Handplanes 101

Handplane FAQs

Why Wood:

Handplanes, unlike surfboards, are not a floatation device, rather a planning device. Surfboards have a high buoyancy, which, for obvious reasons (you need to float on it) makes foam and fiberglass an A-plus choice in construction. For handplanes, high buoyancy will do you a disservice. They are best at neutral buoyancy—floats, but can easily penetrate the water. Wood fits this equation perfectly—it floats, but can easily plane on the water and slice through when needed. When handplaning, swimming to the lineup can take quite a bit of muscle power, sapping energy needed to drop-in on those tasty waves. Foam handplanes offer much more resistance when swimming, while a wooden handplane easily pierces the water and can actually act as propulsion when paddling. The wooden construction also helps in holding the line when trimming down the wave. When made of foam, the board sits too high in the water and has a tendency to skip and can cause a loss of control.

Wood is also more durable. We admit, handplanes are not cheap, so when buying something this expensive, you want it to last. How many times have you broken a surfboard when smacking the sandbar or rocks? Fiberglass cracks and foam gives. When handplaning, unless you have supernatural water skills, you will hit the sandbar or shore once in a while, and the handplane is usually the first to take the hit. The wood and layup we use is super strong, while polyurethane is resistant to scratching—for a while.

Why the Woods:

We use multiple wood species for the construction of our handplanes, each selected for its strength to weight ratio, look and resilience to the elements. Check out our page of wood species to see what we regularly use, and be sure to check it often as we are constantly adding and dropping lumber from the selection.

If there is something custom you might have in mind, drop us a line at sales [at] makaiproject.com and we'll get the ball rolling.

Why the Shapes:

Bottom contour has a lot to with hydrodynamics. We have tried a cavalcade of contour shapes and styles, honing in on the two perfect shapes for our rides. Our Flying Fish model takes a page from the tunnel hull shape of a hydroplane, while the Fat Fish and Fat Minnow models have a deep concave running from nose to tail, with each shape offering benefits in different type of surf.

The concave of the Fat Fish and Fat Minnow are ideal for smaller, sloppier, sloping waves to medium, well-defined waves—like most waves here in Florida outside some of those epic swells. The wider, longer shape gives the board a bigger planning surface, which really does help shoot you down the line.

The Flying Fish’s hydroplane shape—two deep channels separated by a tall spine—are ideal for medium, well-developed waves to steep, hollow, big waves. The channels help catch, giving the handplane more stick when trimming down the face, while the raised nose helps prevent the dreaded nose-dive.

Size Does Matter

The size of the handplane depends on the surf you’re looking to bodysurf. In general, larger handplanes have a larger planning surface, making them ideal for smaller, mushier waves. However, in larger surf, these bigger handplanes can prove cumbersome. So here’s a little handplane surf report:

Knee High | Inside/Shore Break

Small, weak waves may not have many surfers clamoring to get in the water, but using a handplane can prove to be a blast, even when the surf is looking a little pitiful.

On knee high days, the Fat Fish (14-17”, both carved and strap grips) and the Bone Fish (14”) handplanes are ideal. The larger planning surfaces paired with sturdy, stiff swim fins will have you looking like a wave bomber out there.

For the smaller tykes or the experienced cat, the 12” Fat Minnow and Flying Fish models will work, too.

Waist to Chest | Outside/Inside/Shore Break

Now we’re starting to talk. In waves this size, you can really start to see how much handplanes can improve those bodysurfing sessions.

On these small to medium-size days, bust out the Fat Minnow (10” and 12”) or the Flying Fish (9” and 12”) handplane. The smaller size of the handplane will let you get into the lineup with ease while the concave and wide planning surface will let you really careen down the line.

Head High + | Inside/Outside Break

On big days, this is when the chaff is separated from the grain. It is also probably the most fun you’ll have out there when not cruising on a surfboard, so in-between sessions, strap on one of the smaller versions of the Flying Fish or Fat Minnow handplanes and some swim fins.

Specifically designed for those bigger days, when the surf is pumping and the waves are steep and hollow, the Flying Fish (9-12”) will bite the face, keep your arm in place and let you cruise down the line. As the wave size grows, the handplane should shrink, so depending on how gnarly it is, choose accordingly. When it’s pumping around head high, give the 12-incher a try. It is easy to swim with, while the extra surface will have you screaming down the wave with enough control and speed to outrun the crush. When its big, like really big, you want something that offers a bit of control and some extra speed—the wave will do most of the work for you. So if you’re a pro, try the nine-inch Flying Fish. The minimum footprint is easy peasy to swim with, while the shape gives enough lift to fly.

To Strap or Not to Strap:

For those new to the whole handplane hoedown, there are basically two trains of thought when affixing to the hand: strap it on, or grip it and rip it. Both have their merits: The carved grip is simple in form and function, no extra parts to lose or break—it’s just you, a plane, some fins and the wave. However, the hole makes a break in the planning surface, allowing for water to scream through, ala rooster tail to the face, as well as adding a little drag in the whole deal, which could slow you down. It is also a little strange in terms of gripping the handplane in general. When bodysurfing without a handplane, for the most part, you spread your hand out, palm down, to act as a plane; rarely do you careen down the wave with a hand balled into a fist. But some love the simplicity of it all, and is just more comfortable—to each his/her own. We offer a carved grip in our larger models, the Fat Fish and Bone Fish handplanes—the larger size compensates for the loss of planning surface from the hole.

The strapped version of our handplanes, available on the Flying Fish, Fat Fish and Fat Minnow models, is my ideal kind of ride. It took a while to develop our strapping anchors—a handmade leash-plug style device that uses exotic woods—which are super sturdy and look pretty rad too. As for the strap itself, we use an adjustable polypropylene strap that is super water resistant, especially with saltwater, and we have up-cycled some wetsuits for protective neoprene sleeves to save your hand from getting a bit of a burn. This all makes for a comfortable, secure fit that flows with the board, minimizing drag, pointy parts and aftermarket hardware (no screws) that just feels natural when riding the wave.

How to Glide:

When bodysurfing with a handplane, there are a few techniques cats like to employ. I am of the switch hand mantra, meaning depending on the break of the wave, I may strap it on my right hand or left. For left breaking waves, I’ll hang with the goofy gang and strap it left. When going right, the rights have it. This helps reduce drag, with the none-handplane shoulder facing out of the wave, giving a nice bodysurfing line.

But for those who lack in the ambidexterity department, keeping it locked with one hand is no worries. Slide the way you want to slide.

Leash or Leash-less:

Strapping on a leash to these little bombers is totally up to the rider. However, if you are a multi-handed bodysurfer, the leash situation might be a bit tricky for you. If switching hands based on wave direction, you will have to switch the hand with the leash. So unless you’re Superman fast, that much handplane manipulation might have you missing out on some tasty waves.

If you do plan on using a leash, simply tie one onto the strap itself or feed the leash line through the strap plugs. Either way, the handplane will never be far from hand, no matter the severity of the wipeout.

If you would like a custom ride with a built-in leash plug, no worries. Drop us a line at sales[at]makaiproject.com and we’ll get to building.


These little wave weapons are incredibly resilient, but a little TLC will help extend the life of your handplane for years to come. We use a super strong industrial-grade polyurethane as a finish that not only gives it that high-gloss, but also helps protect against the elements and scratches. To help keep things in tip-top shape, after use, rinse with fresh water, especially along the strap and the strap-plugs.

Try not to store your handplane in direct sunlight. Though UV resilient, the sun can slowly degrade the finish over the life of the handplane.

We also offer a finish of linseed oil and tung oil, depending on what floats your personal boat. This finish allows for the owner to reapply some oil when needed. These finished are by request only, so email us at sales [at] makaiproject.com if you prefer an oil finish.

Say Cheese:

One of the coolest things about bodysurfing with handplanes is the ability to get barreled in even the smallest of waves. And what’s better then getting barreled then getting barreled while capturing it on film—after all, no one believes you’ve rented a space in the Green Room unless there is visual documentation. Put an end to all those barroom arguments and pick-up one of our handplanes with a built-in GoPro mount on the nose.

Our mounting system eschews the FCS plug style seen on most, mainly because we like to thin the boards out to skim-down on weight while bolstering planning ability. We like to use a standard setscrew mount, which allows for a little more versatility and a secure hold for the camera.

Available for a small fee - $10 for just the screw mount; $30 for the entire system (includes male-to-male stainless steel adapter and GoPro mount) - this little addition lets you capture all those sick micro-barrels while giving the bodysurfer peace of mind the camera isn't going anywhere.