Photo Gallery: Gary Murphy's Brownfish Hand Planes

Small surf is not a problem anymore, just slide in the water with a hand plane.

The art of riding waves has always been an evolutionary process. Whether you were an Inca in Peru riding the reed craft known as Caballitos de Totora, or an ancient Hawaiian on a 15-foot, koa wood olo, since surfing began people have been on the constant search for a better ride. That holds true today, too. As lineups around the world grow increasingly more crowded and the surfing done in said lineups grows increasingly more technical, there’s a movement to get back to basics. Enter the time-honored tradition of body surfing, where it’s always overhead and never crowded.

Helping facilitate this new-old form of wave-riding is the simple yet effective hand-plane. A small device that covers the palm of the hand, it gives the surfer glide and drive as they slide down the face of a wave and through the tube. In the ‘70s they were made out of stolen lunch trays, today they’re highly stylized works of art. Leading the resurgence is master craftsman Gary “Brownfish” Murphy. Based in Dana Point, California, he calls whittling the small, 12-inch hulls his “obsession.” Made out of the beautifully rare Paulownia wood, Brownfish’s work has caught on with a whole crew of the world’s best most notable watermen. From Kelly Slater to Kolohe Andino, it seems like everyone has one in their quiver these days.

“I never realized how much a hand plane makes a difference,” tells Murphy, who hand mills and shapes all his Brownfish planes. “It’s a completely different feeling than surfing. I started putting my limited surfboard building knowledge to work, and also pestering every decent woodworker I met. Lots of trials with wood types, finishes, coloring, and straps, and these boards are the fruit of that labor.”

Red Bull Surfing spent a day kicking around Dana Point to get an insider’s look at living the hand-plane life. Needless to say, now we’re hooked.

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Brownfish shaping room
Brownfish shaping room Inside the Brownfish shaping room, where sawdust long ago replaced foam dust. Established in 2009, Gary Murphy’s business has grown exponentially. He recently collaborated with a line of planes for Stance Socks, as well as made a custom pack of planes for John John Florence and his brothers. © Jason Kenworthy
When art and function collide
When art and function collide Brownfish hand planes are beautiful works made out of Paulownia wood, but they are also highly effective in helping one catch, ride and enjoy all the goodness that is a two-foot day at the beach. © Jason Kenworthy
Some days the view is better than others
Some days the view is better than others In the 1990s Casey Curtis had a good run as a pro surfer. Today he’s a dad with a job and his time in the water isn’t nearly as plentiful as it once was. “I can ride a wave literally every day,” says Curtis. “Even if it’s too small to surf, you can find something to slide into with a hand plane." © Jason Kenworthy
Kolohe Andino keeps hand planes in his boardbag
Kolohe Andino keeps hand planes in his boardbag What’s easy to overlook about Kolohe is how much he really enjoys just riding waves. It doesn’t matter if he’s away at a contest, at home at Lowers, or just mucking around in some dumpy shore break, the kid just likes getting wet. And that's why he has Brownfish hand planes with him at all times. © Jason Kenworthy
Get barreled with a hand plane
Get barreled with a hand plane If one of the main objectives of surfing is to stuff yourself as far back in the tube as possible, then the hand plane is a vastly superior piece of equipment in some instances. Especially when it’s small, glassy and hollow. © Jason Kenworthy
More control and more speed
More control and more speed A hand plane affords the rider more control and more speed as they’re dropping into a wave. They help elevate the body out of the water, which allows surfers to travel further and faster, and set up for oncoming sections of the wave. For as small as they may be, they’re very dynamic little craft. © Jason Kenworthy
Models and shapes for different conditions
Models and shapes for different conditions Murphy spends a great deal of time and attention on design. Some planes are made for long, pointbreak-style waves, others are intended to hold tight in the pocket when it’s hollow and dumpy. “We have something for just about any kind of conditions,” says Murphy. © Jason Kenworthy
Brownfish hand planes are eco-friendly
Brownfish hand planes are eco-friendly Finished with environmentally sensitive varnishes, the Brownfish hand planes are as green and eco-friendly a surf craft as you’re going to find. He also makes some planes out of used skateboard decks on occasion. © Jason Kenworthy
Hand plane variety
Hand plane variety Like Skittles, Brownfish hand planes come in a rainbow of flavors. © Jason Kenworthy
More than a nice view
More than a nice view And if you were wondering what the point of such a silly, little device is, well, it’s views like this that have the devoted coming back for more. © Jason Kenworthy
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