In Psychic Migrations, Ryan Burch, Ozzie Wright and Nate Tyler score a flawless South American left point. Similarities simmer between the three — all surf right foot forward, none bother with jerseys and you’d be hard-pressed to find an ounce of beige amongst the colorful trio. Where they differ was in their choice of craft. Ozzie rode a 6’6” Joel Fitzgerald six channel thruster, Nate a contemporary shortboard and Ryan a self-shaped Technicolor twin fin. But it was Ryan’s board, made on location in South America, that caught the surf world’s attention. How did he draw those lines on a twin fin? And how can I get one?
The answer to the first question? He’s extremely f–king talented. But the second question is a bit more complicated. Ryan chooses to shape mostly for his friends, because he’d rather glide on the surface with light pockets than drown in the depths of board orders, and he won’t allow cash to compromise his boards’ integrity. Ryan approaches his shaping like painting — he does so only when he’s inspired, and doesn’t bother when he’s not. —Jake Tellkamp
Photo: Brian Bielmann
Tell me about the Rainbow Fish you shaped in South America. Did you bring a planer in your checked baggage?
My friend who lives in South America is a woodworker, so he had all the tools that I needed and we converted his shed into a makeshift shaping room. I got the blank from the main town near that wave, but the resin was a crazy runaround. The main use for resin there is to repair fishing boats, so they have boat resin, but it’s not anything close to the type of super-refined resin that we have here. We had to mix it and add five different parts. I basically needed a chemist to shape that board.
Having already been there before, did you know that a twin fin would go well in those lefts?
That’s just what I wanted to ride there. The shorter, thicker, wider keel-fin fishes make sense for me in good waves. I don’t think they’re ideal for small slop, but that’s because I’m shaping them with a straighter outline and traditional keel fins that you’d find in kneeboards. Because of those features I’m able to get a small board to project a lot further than you would imagine a small board being able to. It’s a really exciting feeling to ride a tiny board that draws long lines and to have that wide-open canvas, like what we got.
So, does that board work best going frontside?
Definitely, but my surfing has begun to adapt to those boards backside, too. I’ve never been able to surf very creatively on my backhand — I feel like I’ve always surfed pretty run-of-the-mill going right — but now I’m figuring out the quirks of a twin fin, and I’m getting more creative on my backside.
How often do people ask to trade boards with you on a surf trip?
Not super often. I’ve always had people interested in what I’m riding but I think when you are scoring waves you want to ride a board that you trust. It was interesting when we were filming for the movie and Ozzie wanted to ride my board on the best day of the trip. I’ve never had that happen before so that was pretty special.
Photo: Brian Bielmann
How do you balance shaping and professional surfing?
In an ideal world, I would continue to have a sponsor and be a surfer because that’s the driving force for me in the shaping room. I want to continue to travel and test boards in better and better waves in hopes that I can be a spokesperson for design. If I could do that for the rest of my life, I imagine I’d be able to test and refine a lot of really cool surfboards. That really excites me.
Does the idea of a large customer base overwhelm you?
Totally. I want to be able to make something that I can be proud of, rather than handing the designs over to someone else to produce or finish them for me. My favorite part about shaping is using my hands. I don’t want to sacrifice that. The bummer is that because I’m building boards that way, I have to turn people down. In the future, maybe I’ll hire a glasser so that I can free up a bit of time.
It’s funny, I remember when I first started getting into surfboards, Skip Frye was kind of the same way and his boards were all I ever wanted. I’ve still never been able to get one. It boils down to time and staying true to what you do or expanding and letting things out of your hands to meet the demand. I view shaping surfboards in the same light as making art and I’d rather do something that’s my own and keep it than have to be a boss and tell people that they aren’t doing it right.