ENCINITAS — The coast is home to sports entrepreneur superstars including Bob Haro, who revolutionized BMX biking, and Tony Hawk, who did the same for skateboarding.
Now partners Ed Lewis of Encinitas and Kipp Denslow of Carlsbad are turning body surfing upside down with their handplanes made of recycled fiberglass surfboards. Their company is called Enjoy Handplanes.
A handplane is an 8-inch-by-14-and-3/4-inch miniature surfboard with a cross strap that is used as a handle.
“Handplanes were invented in 1950 in Hawaii,” Lewis explains. “Not everyone could afford a surfboard so they cut them out of wood, and used surgical tubing for the handle.”
Unlike conventional body surfing where the surface area is measured between the chest and knees, Lewis says using a handplane elongates the area from the top of the handplane to the tip of the fins.
“The main factor is surface area,” he added. “You’re extending the surface area so the more pressure you place on the handplane, the faster you go. It’s like a gas pedal.”
Lewis said he was overcome with exhilaration the first time he bodysurfed with a handplane.
“I started laughing and felt like I was 12 years old again,” he said. “Swimming under the water opened my eyes. I saw the cloud when the wave broke above me. It was a new, freeing experience.”
Another bonus is that handplaning makes it easier to catch more waves, even for beginners.
“I had never taken one out before and went out on a mushy, marginal day,” he said. “Short boarders were catching maybe three to five waves. I caught 15 to 20 which is really common (with the handplanes).”
The idea for Enjoy Handplanes was hatched one afternoon last February when Lewis and Denslow were doing “daddy daycare” with their three young daughters at the beach. Denslow is a surfboard shaper. Lewis is a photographer and website designer who was becoming increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of broken surfboards he saw in trashcans.
“We were talking about doing something together and I said, ‘Can you make handplanes out of old surfboards?’” Lewis remembers.
Denslow said he could and built a prototype.
“I tried it out and ended up having so much fun that I kept making them,” he said.
On March 22 Lewis began chronicling the experience on his community blog, the Leucadia Project.
Immediately, local residents got caught up in the excitement and began donating their damaged surfboards. The first handplane was made from a surfboard donated by Anne Fagergren.
Lewis and Denslow invited friends to take their prototypes for a ride. Soon friends let friends demo theirs and orders started pouring in from as far away as Australia and Sweden.
“People would scream, ‘I’ve never gone that fast,’” Lewis said. “One guy said, ‘This is not a fad. This is really legitimate.’”
Today, Denslow devotes his working day exclusively to manufacturing handplanes. He can make 11 handplanes from one 9-foot short board, and estimates that he makes between 10 and 15 per week.
About 90 percent of the broken surfboards come from private individuals. They receive a $20 discount off the purchase of a handplane.
“Going forward, we are going to buy surfboards from Rerip to supplement the donations,” Denslow said. Rerip is a Solana Beach-based organization that buys and sells used surfboards.
Lewis and Denslow get tips as well.
“Two weeks ago a surf shop told us someone had to quickly empty their storage shed,” Denslow said. “We went out and found five surfboards that were thrown out.”
In addition, Rip Curl is donating old wetsuits, which are recycled into handles for the handplanes.
Lisa Hetman, owner of Cinch Sac, donates fabric scraps that Lewis uses to make board bags.
Artist Rodney McCoubrey is even making art from leftovers. Another artist, J.P. St. Pierre, is partnering with Lewis and Denslow in a collaborative model.
In turn, Enjoy Handplanes is “paying it forward” by donating handplanes at their cost to nonprofits such as Surfers Healing, Save the Waves Coalition, Surfing Heritage Foundation and the Ocean Discovery Institute.
Handplanes are priced at $149, $159 for models that include a plug for a waterproof camera. Lewis and Denslow recommend GoPro cameras, which cost between $100 and $300.
For more information, visit www.enjoyhandplanes.com or www.theleucadiaproject.com.