The fortunate combination of having roots in Orange County and being an aged resident of San Diego breeds a unique type of shaper. Ryan Siegel happens to fall into that well-rounded, yet distinctively individual category. Having a style of their own, his boards are honed to the places he surfs. Not only does he produce fine hedonistic crafts of surf pleasure, but Ryan is also a noble manufacturer of custom fit orthopedic braces. He builds the tools that help people with locomotion difficulty move around and function as best they can. Enjoy the interview below.
Where did you grow up and when did you start shaping?
When I was 14, we found a broken board at the beach. It must have been a 6’4” or 6’6” – in that range. The nose was broken off and of course all we could yield was a 5’5” or 5’6” off it. We ripped the glass off, cut the rails, and went to town. We thinned it out a bunch, glassed it ourselves, and it was a nightmare. We had no idea about glassing or anything then. Tight weave, what do you mean? Don’t you just use a dip brush to dab resin on the first coat? It was all wavy and bumpy- we didn’t even know to sand it. Once the water couldn’t touch the foam anymore we were ready to go.
I grew up in Tustin, but I also spent a lot of time in San Clemente cause my folks had a place down there. Every day growing up we would always go to the …Lost shop. This was when their factory was behind the shop and they had just started. We’d watch Matt shape and Drew Brophy in there with the pens. I was always trying to save up and buy a …Lost board. Every time the painting would rub off a little bit I’d go and have Drew touch it up. Those guys were super awesome influences growing up.
You also have the surf ghetto right there with Brad Basham himself, the godfather of surfboard creation in San Clemente. He was always helping us out as kids and answered whatever questions we had. Go in there and you’ll find any tool you need to shape a surfboard and glass it. He was kinda like a mentor, and still is. I take my boards in there to get glassed and he looks at my stuff and says “You f-ed up!” or “This looks good.” We talk a lot about Mexico. He’s a cool guy.
Other shapers I used to use around there are Chris Kaysen and Dev Gregory. Dev used to shape for …Lost a lot. In my college-era, I was down here in San Diego, so I spent a lot of time with James Accardi, Handley, and Ned McMahon.
Building surfboards is obviously your passion, but tell me about your day job. You build orthopedic braces for people who need help with mobility including kids with cerebral palsy?
Yeah, my friend Ryan has been ordering boards for 2 or 3 years. I made 4 or 5 boards for him and he was always hitting me up like “You can come work for me anytime.” I didn’t really know what it was all about. I kinda wanted to leave the blank manufacturing company and finally did. Then I immediately got a job here, making boots.
I work with sheer forms a lot, but the material is a little different. I’m using plaster and a lot of plastics, but it’s a lot of the same skills such as using your eye to shape something. I would definitely say that shaping surfboards helped train me for this.
Which blanks have you been using that you’ve found to work well?
Since I used to run a surfboard blank manufacturing company, I was using a lot of those, but I just ran out. We were called Homeblown back in the day and then we switched to Málama. We made blanks from soy and caster instead of petroleum and we used MDI. I’m out now so I’ve been buying US Blanks or sometimes I’ll hit up Artic Foam in Oceanside.
What are some of the spots that you surf around San Diego and use as a testing ground for your boards?
It has a bunch of rocks and it goes way out into the ocean, but I’d like to not name my favorite spot. There are some breaks I know pretty well out there. It’s got a good home feeling vibe, pretty mellow, and the waves are good. I’ll go out there or in Ocean Beach mostly. Every once in a while I’ll hit Blacks or this guy that I work with drags me north sometimes. But I grew up in Orange County surfing Trestles, T-Street, State Beach, Newport, and Huntington.
Which board templates have you drawn from for some of your shapes?
Back when I got started, I grew up shaping a lot of …Lost rocket fish type deals and semi-fishes. I pulled a lot from some of the double wing swallows that they used to do. I also have a couple good Chas templates. I’ve worked with Ned McMahon who shaped for Sunset and T&C. I adopted a lot of curves from the stuff that he grew up with.
My buddy Keola Rapoza used to work for T&C too and shaped for them in Hawaii. He was a pro longboarder and I got some of my longboard templates from him. On my single fins, I drew from the generation two Al Merrick single fins and an old MR that my buddy had. It’s a good retro-style single fin and I use that nose a lot. The tail is pretty squirrely; it’s kind of thin and pinned out, so I don’t go with it too much – unless someone wants to get weird.
What would you suggest is an ideal board to get for summertime San Diego?
It depends on what you want to do. If you’re in San Diego, you’re pretty much stuck longboarding. I made a pretty good 8’6” that my buddy lost on the freeway. I need to build a new one of those. I usually rock a good thinned out longboard that’s just fun all around. Otherwise, for a shortboard, fishes are great – they’re kind of mandatory in your quiver in San Diego, whether it’s just overhead or tiny.
What aspect of shaping do you enjoy the most?
At this point, I’ve shaped like 400 boards. I’ve been doing it for 15 years and I really look forward to when my weird friends call me up and say they want to experiment and get something way out of the ordinary. That’s the fun part.
Otherwise, in regards to shaping basic conceptual boards, it’s always different and custom. It’s exciting to build boards for people individually. Whether it’s longboards, shortboards, or really short boards – which I’m a proponent of. 5’6” is good. I’ve gone 4’8” and that’s the lowest, it’s pretty fun.
My favorite board of all time would be the …Lost 5’5” x 19 ¼”. That board is just all around perfect, I’ve ridden in in 12-foot surf and tiny knee chopper days at the Jetty. It’s just good for everything. You’ve got the double-wing swallow that comes in and acts like a nice narrow shortboard tail, but it also allows the tail line to come out and give you the width to just pig through flat sections and beat the wave down the line. And you don’t need a nose either; it just gets in the way most of the time.
Besides surfing, what inspires you to shape?
Music is a big part of my life, I used to play and tour around. I listen to everything and anything from jazz, to hip-hop, to blues, to old po-dunk country or whatever else. I have a lot of artist friends. I don’t really get it, haha. I’m not a good artist in the sense of drawing and painting. Shaping is my art, as well as Music.
I love Pandora because it throws different stuff at you. Yesterday, I was listening to Nora Jones radio, and that’s cool. Whatever flies and I feel like that day. I listen to a lot of hip-hop and old school punk too. Sometimes I put on some NOFX radio and go to town in my shaping room.
I’ve seen a few Sezio brand boards floating around with your name on them, what’s the story behind that?
Sezio started out as a collective of artists out of Ocean Beach and Point Loma after college. Our buddy Zach took it and kinda ran with it. He turned it into a non-profit organization and is blowin’ it up all around. They do a lot of mainly musical shows and acts; stuff like that. They also curate a lot of local art shows around here in San Diego.