In April 2009, two surfers on daddy day care duty met in Leucadia, California.
They shared a love for the ocean and a disdain for environmentally irresponsible products, manu-facturing waste and the creeping problem of landfill.
Their names were Ed Lewis and Kipp Denslow.
Ed was working as a designer, Kipp a stay-at-home dad.
They got talking.
They talked about waves, technique and the greater responsibilities of surfers.
Their conversation morphed into issues about the environment, the number of broken surfboards that were virtually non-recyclable, and ripped, no longer-usable wetsuits, abandoned in trash cans on beaches all the way up the coast.
Every time they met they’d talk some more. Then they’d part. Then they’d think some more. Then they had an idea.
It was hardly a side project; they wanted to give an old surfboard that had been discarded, broken and trashed, another life on the ocean wave. And they wanted to write a one-off, one-time post for a blog they kept.
The idea behind the post was to explore what would happen if you took an old piece of foam, reshaped it into a hand plane and attached a neoprene strap from a discarded wetsuit to it.
But their timing couldn’t have been better—bodysurfing and the use of handplanes was really taking off.
Handplanes, like mini-surfboards, allow bodysurfers to catch waves quicker and easier. They allow you to plane down the face of a wave and enjoy long rides with minimum fuss and maximum ‘yew!’
So, they made their first handplane.
And people liked them—a lot.
They liked the fact that Ed and Kipp had a mission to keep broken boards and manufacturing waste out of landfills, and that they created products that were both fun and environmentally responsible.
After their prototype was made, Ed opened up about the early days and how the project evolved.
‘I would work on my design projects until about 2pm, then pick up my daughter from school. We’d go to Kipp’s house to work on handplanes, usually until about 9pm, but sometimes until midnight, depending on the day and orders. Our girls loved it because they all hung out and played. We’d make dinners for them and do the daddy day care thing. It was a good time.’
They kept trying things out —tinkering, refining and experimenting—but it was still just a pop-and-pop endeavour. The whole thing was run out of Kipp’s garage. But eventually they grew, and moved into their own workshop.
As the business evolved, and the reputation of Enjoy Handplanes spread, somebody else heard about what the boys were doing, and they liked it too.
That somebody was Patagonia.
Because of their commitment to the environment and recycling cred, Patagonia spoke to Ed and Kipp about stocking their handplanes. They were a good fit with the company's traditions and ethos.
But it got better.
At the time, Patagonia had been working on a sustainable way to dispose of and/or recycle their old garments and textiles. The project was designated #UpCycling. The idea was that the recycled Patagonia fabrics could be custom-glassed into handplanes — making beautiful and sustainable wave-riding vehicles.
And by way of a virtuous circle, Patagonia stores would stock the handplanes and give them a second life.
Thousand’s of handplanes later, that side project became a fully-edged, high-flying, low-carbon business.
Ed and Kipp got into making handplanes by accident. But their vision, perseverance and dedication to the planet was far from accidental.
Because of that, a one-off experiment became a more substantial side project. And that side project ultimately became a thriving enterprise.