Oregon has no beaches. Yes, it borders the Pacific, and yes, there's sand and water and waves and the sort, but no one would ever confuse that with a beach. They call it "the coast" in the Pacific Northwest, and what a cold, windy, and unforgiving coast it is. Yet still, under the rain clouds and through the evergreens, surfers still emerge. Surfers like Ryan Harris.
Harris' father, Bobby, a high-school basketball coach, had always thought his son would follow in his family's proud athletic footsteps. Harris, however, thanks in part to a late growth spurt, wasn't much of a baller and had more interest in design and fabrication. That led him to college near that Oregon coast, and eventually to the Pacific, where he got his first ice-cold sip of surfing. "We'd head out to the Oregon coast," he remembers, "which meant a 6mm wetsuit, bobbing up and down in the rain, waiting for sharks to nibble us."
On a particularly gray day 13 years ago, Harris was sitting at his desk in Nike's corporate headquarters near Portland. As a footwear designer, he was able to flex his creative talent and hands-on approach, but having to do so under the fluorescent lamps of a bigwig corporation, even if it was Nike, left him burnt out and uninspired. So he packed his life up and headed south on Highway 1 until he hit the South Bay of Los Angeles. His shaping career started there, first with ding repair, then garage shaping, then a contract gig that transitioned into his own shaping label, Podunk Surfboards, which later became Ry Harris Designs.
Harris was then headhunted out of his L.A. shaping bay by Rey Banatao, a mad eco-scientist who invented and continues to develop his bio-based Super Sap Entropy Resin. The green-chemistry techniques behind the resin replace petroleum-based materials with plant-based carbons, cutting its environmental impact by more than half. Banatao preached the benefits of stronger boards, a smaller carbon footprint, and not even needing a mask while you glass, and Harris bit; he hasn't glassed a board with anything else since.
Now, in an industrial district of southern Los Angeles, Harris is the founder and co-owner of a surfboard factory that's committed to doing things differently than the rest. "Every board we make is an eco-board," he says. "We were the first factory of this kind. Well, we're the only factory of this kind. At E-Tech, short for Earth Technologies, we use materials from the Earth to give our boards a performance edge. We're tech guys, not tree huggers, at our core, using eco-materials to enhance surfboards to perform better. We're not going backward; we're progressing."
Harris has mixed a tint of Oregon green into surfing in the Golden State. The factory has gone eco-first in its handling of shaping and glassing and distribution. Where most surfboard factories reek of the toxic, stinging odors of curing resin and cooking chemicals, Harris' warehouse smells like…nothing, really. No fumes, no need for masks at all. In an industry with a relentless loyalty to ancient and harmful technology, Harris and his E-Tech factory are a literal breath of fresh air.