The stereotypical shaper is a crusty middle-aged man with a beer belly and a penchant for humiliating those who procure his services. He spins yarns of “the good old days,” when computers were for scientists and the Channel Islands were a place you went whale watching. He refuses to shape any way but his way. Oh you ordered a swallowtail? Here’s your pintail—deal with it. And he most certainly does not build boards that look like they’ve been violently split down the stringer.
Ryan Burch, 25, is not your stereotypical surfboard shaper. With about 450 boards under his belt, he’s finding his groove as a shaper and regularly spits out beautiful “fish-type” boards, longboards, and whatever else his creative mind can come up with. What he’s become known for, though, are asymmetrical surfboards. Originally conceived by the legendary shaper Carl Ekstrom, asymmetrical surfboards are something Burch learned from the master. Now, Burch is on his own, shaping, and surfing these strangely beautiful pieces of foam and fiberglass. The thing is, he’s not just surfing on them—he’s absolutely ripping! Check out some of the footage in the video below from korduroy.tv, and you’ll see just how well his asymmetrical boards work.
We caught up with Burch recently to hear how this whole asymmetrical thing came to be and to find out where he’s headed as a shaper.
Tell us about the first board you shaped …
The first board I shaped was a singlefin longboard. I made it for surfing Cardiff Reef [in San Diego] in the summertime. It came out pretty nice because my friend who helped me had done a lot of boards. I did some over the top, extreme airbrush on it, too [laughs]! I liked building it more than I liked riding it, so that kind of started everything …
What sparked your interest in making asymmetrical surfboards?
I was surfing a lot with Richard Kenvin in San Diego, and he was getting boards from Carl Ekstrom—the guy who got the patent on asymmetrical surfboards back in the ’60s. So I saw Kenvin riding them, and it looked like they worked really well for him. But they were bigger boards, and not refined down to that shortboard type of package. So I started making them, beginning with a blank that had a crooked tail on it. The asymmetric part of it just made so much sense and felt so good to me that I kept integrating it into boards whenever I shaped. I couldn’t justify not making them asymmetric, so I kept making them like that.
What would you say is the main difference between an asymmetrical surfboard and your standard thruster?
They’re more rail-oriented—you’re setting your rails and pushing off of them. You definitely have to baby it in certain areas that you wouldn’t on a thruster, but more often that not you’re able to push harder and get more speed out of an asymmetrical board.
Is there a certain type of wave that favors an asymmetrical surfboard?
It’s always good to be on the face of the wave a lot and be going down the line like you would at a pointbreak. In my ideal world I’m riding them at a triple overhead pointbreak.
What’s the most off-the-wall reaction someone has had to one of your asymmetrical boards?
One time, my friend who rides my boards and I were walking in from a surf and this guy was running up the beach, stopped in his tracks when he got to us, and goes, “No way dude, you broke your board!” Then he looks at my board and yells, “You broke your board too! No way! That sucks!” He was so sincere and bummed for us it was unbelievable.
Where do you see your shaping going in the future?
I don’t know. I hope it’s not like art where I had so much fun and took it so seriously to the point that I got bored with it and got hasty and it got worse. That’s my only fear. The surfing and the shaping, they kind of go hand in hand, and I’m always excited to ride a new board and want to get into the room and shape new boards all the time. Surfing and shaping are pretty much all I do, so I’m going to have to continue to reinvent myself to keep it fun and interesting!
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