A Surfboard Made from John Steinbeck’s House? Ventana Surfboards and Supplies Brings Historic California Back to Life in Their Upcycled Products

by Carolyn Sotka

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Ventana’s stunning 6’0″ Cannery Row – made from wood that once adorned John Steinbeck’s cottage in Pacific Grove. Image courtesy Ventana Surfboards and Supplies.

I was first introduced to Ventana Surfboards and Supplies when they contacted me to be their November featured author for The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: A Story of Revival. The company is located in Santa Cruz, California – near my old Monterey Bay stomping grounds; a place near and dear to my heart.

When I started poking around their Web site, I was floored by the stunning beauty of their surfboards. All wood, with intricate designs, alternating inlays and a spot of pearlescence, from abalone shell. But quickly I learned that Ventana, is far more than a simple surfboard and supplies manufacturer. They’re bringing new life to old wood, through upcycling – an ecofriendly use of materials that have already served another purpose and would otherwise be thrown away. As an example, check out their recent show-stopper board made of wood panels, from the cottage of famous Cannery Row author, John Steinbeck.

Ventana Surfboards is the brainchild of Martijn Stiphout and David Dennis, who built the company with sustainability at its heart and a message of eco-responsibility echoed throughout the local community. Stiphout is the master craftsman and board design visionary and David drives sales, marketing and surf supply innovation.

I had a chance to catch up with the busy duo, as they prepare for a full calendar of events leading up to the holidays. Their expanding on-line shop sells not only surfboards and supplies, but recycled and repurposed products ranging from t-shirts to the Save A Surf wax box.  

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Handmade handplanes in action. Image courtesy Ventana Surfboards and Supplies.

Carolyn Sotka: How did this John Steinbeck project and product unfold?

David Dennis: John Steinbeck is one of the great American authors. He even won the Nobel Prize for literature. We’re really excited to have old growth redwood from his first house. I was on a panel talking to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Teen Conservation Leaders about sustainable business practices. I mentioned our Upcycle Partner Program and how we’re turning “trash” from local companies into surfboards and surf supplies. One of the adult volunteers at the aquarium, René Gaudette, came up to me afterwards and said he was working on the restoration of Steinbeck’s house with Houstons Home Improvement & Repair. He asked if he could donate the wood to us. I was speechless! We now have a few larger planks and some smaller pieces, even a board from Steinbeck’s bathroom! You can still see the cutout where his medicine cabinet used to be!

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Martijn Stiphout at work in the Ventana shop. Image courtesy Ventana Surfboards and Supplies.

Carolyn Sotka: And it is not just the wood from Steinbeck, you’ve used woods from Monterey Bay Aquarium, Santa Cruz Guitar Company, and even wood that is over a 1000 years old? Are there any other famous places in history or around Monterey that you’ve included in your boards?

David Dennis: Yes, we work with local businesses to take their offcut woods and other materials and turn them into surfboards, bodysurfing handplanes and other surf supplies. We have all sorts of wood in stock; Douglas fir from the Giant Dipper rollercoaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, French oak wine barrels from Soquel Vineyards, wood from the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, exotic offcuts from Tenbrook Archery, neoprene from O’Neill wetsuits, leash cords from Khordz Mugs offcuts, Alaskan yellow cedar from Monterey Bay Aquarium benches, offcuts from Potaito Boards skateboards, and, yes, even old growth redwood floorboards that were milled locally in the 1890s. The wood is gorgeous and at least 1000 years old.

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Gorgeous fin design. Image courtesy Ventana Surfboards and Supplies.

Carolyn Sotka: Do you think John Steinbeck would approve and have you heard whether he ever tried surfing?

Martijn Stiphout: We don’t believe that Steinbeck ever surfed, but he loved the Monterey Bay and spent several years here. His novels helped draw attention to the area and paved the way for its conservation.

We think he’d be pleased with our use of the wood from his home. My dad and I once made our own canoes and paddled and camped in the Sea of Cortez in Baja California, Mexico for a few months. Steinbeck and his marine biologist friend, Ed Ricketts, went on a marine specimen-collecting boat expedition in 1940 to the Sea of Cortez, as well. He even published a non-fiction book about the trip in 1951 called “The Log from the Sea of Cortez.”

Carolyn Sotka: Steinbeck and Ricketts were quite the duo; their scientific and literary contributions, along with their shenanigans, will be forever a part of history in Monterey and Pacific Grove. From what I understand, your company has been very engaged in community-driven projects in the cities around the Bay and that you recently received an award for these activities?

Martijn Stiphout: We’re in love with the Monterey Bay. We want it to remain healthy from both an environmental and economic perspective. Working with local businesses and non-profits to further that effort is important for us. Without a healthy ocean and economic environment, we don’t have a business. We give 5% of profits to local ocean conservation groups, and we collaborate on co-branded products with other local companies…from our Dawn Patrol Hot Chocolate to our reclaimed wood belt buckles. And, of course, promoting the businesses that give us their discarded materials helps those companies, as well. The community is very excited about what we’re doing. We were honored to receive the “Save Our Shores 2015 Ocean Business of the Year,” for instance.

Carolyn Sotka: Your work brings new meaning to ‘if these walls could talk’. Do your boards feel or ride differently than a foam board?

David Dennis: They do. They are a touch heavier than a traditional foam board, so they’re smoother and faster on the waves. And, they’re hollow, so it’s a little easier to get up and get moving.

Carolyn Sotka: Has history always been of interest to you or did this business grow out of a drive for re-purposing and upcycling, in general? Or a combo of both?

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Gorgeous inlays with a spot of abalone shell from Northern California. Image courtesy Ventana Surfboards and Supplies.

Martijn Stiphout: Growing up in South Africa, we didn’t have a lot, so I used to build toys and such with my father. That grew into a love of making things and working with wood. I started building wooden surfboards out of necessity. I wanted to surf, but I didn’t have the resources to buy new boards. So, I decided to start making them using materials that I didn’t have to pay for, but that were also high quality. That’s how all of this started. People are now coming to us to donate amazing and historic materials. That helps Ventana stay differentiated, and it helps us build outstanding surfboards and supplies that are beautiful, functional and storied.

Carolyn Sotka: How on earth does one go about making a surf board out of wood?

Martijn Stiphout: My boards are based on the “kook box” construction method invented in 1930 by a surfer named Tom Blake. Tom was looking for a way to make boards that were much lighter than the solid wood boards of the time. Once foam was invented, wood construction went out of style, but it’s making a comeback.

People are looking for boards that are more durable than foam, have a classic look and are better for the earth. Ventana boards have 1/8” thick planks that are bent over a wooden frame. The rails are made of cork so that they are easier to shape, lighter and more ding resistant. I also only use Entropy Super Sap bio-resin to glass the boards. It’s made with mostly tree sap, and is an outstanding and durable epoxy for surfboards.

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Image courtesy Ventana Surfboards and Supplies.

Carolyn Sotka: Upcycled products are on the rise and I hope that trend continues as the next  ‘eco-wave’ of the future – especially in the face of what seems to be an ever increasing ‘throw away’ society. The two of you have been innovators and pioneers in your work. What else should we watching for, coming out of Ventana in the near future?

David Dennis: We have a great calendar of events leading up to the holidays…West Coast Craft in San Francisco, a 10-day Pop-Up store here in Santa Cruz and more. We’ll be unveiling new surfboards, handplanes, surf supplies and apparel. Everything has a deep story around environmental responsibility, even our shirts and hoodies are made from recycled plastic bottles and organic cotton. We’re also excited to announce our new, featured artist, Angela Corrin. We’ll be selling prints and gift cards that she created especially for Ventana. She was homeless for a time, but got back on her feet through a training program at the Homeless Garden Project here in Santa Cruz. She’s great!

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Candles – repurposed from bottles with 50% of profits directed at Save Our Shores. Image courtesy Ventana Surfboards and Supplies.

If you are looking for a great sustainable gift for the holidays, Ventana has a wide range of products from boards and handplanes to the ‘Save a Surf’ Box, beach candles, and t-shirts made from recycled materials. Check out this very cool company and add some of these products to your holiday wish lists and get on the water! -CS

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