Stab Magazine | The life, times and innovation of Mr Ryan Burch, through board design

The life, times and innovation of Mr Ryan Burch, through board design

Make your transition. 

style // Oct 27, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 8 minutes

It’s a bluebird day in Encinitas and Ryan Burch meets us outside the pink gate to the downstairs floor of his home. In his house there are no rooms, plenty of square footage and three sneaky beds tucked away in corners. “I don’t have any of my old high performance boards anymore,” declares Ryan Burch as we begin snooping around his surfboard-riddled Encinitas home. And I’m surprised, every which way there’s a pile of boards. The ceiling’s line with them; twin fins, Asymms, logs, eggs, bonzers and anything removed from squash tailed thrusters. Underneath his bed 50 strange foam creatures sit without order, side by side, on top of each other, piled in. “Yeah, those are all pretty much broken,” says Mr Burch as his good friend and fellow ‘alternate’ board rider Bryce Young sits at the dinner table, his fingers dictating the baseline and hammer-ons of his dulcimer guitar. Ryan’s closing in on surf stardom. He stole the show in Volcom’s new flick Psychic Migrations, where he gave a masterclass on choosing equipment to compliment conditions. After watching Burch going three hundred mph on a twin fin at a long, sectiony Chilean point, watching guys on thrusters doing air reverses looked, well, dull. Instead of being a deliberate cry for attention, Burch’s journey through the ether of ‘alternate’ surf craft has come as a result of him being a weirdo, in the best possible way. The weirdness has resulted in some strange surf phases in Burch’s life, but in the end, as tends to happen with free thinkers who’re exceptionally talented, it’s made him a much revered character. Here we chart the evolution, the life through surfboards, of Mr Ryan Burch.



Mr Burch, always looking forward to the next unorthodox design.

The high performance days
“Ahh, the high performance days,” laughs Burch. “I rode for a guy named Greg Sauritch. He was super instrumental in the way I shape now. He hand shaped everything and would always talk shit on shaping machines and people who didn’t learn the craft. By the end of me riding for him he had hand shaped something like 40,000 boards. It really instilled a lot of respect for what went into building a surfboard. I had some magic boards from him. I was riding 6’1 by 18 1/4 and 2 1/4. I thought I was ripping at the time but thrusters don’t really suit my surfing. I rode shortboards until I was 20. When I was growing up I had one surf movie, 5 Summer Stories because my dad’s kind of an old school dude. So I started surfing NSSA’s thinking ripping was guys doing cheater fives and head dips. Then I saw Loose Change. After watching Bruce Iron’s part I was just floored. I didn’t know up from down after that. I was like ‘shit, guys are doing like 20 foot airs!?’ That really changed things for me.”


“This image was taken while we were filming a project for the Australian Chamber Orchestra,” says photographer Ed Sloane. “The Reef was a collaboration between Jon Frank and Australian composer Richard Tognetti. Burch was one of the surfers enlisted to work on the project. I didn’t know much about him before this trip but figured out pretty quickly when we met in Perth that he wasn’t your standard kinda guy. He asked me where he could buy some glue, as he needed to glue two halves of a block of foam together before we arrived to surf. I assumed at the time he’d be lying on it, but on the first swell of the trip, a sucky, fast and kinda sketchy 4-6ft day he was flying (and I mean flying) on the thing. This shot kind of shows you his talent, I mean he’s pulling in behind the curtain on a 4ft block of foam with no fins, and he made it! Later that night he punched holes in the bottom of it with his elbow to alter how it would go. It’s pretty safe to say he’s intensely focussed on his surfing, his crafts, and their relationship with the water. It’s kind of hard to separate the three when you’re talking about Ryan Burch.

Logs are pretty fun, right guys? Anyone…
“I stopped surfing competitively around the time I was 20,” Ryan tells me. “There was never a time where I was like, ‘I’m done with competing.’ I stopped because all I wanted to do was ride a longboard at Cardiff. I realised that when I was in a Volcom contest at Seaside Reef. I was too embarrassed to bring a log in my car to the contest. So I’d leave in between my heats, go to my moms house down the road, grab my longboard and drive down to Cardiff to surf. Then I’d drive back to my moms and put it away so nobody in the contest would see that I had just left to go ride a longboard. Because at that time if you were riding a longboard it was just kind of lame,” he cracks at the silliness of his reflection. “I was still kind of trying to make it in the shortboard scene. I still rode for Volcom and had some sponsors. I was doing the pro juniors and some of the QS’s but I was just getting waxed. I didn’t have any travel budget and Encinitas is surrounded by mushy, piddly, little waves. All the sudden I found myself infatuated with riding a longboard, and the progression was really fast. It was longboards that got me into shaping. I found myself much happier, longboarding was just so entertaining to me. The different subtleties that it took to ride them blew my mind.”


Stroke and glide, make it look slow and pull the trigger, full speed ahead.

 Who needs them?
“I got really into riding weird finless things once I started shaping Alaias,” chirps Burch. “They were fun and easy to make and I’d shape them in my mom’s front yard. That’s when I really started to experiment with unconventional boards. It was the height of me loving where I live and being entertained with what I was riding. It really clicked when I started riding this 4’6 foam block. At the time I was still sponsored for surfing a shortboard, but instead I was riding this foam piece of trash. I remember my mom being like – ‘don’t ride that all time, you don’t want to get dropped by your sponsor.’ – Which seems like such a weird thing to say to your kid. She was just like ‘why the hell do you keep bringing that pool toy to the beach?’ But, it was all I wanted to ride! Even when the waves were good. It ended up being something a lot of people saw and thought was really creative and unique. That sort of experimentation was what kept me as an interest to Volcom. All the sudden I was given the ability to do what I wanted to do. And that was really nice. I was so enthralled with surfing and riding these really goofy things. I was just a surf doggy, stoked to go to the beach.”


Very few look at a foam square and think, “yeah that’ll go.”

Twin fins
“At the time I was really into painting and that’s what brought me into shaping boards,” Ryan says. “I was airbrushing at a glass shop. I was planning on going to art school and becoming an art teacher, but once I started getting better at shaping boards I couldn’t find anything inspiring to paint. All my creative energy was being poured into the boards. I was getting everything inside of me, out. Shaping a board with a tool was the same feeling I got from painting on a canvas, but it was better because there was this performance aspect of it. It all came back to surfing, I could be creative and walk down the beach with something that I made. I had a lot of pride in that artistically, and a lot of it came from the experiences I had with the shaper I rode for as a kid. The fifth board I ever made was a fish. That was a pivotal time in my surfing and shaping. It brought back a high-performance aspect. It was the first time I could put my knowledge of how boards work into what I was making. I didn’t really want to trust the board though. My progression with it was really slow. Getting back on something more maneuverable brought back the psychy little comp grom who wanted to do windshield wiper turns inside of me. I think riding twin fins really started to smooth out my surfing. The fish made me draw lines and read waves. It bridged the gap between thrusters and logs.”


High performance equipment to Ryan has nothing to do with squash tail thrusters. The cat’s going down a different path, relating to surfers of another plane and the result’s one we’re quite fond of.

Getting past the boundaries of symmetry
“The asymmetrics were a funny thing,” says Mr Burch. “At first they just worked around my homebreaks. Around this time I started to gain some support and was traveling more. I was out of control, I was lost. One of the first trips I did was to Nicaragua with Rob Machado. My boards were so skate-y. I couldn’t even do a turn, I’d try to bottom turn and end up backwards. I was desperately trying to surf normal because Rob was just ripping the shit out of every wave he caught. Meagerly I was like; ‘I can do that, we surf Seaside together and I do pretty good, right Rob?’ (laughs.) “It was a humbling experience. I realised I needed to learn how to adapt boards to other conditions. The asymms were the first time I was able to do that. I went to G-land with a quiver of asymms and felt them out. Then I went home and frantically shaped another batch to make them better. I could finally ride waves the way I wanted to. It gave me confidence. I felt I could do whatever was possible in my mind. I started to trust my boards and myself more. They’ve taken the place of a shortboard to me now. Most people want to ride a shortboard when the waves are pumping, I want to ride an Asymmetric. Getting past the boundaries of symmetry was the most pivotal moment in my surf career. It was the first time I started listening to my own needs. I was questioning everything to make them perfectly suited to the way I was surfing. If I was riding one and the bottom turn wasn’t tight enough I’d pull in the nose of the toe side. But if the heel side was working fine I’d leave it be. That was my real breakthrough in designing boards, it instilled this confidence in me, I was able to trust myself and trust the direction I was taking.”


Assyms at first glance are seemingly un-sensible but after seeing Mr Burch work one, interest in alternative design has been piqued.


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