Handplaners (photo: Gary Beath)

Chris Mathews writes: ‘I am a member of Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club and body surf with a bunch of guys who have been at the beach even longer than me. They go out every morning, no matter what the conditions or temperature. Wearing a wetsuit in July is considered “soft” by some of them. One of them is a keen photographer and takes his camera every day. We now have an amazing record of summer, winter, flat or raging surf. I am hopeful we can get some framed and glazed for the clubhouse walls.

‘I don’t know the history of hand planes but they have been around in one shape or another for years. Some are just varnished bits of four-ply and others are quite sophisticated cut downs from surfboards. They come in all sizes from just bigger than the palm of your hand to large ones in the photo attached. They take a bit of getting used to especially when swimming out but its worth the effort. Most of the ones we use are made by a member who now lives down the coast. As you can see he is a real craftsman and they are prized possessions. You have to be in the club for at least five years before he will even consider making you one.!

Duke Kahanamoku leaves the water, Freshwater Beach 10 January 1915. Picture from fascinating article about early Australian surf craft, including handplanes from www.surfresearch.com.au

‘The basic theory around hand planes is that with fins and good timing you can get on anything up to six-foot waves with your body ahead of the broken water. You can get the top half of you clear of the water so there is not so much drag. On big days, either side of high tide is best so the face is not so steep and a clear corner can be ridden for hundreds of metres if the wave is good enough. It’s pretty simple, but as you said with surf mats the timing is all important. Too soon you miss, too late you get clobbered. I have got to the stage now where it only takes two small flicks of the fins and I’m on. Still manage to fall out of the top of a few though!’

A few hand plane links to get you started:

A Bodysurfer’s Guide to handplanes from theinertia.com
WAW handplanes site
Ecto handplanes site
Surf Collective handplanes
Bodysurfing Shop handplanes
Podware handplanes