The 70’s were too short for Ryan Lovelace, even though he wasn’t born yet. He looks at the surfboards made during that crucial and wildly transitional period, where boards were cut off a few inches at a time in a mad dash of experimentation, to see what can be expanded upon. In the process, he’s finding new things and building a reputation for providing customers new ways to ride waves.
In no small twist of irony, Ryan’s shop is located in the old Channel Islands shaping bay in downtown Santa Barbara, the same place Al Merrick came into prominence. Considering Al’s dedication to pushing the envelope in high-performance surfing, Ryan’s infatuation with exploring retro designs is equally timely. And like Al Merrick, who came to town by way of Encinitas, Ryan was met with considerable blow-back from the “core” surf community when he moved from his hometown of Seattle, Washington.
Ryan’s dedication to craftsmanship (he insists on shaping every board by hand) and his years of working with young surfers have brought him into surfing’s prominence, despite his critics. In Ryan’s view, he isn’t trying to copy what’s been done before, but rather he’s revisiting and growing out little nubs that weren’t fully blossomed. If his clientele is any indication, his work isn’t as much about nostalgia as it is about embracing alternative ways of riding a surfboard. Sure, he’s not the only one, but as a young shaper living in the historically rich surf town of Santa Barbara he represents the current attitudes of riding waves. One thing is certain, Ryan does what he does because he loves to do it.
EXCERPTS FROM RYAN'S INTERVIEW
WD: Why hand-shaping only?
RL: I think somebody has to keep doing it and showing people that it's a valuable and worthwhile pursuit. You can make a living working with your hands still. Especially today, if nobody's going to keep trying to make those opportunities possible. That's horrible. If you look at what made surfing so cool and so big and so grand, it was piles of guys hand shaping surfboards.
WD: What do the modern generation lack that the older generation doesn’t?
RL: There's just something I think of in my generation, we have to be used to it just is because there's maybe in the '70s there's all kinds of exploration and creation and discovery that was happening and...My God, if anyone thinks that guys of my generation aren't jealous of that. That's dead wrong because I think anybody involved in surfing would love to have endless possibilities in front of us. Hop on a sailboat and go discover Indo! [laughs] We don't get that.
WD: Do you know George Greenough?
RL: I've only met him once. That was for a couple hours. I have heard about him for too long but in my opinion he's obviously a creative genius. I've talked to a bunch of his old close friends and gotten to know them decently well and all of them are convinced that whatever George had gotten into, he would have been the guy to create massive change...he changed everything that he touched. He gave us the modern fin. He gave us legitimate cutbacks, barrel riding. He gave us pretty much carbon fiber construction.
WD: Who is Renny Yater?
RL: Renny Yater, I mean by anyone's accounts in town here he's the guy that brought surfboard building basically to Santa Barbara. He's the dude. You want to talk about guys that started and held it down, surfed the big waves and surfed everything and discover what there was to discover here, you're looking at Renny and his crew.
WD: How much of what you do is an extension of what's been done before, and how much is new?
RL: I think newness is cool. I don't think it's necessary. I think, say in the '70s and '80s and not so much in the '90s... but new was a thing of something completely different. Something completely out there. Because you look at surfboard design and evolution up to 1981, and it was constantly changing. Every three years four years something new was happening...if they made [a board] with an inch 1/2 or two-inch deep V or something like that, well the next update on that shape might be a four-inch V instead. If they like what the two inches in there they're going to go crazier. Well, from 40 years on down the road, from my perspective there's a lot of room between those two modifications. I was looking at these branches that just stopped growing because all of a sudden it's going this way instead of that way.
WD: What is a Spoon?
RL: A Spoon is still light years ahead of its time. If you're in Santa Barbara, you got two different definitions of spoon, within surfboards: you got the Yater spoon, you got the Greenough spoon. The Yater spoon is a definitive point-surfing longboard that changed longboard design, but definitively. You got longboards before the Yater spoon, and you got longboards after the Yater spoon. That created a whole new branch of what was possible on a bigger board. You look at surfboards before the Greenough spoon and you look at surfboards after the Greenough spoon and there's a world of difference. I don't think you can no matter what way you look at the definition of spoon within surfboard design can you say that it wasn't hyper-important pinnacle.