"At the end of the day, it's you against the ocean."
For a surfer dude, Ryan Black isn't exactly laid back. The 33-year-old CEO spends his days dashing among meetings with managers, investors, and marketers at Sambazon, his $20 million San Clemente, California, company, which makes juice and sorbet from Brazilian açaí berries. But when swell conditions are right, he heads to the beach. In less than an hour, he can get to top-notch surfing spots such as Laguna, Huntington, and Trestles. "Surfing helps me get away," says Black. "It clears my mind." About once a year, he travels to places such as Indonesia, Nicaragua, and Tahiti, and he spends a week doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and surfing.
Surfboards owned: Four. "Surfboards are like golf clubs," says Black. "You have to use the right board for the right situation. My standard board is a 6-foot- 5-inch Patterson. If the waves get bigger, I have a 6-foot-9-inch Bulkley and a 7-foot Kevin Kunhart. If the waves are mushy, sometimes I use a 6-foot Rainbow Fish."
Favorite wave: The Nemberala Left, a large left-breaking wave near a secluded resort on the island of Roti in Indonesia. Black is a "goofy foot" surfer, meaning he puts his right foot forward. "Goofy-footers like waves that go to the left -- your stomach is open to the wave, which helps you surf better. And it's a really tranquil place. There's almost nobody there."
Surfers in the U.S.: 2.4 million
Spending habits: In 2006, Americans spent $190.4 million on surfboards.
Shark attacks: There were 71 unprovoked attacks worldwide in 2007, 51 of which were in North American waters. Only one attack, in New Caledonia, was fatal. "You don't like to hear about sharks," says Black. "But getting bitten -- I think you have a better chance of winning the lottery. I'm not too worried about it."
Most auspicious surf:Black and Sambazon co-founder Ed Nichols discovered the açaí berry -- the inspiration for their company -- while on a surfing trip to Brazil.
Largest wave: A 16-footer at Sunset Beach, on the North Shore of Oahu. "It was really scary," Black says. "I rode it down the line, but I pulled out of it at the last minute, because it was over a shallow reef. Reef breaks are the best waves -- they make perfect barrels -- but they're also dangerous."
Wipeouts: "I've never needed stitches or a lifeguard, but I have certainly been held under the water longer than I was comfortable with."
Surf heroes: Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, and Bethany Hamilton. "Bethany rips," Black says. "She got her arm bitten off by a shark. Within three weeks, she's out there surfing with one arm."