The Master, Carl Ekstrom, left, reveals some of his latest models to young apprentices Ryan Burch, center, and Josh Hall. Photo by Chris Ahrens
Columns Waterspot

Waterspot: Riding into surfing’s future with ‘The Master’

Satisfaction is the enemy of progress. 

Nowhere is that more evident than in surfboard design, where the status quo is force fed to the ever-ready masses that gobble up those one-size-fits-all hundred-buck specials by the vanload. 

Thank goodness not everyone is content with conformity or we would all be stuck riding 16-foot-long, wooden planks that make modern surfing impossible. 

From the first fin to foam, to leashes, multiple fins and the various combinations they inspire, surfing has changed because a few innovators were dissatisfied.

While many are content to have an old favorite board duplicated, others find greater thrills in designing and building something that has never before ridden. 

Ex-patriot George Greenough, whose kneeboards inspired Australian surfers Nat Young and Bob McTavish to spearhead the “Shortboard Revolution” of the mid-‘60s, and Tom Morey, the surfer/designer who sent the world into the waves with the invention of the Boogie Board are considered the greatest innovator of our time. 

Among other top contributors to modern surf design are the Campbell Brothers, Simon Anderson, Bill Bahne, Daniel Thomson and Carl Ekstrom. 

Ekstrom, who continues to work on various surfboard designs, is best known for the asymmetrical surfboard, which he first began experimenting with back in 1964. 

Since then he’s been involved in everything from racecars to wave pools.

While the age of invention seems to belong exclusively to the past, there are signs of life sprinkled among the masses who continue to purchase boards made overseas by people who wouldn’t know a down rail from a reverse V. 

High ranking in this elite fleet is 29-year-old Ryan Burch, who is currently depicted holding an asymmetrical, side cut blank on the cover of Surfer magazine with the words, “Handmade.” 

Burch is Ekstrom’s best student and test pilot who has taken concepts like asymmetry to the extreme. 

Because of that, he probably knows more about this odd-looking design than anyone including its inventor. 

I first met Ryan when he was a 12-year-old kid attacking amateur surfing on conventional tri-fins. 

Even then, he showed great promise but seemed the lack the blood lust required to break into the top pro ranks. 

That’s proven useful for him and us since the boards he rides today will likely be cycled into the future. 

These are handmade items, not easily replicated for the discount stores, and as such may prove the salvation of custom board builders internationally.

In case you have not noticed, handmade surfboards have been on the endangered species list for over a decade, and so compete with something that often looks similar, and carries a smaller price tag. 

Burch’s and Ekstrom’s surfboards look nothing like anything you’ll find on the floor of Import World, shoved in between the plastic lawn furniture and the four-way cold tablets. 

Each one is unique and built for surfers, by surfers. Get in line if you want one, however. They are by no means mass-produced and there are only enough for a select few. 

Also, don’t expect the model you saw being ridden last week — by the time you read this they will be working on something new and wonderfully strange looking to those who admire convention.

Leave a Comment