Mid-face aerated trim. If you pointed a speed camera at this baby you’d be clocking double demerits. (Todd Glaser)

Ryan Burch In The Collision Of Worlds

Ask yourself, what surfer out there today is most likely to tip surfing on its head?

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Not simply push it further in the direction it’s already going, but change its course entirely… For that you’d need someone who both shapes and surfs dimensionally… three, four, five, whatever you got. You’d need someone whose imagination has no perimeter fence around it. You’d need someone who pairs the words “strange” and “wonderful” together an awful lot. Californian Ryan Burch is a gift. He’s all of the above, but doesn’t possess the bitterness and recalcitrance that many surfing futurists – locked in battle for years with a cold, pragmatic world – exhibit. Burch is a “why not?” kind of guy, and we came up with the idea of interviewing him for the SW Future issue, that’s exactly what we said.

SW: Did you ever think of the future as a wee grom Ryan Burch?
RB: Well I definitely watched surf movies as a kid and tripped out that the level of surfing was already so high. It was obvious to me right from the start that if you wanted to be someone who gets to surf for your whole life, you had to figure out how to push your surfing to a level that was beyond what already existed.

What movies were you watching as a grom?
The first movie I ever watched was Five Summer Stories. An old classic that my Dad was super psyched on. He was like “You gotta watch this vid, it’s got the best surfing ever!” So I watched that forever and it was my introduction to what people surfed like. Then the next movie I got after that was Loose Change which was nuts because I hadn’t watched anything from any era between those two films. It was like seeing the future all at once. Like, no gaps in between. So I didn’t see anything 80s or 90s or any of that evolution of boards and styles that went down in those eras between 1972 and 1999. In fact, the first time I saw Bunyip Dreaming was when Jack McCoy gave me a copy and said “Check out my movie, man!” And that blew my head off too because I was like “What is this generation and style of surfing?” because everyone was surfing in a totally different way again. So I feel like my mindset in those early days was coming from either 72 and Five Summer Stories or from the future and Loose Change (laughs).

What about out of the water? Did you have much imagination for the future as a kid?
I did like Back to the Future for sure but I wasn’t future minded. It wasn’t my focus. Whatever was coming at me I was just dealing with it  (laughs).

Did you want to be a pro surfer after you saw Loose Change?
Before I saw Loose Change I was just a little grom competing in the Rob Machado surf contest that he used to put on at Cardiff Reef, a local spot where I grew up, and I was trying to do cheater fives to win the finals. Then the next year I went into a surf shop to buy my first wetsuit so that I could finally surf through the winter and Loose Change was playing on a television. I think I was 13 and I was watching Bruce Irons’s part and my brain didn’t really understand what I was looking at. I was just going “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat! The sky is the limit?!” When you’re that age and you go into a surf shop, man, it’s such a stimulating place because you get to see everything! You may be totally out of contact with it because the person who taught you to surf doesn’t go in there everyday, but when you’re a kid you have your own experience and everything is there for you and that’s when you decide what kind of surfer you want to be I think.

Does it strike you as remarkable that your surfing is now doing the same thing for an entirely new generation? Those twin fin Chile sessions in Psychic Migrations (Volcom’s 2015 surf movie masterpiece) had a massive effect on how people wanted to surf and what they wanted to ride? Could you have imagined when you were watching Bruce Irons that future surfing would be done on asyms and twins?
It’s like that because kids have access to absolutely everything nowadays and so the field of influence is much greater, and they get to start with everything at their disposal… information and footage of any era, and they can find the surfing that speaks to them and push that style of surfing in new directions. It’s awesome! I think there will always be those guys who ride reliable and proven equipment when the waves turn up, that tradition will still run through. Those guys who dedicate themselves to the waves they live by are pretty traditionalist and that always keeps things in check, but I think there is a general sense of more open mindedness in surfing today and it’s great to see groms who can really push the limits on alternative equipment be able to be in rotation to get a set wave at the premier locations when there is swell. Anywhere you go it’s going to be crowded but waves go everywhere and someone should be able to show up on a single fin, or whatever it may be, and if they can get waves then we’ll see more variation in approach and style and that is the best thing for surfing. When you surf every single day you begin to realise how day-to-day life it is. You see people you might not ever talk to, you see others and get excited to see them, and it’s just like walking down the street. I mean it’s crazy how common surfing has become. Everybody does it. It’s pretty popular (laughs).

You’ve spent a lot of time with Nat and Bryce Young. How does hanging with one of the sport’s original icons affect the way you see the future?
Hanging with those guys is so crazy and proof of how a positive attitude can transcend the idea of time. What I find most interesting about Nat is the fact that he’s shifted his goals away from the waves that he’s gonna catch towards the waves that his family are gonna catch. “Let’s take the family surfing!” To me it says a lot about how an individual’s relationship with surfing evolves and you begin to understand that that’s really how the language of surfing exists; in the passing down of stories and information and experience from generation to generation. But those two guys in particular are such inspiring people. They’ve really set me on the right course because Bryce is always getting me psyched to surf or skate and do it as best I can because he’s always killing it and Nat is the eternal grom and he’s like “Whatever I can do to surf another wave or ski another sick mountain, I’ll do it.”

The shot that nailed the cover of Surfer. Rock solid asym line in the belly of solid Cloudbreak. (Glaser)

What about boards Burch? It feels as though any idea, no matter how legit or loopy, can get traction and take off into its own movement.
For sure. I definitely think we’ll see more experimentation and a lot more strange and wonderful designs because the truth is you can go absolutely anywhere with surfboards. It’s an endless thing. There are so many different people making so many different things and they all think they’re onto it so it’s just going to continue. If they can get people to believe in what they’re putting out there… it’ll catch on. People are gonna try shit because it’s a very experimental time. Even someone who doesn’t surf every single day is beginning to experiement because there’s so much stuff out there, and who knows where it can go? I get really psyched on the fact that maybe it’ll be become less dedicated to certain people riding certain types of board, and what I mean by that is, why just get on a twin fin like the feel of it and then never get off them? I like the idea of somebody hopping around on everything. That would be great because then they can surf the perfect board every time no matterthe conditions. I mean, it sets up a world with a lot of decisions and crazy judgment calls (laughs) but compare that with someone who only rides the one design in everything, that puts a lot of compromising into your surfing and results in judging the waves based on the performance of the board, which you shouldn’t have to do.

Can you imagine a future where the WSL World Tour reflected that way of thinking?
(Laughs) That would be quite the circus wouldn’t it? It would be a travelling stunt act! It would be so good though. I mean, it’s become so set. They ride very similar surfboards because they need the familiarity. You gotta look at the pro surfing thing as getting your routine down, travelling with it, and refining the same tricks everywhere you go. I don’t think it’s bad because if you nail those tricks your performance lifts to a higher level and that’s when a little bit of magic happens because that’s surfing and it always can. If somone could do that on different boards within the framework of the pro tour though, I dunno man, it would be a weird colliding of so many different worlds (laughs) and personally, I think it would be incredible to watch.

What’s your vision of the future in terms of the boards you’re shaping?
Trying to apply the right boards to the right waves. I’m looking all around because there are so many different types of waves that require different types of boards. There are just so many different things you can still do with boards. I always think about trying to get air into boards, getting some sort of bottom contour that keeps the board airated so that when you’re not on rail you’re just flying but then when you’re on rail the board stays super holdy. Then when I’m making longboards I just want to make the slowest surfboard ever, (laughs) because if you want to nose ride you need to have that feeling like you’re dragging a parachute. I’ve been going so fast on twinnies for so long that sometimes I just want to go slow. Thrusters work for that too (laughs).

Wave Pools?
Awesome. You’ve got to have wave pools. It’s amazing what they can do with the technology they have today to make the wave look the way they do. Man made waves is a great thing. And it doesn’t matter how cynical you want to be about it, there are plenty of surfers out there who would loooooove to surf the wave pool.

If you had unlimited money and access to the science, what would a Ryan Burch wave pool look like?
It would look like a star shaped island with a train that wrapped around it and sent swell into five different coves so that you’d have five lefts and five rights of all varying shapes and sizes and wave height. It’d even have outer reefs in the middle of it so that you can get your little outer reef fix as well. It’d basically have tonnes of spots and on the shore would be a bar and good food as well. That’d be ideal.

Harnessing psycho speeds into full rail engagement is a Burch special as evidenced in the Volcom surf film of Psychic Migrations. A swift uppercut to the traditional beliefs of progressive surfing, redefined by the open-minded crafting of surfboards that are specifically built for individual locations. (Glaser)

Who do you look to when you want to be inspired by performance surfing and pushing your own limits?
John John and Kelly, man those guys are so crazy, but I follow everybody. I follow the media. I’m on Surfline. I watch as much surfing as I can wherever I can; movies and videos and whatever. I mean John John is so clearly on a whole other level. He’s a total freak and it’s so fun to watch all the things he puts out. Even the footage of him duckdiving the length of a swimming pool… it just showcases the water skills behind his really excellent surfing… he’s so inspirational and probably the biggest surf star in the world for a reason because he’s so cool in every type of surf.

The video thing is massive isn’t it. My kids would rather watch Youtube videos all day than a movie or TV and the level of understanding they get from these 30 second videos with no production quality and no story arc speeds up how they learn to a mindblowing level.
It’s huge. I’ll bet you things like that John John duckdiving clip changed surfing overnight, but you wouldn’t know because it’s all happening underwater (laughs). But you can also see it in the speed with which surfing continues to evolve and that’s across all forms and approaches as well.

If kids are learning and adapting every single second, what is surfing gonna look like in say, two years?
I see it heading in the same direction it’s been heading for a while now, people finding ways to do crazier shit on crazier waves and on crazier boards. I mean, it’s endless… it’ll just go on and on and on until people are doing things we can’t even imagine right now. I dunno man…. the future kinda terrifies me in that way (laughs).

Well if you believe Hollywood the future more often than not looks like a natureless, waterless hell-hole run by human destroying terminators.
No shit! There is so much to think about with the future because surfing is so broad and people are tapping into whatever sub-culture within surfing speaks to them most. Might be foiling, might be logging, might be World Tour shortboarding, might be air mattressing… it’s like space and time, it’s everywhere all at once. It’s all completely different and it’s being broadcasted everywhere so everyone knows where the level of say, big wave surfing is at, and everyone knows what the highest level of twin surfing is, or where foiling is at, and if they choose to get into one or more of those things they know what the benchmark is and from there they begin to imagine how they can improve on it. You see it all in these rapid fire bursts of information that are basically telling us “Hey your body is capable of doing this!”

A selection of asyms handcrafted from the imagination of Burch. (Glaser)

Whose surfing hits a chord with you on a more personal level?
I’ve always loved the way Mark Healey surfs. He’s been an inspiration to me and if I ever grew a bigger nutsack I’d try and do what he does. I get to go on a lot of trips with the Volcom guys and Ozzie has always been a huge influence on me. The younger squad like Balaram Stack and Noa Deane are so fun to surf with and I draw a lot of influence from them. But I also feel like a guy who’s coming into it from such a weird situation because these guys are doing the biggest airs and hitting the end section so hard… it’s pretty shocking for a guy like me.

It’s a long way from Five Summer Stories.
Exactly, and I feel like I still have a lot of Five Summer Stories shock every time I see those guys surf because the level is ever changing and so progressive. Anything I can do to fuel a little bit of the fire is pretty nuts because it’s so good to surf amongst that stuff.

You seem so positive about the future, that’s rare in a world bombarded with so many pessimistic forecasts for what lay ahead?
I’m so lucky. I can’t believe I’ve been able to experience what I have, surf the waves I’ve always wanted to surf, meet the people I looked up when I was a kid. And so many of the people I’ve met are so grateful and stoked. Look at Ozzie. He’s got the most wild imagination and you see it in the way he surfs, he’s having the most fun ever. He’s always so pumped and positive and he’s killing it! And it’s funny because the thing that really gets me excited is surfing with friends who I knew from high school who are still surfing a lot and the general consensus with those guys is that the more you surf the happier you are. And it might be getting more crowded and things may be changing but if you’re surfing every day and being involved in it then your future is looking good, it’s looking amazing, actually.

So simple!
I love it! (laughs) Except that it’s terrifying as well (laughs), but we’re all going there so why not embrace it?

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Vaughan Blakey