Tuesday, 27 January 2015


Andy Garner - Against the Grain Handplanes
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 Garner Flamingo Skatepark, Redruth Cornwall
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 at Playing Place
Andy Garner with the original plans for the Playing Place bowl... at Playing Place.

original Playing Place skatebowl plans
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 Garner Playing Place Cornwall
Andy, authentic old-school backside air at Playing Place.

Paddy Best Playing Place Cornwall
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 Garner handplaning St Agnes Cornwall
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 Cornwall
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…

Against the Grain handplanes testing Cornwall
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.

Against the Grain handplane shapes Cornwall
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 Andy
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.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


Rob Small & Gally

Rob Small grew up surfing the beachbreaks of Perranporth, the Badlands & Newquay and quickly developed from a hot local to a sponsored surfer, competing on the National and International pro circuits. Now with over 35 years of non-stop surfing under his belt he is still active as a sponsored surfer and SUP surfer and also runs Crantock Bay Surf School using his experience as an ISA surf and stand up paddle instructor and RSLS beach lifeguard. He kindly took the time between working long days at his surf school and SUP surf trips to the Canaries to answer a few questions about big waves, stunt doubling for Ewan McGregor and why maybe using a paddle could be considered punk!

Rob, where did you grow up?
Like a lot of us Cornish boys, I was born at Treliske in Truro and lived in Helston and St Agnes before my parents settled on Perranporth. Perran is really the place I grew up. There was a little pack of us running about causing mayhem and surfing. I was driving through Perran the other day and saw a little gang of surfy kids skating about and thought; "Nothing really changes does it?"

What got you into surfing originally?
My parents bought me a surfboard when I was very young, 7 or 8 years old. It was a 7’0” Graham Nile pintail single fin. Classic 70s board, brown with pin lines and a wooden fin with the old council insurance stickers on it. Like most of the older guys I wish I still had it today. The Surf Life Saving Clubs were going strong in those days and many of the local beach kids learnt to surf through them. We also learnt water safety and water knowledge. I’m not sure about sending kids out with a hundred metres of rope attached to a reel on the beach though... But they are great community clubs and invaluable for the youngsters. Of course as soon as the surfing started to become all encompassing the SLSC went out the window!

Do you remember your first green wave?
I don’t have a recollection of my first green wave but I do remember discovering cutbacks and getting under the lip for the first time. My first tube (ha ha, head dip) was at Perran Sands with Steve Cant and first cutback at Droskyn. Those lefts under the cliff are pretty good for figure eight cutbacks, they formed my entire surfing repertoire for a few years. When I first started surfing Aggie I didn’t have a clue what to do on the rights there, full pooh stance too. I get asked this question a lot by my clients and I’m not sure that they always believe I can’t remember learning the basics.

Was surfing Perran in the 70s & 80s very different to now?
It was really different, but then the sport itself was in a distinct phase. I remember the first thrusters that John Heath had in Piran Surf in ’81, after Simon Anderson won Bells, strange looking things. It could even have been ’82, things certainly didn’t move as fast as they do today. It was definitely friendlier, less crowded but on the downside the equipment was shit compared to that which is available today. I think that the generation that are in their 40s today matured as surfing matured as a sport, industry and lifestyle. It’s fun, traditional even, to give it the old ‘It was better back along’ to the younger surfers but I’m sure that there’s never been a better time to be a surfer than now. There are so many more possibilities within surfing than we ever dreamed of back in the 70s and 80s.

rob small, la santa right
Rob, cranking off the bottom at La Santa Right.

Monday, 3 November 2014


beachy geometry
Cornwall, land of beachies (mainly).

So often I've fantasised on what it must be like to have a perfect right-hand point as your local break. Being able to draw long, swooping, joined up, carving lines across waves such as Burleigh Heads or Rincon is surely what surfing is all about.

I'd lament the long paddle-outs and too-short rides that the beach breaks of West Cornwall so often conjure up. Jealous of those surfers, usually in warm waters, growing up with and taking for granted the consistency and perfection that point-breaks bestow on those lucky enough to live near them.

Why, oh why are we geographically damned to skittering across closeouts, double-ups and shore-dumps?

Then, last week I paddled out on a small to medium day on low tide at a long west-facing beach. There were a few peaks at the usual spot under the cliffs, and I snagged a couple of nice lefts. But it was a big spring tide, and within 20 minutes the peak was already getting shifty and being negated by the tide's return.

I paddled up the beach to where a handful of surfers were making the most of some rights that, although a little quick and dumpy, were still fun with the occasional one that kept some shape and peeled shorewards. But after a couple of those, I found the small crowd off-putting and anyway I'd just spotted another peak that was showing promise a further hundred yards north of the main beach. And with no-one on it. So I paddled off again.

I found myself sitting a little further out, all alone as a set approached. The darkening lump jacked up right underneath me and offered a lovely steep shoulder that quickly became a fast walling right that held up and zipped me nicely across the face. I kicked out and paddled straight back out to the take-off spot. Another set pulsed through, and an almost exact replica right-hander popped up. I couldn't believe my luck. This time as I paddled back out after another sweet ride I was expecting to see a pack break away from the crowd down the beach, drawn to this lovely little peak like ants to a honey pot. But, no. Just me sitting on a bank that was offering up peaky blinders consistently, again and again as the tide slowly pushed up.

After a dozen perfect chest high rights, I was back outside waiting for another set. But this time it bent in at a weird angle which put me facing almost parallel to the shore paddling down the shoulder of another right but actually angling left... But the peak seemed to catch up with itself and the whole wave swept back into place and swung me easily down the line again, fizzing along a clean green wall.

That was the last of it though, the tide must have filled in over the bank because the next set just kind of shrugged its shoulders before settling back down and rippling past in a froth of white water.

I paddled back down the beach and headed in. Happy to have scored some really nice little waves all on my own, yet within shouting distance of a half-term crowd. I'd ridden three different peaks, culminating in a surprisingly good handful of waves that were behaving like they were a reef-break. All in one session, on one stretch of sand.

Beach breaks - gotta love 'em.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


I lived in Sydney for 10 years and one of my strongest visual memories is of the light. Hard, bright, dazzling light.

Some Australian painters caught the light...

Brett Whiteley

Brett Whiteley

Howard Arkley

Howard Arkley

Jeffrey Smart

Jeffrey Smart

Reg Mombassa

Reg Mombassa

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Tuesday, 9 September 2014








Saturday, 30 August 2014


Mark Hollis 'Live' 1986
Like somebody else's digital dream..

Recently Kate Bush made a request that concert-goers refrain from taking photos or recording video of her performance. My first reaction was 'That's kinda harsh, bit dictatorial..' but on reflection I totally agree with her. Here's why:

The best concert I've ever been to was Talk Talk at Hammersmith, London 1986. I've seen loads of really good gigs; The Clash supported by Spear of Destiny, Dinosaur Jr at The Mean Fiddler, Pavement supporting Sonic Youth and blowing them off the stage, Firehose in a tiny club in Brighton, and a whole host of others, too many to list here... But it was the total experience of Talk Talk's final UK appearance that was the standout show for me.

The audio was as good as it gets that night, and Mark Hollis's vocals were astonishing, every nuance in his delivery as clear as a bell. The band's musical arrangements and performance were incredible too - a group at the very top of their game with not a note out of place. The venue offered uninterrupted views of the stage and along with a few thousand others I was witness to a gig that felt intimate yet epic at the same time.

And nobody was holding up a mobile phone or digital camera because there weren't any in 1986. The crowd were fully engaged with a band that were equally in the moment, no distractions, no other agenda - a live performance was taking place and that was all that mattered.

It was awesome and I remember thinking even as it was happening that this was special.

I was still buzzing for weeks afterwards, yet there was no instant replay available - there was no internet or social media. I'm sure there was a write-up in one of the music papers at some point but I didn't search it out. Why would I? I'd been at the gig, no need for somebody else's opinion, I was stuffed to the gills with vibrant memories of my own. A while afterwards the BBC did broadcast a recording of the concert which I taped and would listen to now and then. Talk Talk went on to produce two more albums, both increasingly atmospheric and deeply nuanced and not particularly suited to live performance. Which was all fine with me, as simply listening to their music was a profound and satisfying pleasure.

Then they stopped, it seemed Mark Hollis's work with Talk Talk was done and he virtually disappeared.

Like many, I wanted more - the latter Talk Talk output was some of the most sublime music I'd ever heard and I couldn't believe that the sonic journey had come to an end. For a while I hunted down any new or obscure material. A live bootleg of the London gig was eventually released along with a DVD of the same tour 'Live in Montreaux'. I have them both. Ironically the DVD leaves me cold - watching little figures (cringingly 80s style too) on a screen is a pale imitation and can never equal the vivid memories in my head. I thought the internet would add to my connection with Talk Talk. It hasn't. I've come to understand that my love of the music is personal and no amount of pixellation will alter that.

- - - - - - - - - -

So I believe that a gig clip on YouTube is not only unnecessary, but actually a disservice to the performance, the band and the viewer.

I like taking photos and I like looking at them too (often post a few up here), but music performed live adds myriad layers, elevating the visual and blending it with the aural, emotional and physical senses - you can't record that. Because of this I agree with the advice - Be in the moment truly and there is no need to pixellate it. It exists forever, because you are there with the band, listening, watching, feeling. That is enough.

Sunday, 3 August 2014


... as Spex used to say.

Vans TNT4 - comfy
Vans TNT 4

Sunday, 27 July 2014


... and other pixels.

busted hula girl

longboard ale

godrevy sunset

palm tree halo

truro train station bridge

a30 tail lights

boyhood movie ticket

Monday, 7 July 2014


In the morning, took off on a leash-snapper.

In the evening, got nicely chillaxed.

Saturday, 21 June 2014


custard point
Like an old battered sea creature.

My 9'4 Custard Point is about 14 years old now and quite frankly showing its age (we make a good pair). But what a warrior it is - still got the glide despite putting on a few pounds over the years (I refer to it endearingly as 'The Fatty' - & funnily enough I too have gained some extra timber over that period). It is still the board I use most of the time. I know Custard Point aren't viewed as a cool label, but when I bought it I was looking for a heavy traditional wave rider and this board fitted the bill. It is solid, and for a single-fin, trad noserider, it does pretty well in most conditions too.

This long, dry, sunny flat spell is the perfect time to apply a few ding repairs and smooth a bit of resin over the cracks in readiness for when the next swell rolls in.

custard point
Every scar could tell a tale.

custard point
We'll live to ride another day.