Interview by Gary Parker & Leticia Nguyen
Illustration by Maddie Joyce
Photos supplied by Ryan Lovelace
*Refer to notes blow each photo for details of photographers

Ryan Lovelace is a freelance surf craft creator hailing from Santa Barbara. His boards are a testament to the interaction between man and water and the ever-evolving relationship with how we ride waves. The ocean is always changing, always dynamic, as should the tools used to explore the waters should be. Ryan revels in quality over quantity and gets his kicks in being a part of the interaction of a surfer’s evolving relationship with points, barrels and corduroy lines of joy. We had a chinwag with him to peer into some of his thoughts, designs and cosmic way of passing the days.

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I love what you wrote on your blog, “It’s so easy in life to bend what you think is the way to live your life, to cut yourself short and do what you think everyone wants you to do.” How does this statement influence the way you live your life?

I just learned pretty early on that the value in my making of things was a really personal affair. The bulk of the satisfaction is in making the thing, and if I’m not interested and inspired by it, then I would rather not put my energy into it if I don’t have to. Pretty idealistic, but I decided when I started that if I was going to try this as my living and really give it an honest go, that it had to be exactly the way I wanted, to satisfy me and fire me up every day.

This issue of Sea Stoke we’re keen to hear people’s insights on how we might work towards living lives of greater simplicity. Is this something you are also working towards? If so, how do you see this ideal being played out in your life?

It is absolutely, though it can be hard for me to follow sometimes. Acquiring the Chevy bus was a difficult one to swallow at first, but when I realised it would be my home and it was far too good to let go by, I didn’t hesitate. I try to make decisions based more on what I need and my goals or visions than on the notion that people should have way less stuff. So I guess I’m saying that acquiring needlessly is crap, but gathering and keeping what you need to accomplish what you want, is totally justifiable and shouldn’t be stopped if the intentions are good! At one point I moved into a warehouse above my old shaping room, I got rid of 4 years of things in that move, and started clean. It was the best thing I could have done and let me really focus where my life was and where I wanted to aim it.

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You’re known for your shaping, but what attracted us to you was your apparent approach to living life on the whim of the windyour go with the flow lifestyle that has seen you take your shaping all over the world as part of your Shapetastic Voyage. How important is travel for you and what are some of the most rewarding aspects of this lifestyle?

Travel is really important, but a lot of it comes from me realising I’d be an idiot not to take up an invitation! It’s not something I aspired to do, but once the ball started rolling I told myself I better get on board because it’s the only ticket I’d likely get to see the world. I’ve made a habit of not planning intensely far ahead, but being extremely aware and open of a good thing when I see it. That means working my arse off to make sure I’m on top of everything I have going on, so that when that good thing comes, I can really give it my best. When I travel I’m working 6 days a week or so then have to pack up and move to the next place and do it again. The last voyage turned into almost 200 hand shaped boards in 4 months, all while on the road in new factories, with various materials and tools. Not an easy venture, but beyond rewarding!

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Photo (Left) by Lightner // Photo (Right) by Ryan Lovelace

People might look at your work and your life and say you’re living the dream. How do you follow through with your aspirations, rather than simply talking/dreaming about them? 

I don’t think much about it…I get into it. This can be a good or bad thing. I have to adjust on the fly a lot more, and I have to give things a lot of time (often years) to grow into what they likely could have been right off the bat with better planning. That being said, I don’t want to grow anything or any adventure that quickly and perfectly. I want to grow with the experience and learn from it, I really like learning and applying and being aware of your shortcomings and working slowly at them. I get extremely antsy if something is talked about too much, I’m trying to settle into that better as things get more complex and I start planning my future more thoroughly. I can’t just talk about something for days on end and mull it over, I won’t say anything about it, and one day it will just happen. I have to have it in my hands to see it and comprehend it fully.

By some stroke of luck I’ve stumbled into a career that is allowing me to do the things I want. I don’t understand why I get to have this abundance of good fortune and I must have been a fucking saint in a previous life, but I do forget sometimes how much work it takes and how long I’ve been pushing at it day in day out. I’ve built an entire life around the surfboards and it’s given me everything in return, but that also means that I never get a break from it without really trying consciously to do that.

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Mike Hughes | Pinnyback on the East Coast | Photo: Christor Lukasiewicz

With your board orders keeping you busy, how do you manage the balance between work and play, ieshaping and riding?

Don’t stop going from one to the other! I don’t sit down for too long (hence my week lags on average email response time). A small example…I spent 6 months creating Almost Cut My Hair, through midwinter surf season here, and full-time surfboard building. I premiered it on May 24th, left on May 26th to shape for five weeks in Europe. I was home for two weeks, asked out the girl of my dreams, then shaped on the east coast (20 boards in one week), got home for 6 days and left for Australia and Indonesia for a month. It doesn’t stop sometimes and you just gotta get up and do it if it’s handed to you. Turning away these opportunities would be a waste of my life. I know I can’t keep this pace forever though and I know things will slow down eventually as creating a family becomes a larger focus of my energy.

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Ari Browne | Rabbitsfoot | Photo: by Tom Hawkins 

Your work reflects the philosophy of quality over quantity, a concept that is often in reverse. Do you think your boards would lose their appeal if they were made more readily available?

I don’t know really. The true appeal in a surfboard over everything else should be how it works, and I’m damn pleased that people keep telling me that mine do. I’m trying to walk that line, enough to turn people on and give them something new, but I’m not trying to make everyone in the world a board. I want people to have to find me out of sheer curiosity and a little spirit of adventure within surfboards and design…not because they saw a shiny red surfboard.

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Photo (Left): ‘Always hand shaped’ by  Morgan Maassen | Photo (Right): ‘Colour and shape’ by Ryan Lovelace

We love the flavour of your boards. The shapes, colours and fabric inlays that are a throwback to the psychedelic 60s. Where do you draw inspiration from?

Whatever I like at the moment. I collect fabrics slowly in random places and put them in a cubby in my shop. They hang out there sometimes for a year or two before the right order or opportunity comes up, usually they’re boards where people tell me to do whatever I want and I end up designing the colours around the fabric or abstract scheme I want to do. Often times I’ll do one side of a board then play the colour of the deck off of that without planning it at first. That being said, my boards tend to go through moods with me every few months!

The shapes are coming from feelings I want to find or turns or waves I want to see my friends in. I really like watching someone surf the shit out of my boards, so first and foremost I have to shape the board that will take them there. Colour and art always comes after. The few times I’ve done it the other way (visual before design essentials), the board has never worked how I wanted it to.

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How did your signature paint dot come about and can you explain its significance?

That is a whole article in itself. Essentially, I was tired of building boards that I thought people wanted to buy—shaping what the market dictated. I was 22 or so and kind of hit a wall where I wasn’t feeling as motivated to build the boards.  I had one blank left and my friend Kyle Lightner had just ridden the boards I was shaping for myself at the time—really bladed displacement hulls.  He asked me to shape him one like I would shape it for myself.  To do whatever I wanted, it was totally up to me and he wanted me to let loose…get inspired in a sense. I blasted out in two days this SUPER foiled, navy blue hull and as I was finishing it I left a cup of hot resin on the bottom as I went to lunch. When I came back to sand it, the cup had heated so much that it fused to the board and delaminated a circle in the glass job. I knocked the cup off and called Kyle, (freaking out) and he calmed me down and said, “Just fix it, don’t worry about how it looks, but just make it water tight and let’s go surf…you know what to do.” I sanded the circle off, exposing white foam under the dark blue lamination. I signed inside of the circle and dated it like I meant to, and glassed clear over it.

That board fueled the next three months and we just went ballistic surfing together. I was fired up and he was freaking on the board and a new realm in his surfing. It dawned on me that if I could, I would like to produce that over and over again, and that meant I had to follow what I wanted to shape, not what I thought people wanted me to shape and if it worked, I would have my motivation and my drive and satisfaction, and if not, I tried and there are other jobs in the world!

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Tell us a little bit about your latest project you have been working on, that being your Cosmic Collider? What are your plans for this beauty?

Just to take it easy right now! It’s been about a year and a half of on again off again work. I had to rebuild the rear brakes with a lot of help from a friend, strip and repaint the roof, and a million other little things before I could even build on the inside. It was a metal shell when I got it, and the build-out of the bedroom-pod and the interior was about three weeks of non-stop work.

What sparked the idea to create a home on wheels?

There was an old truck with a kind of lodge-style deck/balcony on the back of it at a dealership by my shop. I think it was for a bbq company or something. I saw how much space there was and figured I could live in something that size. I started looking for step-vans or delivery trucks, and in that search stumbled upon the bus. Then it wasn’t even a question!

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So I read that all of the materials are reclaimed? Where have you been acquiring them from and what have you found interesting about the process of salvaging and reworking used materials?

I bought most of them from the Habitat For Humanity store, which is reclaimed material from buildings, home demolitions as well as donations. There was a lot of plywood and stuff like that I had to buy new, but I tried to use all my scraps and cut costs as best I could because I didn’t have anything set aside for the project so I was flying by the seat of my pants and what I could afford that week.

Has this been a challenge?

Immensely.

If you could take the bus anywhere in the world and take anyone along for the ride, what would your picks be and why?

My dog, Herbie, and my girlfriend, Katie, to somewhere I’d rather not name, and I probably will go once I get new brakes on the front end!

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Some (or should we say, most) people fall into the pattern of the house/mortgage, working the grind and basically just falling into this rut until they retire. Then you get some less ‘conventional’ folk (like us) who prefer to stray from the norm for various reasons. What was your main reason to sway a little differently and choose to invest in a home on wheels?

I got really restless paying monthly for something I would never own…it seemed outrageous to me and I was finished with that pattern. I want to invest my money in my life and growing what I have going, rather than endlessly putting it into someone else’s hands. I don’t have family money or investors to fall back on, so I’m trying to be as smart as I can with what I put my money and energy into.

Right now I pay to have the bus on a property, but it’s gorgeous and a mile away from my favorite wave, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay right now for the luxury, and I know I won’t be able to live in a place like this forever, so I’m okay with it for now!

Do you plan to live in it fulltime and/or long term, or will it be more of a vehicle you use for getaways in between working?

I live in it fulltime now, and take it for small drives to keep its legs moving. I would love to own a small piece of property somewhere to park it on and call it good as I build my home one day. A step in a larger picture, I suppose.

Any plans on converting it to a bio-diesel vehicle?

If this engine quits on me, yes. But it’s bulletproof and runs amazingly, so I’m not gonna fix what ain’t broke!

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What is your most nagging thought currently?

That I have surfboards to build, friends to help, projects and ideas to pursue, rent to pay, people to call and check in with, and there are waves coming. I have a rather motivating conscience…I push myself harder than I think anyone else would.

Have there been words of wisdom from people whose insights have stuck out in your mind?

–  If you find yourself falling from a cliff, whether you were pushed or you jumped, what matters is you land gracefully.
–  Start NOW and stop waiting for the right time.
–  Read The Way Of The Superior Man, then read it again. When you’re done, read it again.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I don’t know. I know I’ve ‘accomplished’ a lot, but I don’t see any of it as one individual thing, it’s all woven together as my life and I’m very content. I suppose that’s the answer…my contentment and ease of mind, knowing that I work hard and it gives back to me as much as I put in.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for surfing?

It’s going to split into a bunch of realms, and we’re all still gonna surf together, so everyone is gonna have to get over their egos and stop telling anyone one way or another is better.

Where would you like to see yourself in years from now?

Here, working and surfing, starting a family, and building my own legs to stand on. That way I know that if they break it was my fault, and I can handle that if I tried my best!

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Piggyback + Trevor Gordon in the North | Photo by Jeremy Koreski

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If you’re keen to check out more of Ryan’s creations and have one of his hand shaped beauties under your feet, be sure to check out his website here. Maddie shares her visual gems over at here too.