Inside USD

Alumnus ‘Enjoy’-ing Sustainability Body Surf Business

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ed Lewis has a business venture that’s a perfect fit. It’s flexible enough to complement his 7-year-old daughter’s commitments; it adheres to environment and sustainability practices he’s known since he was a child; and the company name conveys a feeling that he wants customers, including President Barack Obama, to have when they use his product.

Welcome to Enjoy Handplanes.

“We make fun,” said Lewis, a 1996 University of San Diego alumnus, about the colorfully designed handplane boards that are the centerpiece of a Leucadia, Calif.-based bodysurfing products company he and co-founder Kipp Denslow started in 2010.

“I remember when we took the handplane out for the first time, I did nothing but body surf for the next three months,” said Lewis, an avid surfer since age 11. “Bodysurfing is like snorkeling and surfing all at the same time. You’re fully surrounded by the water and the quality of the session is really high. You get a charge from being out there. Bodysurfing, to me, taps into that innocence you had as a kid. It’s a fun, kid-like experience.”

The concept behind Enjoy’s creation wasn’t kids stuff. It was a solution for cutting down on the number of older, broken surfboards that were filling up beach trash bins — and eventually landfills — rather than being recycled. When a friend introduced Lewis to a wood version of a handplane, he saw how much of a difference it made and it got him thinking.

Lewis, who grew up in a family that emphasized conservation and reuse of resources, turned this philosophy into a winning business idea. He and Denslow began recycling broken surfboard foam. They’d cut, shape, color, glass and create handplanes. It wasn’t long until the two men extended their reach beyond local beaches or friends dropping off materials. Enjoy could also help surfboard manufacturing companies ease their production and material waste issues.

“We discovered that one company had hundreds of blanks and they were obligated to throw them away,” Lewis said. “We became a solution for their problem.”

Enjoy seized the opportunity to help and provide ample supply for its production. “When someone’s favorite surfboard breaks, they think that’s it and throw it in the trash,” Lewis said. “Me? I see gold. I see six or seven hand planes from that one board.”

It’s not just surfboards getting a second life. The handles on each handplane come from neoprene in used wetsuits. Lewis can make about 25 handles out of one wetsuit. Everything that goes into Enjoy’s production of about 100 new handplanes a month has a sustainability consideration or action attached, Lewis said. The glassing of each handplane is done with Entropy Bio Epoxy. Even when customer orders are shipped, it’s done with recycled cardboard boxes.

“I really like finding solutions by using whatever we already have,” he said. “It makes me feel good that what we do is better than having it end up in a landfill.”

Each handplane is hand-made, creatively unique and a labor of love for Lewis, who was an art major and business minor at USD. He thinks fondly of his time as a student and of his professors, including Saba Oskoui in Visual Arts and Derrick Cartwright, who taught from 1992-98 but recently returned in 2012 as director of university galleries and professor of practice in art history.

“I worked at the galleries and Professor Cartwright would have me design invitations for upcoming shows,” Lewis said. “And with Saba, I can still hear her voice to this day. You’d show her a piece of art you did to her and she’d say ‘that’s good, but I know you can do better.’ She’d constantly push you to do better work and that advice still serves me well.”

Lewis’ connection to USD remains strong. He donated a handplane to Outdoor Adventures last year and it is available for students to use.

Handplanes come in an array of colors, designs and sizes. Enjoy’s “Baby Buddha” model is 12 inches by 7 inches while the “Big Buddha” tops out at 16.5” by 9.5” and there are size variations in between. Handplanes are very popular with bodysurfers everywhere, including the White House.

President Obama received a dark and light blue Enjoy handplane last month (pictured, right) as a unique inauguration gift from the executives from Hawaii-based Primo Beer, which was an inauguration sponsor.

An Enjoy customer from the company had purchased a customized handplane that included the Primo logo. The customer, Lewis said, was heading to Hawaii to use it, but before he could do so, he showed the handplane to executives who liked it a lot. Lewis attached a congratulatory message tag on recycled cardboard for Obama. Lewis made a replacement handplane for the customer.

Equally inspiring is a successful connection to environmentally conscious Patagonia. The company learned about Enjoy and its business approach and invited Lewis to learn more about them. Enjoy products are sold in the Cardiff-by-the-Sea Patagonia store. Enjoy participates in Patagonia’s “Common Threads Partnership” that involves recycled clothing. Enjoy can incorporate pieces of clothing, say a favorite shirt, into a customized handplane.

“They picked us up and suddenly, our hand planes are being sold all over the world, in places like Japan and Australia,” Lewis said. “Everything has just exploded for us. It’s been a wild ride. I think it’s great that a company like them sees what the ‘little guy’ is doing and wants to support it. We couldn’t be more grateful. Without them we certainly wouldn’t be where we are now and the orders we get through them.”

One obvious question for Lewis is expansion. Enjoy currently produces all of its products in a 400-square-foot garage in a house in Leucadia. Handplane coloring and designs are done on a standard table in the backyard and he has a small workspace in the house.

Lewis understands that success can lead to bigger and better things, but he’s equally committed to conservation and not being wasteful. Even now he’s more focused on creating refillable spray paint cans and how to reuse foam dust. In other words, he just enjoys what he’s doing now.

“I remember when I had others jobs and going surfing was a chance to get away from it for a few hours. You’d be there in the water, thinking, ‘I wish I could find a way to call (surfing) my job, that what I’m doing is ‘product testing,’” he said. “Now I do this and it’s everything I love. I wake up every morning and love what I’m doing. Kipp and I are always blown away by the next order we get. It’s been incredible. It’s a great feeling knowing that we keep getting an opportunity to do it. It’s what keeps me inspired, excited and full of energy.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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