Freelance designer Ed Lewis and glasser Kipp Denslow first dreamed up Enjoy Handplanes during playdates with their kids at the beach. The stay-at-home dads and self-taught artists turn broken surfboards into bodysurfing aids by upcycling foam, glass, and agricultural waste from biodegradable glue purveyor Ecovative Designs to build brightly colored handplanes. Kristin Morrison connects with Lewis to learn more about what it truly takes to turn trash into treasure.
Tell me about your creative process. How do you arrive at the final manifestation of handplanes?
Ed Lewis: The manifestation is a process of trust and inspiration. Since we use waste as our materials, we have to wait for the material to show up. As we learned to trust, boards and wetsuits just showed up at the right time and we would make them as we went. We would need more foam and then all of a sudden we would get an e-mail for a donation or we would go outside and a board would be dropped off. It was pretty magical.
Once we had materials showing up, we took the “If You Make It, It Will Come” approach. Instead of waiting for orders to come in to make handplanes, we would just get inspired and commit to making handplanes every week. Kipp is a genius self-taught artist. He’s really talented and prolific. We would set goals and I would shape up the canvas and he would glass them every week with incredible art. Every single one was different. He just made what came out of him and people responded to that and bought them. The more we made, the more that orders came in to move them out. As we kept doing this, I got this strange feeling that we were making handplanes for people we didn’t even know who wanted them. We would make some that I thought would never sell and sure enough, someone would contact us shortly after and pick that one out as it was perfect for them. I saw it over and over again.
What is your favorite product that you make and why?
EL: That’s a tough one. It’s like asking a father which child he likes best! The answer in terms of my favorite to use is the Baby Buddha Fish in foam or mushroom core. I love the size and shape of that and it works incredibly for me. My favorite in terms of what I like to make is anything with a biodegradable core. Traditional polyurethane surfboard foam is not biodegradable and is really tough to repurpose once you sand it into dust. My goal is to operate in a zero waste environment and it is really tough to do that with Polyurethane, so if I had my choice, I would avoid it.
Using local/sustainable materials is a key focus of our market. How does local sourcing present a challenge? How does it bring integrity to the objects you make?
EL: We use locally sourced waste material as much as we can. Our main focus is on upcycling so things can come from other cities as well. Local is important to us because we like to use waste here first, which saves on transportation costs and reduces our environmental impact. All of our shipping boxes and padding is waste from local stores or schools, our product tags are from used local cardboard, and the surfboard foam and old wetsuits are all sourced from local surfers. We also partner with other companies, like Patagonia, who donate post-consumer materials from their Worn Wear program for us to use as art in our design. Those materials don’t necessarily come from local stores but it gives them second life. The mushroom cores we get from Ecovative are not locally sourced as they are in upstate New York, but the opportunity to work with them and showcase their concept of replacing plastics and glues with agricultural waste was too good to pass up.
How do you think that your product and brand is helping to make change in the surfing industry?
EL: I think anytime you do something from the heart and aim to do good with what you do, it will bring a positive change in the world. In the beginning, I didn’t see tons of examples of what we were doing in the surf industry and now I see a lot of it. I don’t know if it was us modeling for others or just a global shift in consciousness, but it certainly feels good to have more like-minded people to play with in the water!
If you’re as inspired by the creative crew of Enjoy Handplanes as we are, considering donating to the cause and give an old wetsuit, swim fin box, or surfboard new life!