Enjoy Handplanes & the Business of Surfing while Saving the Environment
It’s an interesting thing, the art and practice of a surfer’s life—a Zen-like monomania, of which many Southern California beach dwellers have come to know and admire.
In the pre-dawn hours of any given day, while city-folk sleep soundly in their beds, there’s a quiet that stretches across the salty air along the coast. Seagulls patiently await beach visitors and their food, the sand is still cool from the night's seaside chill, and a smattering of local surfers have already conquered a few early-morning waves before hustling to the office. This would have been the morning routine for Oceanside's Ed Lewis, who met Kip Denslow at a daddy daycare facility in 2010, before an idea was sparked to turn their wave obsession into a profession.
The creative concept was to upcycle a collection of broken, unusable surfboards and build hand-held apparatuses for bodysurfing. Their new venture would be called: Enjoy Handplanes.
These small, surfboard-shaped creations are used as a device for bodysurfers to maneuver in and out of the waves, making it easier for thrill-seekers to ride the barrel (curl of the wave) and take their journey all the way to the shore if they choose.
According to Lewis (who became Enjoy Handplane's sole owner in 2017 following Denslow's departure), when a surfboard is first made, it is built from the inside out. Starting with a foam core, it goes through a glassing process where it’s encased with fiberglass and resin, which gives the board its hard shell. Surfboards break easily, but when they do, the foam core is still in tact with much of it in good working condition.
To create the hand planes, Lewis takes out all of the good foam, passing on the leftovers to local artists, ensuring every piece of the broken board is used for something. This is where the real magic starts.
Many companies that build surfboards employ old production techniques, using a polyester resin that’s hazardous to board builders. Working with a respirator is required for health safety reasons. “It’s the surf industry’s dirty little secret,” says Lewis. “Surfboard production is kind of intense stuff, it’s not clean for the environment, at all.”
To build more responsibly, Enjoy uses a bio-resin called entropy epoxy, which is less harmful to the atmosphere. Created by a couple of surfers, the epoxy is made with leftover byproducts from the diesel and pine industries and is a safer choice for board and hand plane production workers.
Enjoy’s innovative method of building hand planes has inspired documentarians over the years to produce films about the harmful process of surfboard production, including one of the first documentaries on the topic, “Manufacturing Stoke," by filmmaker Pierce Cavanaugh.
Not only are these hand planes environmentally friendly, they’re also easy to use. According to Lewis, “traditional surfing is complicated. The surfer has to learn how to duck dive through waves, paddle out to the line-up, which is usually far from shore, and then there’s the whole standing up aspect of surfing.
“When you first go out with a hand plane, you can catch a wave, you don’t need to have the same skill, like you do, with a surfboard,” says Lewis. “The first thing that people typically do when they try these things is scream. They let out this little kid’s scream because they’ve never gone that fast before.”
Bodysurfers use one hand plane, strapped to the guiding hand with a recycled soft, neoprene (wetsuit) material, while the other hand is used as a rudder and break. “The plane acts like a gas pedal,” says Lewis. “It sort of stretches the length of you out. The more you push down the faster you go, and the faster you go the better the ride.”
Brian Lam, a surfer and founding editor at The Wirecutter has been a fan of Enjoy Handplanes since the beginning. “These things changed my life,” says Lam. “On a surfboard, you’re always waiting around for the big waves that don’t always come. With the hand plane, you can catch the smallest waves, and do all kinds of tricks. It’s a no brainer.”
In the case of hand planes, size matters. One of the reasons surfers tend to like using the planes has to do with the mini board’s ability to get surfers where they want to go, which is inside the barrel, or wave. There are two places surfers like to be when they’re riding, in the pocket of the wave and in the foam ball (white foam that builds up inside the curl). “In bodysurfing, you’re pretty much immersed in the foam ball,” says Lewis. “With the hand planes, you get just enough speed that you can literally ride a tube for as long as you want, you can just sit in the pocket, right on the foam ball, and you are just embedded in this wave.” And this is, apparently, what causes the scream effect.
“One of the guys, who’s one of the best surfers I know, let out the biggest scream the first time he went out with the hand plane,” says Lewis, chuckling.
While Enjoy isn’t the first company to build hand planes—the apparatuses have been around since the 1950s—it's one of the first that focused on creating foam planes. Prior to Enjoy, most bodysurfers were accustomed to the use of wooden hand planes made popular by Handplane Goodness and Brownfish Handplanes. (Enjoy Handplanes now also builds the wooden designs; pictured right.) But surfers tend to gravitate toward the foam planes since their structure and build have a comparable feel to that of a surfboard.
Ranging in cost from $150 to $300 for one Enjoy Handplane, which is on the higher side of plane pricing, Lewis has seen firsthand the value of not only creating art for bodysurfers, but more importantly solving a problem.
Even the company’s shipping boxes and business cards are made from recycled materials. “We wanted to model an ‘idea’ to the bigger companies,” says Lewis, “that boards can be made in a way that’s environmentally safe.”
This is exactly what Lewis has done with his business, which has now been in active for 11 years and sells to thrill-seeking surfers across Southern California as well as Hawaii, Japan and Australia.
The company has also gotten more creative over the years. Most of their planes are still made from upcycled foam board, while some are ruined blanks from surfboard manufacturing, reclaimed wood, compressed hay and even Ecovative mushroom board for the core. Enjoy uses neoprene from used wetsuits to make the handles.
As many creative business owners do, Lewis has since expanded on his venture, following the purchase of an exotic fruit farm in the rolling hills of San Diego (pre-pandemic). The barn, once used mainly as a workshop for Enjoy Handplanes transformed into a space for hosting company retreats and getaways for other environmentally conscious businesses such as Patagonia. And the land has undergone major changes to serve as a working regenerative farm: Enjoy the Farm.
Once things get 'back to normal' and people feel safe traveling again, the plan is to reopen the farm as an experiential destination for retreats and workshops. As the website explains, Enjoy Barn is "a collaborative maker space to experiment with alternative materials like other peoples trash, bio based resins, recyclable resins, hay board, mushroom board, reclaimed wood, eco paints and what ever else we can get our hands on."
This is the next step in Lewis's plans to connect people with nature, as is apropos for a surfer, turn ethical business owner, whose morning routine has always been to connect himself with nature before setting on about his day.
A lot can be learned from the land and the sea and all of the beauty nature provides. For Ed Lewis, it's simpler that that: "It’s not just about what we want to do with our lives, but how we live them."
Note: this article was written by Brandi Andres, cousin to Enjoy Handplanes' owner Ed Lewis.