The reclamation of past dreams: ‘People walked on this for 120 years — now you’re gonna surf it!’

Tyler Fox uses his backside Steamer Lane attack via a Ventana board.
(Courtesy David Dennis)

More wood historians than surfboard shapers, Martijn Stiphout and his business partner have curated everything from Alaskan yellow cedar benches from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to boards from the Boardwalk’s historic Big Dipper. They have also acquired wine barrels from a local vineyard, planks from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, scraps from a high-end guitar shop, and redwood floorboards from a historic Victorian mansion.

There’s something captivating about reclaimed wood — perhaps it’s knowing that it lived past lives. Typically, one can only imagine the generations that touched it, the stories behind each ding or mark. But at Ventana Surfboards & Supplies, the narratives of their repurposed wood surfboards take center stage.

“Rather than saying, ‘It’s a piece I picked up at the dump,’ [I can say,] ‘people walked on this for 120 years — now you’re gonna surf it!” says Martijn Stiphout, who co-founded the business alongside his marketing-savvy business partner David Dennis.

FIN ARTIST PROJECT

Design your own fin for a Ventana board

Ventana is currently hosting its Fin Artist Project, a contest that will select United States-based artists (two of which will be high school-aged or younger) to make artwork for Ventana’s fins (created from Alaskan yellow cedar and Western Flyer offcuts). A portion of the proceeds will be shared with winners as well as donated to the Western Flyer Foundation for boat renovation. All submissions must be submitted before August 24th. For design requirements and rules, check out the details on the Ventana website.

As the designer behind Ventana’s beautiful boards, Stiphout spends his afternoons in his Aptos warehouse-turned-studio, a space filled with the earthy smell of wood and surfboards in various forms of completion. Off to one side, planks are stacked floor to ceiling, and everything — from the rosewood and redwood to the bay laurel and black acacia — is linked to unique histories and places.

Stiphout and his business partner have curated everything from Alaskan yellow cedar benches from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to boards from the Boardwalk’s historic Big Dipper. They have also acquired wine barrels from a local vineyard, planks from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, scraps from a high-end guitar shop, and redwood floorboards from a historic Victorian mansion.

The Western Flyer, the stuff of Steinbeck legend.
(Via Ventana)

They’ve made inquiries about getting their hands on some of the precious CZU wildfire materials that survived, but it hasn’t happened yet.

However, their real claim to fame is the hull of a fishing boat once chartered by Monterey resident and famous American author John Steinbeck.

But let’s rewind a few years. Although Steinbeck might be best known for “The Grapes of Wrath,” his published journal “The Log from the Sea of Cortez” documents his six-week sea voyage aboard the Western Flyer. His expedition with marine biologist Ed Ricketts to collect marine specimens along the Gulf of California furthered America’s environmental awareness … and this very vessel happens to be the one Stiphout and Dennis got their hands on.

Steinbeck

How on earth did they manage to acquire such a valuable piece of history? It’s all thanks to John Gregg, the Western Flyer’s current owner and renovator. “He bought the boat as a complete wreck,” Stiphout says. “It sank three times, spent months and months underwater, as many barnacles inside as outside. The Coast Guard ended up putting a light on it and made it a channel marker for a while.”

Gregg saved the boat from a real estate developer who was planning to cut the pilothouse off and stick it in a bar in Salinas. But Gregg’s plan is to stay true to Steinbeck’s original mission, readying it for education and research cruises out of Monterey Bay. “[John] brought it back to the boatyard where it was originally built in 1937,” Stiphout explains. “They’re rebuilding it with the original bandsaw. And the original builder’s grandson is refitting the boat.”

When Gregg bumped into Dennis at the Steinbeck Center, he offered to bring him some of the unsalvageable boards.

Browse the line up of Frequency, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History’s (MAH) new biennial festival of light, sound,...

Steinbeck’s log also holds special significance to Stiphout and his own journey of self-discovery. “I made a personal connection [to Steinbeck] because I fell into this whole business while I was going down the Sea of Cortez with my father for the first time,” he explains, saying that he took the trip shortly after determining the need for a career change.

After studying at Monterey Bay State and working aboard a boat where he conducted research projects and tagged white sharks and jellyfish, he realized marine biology wasn’t the field for him. “The researchers didn’t work together,” he recalls. “They’re all cutthroat …They’re all kind of keeping it secret so that they could get the grant money.”

While building wood boards alongside his dad during their retreat, he fell in love with the craft. He also read “The Log from the Sea of Cortez” for the first time.

Martijn Stiphout at work in Aptos.
Martin Stiphout at work in Aptos.
(Via Ventana)

After building his boards out of an old barn Stiphout shared with the rats, he met Dennis and the two determined to build a brand together. The craftsman fondly recalls conducting many a “business meeting” on surfboards under the Capitola moon. Today, Ventana has garnered considerable attention and been featured in an episode of Starbucks’ “The Art of the Craft” as well as INSP Network’s “Handcrafted America.”

And do these works of art actually ride the waves? “You most likely won’t ever find one surfing in a contest,” Stiphout says.

Less than 10% make it out into the wild — the rest spend their cushy lives on the wall in the living room. “Yeah, lots of people buy them with the intention of surfing, even surfing it once or twice. I think a lot of times, the wives shut them down when the board shows up,” Stiphout chuckles.

David Dennis and Martijn Stiphout with a Western Flyer piece.
(Via David Dennis)

So what’s next on the board bucket list? Stiphout would love to find some lignum vitae, a rare wood of exceptional density used in industrial revolution machine parts and antique bowling balls.

Dennis is itching to get his hands on timber from the original Roaring Camp Railroad buildings, something with ties to the California Gold Rush, and anything salvaged from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.