Ryan Harris talks fast. Nothing personal. It’s just efficient. For 6 years, he’s been a leading man behind Earth Technologies – one of the preeminent eco-surfboard building and glass shops in the world. With all those years of experience shaping, glassing, and riding boards that are made with more sustainable alternatives to traditional “poly” surfboards (that’s polyurethane foam and polyester resin), he’s got a lot of information to share on the subject. So time is of the essence. He also has a bone to pick with unfounded theories about the performance levels of more eco-friendly boards that use EPS foam and epoxy resin, for example.
“The performance argument is all bullshit,” he said. We were standing in the middle of Earth Technologies’ shop in a small industrial park in Hawthorne, California. I felt my shoes sticking to the ground as I walked. The sound of a norteño corrido and hisses of heavy machinery were coming from the shop next-door, battling some music Ryan put on as he spoke. “The fact is when I first started riding eco my boards lasted longer and performed better,” he said. “That’s what convinced me.”
Ryan was in the middle of setting up a live glassing demo we were going to broadcast via Facebook Live. Carver Skateboards had ordered some surfboards and requested some of the most eco-friendly materials Ryan could get his hands on. He also doesn’t wear a mask. With the materials, he doesn’t need to.
“We’re doing a stringerless Marko Foam envirofoam blank, which is about 25% recycled content,” he said. “And we’re gonna use this Lingrove organic flax cloth that’s like an alternative to carbon fiber to stiffen it up.” He had a roll of this brown almost burlap looking fabric in his hand. “And we’ll be taking it up a notch with the resin by using this stuff developed by Connora Technologies that’s actually recyclable. It’s crazy, basically anything that gets resin on it during production, from brushes to squeegees to tape can be thrown in a chemical bath, and I get all those materials back. Or, if a board breaks, we can put it in that same bath and get the foam back. And that resin can then be reused too. It’s a game changer.”
Ryan has his own board label, Ry Harris Shapes. But Earth Technologies has glassed boards for virtually all the big boys in the industry: …Lost, Channel Islands, Pyzel, Maurice Cole, etc., etc.
Earth Technologies evolved out of a friendship between Ryan, Rey Banatao the award-winning molecular biochemist behind Entropy Resins, and Todd Patterson who was also one of the early board builders in the South Bay working with more eco-friendly materials.
It started with Rey. “I was working in a poly shop when Clark [Foam] closed, and everybody was looking for materials,” said Ryan of his transition from poly to epoxy. Rey introduced him to Super Sap, an epoxy resin he was developing, made from chemical waste by-products. Super Sap is also the only resin to have a reduced carbon footprint (aka Life Cycle Assesment), verified by 3rd parties.
Rey set Ryan up with a 1500sq ft. board building space at Entropy that was all eco – at the time, Entropy even had their own board label, Entropy Surfboards. Entropy decided to cut the board label to focus on broadening its resin formulation business, propelling Ryan to go his own way. He circled back with Todd, whom he had met a few times over the years, and together they signed a lease for an industrial space in Hawthorne, California and founded Earth Technologies.
“Green is in right now,” said Ryan. But it wasn’t always. A huge moment for Earth Technologies was when they linked up with Matt Biolos in 2012 and started glassing boards for …Lost. From there things snowballed.
Now, Earth Technologies is at the cutting edge of producing some of the most sustainably built surfboards out there – experimenting with new technologies with higher bio content the second they become available.
Ryan was quick to point out that the community of board builders, technology innovators, policy directors, surfers and other stakeholders that are all pushing for more sustainably built surfboards is a huge complex web. “You’ve got upcycled stringers from Appelcore, envirofoam blanks by Marko Foam, US blanks (which just went full solar and has a state of the art ventilation/extraction system ), the guys at Sustainable Surf who pioneered the Eco Board Project (Kevin Whilden and Michael Stewart), Sam Vinstein of STG boards, Michael Emery (Counter Current Glassing in Oceanside, and Jake Moss/Eco Flex.” Ryan said this all at warp speed, along with countless other names and companies that have made their mark on green surfboard production.
By the end of the glassing demo and talk story afterward, my head was spinning. I wanted to soak up more information. The encyclopedia of Ryan was willing and able to dish up more about design, eco-construction, etc. and I was hungry for it. But, I simply couldn’t retain any more, like a saturated sponge. With an exchange of smiles, we left that sticky shop in Hawthorne hopeful – that green is trending and more and more surfers will begin to request their boards be built with more sustainable materials. It was like looking into the future or something. Except the future is now, and Ryan Harris has already been building the surfboards of the future for years.
To learn more about Earth Technologies check out their Facebook page.