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The youngest of Hurley International founder Bob Hurley’s three kids has long been a shadowy, conflicted local figure. Ryan Hurley’s life as second-generation surfing royalty in Orange County has both matched and shattered all the usual stereotypes.
Having shunned competitive surfing at a young age, Hurley will be the first to tell you he’s “just not good at contests.” But should you see him surf, “not good” is definitely not how you’d describe the high, arching aerials he pulls in upper West Newport, or his ballsy turns on the 20-foot-plus slabs that collide with the Wedge a couple of times per year.
Despite his skill as an athlete, Hurley found reasons to leave competitions behind. Growing up beneath Newport Beach’s glitzy façade, he earned a reputation as a drug-addled partier with a seemingly endless tolerance for controlled substances.
Fortunately, those dark days are behind him, and he went on to pay his dues in the lower ranks of the company before earning his current position of VP of men’s design. These days, he leads a quieter life with his wife, daughter and son. “With a sober, clear head, I can focus on what’s important—family, creativity and happiness,” he says.
He also relishes his freedom from contests, often experimenting with a broad range of equipment. “I just want to be in the water, period, whether it’s pushing my [5-year-old] son Ashton into waves, standup paddling or just surfing,” he says.
His OC icon, The Family, extends well beyond his own kin and into the broader surf culture Bob Hurley helped to build. Ryan grew up around the dual nature of Orange County’s surf culture—the sleek corporate clout typified by Hurley today and the outlaw roots of the sport. In the ’80s, there was less disparity between the two. When surfing’s early bad boys such as Sunny Garcia, Mark Occhilupo and Rabbit Bartholomew came to town, they didn’t stay at the Ritz like today’s pros. They crashed in their boardshorts on the Hurleys’ couch on the grungier west side of Costa Mesa.
Hurley believes that tapping into the authenticity of local youth culture, especially music, art and the surf underground, is the only way for his family’s brand to remain relevant. “In Orange County, we’ve got an assorted mix of geography, social classes and arts,” he notes. “Entrepreneurs, artists, surfers, music, immigrants, skaters—all living in the same place. . . . It has a grit to it, a cool street culture. We have to maintain relevance by tapping into that.”
To that end, Hurley does his best to maintain his own authentic surf point of view. “I’m a surfer,” he says. “That’s my thing.”
His credits include the now-famous Phantom Boardshort, which uses the latest in swimwear technology to combat problems such as the ever-annoying chafing and salt rashes that have plagued hardcore surfers for years. “If we can do a few truly innovative things each year, then we matter,” he says. “That’s the idea Hurley was founded on.”
This seems to fit perfectly with his natural curiosity, his drive to innovate and explore. “I work at my best when I really get obsessive about a project,” he says. “Obsession gives me a clear head.”
For Ryan Hurley, surfing is more than a sport or a business; it’s about a certain spiritual sense of exploration. “Surfers enjoy the sensation of being small, the sense of brushing up against something big and powerful that must have created all this,” he says. That’s why on any given day at Orange Street in Newport, you’ll see three generations of Hurleys doing what they love: shredding on steep Newport peaks in front of the family beach house.