I was aware of Jerry Burch in Maui where he was among the top surfers at Honolua Bay and Maalaea in the early 1970s. I surfed with Jerry on the mainland after that, and first saw his son Ryan surf baby waves at Pipes in Cardiff, noting that, at 12 years old, he was advanced far beyond his peers. Burch not only exhibited a superior style, his moves were crisper and he understood the essential element to completing those moves — speed.
The next time I saw Ryan, he was about 15, and he a friend were launching themselves on crude pieces of wood in the shore break, making fun happen when the waves and the equipment were measured in terms of previously unwanted scraps. Then, about a year ago, I saw Ryan on a longboard, where he cross-stepped gracefully to the tip for endless noserides, followed by fluid cutbacks.
Recently Ryan Burch became a leader on finless Alaia-type wooden boards pioneered by surfers like Tom Wegner. It is on one such board of his own making, which looks about as hydrodynamically efficient as a barn door, that Burch punched endless 360s and got deeply barreled. He surfed better than anyone else in the lineup that day on a piece of timber that few could ever manage getting to their feet on.
At this writing, Ryan Burch is among the most complete surfers in California, with a mastery of every surf craft he has put his feet to. Even with all this behind him, no surfer can be touted as great until they have proven themselves on the North Shore of Oahu in mid-winter. It is there, when the best surfers in the world come together to ride some of the most challenging and varied conditions in existence, that good surfers are made or broken, sent to the beach or spat out of Pipeline’s gapping pits.
My guess is that Burch will be up to the challenge and begin making his break into the elite fleet, earning a reputation as one of the world’s top surfers. I doubt that he will be lured into the contest circuit, but find his niche in free surfing and experimentation, taking finless and flexible surfboards to their logical extremes.
It is obvious that he has the ability and the imagination to distance himself once again from his peers. Time will tell if he has the heart. When the Aleutians awake once again this winter and pump massive lines of water into the Pacific, we will know the rest of the story. Until then, North County has an excellent surfer in the lineup.
Filed Under: Sea Notes