Last summer, filmmaker Thomas Campbell invited a group of surfers to join him on an Indonesian boat trip to gather footage for his upcoming film. Campbell has always documented surfers who draw idiosyncratic lines and who have an openness to experiment with a wide range of surfcraft. For this trip, Campbell called up a freewheeling cadre of characters: Alex Knost, Craig Anderson, Ryan Burch, Jared Mell, Ozzie Wright and Bryce Young. Each of these surfers has carved a unique path through surfing, and some have left indelible imprints on the surf world at large.
Over the span of ten days, the crew bounced between perfect reef breaks, swapping boards (many of them handshaped by the surfers themselves) and drawing inspiration from each other's distinctive approaches to riding waves. For the next week, we’ll feature conversations with each surfer, offering a glimpse into the minds of an eccentric cast who have gravitated toward obscure lines and modes of thinking, defining surfing's modern counter-culture in the process.
First, we talk to pro surfer and experimental board designer, Ryan Burch:
You always seem to be riding left-field surfcraft. What was in your boardbag for this trip?
I brought a 5’3″ fish, a 5’5″ flex-tail twin fin, a 6’2″ twin-fin step up, a 5’10” winged-swallowtail twin, a 9’9″ noserider and a mid-length. But my favorite board was a 5’9″ asymmetrical pickle-forked twin fin.
What's the benefit of a pickle-forked nose?
It compliments my asymmetrical boards, which are really narrow—18 inches wide—and don't have a lot of curve in the outline. So the nose helps extend the straightness of the rail line. Lately I've been doing split-tail boards that have twin fins and a pickle-fork nose. The width in the nose creates balance, but the cut-away between the points in the nose helps when you get them in the air on late drops.
Asymms may look odd, but riding them actually feels pretty intuitive, right?
Yea, totally. It's just a subtle improvement to a shortboard, really. People say they don't feel that different because they're able to engage their rails and turn just like you'd turn a thruster. The things that hinder asymmetrical boards are the same things that hinder thrusters, like a screw up in the rocker or the volume flow or the concave. Asymms are just much more custom, combining all the best design elements without feeling obligated to make it symmetrical.
What has it been like testing these designs and figuring out just what kinds of waves they work in?
When I learned how to shape, I started making boards that made the waves around San Diego more interesting. Once I started exploring asymmetrical boards and fishes, I decided I wanted to test them in more challenging, barreling waves. So the boards have kind of evolved over multiple trips and going to places like G-Land where I could ride a lot of perfectly-groomed, overhead, down-the-line waves. You're able to pump them and get them going really fast down the line.
Do you think something like the Shortboard Revolution will ever happen again, where boards undergo a complete transformation?
I don't think there will ever be another time when everyone just flip-flops like that, because there are so many surfers now who ride so many different boards in so many different waves. Back then, everyone was riding longboards and trying to surf similar waves. But I do think there's something going on with foil boards. Look at how many people are jumping on those in a variety of different waves.
Do you think everyone should have an asymmetrical board in their quiver?
Totally. If every 'CT surfer who goes to J-Bay for the contest was really dialed in on asymms, they'd probably be ripping even harder than they already are.
About a decade ago, there seemed was an unspoken rule that "real surfing" was done on a thruster and anything else was a lesser form of wave riding. Do you think that mindset has changed completely?
Yeah, I remember that. It's changing, but there are definitely still a lot of traditional shortboarders out there. In some places that mindset has totally changed, but I think in Indo and other spots, people still act surprised when they see different types of boards.
Do you think the fact that you grew up riding high-performance shortboards has influenced the way you make these alternative shapes?
For sure. Most of my boards have a performance-y twist to them. Even with my mid-lengths, I always put edges in them. I add side cuts to some of my fish so that they draw lines that are more similar to a shortboard's. And my asymms are more futuristic than they are anything else. I just focus on refinement, really. That's the only thing that's really left to do in surfboard design. Instead of just copying something else, you might as well try to make boards better.