Behind the Bodysurfing 'Brolab' with Ray Collins
How the perfect artistic bodysurfing bro-lab between Chris Anderson, the founder/designer of Ecto Handplanes, was formed with international photographer Ray Collins.
It’s February 2018 on the North Shore of Hawaii and Ray Collins has his body angled steeply downward as he graciously slides into a solid wave slamming into a mere 1ft of water. Just a few metres away Chris Anderson kneels into the sand bank pointing a camera housing up at the action whilst bracing for the imminent obliteration from an explosion of whitewater.
At a glance this scene would be deemed crazy by most, but upon diving deeper this seems to be part of a meaningful meeting between two artists bro-laborating together to rediscover bodysurfing for themselves and the multi-sensory benefits it has on their mind and spirit.
Ray Collins sliding into a solid Hawaiian shore-break. Video still: Chris Anderson
“You’re riding the energy created by a storm thousands of kilometres away, so when you’re sliding within the wave that energy is transferred into you. It lives on inside of you.”
– Ray Collins
Rider of the storm, Ray Collins ready to absorb wave energy. Video still: Chris Anderson
As some of you might know, Ray Collins has earnt a reputation for taking some of the world’s most breathtaking photographs that capture fleeting moments of raw oceanic energy. Shifting from a household name in surf photography he is now internationally acclaimed as an artist more broadly in the arts world.
To make his recent book Water & Light, he hung harnessed out of a doorless helicopter in Hawaii, swam amongst the below freezing north Atlantic seas of Iceland, sailed through the remote and uninhabited island chains of the Indonesian archipelago, documented a once in a decade Tahitian mega swell, and drove for days on end to the desolate reefs and bomboras of Australia's raw southern and eastern coastlines.
In-between shooting on these jet-set photographic missions Collins is an avid waterman and bodysurfer. Ray admits bodysurfing has helped him, he says “bodysurfing allows you to get to know the barrel of the wave so intimately. It’s the perfect way to spend down time whilst travelling to locations with some of the world’s best waves.”
However two years ago back at home one morning near near the beautiful coastal town of Bulli (1.5hrs south of Sydney, Australia) Collins collided by chance with Chris Anderson, the multidisciplinary artist, designer and founder of Ecto Handplanes. Fortuitously, they both happened to be bodysurfing at a local favourite but fickle sandbar that morning.
“Hey mate, I make these bodysurfing handplanes, have you ever tried one?” Out in the waves Ray replied to Chris , “Not yet, but they look like lots of fun.” Chris explains “I gave Ray my handplane to try and he was so absolutely stoked on the first wave he rode he gave me a huge hug on the beach when we got in.”
“The drive the Ecto provides while scooping and moulding yourself into the wave is second to none - the handplane helps to be 'in' the wave as much as 'on' the wave.”
– Ray Collins
Ray Collins demonstrating what he means by being 'in' the wave as much as 'on' the wave. Video still: Chris Anderson
Anderson’s splash into bodysurfing and surfcraft was strangely born from his well-known mammoth 1000 Surfboard Graveyard project. A three year project that culminated in 2013 by holding a once-in-a-lifetime public art installation evening in Sydney’s Royal National Park. The 1000 broken surfboards he collected were dumped collectively onto the beach and then dug into the sand like graves, and illuminated by candle light to highlight the sustainability issues around surfboards. During this project he founded Ecto Handplanes, realising that bodysurfing handplanes were an innovative way to upcycle broken surfboards to give them a second life.
Anderson’s Ecto Handplanes bodysurfing product range has won multiple national and international design awards as well as earning him a finalist position in the Hills Young Australian Designer of The Year Award. His handboards recently saw success on the television program Shark Tank and is a market leader stocked across in many independent surf shops as well as the department store chain David Jones.
A stand-up surfer throughout his teens and early adulthood, Anderson has discovered the pure nature of bodysurfing to be liberating and a refreshing alternative to the increasingly sensationalised maintstream surf hype.
“Bodysurfing makes me a happy person, it’s humbling freedom that’s great for your mental health. It has taught me to strip out achievement as a criteria of judgement of what I’m doing in the ocean. If I’m scooping into energy and enjoying that feeling and appreciating the inner visions of a wave - that’s what it is, that’s why I surf.”
– Chris Anderson
Chris Anderson testing product at home near Wollongong, Australia. Photo: GS Images
It’s apparent they both find bodysurfing cathartic, Ray agrees saying “Swimming in the ocean taught me respect, patience and how to overcome - or flow with - situations of adversity.”
In a complicated fast paced techno-world they also both agree one of the most enjoyable things about bodysurfing is that “We’re having the most amount of fun with the least amount of stuff.” Both adding with clarity that,
“We’re certainly not pioneers, we just really enjoy being in the ocean and exploring the fun ways in which you can ride a wave with your body”.
The most recent part of this bodysurfing exploration has been them teaming up to create a signature bodysurfing handplane together. A limited edition print of Ray’s stunning well-known photograph, Sunburst features as a high quality digital fabric print, laid within the durable foam-fibreglass design of Chris’s Ecto Handplanes Glass 11” All-Rounder Model.
The limited edition Ecto Handplanes model featuring Ray’s 'Sunburst' artwork . Photo: Ray Collins
The artwork was selected because it aims to epitomize the drive and inspiration which Ray and bodysurfers alike, share in clambering out of bed in the dark each morning to celebrate the sun rising over the sea in pursuit of waves.
Two years on from their fateful collision, the two recently met in Hawaii (the spiritual home of bodysurfing) to test and showcase the product at world-class powerful bodysurfing breaks. Anderson says “the essence of Ray’s beautiful artwork and his bodysurfing skill has allowed an amazing bro-lab to occur to present handplanes as ‘functional art’.” Explaining that “The handplane functions to give the bodysurfer more speed and lift when riding across the wave but the design is equally impressive to admire, especially showcasing Ray’s artwork”.
Ray Collins putting his signature Ecto Handplanes model to the test during their one week in Hawaii earlier this year. Filming and edit by Chris Anderson.
Only 100x Ray Collins limited edition signature model Ecto Handplane will be made and each comes with a signed certificate of authenticity, carry bag, fully adjustable strap, GoPro mount and wrist leash.
Ecto Handplanes are designed for all wave riders, no matter their age or ability, and are suitable for all wave types and conditions. The handboard also includes an inbuilt GoPro camera mount so bodysurfers can capture every barrel and wipe-out.
• Limited Edition Ray Collins Model
• Ray Collins - Ecto Team Profile
Ray, a fish-person in celebration of the ocean. Video still: Chris Anderson