Handplane Evolution

March 15, 2013

The shop has been abuzz with our newest project, handplanes. These little hand boards may look funny, but damn will it enhance the ride when body surfing. Small, vaguely resembling a surfboard with a frown cut for grip, the concept is simple: Swim into the wave, handplane outfront as a guide, and enjoy the ride. Sounds simple, but the development of these is anything but.

  • foam-handplane-image
    Foam handplanes
The evolution of the Makai Project handplane started with a grand scheme, paired down, then got technical. First we began with an old busted surfboard. After stripping down the old glass to the foam, we cut and shaped handplanes straight from the foam with stringer intact. Then we glassed them with 8 oz. S Glass and epoxy. Since it was epoxy, a much stronger and safer alternative to polyester resin, we needed to flood coat, sand, fill imperfections and so on. The result was a lightweight mini board that took quite a bit of time to create; too much time.

So for the next stage in our research and development, we moved to wood. For our first two prototypes, PT1 and PT2, the name of the game was ¾" solid wood planks, cut, shaped and sanded to order. Two sizes were made, the Shore Surfer at 15 1/2” x 8 1/4”, and the Outside Breaker weighing in at 19” x 9”. At just ¾ of an inch thick, rocker was limited, but the nose was raised and grooves were carved into the bottom 2/3 of the board, starting at the grip and extending to the split tail. We tried a narrow double channel in the Shore Surfer, and a wider, softer groove on the OB.

In the water, both worked admirably. Of course its South Florida surf, so the conditions were not ideal, but the handplanes allowed for some guidance and some lift while cruising the wave. Fins are a must, Churchill swim fins are ideal—simple, compact but give enough propulsion. The channels carved in the plane seemed to work, funneling water under and out the back the board versus swamping the deck. But, there was an issue with the nose diving.

  • Shore-Surfer-handplane---burlap-and-detail
    Shore Surfer, PT1, has a double channel and slightly rockered nose.

The overall thickness of the board hampered ride-ability. The grip, which is little more than a smile cut out to grab the board, made the hand double over on the bottom, making for some serious resistance. And the slim rocker was not enough to keep the board riding high above the chop when using the board for lift. Time and again the board would buckle and dive. For the most part, the problem was technique and mushy waves—I was doing the same thing on the surfboard in the same waves—but the design could be solidified, which lead to PT3 and PT4.

The overall shape and hydrodynamics of the channels were sound in PT1 and PT2, the overall flow was what lacked. For the second round of prototypes, we pulled a page from our skateboard design and laminated some wood, but went thicker—an inch and a half—for the center block to allow for some sculpting. Keeping the same overall shape, the added girth allowed for us to carve out a rocker to the board, giving it a rather bulbous nose and a scooped tail. We were also able to hide the rider's knuckles on the underside, actually using the fingers as an extension of the rocker, allowing for a smooth transition into the channel. We also used a few different species of wood in the construction that not only add strength (like stringers) but makes them look pretty rad too.

  • Shore-Surfer-Prototype-3---PT3---colage
    The Shore Surfer PT3 started with a thicker midsection, allowing for a more substantive rocker and a deep channel.
In the water, these things glide and cut like a boat. The sleek but odd look on land translates to some smooth riding on the wave—I liken these things to a duck, a little awkward out of the water, but when in, they just work. The carved nose rises out of the water just enough so that it does not get swamped, gliding above the chop, while the channel gives the water a place to go, flowing under and out, giving the plane extra speed and maneuverability. Again, two sizes were made: PT3 - 15 1/2” x 8 1/4”; PT4 – 19” x 9”. Both were tested in some rather big, choppy seas and smaller, clean conditions, and both worked as directed when using swim fins. The smaller, PT3/Shore Surfer, was a little more maneuverable, especially when making for a quick turn. The larger, PT4/Outside Breaker, is best for cruising and/or bigger riders. It is maneuverable and quick, but there is some resistance when trying to cut hard—more surface area to press into the wave, a bit more resistance.
  • PT4---Outside-Breaker-handplane
    The Outside Breaker PT4 has a deep channel and severe rocker, but is wider and longer than the Shore Surfer, making it perfect for bigger riders.
In all, the new design is ideal for choppy Florida surf. There needs to be a bit of power behind the wave—boat wake, no matter how hard you try, just won't push a full grown man—and swim fins really are a must. But when conditions are right, these things are pretty fun and super easy to use—simply grab a hold, stick it in the direction you want to go and kick, you'll be surprised how quick and responsive these things are and how much longer they will extend your body surfing ride.

PT1 and PT2 still have merit, though conditions need to be a bit cleaner. They still offer some support and guidance while riding the wave, just a little more skill and practice to keep the plane from swamping and diving.

These are a great thing to leave in the trunk for those impromptu sessions when a board is out of reach. They're also great in-between sessions, when you need a breather but don't want to let any wave sneak by un-ridden. Check in soon for the first series of Makai Project handplanes to roll out to market—we have one more improvement in the works, but in all they are pretty much solidified and ready to ride. And if you have any good ideas for names, hit us up, we're trying to come up with something sweet. Enjoy the ride!

  • PT1-through-PT4
    All four handplane prototypes worked like a charm in both big and small, choppy surf.