|Pic: Maria Cavalier|
Andy Garner is amazing. He's been surfing for nearly 30 years and still retains the enthusiasm of a stoked grommet. He posesses a creative eye and a craftsmans hands, being an accomplished photographer, fine art painter and more recently the creator of fine handcrafted handplanes which he makes from his home in Cornwall.
These seemingly simple craft may appear humble in appearance, yet look a little deeper and you'll discover that these are quite possibly the best handplanes being made here in the UK currently, and with orders from folk in California, Australia and Hawaii who are now also enjoying the glide, they may well be some of the best internationally too.
The research and development that Andy puts into his products is quite phenomenal, hours and hours of water testing, refining and defining all providing direct feedback into the creation of his high quality watercraft.
He took a break from the workshop to answer some questions on skateboarding, surfing and the fun of handplaning.
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Andy where did you grow up.
I grew up in Cornwall, primarily Playing Place.
I know you were a skateboarder, what turned you onto skateboarding?
During the 70s there was a big influx of American TV programmes and products like American football shirts and suddenly skateboards appeared on the scene. So we all started making our own with roller skates stuck onto a board. At the time there was a housing boom and all these housing estates went up with perfectly smooth new tarmac roads which were fantastic for skateboarding and my Dad saw that I was into it and even made us a little driveway ramp too. I remember getting a combined birthday & Christmas present, I went into my room and can clearly remember the urethane smell of brand new blue Kryptonics and in another box a pair of blue and red Vans and they had a really distinctive smell too, the smell was so unique like going into a surf shop and smelling the sex wax - it was just fantastic!
|Andy in the halfpipe at the Flamingo Skatepark with hand-painted hi-tops, late 70s.|
Where did you used to skate in the early days?
In the early days we mainly skated in carparks. Hardy Carpets in Truro was a known spot, with loads of people doing slalom on Sunday mornings & Essjay turning up in his van with OJ wheels and California Slalom trucks for sale.
My Dad was keen to encourage me and the other kids and he actually pushed for the little skatepark in Playing Place. I’ve actually still got the original plans for how it was designed, those designs were changed unfortunately. There were trees that couldn’t be removed and it had to cater for other users including roller skaters which was big at the time too. The continuous wall that we wanted so you could carve all the way around the bowl had to go and the flat area was introduced too. But a lot of people put a lot of hard work into it and it was a good project and it’s still being used today.
|Andy Garner with the original plans for the Playing Place bowl... at Playing Place.|
|Originally the 'skate board rink' had included a bowl with extended hip - click pic for enlargement.|
Not many people know this but it was you and Patrick Best that built the original extension at Playing Place wasn't it?
Yeah I first met Paddy cuz I was wearing an Alva shirt and he came over and started talking about skating with me, then we met up and bombed Lemon St in Truro a couple of nights later. Anyway we became friends and skated together loads. But as the tricks in skateboarding changed the rollouts and rounded lips of the other skateparks like Holywell and Watergate didn’t allow you to do the newer tricks like rock’n’rolls and inverts. So we approached the council in Playing Place about adding a wall and they said, "Sure, if you fund it you can build it as long as you don’t make a mess of it." So off we went and did it, and in the end they refunded us all of the material costs so that was great. Over time it had some variations, we originally had ply on the transition, we’ve had steel coping and even concrete coping - none of that lasted but the wall is still there - could do with a face lift now really.
|Andy, authentic old-school backside air at Playing Place.|
|Paddy Best, the other OG Playing Place local, boosting a boneless one, pre-wall.|
When did you start surfing?
Paddy was into his surfing as well so I went along with him.
Can you remember your first green wave and where was it?
Hmm, I remember catching a few alright-ish waves, but the first proper wave I got was at Perranporth, it was a beautiful day with clean, chest high waves. I had swapped boards with someone and was on an old single-fin & I just paddled into a wave and went down the line, no turns or anything but just trimming along. That was it, hooked from that moment on.
Do you recall your first board?
Yeah, so I knew I was really into surfing, and I couldn’t be borrowing boards all the time so I looked in the West Briton (local paper) for a secondhand board. Saw one advertised & went to see it. It was a really old, 5’8 rounded sort of pin, single fin with a rubbery leash attached to the fin. The guy wanted £10 for it. So I thought I’ve gotta have it! Went to St Agnes the next day and was walking down to the beach and all the locals started laughing at me. I paddled out, saw Paddy out the back and he took one look at it and said “ What the fuck is that?” And it did look ridiculous, it was about 3.5” thick with a massive domed deck, it was really unstable in the water and was so discoloured with age that it looked like I was trying to mate with a leatherback turtle. Never caught a wave on it. Ever.
Luckily there was a shop in Newquay offering £90 trade-in for your old board against a new Hawaiian Islands Creation board. So over a few weeks I managed to gather enough money together and headed up there. I left the board in the car and went and asked if the deal was still on and the guy said “Yeah, we’ll give you £90 for your old board as long as its got a leash.” So I went and got the board and the guy’s face just dropped, but after a few awkward moments he said ok and sent me upstairs to see the shaper. I think it was Mac who was shaping them and he asked me a bit about my ability so I think I said I was ok, which was a big exageration cuz I could barely ride waves. He made me a brand new HIC 6’4 square tail thruster with loads of channels in the bottom, probably more suited to Hawaiian waves than Cornwall. And I couldn’t really ride that either, but that was definitely more about my ability than the board obviously.
You've surfed all over the world - any favourite spots?
Yeah I have surfed a few places… I love the Rock in Sri Lanka, definitely. That place is fantastic. When I first went there, which is quite a few years ago now, it was uncrowded, with beautiful lefts and rights. I went so many times over the years and I was always lucky with the waves there. Great people, great food and great vibe which all help make a place special. Oysten and Nini from Easy Beach were such great people, unfortunately Oysten has passed away, but he used to go surfing there all the time, it was just brilliant!
Do you have a preferred local wave now?
Local waves.. I really love St Agnes when it’s on, especially for bodysurfing, it’s such a nice wave when it wedges up. Porthtowan over at Lushingtons at low tide, I’ve had some really great waves there. And I really like Porthleven, the harbour wall break, really shallow but just lovely..
|Andy, doing some winter handplane testing at St Agnes.
Pic: Maria Cavalier
What originally got you interested in handplanes?
Well originally I got interested through Tom Clarke, who’s the head gardener down at NT Trelissick, as we both wanted to build alaias and he’s very enthusiastic about surfing. So we got together and tried to get Paullownia wood but we couldn’t get any so we got hold of some Obeche planks. He went off and started shaping his and I didn’t know what he was doing and I started shaping mine and he hadn’t seen my shape. It was great fun and we'd talk about our designs and we both thought we’d come up with the goods and have these amazing boards and his did look great, beautifully made. So we took them down to Hawkes on a decent day with a reasonably big swell thinking there’d be enough power in the waves to catch a few and get good rides… I didn’t catch a single thing, just terrible. Tom got a couple, but I quickly realised it was beyond me, it is just so difficult to shape and ride an alaia. But we still had some wood left so we decided to make some handplanes rather than waste the wood. I’d seen people bodysurfing and even a few people handplaning occasionally but never really considered it seriously before.
So we took those handplanes we'd made down to St Agnes for a trial and it was just fantastic! Great fun, admittedly the handplanes we’d made were pretty crude but they worked and it was good fun.
When did you start making them?
I had some spare time so I decided to carry on experimenting with contours and outlines. Working on getting the right size to correspond to your wrist and the type of waves etc…
|Against the Grain handplanes.|
So that’s how I got into making them, that evolved into making a new design each week. Testing them in different flows by taking a load to different rivers and streams to see which designs rode high, which ones dipped. Working out what gave a board more or less lift and what board was able to manoeuvre easily. Taking those boards out in different waves and then refining the size so that you didn’t end up with a broken wrist for instance.
Then Paul Marshall of Yellow Duck Boards approached me for a handplane, so I made him one. We got talking more and his bellyboards are just amazing, so beautifully made. Then his enthusiasm, carpentry skills and knowledge fed into what I was doing and helped me continue to develop the handplanes even more. And so it went on again, each week I was constantly trying new designs and experiments, changing woods, designing new handles, even adapting the way I produced each board.
How long does each handplane take to make?
It depends, in the past some of the solid wooden boards could take up to three days each. But I’ve tended to go more with the ply boards now so it's a bit quicker turnaround, but mainly because the ply boards work so well. The majority of the boards now have a consistent size and shape, but if someone wants a smaller board I can easily shape them something to suit their size, for instance if their hands are smaller or for somebody younger to help them get on the plane quickly. I don't do a lot of kids boards but I recently saw a kid out on one of my handplanes that his Mum or Dad must have given him and he was absolutely flying.
Without giving away any of your production secrets what do you think is the key to a good handplane?
There are so many elements to the handplane. When I first started making them I thought it was just a nicely shaped piece of flat wood and that’s it. But I’ve made some hand planes that just don’t work. They look exactly the same as the previous one and I’ve only changed certain elements to make a tiny little adjustment and it changes something else. Might make it slower or throw too much spray off the nose or too much concave lifts the nose and turns it into a brake on certain take-offs…
|Some Research & Development on a nice green peeler.
Pic: Maria Cavalier
I’ve made double concaves that work really well and I’ve recently been using a single concave that I’ve tweaked with a subtle flat section in the tail, carrying the concave further up to the nose and those are going even better.
Shapewise I think the rounded pin tail works well and also I like the diamond tail. When you see it on the template you think it’s only about an extra centimetre but that’s enough to give it an extra lift and makes quite a difference.
|Sweet shapes and concaves.|
I know you are constantly tweaking and refining your designs - do you think there is still scope for the handplane to evolve further?
Oh definitely, I’m sure somebody will come up with something... But the changes as I see them now are very small, but a small change can make a big difference. It could be the difference between going into the barrel and getting shut down or going into the barrel and making it out. A small change could make that much difference.
What would be your advice to anyone wanting to try handplaning?
Go and buy some good fins, go and buy a hand plane or even make your own. Good fins are high on the list, they are going to get you into the wave. A good handplane that lets you swim naturally, some of the handplanes with holes in them do work but just not as well I think. Having an adjustable strap is good too.
Get a handplane that is made by somebody who is actually bodysurfing rather than getting something that nobody has even tried or tested. Because even the difference between the handle being a centimetre back or forward will be the difference between the board working or not working.
But if you want to go out and have really good fun in reasonable sized waves a handplane is perfect.
Tell us a little about the differences between riding a wave on a board, a bellyboard and a handplane.
Certainly a lot of the waves I’ve been riding recently, without the hand plane you wouldn’t even be having any fun really. The feeling… is just fantastic, the ability to get your torso out of the water and just be planing with only your legs in the water is fantastic. And they’re so much fun. You get a lot of waves and you start your wave so much earlier. When you surf, it’s paddle, paddle, paddle and then it’s getting to your feet, which doesn’t feel like you’ve started on the wave, doesn’t feel like part of your ride. When you kick in to the wave on a handplane, your wave has already begun, it’s already started so you feel like your ride is longer already just by being on the handplane.
I know you seem to spend more time on your handplane than your surfboard these days - why is that?
I find I just get so much fun out of it. You’re at eye-level with the wave and you’re actually right in the wave and there is so much power actually below the wave’s surface that you can feel because you’re right in the wave and not just on top of it. The power and feeling you get from that is just amazing. You get so much out of them, the thrill of going across a wave face on the plane is fantastic.
The sensation is amazing, if there’s anything that sums up handplanes, it’s that you get so much more from them.
Thanks Sqeez, I'd also like to say a big thankyou to some of the people who have been so generous with helping me get Against the Grain Handplanes started. In particular Maria Cavalier for her great support, enthusiasm and encouragement, Tom Clarke, Paul Marshall, Stuart, Malcolm Kerr and you too Sqeez.
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Get in touch with Andy if you're interested in finding out more about his handplanes at Against The Grain or via his FB page.