Published on 09.15.2021
Ryan Harris is, simply put, a pioneer. His company, Earth Technologies, is the only zero waste surfboard shaping facility of its kind. Ryan’s story as a Black surfer in Southern California paving the way in the eco-manufacturing space inspires us to pursue life with passion every day.
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A big part of this series is about people finding purpose through their passions. What gets your passions going?
How many things can I invent? How many different ways can I make the planet better for our kids and our kids' kids? Seeing what I can do better gets me absolutely fired up. Also, I don't sleep a lot, so I literally wake up thinking about new designs and boards. If the waves are on and we got a really good swell coming, it's like Christmas morning. There's a lot of things that get me revved up and get me going, but I think making things better for the planet, that's ultimately the biggest thing.
Surfing is a clear passion of yours. How has surfing shaped your life?
I originally moved down to Los Angeles to act. I got an agent but I would literally miss auditions on purpose to go surf or to go shape. What started off as a hobby turned into a career. So yeah, it means a lot to me. Literally, it is my life.
How do you describe Earth Technologies to people outside the surf community?
My whole brand ethos is surfing, shaping, and eco-friendly vibes. Traditional surfboards are bad for the people that make them and they’re bad for the environment. So my partner and I opened up the very first eco-friendly surfboard shaping facility about 10 years ago. Fast forward to now, we have the newest iteration of Earth Technologies here in Torrance, and it’s the very first of its kind. It’s a mouthful but we created a zero landfill manufacturing facility.
'How Many Different Ways Can I Make The Planet Better For Our Kids And Our Kids’ Kids? Seeing What I Can Do Better Gets Me Absolutely Fired Up.'
How does your zero waste facility work?
Surfboards create a ton of waste when they’re made. One of the numbers we throw out there is that double the weight of the finished product is the amount of waste generated to create the board. If you make a six-pound board, 12 pounds of waste is generated that’s going straight into the landfill. We figured out if we can shred all of our waste, then we can at least upcycle it. So we put an end cap on the waste leaving the shop and hitting the waste stream, hitting the landfills, and we upcycle everything. Somewhere in this shop, I've got some new skateboards that are getting launched soon, and that's pretty much the pinnacle of the zero waste system.
As a Black surfer, have you experienced any barriers in the surf community?
So people would be like, A.) Black people don't surf. B.) They definitely don't shape surfboards. I had to make sure my shapes and designs were cutting edge. I feel like I had to work even harder. And then in the space of making eco-friendly surfboards in a predominantly not eco-friendly space, I had to make them just as good as the status quo. I've probably felt more of that pushback, as opposed to outright racism in my space. But I got stories for days.
What can help remove some of those barriers?
Continue to talk story and share stories. I found out relatively recently that there are other Black shapers, right? And they had been looking up to me and I didn't know it. We did an event in San Diego called Shaping Diversity, and this brother named Michael Lynch, he's killing it. Didn't know about him. So the more my story gets told, the more I hear that there are more and more people learning about me and it’s encouraging them to do the damn thing. This is just a tiny little thing, right? There are so many other positions, and jobs, and sports where we don't have to be an “only.”
“I Dress For How I’m Going To Feel And Meet That Energy In How I Present Myself.”
What keeps you inspired and hopeful?
So Black Lives Matter comes to a head, and by Labor Day weekend it’s the just the busiest day. It was the hottest day of the year. Everyone’s at the beach. And I had never seen as many Black surfers in the water, as many Black families on the beach, just kicking it and having a good time. It was just a beautiful thing. And that is inspiring. That has got me thinking, “Oh man, this is just the start, but it’s progress,” and that’s got me hyped.
Tell us about your non-profit organization, 1 Planet One People.
So the founders of 1 Planet One People are myself, Selema Masekela, Danielle Black Lyons, and my boy Hunter Jones. We were all connected separately, and we were kind of all doing the same thing. Like, we're all environmentalists, and we're all Black, and we all surf. So I said, “You know what? Let's come up with our own hashtag, our own collective activation that pays homage to all these things that have come before us.” It’s a collective activation, it's an organization founded by four Black surfers, and it’s a website where we have vetted organizations that are fighting the good fight against climate change and racial and social injustice. We have a lot of plans for it, we’re pretty psyched.
You surf, you run your business and organization. How does style fit in to the mix?
I grew up in Portland, Oregon. Grunge came up in the Pacific Northwest. So I'm always rocking flannels. I’m able to dress it up and dress it down. And I'm in my work pants right now and they're covered in resin but I get to look dressed to the nines. I love it.
At this moment, what do you want your legacy to be?
A lot of my aspirations, hopes, dreams for the future hinge on the fact that right now we're still currently the only glassing shop of its kind. There's thousands of glass shops all over the planet. Some are more eco-friendly than others, but we're still the only one with regard to the zero waste initiative. Why can't we have a lot more factories and facilities that are doing exactly what we're doing here on a much bigger scale? And helping pave the way for the future with more Black folks doing stuff they didn't think they could do. That's the legacy.
Recognize is about celebrating inspiring community members, contributors and influencers making a difference with their distinct perspectives, style and commitment to finding purpose in their passions. Through Recognize, we will amplify Black stories, employ diverse talent, and invest in opportunities — throughout the year and beyond. This is not a campaign. This is a celebration of Black excellence.