Turning Trash to Treasure

 

It’s surf season in southern California. Well, some might say every season is surf season in SoCal. But the summer’s particular blend of vacation time, warm weather, and bikinis on the beach makes it a special time in the region’s year-round surf calendar. The smells of sunscreen and wet neoprene fill the salty air from La Jolla to Santa Barbara as people fill the beaches and riders flock to the waters at Lower Trestles, Huntington Beach, Bolsa Chica, and dozens more in search of the perfect wave. The northern swells are shutting down, but the big southern waves are rolling in, and when they hit hard you’ll be sure to find a handful of broken surfboards in the trash cans that line the state’s beaches.

Under normal conditions no one’s quite sure how long those boards would take to disappear.

The best estimates for biodegradation of the foam and fiberglass that make up most surfboards is around a million years. But of course, that’s just an estimate. Styrofoam’s only been around since about 1941, so it hasn’t even existed long enough for us to find out how long it takes to de-exist. In fact, we haven’t existed long enough to do so. Let’s say Jesus surfed. If the Vatican got their hands on his board tomorrow it would really still be more new than old – only .2% of the way through its breakdown process. If the very first homo sapien walked into this world carrying a surfboard, broke it, and chucked it on some cenozoic beach somewhere it would only be a fifth of the way through its decomposition today, and could witness the rise and fall of modern civilization eighty times over again before disappearing. Left to their own, surfboards last a very, very long time.

But in the hands of Ed Lewis and Kipp Denslow of Enjoy Handplanes those old broken boards disappear in a matter of days – re-shaped, re-painted, and returned to the economy as one-of-a-kind handplanes for bodysurfing.

“We feel really good about it,” said Lewis during our chat at their brand new shop just north of San Diego, “We’re a filter. Taking other people’s trash, and creating something that’s artistic and functional.”

It may seem natural that two surfers would end up starting a company that recycles old boards into equipment for bodysurfing. But they’ll tell you that the idea couldn’t have been further from their minds just a few short years ago. Lewis was a freelance web designer, Denslow a “garage surfboard-shaper-glasser-kinda-guy”, and neither one had ever heard of a handplane. Lewis sought Denslow’s help in constructing a more eco friendly all-wooden surfboard kit he’d received, and the two men bonded over fatherhood, and their love of the surf.

“On Thursday nights we’d have our daughters come together, and we’d glass this board in his house,” Lewis said, “Eventually we got into this movement of sustainable surfing, and we just really got into it.”

Their attention turned to what to do with all the broken surfboards they saw lying around their beaches, and lining the curbs on garbage day whenever big swells rolled in. The answer came from a chance encounter with legendary surfer John Peck.

“He pulled this handplane out of his van and was like ‘this is what I’m playing with these days’,” said Lewis, “and I was looking at it and I didn’t even know what it was. I didn’t even know what it was used for” he laughed.

Turns out what it’s used for is making a day at the beach a whole hell of a lot more fun. A handplane is like a tiny surfboard for your hand. Its size and shape help to reduce drag while bodysurfing, increasing your speed and pulling you into waves more easily. Their size and shape seemed perfect for up-cycling the old broken boards, and Kipp quickly turned one out in his shop.

“I took this thing out in the water,” Lewis said, “and I caught a few waves, and I just started laughing. It was so fun, it was like being a little kid again. So I stopped surfing for three months, and just bodysurfed.”

Word spread organically as surfers caught sight of what he was doing and began requesting handplanes of their own. Lewis started posting pictures of each creation on his blog, and all of a sudden Enjoy had an international audience. GoPro got in touch after seeing that they’d begun including camera mounts on some of their models, and after catching wind of their surfing related eco-effort Patagonia began carrying them.

Every single handplane is a custom creation, made from a recycled board that otherwise would have gone into the trash. The hand straps are made from recycled wetsuits, and many of the designs are actually recycled shirt fabric that they’ve glassed into the board. They use an environmentally friendly resin rather than polyurethane, pack their handplanes in cardboard boxes rescued from the trash, and seal them with a biodegradable packing tape. They’re even searching for innovative uses for their scrap foam.

This is good business for sure, but the eco-concern goes deeper than mere marketing. I asked Ed if they considered themselves social entrepreneurs and was met with a pause, then a chuckle “Was there a day we were supposed to sign papers on that?” he asked. His way of saying that you don’t give yourself the title of social entrepreneur. You’re either truly concerned with your company’s responsibility to the world, or you’re not.  Enjoy’s model is about true responsibility, the kind that a parent feels for their child. In fact, it was that same paternal instinct – the desire to be a good influence – that originally gave rise to the logo that would become their name.

“Surfing went through its rebellious faze, and now that I’ve got kids I just want to set a more positive example,” said Lewis “When Kipp asked me to create a logo for these boards he was making I started thinking about what just a simple, positive message would be, and I thought of that word – enjoy. He tried it out on the first handplane, and the name just kind of stuck.” It’s more than a logo though. More than a brandname too. It’s a signature, the symbol of the collected efforts of everyone behind the handplane. It’s also a call to action. A one-word reminder that trash doesn’t have to be trash. With creativity it can be spun around, re-imagined, and re-released into the world as something brand new. Something that’s artistic, and functional, and green. Something that the end user will ultimately – totally – enjoy.

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