff. All the ideas I had, going into building my first asymmetrical board and even going into building ‘em today has all come from Carl. The way he was breaking down what he saw that you liked and trying to get it down to something that was just 100% ideal for riding in a staggered stance. I’m fortunate enough to get to share a lot of what I find out with Carl, because I’m riding a lot my own, and shaping a lot of my own boards, and building a lot of my own boards. I can kind of filter through ideas way quicker so it’s cool because, with Carl, we’ve been able to kind of hone in on the real overall picture that goes into designing a real, proper board.

Even with all those extra variables we’re kind of starting to get a grip on what’s going on there altogether, so the experience of just getting to share ideas with Carl…it’s unbelievable, for somebody who hasn't surfed for quite a while, for them to understand 100% of everything that I say.  He has such a good grasp on hydrodynamics and all that kind of stuff. He just knows his stuff. Beyond that he’s a materials library, he knows everything about everything when it comes to building something and problem solving. He has a real design mind and it’s enlightening to get to share ideas with him and all that kind of stuff. He’s made me think that I could be something more important than a surfboard shaper. But we’ll see about that.

[Burch and Ekstrom, Photo by Richard Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

[Devon Howard, Richard Kenvin, Ryan Burch. Photo by Chris Gentile]

[Daniel 'Tomo' Thomson and Burch, 2014. Photo by Michelle Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

RK: How about Daniel Thomson? 

BURCH: Daniel’s been one of those influences…he’s been one of the hugest influences. Especially when I first started shaping. I was coming from that shortboard background, but absolutely not wanting to ride them anymore, and he was like the major ‘you can do it’ sort of figure because he was doing it. It was already being done, by him. I thought I was on my own, and then I saw his surfing and his designing and all that kind of stuff and I was like, ‘oh yeah, I can do it.’ I love the way that Daniel’s so passionate about that radical end of surfing and he’s so into that, you know the tricks and the ripping and all that. And for someone to be so different, but so heavily involved in what’s going on in modern day high performance surfing is inspiring and it’s awesome, and it’s really never been done you know? He’s so different. Like he’s so set on the fact that he’s found the most radical thing…but the masses take hold of it, and it gets taken out of context sometimes. But he’s really onto something. For sure.  

I’ve ridden a handful of his boards. The best time I ever had on one was the one he made for Lucas, the last time we were in Indo together, and it was like, insane at little G-land, like it was stuck to my feet. It was just a square. It didn't have a diamond nose, it was just a square nose but with sharp corners and stuff like that, it was just radical. But the board worked unreal. I’ve always just loved talking to Daniel and hearing how passionate he is about that kind of stuff. He’s a frickin’ ripping surfer, too…I mean I’m a really big fan of shapers who can really frickin’ put it to their boards…because they can actually really feel it, ya know? They don't depend on someone else to translate feelings, I think that's the hardest thing to come across. That's why whenever I’m trying to translate surfing feelings I’m always doing these spastic little body movements when I’m talking cause I’m trying to translate feelings. So if you don't have to have someone else translate em you’re obviously gonna be more on it than other people are. He’s a great shaper and designer so anything he does I take note. I kind of take what he does as the truth for the way he thinks, ya know? I kinda understand, or kinda think I’ve got an idea as far as what he wants to do…and he’s doin’ it.  

[Ryan Burch 2016. Photos by Chris Gentile]

RK:  What is it that you like so much about surfing? What is it that drew you to it as a grom, and why are you so passionate about it now?

BURCH: I guess it’s kind of the only thing I know. It’s the only thing I feel like I’m able to be creative at a high level on. I guess I might have gotten to a point where I’m like, ‘I’m not super interested in surfing anymore’ but there was no other outlet for me. I would try to paint and stuff but I didn't feel like I was that good at painting and I didn't feel it gave me the release I needed. Surfing’s like that artistic expression, and so many other things. Like challenging yourself. It’s like this battle thing, you go out there and do things that you wouldn't expect to do. I don't know. It’s hard to explain but it’s all consuming and sometimes it’s kind of maddening but it’s something that I need to do. To go out there and kind of, I don't know, battle with the ocean…aww I don't know. It’s like a confidence boost when you overcome fears and…aww…I don't really know that much about surfing.

Written by: Richard Kenvin

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[Burch and Richard Kenvin 2010, Photo by Michelle Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

[Burch on the pink Squit. Photo by Michelle Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]

[Burch on the pink Squit. Photo by Michelle Kenvin/Hydrodynamica]