otter surfboards wooden bodysurfing handplane and pair of da fin swim fins propped up against a wooden door in hossegor

Becoming A Sea Otter

Words by Ru Hill, images by Mat Arney, Kerianne Kreger & film by Kerianne Kreger/Surf Simply

The Pecking Order: SUP; long board; short board; body board; hand plane.

Choosing the smallest piece of surf equipment almost seems self-sabotaging in an environment that already works the ego. Despite the humble handplane being last in line, I still love with them and their endless benefits.

Some facts: I love having things that no one else has; I like doing things on my own; I was in need of a winter project.

I immediately thought of Mat Arney (Surf Simply’s Magazine editor), who is always up for chllenges as such. Mat and James Otter (owner of Otter Surfboards) have been working together for ages and I’ve always admired their work.

I’ve dreamt of visiting Otter Surfboard’s workshop in Cornwall, England, to make my own wooden surf craft and appear in the obligatory photo with my new toy in front of the big blue workshop doors.

A trip to the UK wasn’t in the cards any time soon though, so I asked Mat and James if they’d humor me in creating a “home study” program. They agreed and shipped out to me two of their wooden handplane blanks, with concave already set in to them and various template options drawn on, their special straps made from old car seat belts and wetsuit offcuts, some basic instructions and a shopping list for the tools that I’d need.  My spare time for the foreseeable future soon became occupied with sawing, sanding and applying oil to these beautiful, customized planks of wood.

To keep it interesting, instead of buying the recommended tools, I improvised by buying the cheapest handsaw in the hardware store. Having never been allowed to use scissors whilst unsupervised as a child, I knew that getting through this project without losing a finger would be an added success.

I spent a day or two hacking away at my two planks of wood, finally starting to see a vague shape… then I caved and took my friend up on an offer to use his bandsaw.

It would be quick, but way more dangerous. With proper supervision and safety goggles, I was able to make cleaner cuts that were a lot closer to the outline I was going for.

Once the cuts were made, rough sandpaper helped me to complete the shape of the handplanes, and I used finer paper to smooth out all the rough spots. After a few coats of oil, I screwed on the straps and the only thing that was left was finding a wave.

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