A Helping Handplane
4 min read
The town of Bundoran sits on the west coast of Ireland, just a few miles up the road from the sleeping beast that is Mullaghmore – Ireland’s most infamous big wave spot. (Check out Conor Maguire's record breaking wave here.) It’s a grey Monday afternoon, and in the back of his café on Bundoran’s main high street, Noah Lane is pressing handplanes.
“Originally it kind of came out of everyone being in lockdown,” he explains, as we start talking about the new venture. “We were sat around, not doing a whole lot, and started talking about ideas for products we could sell or things we could do to take up the time. At the start the idea was to make them out of ocean plastics, but we definitely wanted to use some kind of waste material.”
As a surfer with a deep connection to the sea, Noah is intimately familiar with the negative impact plastic pollution is having on the health of our oceans. Teaming up with product designers and surfers Ian Walton and Eoin McNally of Dublin based design company, OTHERS, the concept began to take shape. Whilst the idea started with an ambition to use plastics washed up on their local beaches, the crew quickly realised that there was another way – one which would actively help the café and take back some control over their own waste.
“So, we came up with this idea for a handplane,” Noah continues, “then, through a few chats with Ian and Owen, they suggested we make it out of milk bottles. Once we got to that point we were like; hey, this is wicked! We can use milk bottles from the café that otherwise goes to recycling - at least you hope it does…” he adds wryly.
The issue of where our waste goes has been a growing topic of concern, with recent scandals uncovering a worrying trend for countries such as the UK and Ireland to send their recycling waste to developing countries, where it is often not recycled at all. “On a busy day in the summer, we probably go through about 20-30 two litre milk bottles a day in the café,” Noah explains. “Each handplane takes about 10 bottles to make, so in the summer we’re producing enough waste to make two or three handplanes a day.”
“So, as well as being a ‘sustainable and circular product’ it also makes business sense for us,” he continues, “it’s saving us money in the sense that we don’t have to pay to take that rubbish away. It genuinely makes sense commercially. I always think with anything that’s branded as ‘eco’, it needs to stand up to things that aren’t environmentally friendly, because otherwise no-one’s going to adopt it.”
As Noah suggests, these new handplanes aren’t just sustainable gimmicks – they’ve been designed from the ground up and built to perform. I ask about that design process and how much involvement Noah had, considering his experience as a surfer. “To be honest, after the general initiation of it with Ian and Eoin, it was over to them. There was obviously our input from the surfing side, but the actual development part of it was mainly down to their expertise. It was really collaborative though, and the guys were super open to any feedback. They would send through an outline or a concave and ask us what we thought of it, so we arrived at the final destination together. We even took a couple of 3D printed models out in the water, despite the guys thinking they’d just fall apart! They actually worked fine, and it was really cool at that point to have something to hold.”
And the final iteration of the project, how are those made? “Do you want the long version or the short version?” Noah jokes. I opt for the short version and he laughs before continuing. “So first, we clean the raw milk bottles. They’re made of HDPE plastic, which is (as far as I know) a relatively non-toxic plastic and melts easily at low temperatures (180°C) without emitting any nasty chemicals. Then we have an aluminium mould that we got tooled which we pour the molten plastic into and finally, we have a 20 tonne hydraulic press which we lever down on top of the mix to squeeze it into shape perfectly. The mould has a recess where we attach the cork deck and screw the strap on. We then plane any rough edges and check them to make sure they're up to standard, and that’s pretty much it. So yeah, we’re literally making them ourselves! They’re fully hand-made and it’s very hands-on, which is part of the appeal to us because it’s actually really fun to make them.”
Fun seems to be the watchword of this project. Choosing a handplane makes sense, not just in the design and simplicity of the product, but also in its final application. Bodysurfing with a handplane is fun – and probably the most accessible form of ‘surfing’ there is, for those who perhaps aren’t already committed sea-goers.
“That’s exactly it!” says Noah excitedly. “It’s kind of about giving people something that is just challenging enough (but also fun enough) to entice them into the sea. If you’re a total beginner you could go surfing and in a couple of hours you might not even be able to stand up! It’s kind of a lifetime pursuit, whereas this is a little bit more accessible. For someone that’s new to the sea it’s a great reason to get in, and for someone who’s in the sea all the time it’s also a reason to go in when you might not otherwise. You know, if it’s rubbish I might not take my surfboard, but I’ll take a handplane. I think it’s really important to get more people in the sea.”
It’s a common refrain for us in the Finisterre crew. If we can inspire more people to have a relationship with the sea, we believe they will grow to live it as we do. And, as we’ve said many times before; you protect what you love.
As we wrap up our conversation, it’s clear how passionate Noah is about this project. “There were so many aspects of it that are really cool,” he argues. “We all surf – that’s kind of what brought us all together – and it’s become this amazing amalgamation of sustainability and the café and surfing and it’s all rolled into this one cool idea, so we’ve all been buzzing on it since the start! It’s just about thinking a little deeper on things, rather than unconsciously staying the same because ‘that’s how we do it’. Coffee shops and surfing aren’t really related in any way – they’re just kind of linked for me because I love them both.”
As we continue to seek new solutions to maintain the health of our planet, connecting those dots and finding new ways to manage our impact are going to be key. Staying the same because ‘that’s how we do it’, is no longer an option our planet can cope with.