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Five Minutes with WAW Handplanes

April 14, 2021
Five Minutes with WAW Handplanes

WAW Handplanes is an Australian bodysurfing brand with a simple mission: to get people surfing and leave nothing but a cleaner ocean in their wake. Made from sustainable, recycled and reclaimed materials, WAW Handplanes are designed to enhance the bodysurfing experience by providing more lift and less drag, so both beginners and experienced bodysurfers can catch waves for longer and for faster.

We sat down with Rikki, the Founder and Director of WAW Handplanes, to chat a bit more about why the environment is at the forefront of their product design and how they have recycled over 8,000kg of plastic waste through their Australian ocean plastic supply chain. We loved hearing Rikki’s story, keep on reading to learn more about what inspired the creation of WAW Handplanes, and how they have contributed to a community of passionate ocean lovers and bodysurfers along the way.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you started WAW Handplanes?

Hey! Im Rikki Gilbey, Founder and Director of WAW Handplanes, a sustainability and performance focused bodysurfing brand whose mission is to get people surfing and leave nothing but a cleaner ocean in their wake.

WAW was created after a particularly inspiring bodysurfing session in 2014. As an avid surfer and bodysurfing sceptic back then, the ease at which I caught waves and got barrels bodysurfing completely blew me away. The simplicity and purity of swimming out and catching waves with not much more than the body was instantly addictive. I borrowed a handplane made by a friend for this session and afterwards embarked on a mission to purchase my own one. But I couldn’t find them anywhere, no one was selling these things and yet they were so much fun and so easy to use. Thus, the pre-existing burning desire of mine to start a business finally had some fuel and WAW Handplanes was born.

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We love your environmental focus, especially that you use recycled plastic from the Great Barrier Reef to make your handplanes. Can you tell us a bit more about how your products are made?

When I first started the company I utilised my background in carpentry to manufacture the handplanes from sustainable and recycled timbers found on job sites. I have always looked at waste materials a little differently to most. To me it is a, generally free, and valuable resource that shouldn’t be called waste at all.

In 2016 I reached a point in the business where demand was so good that my full-time occupation had become manufacturing the product and I tried to squeeze in running the business and selling them on the side, which was obviously quite unsustainable. I needed a way to scale up to keep up with demand and outsource my production to give me back some time.

I knew that if I was going to scale up, I wanted to do it in a way that solved an environmental issue that I cared about. So, I outsourced the production of my timber handplanes and embarked on a mission to create a new line of handplanes from recycled ocean plastics.

I thought the project would be quite easy and pencilled in 3 months until we had our first production run… haha so naive. I soon discovered that no one in Australia was using Australian ocean plastics in their manufacturing and thus the infrastructure to process it from the raw collected waste into a useable, clean and sorted shred simply didn’t exist. And those already processing kerbside collected plastics didn’t want a bar of it due to its level of contamination and difficulty to process.

So, as I was 12 months into the project before I truly realised this fundamental flaw in my plan and decided the only way to make it happen was to create my own supply chain. Through my previous research and networking in this space I reached out to some awesome people who were already doing great stuff in the space of plastic waste management and convinced them to team up with me to create working Australian ocean plastics processing and manufacturing supply chain.

I partnered up with Eco Barge Clean Seas, based up in the Whitsundays, to collect all of our ocean plastics, which is sourced directly from the beaches and islands of the Great Barrier Reef. This plastic waste is then sorted and washed on site, and finally processed using the Plastic Collectives portable plastic shredder. Which produces a 10mm flake that can be easily bagged up and shipped.

Next I had to find a manufacturer who was willing to process this shred and injection mould it into the final product. I came across a guy called Mark Yates, founder of Repeat Plastics who agreed to help us. With Mark we produced a recipe of 1/3 ocean plastics, from the Great Barrier Reef, and 2/3 post consumer kerbside collected waste, together with a litte extra UV stabilizer to prevent any further degradation. And finally, after many failed attempts, 3 years after the project began, we successfully produced our first production run of 1000 units in April 2019.

And so, the WAW BadFish recycled ocean plastic bodysurfing handplane was born and the equivalent of one whole shopping bag full of plastic waste goes into every one.

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Why was creating a sustainable, eco-friendly product important to you?

As a passionate lover of all things wild and outdoorsy, I’ve always been conscious of the footprint we as humans can have on it. For me, it’s a given that anything I do in life that may affect the world around me, needs to be done in a way that has zero negative impacts on the environment we love so much. And this definitely includes running a product-based business, which can quickly have a huge impact as it grows. Especially when you consider not only the product itself, the materials it has been made from and its end of life (our handplanes are 100% recyclable too), but also the packaging our supplies arrive in as well as the packages we ship out. It all ads up to be an exceptionally large use of materials. But thankfully if you’re willing to search for it and pay the extra dollar there are always sustainable alternatives and suppliers that are normally pretty cool about reducing their packaging foot prints too.

For me there are not many greater feelings than doing the things you love and knowing that just by doing them, you are positively contributing to protecting and conserving something that we love so much. Hence our mission to get people surfing and leave nothing but a cleaner ocean in their wake.

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What do you believe has been WAW Handplane’s biggest success so far?

Creating our Australian ocean plastic supply chain has definitely been the best thing to come out of WAW so far, closely followed by the community of passionate ocean lovers and bodysurfers we have contributed to along the way.

Since starting the BadFish project we have already recycled over 8000kg of plastic waste and are set to double that over the next 12 months. Our supply chain and BadFish efforts saw us crowned winners of the National Geographics Make Good - Defy Plastics competition in 2019. Gaining us a Nat Geo feature, a life time achievement for me for sure.

What does the future hold for WAW Handplanes?

Hopefully, there will be a WAW BadFish coming to a beach near you and eventually many other awesome products, that enable us to get outdoors and have some fun, whilst helping to protect and preserve what we love.

We are also currently exploring some global expansion options and seeking new brands and partnerships who wish to collaborate and grow in this space.

Thank you so much for your time and for your interest in our story.

Rikki

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