Recovering Dreams From the Past: “People have walked on it for 120 years, now you’re gonna ride it!”
There is something captivating about reclaimed wood – maybe it is knowing that it has lived past lives. Typically, one can only imagine the generations that touched it, the stories behind each ding or brand. But at Ventana Surfboards & Supplies, stories of their recycled wooden surfboards take center stage.
“Rather than saying ‘This is a piece I picked up from the landfill’ [I can say] “People have been walking on it for 120 years – now you’re going to be surfing it! ”, Says Martijn Stiphout, who co-founded the company alongside his knowledgeable business partner, David Dennis.
END ARTIST PROJECT
Design your own fin for a Ventana board
Ventana is currently running its Fin Artist Project, a competition that will select US-based artists (two of whom will be school-aged or younger) to create artwork for Ventana’s fins (created from Alaskan yellow cedar. and Western Flyer Falls). A portion of the profits will be shared with the winners and donated to the Western Flyer Foundation for the refurbishment of the boats. All submissions must be submitted by August 24th. For requirements and design rules see details on the Ventana site.
As the designer behind Ventana’s beautiful boards, Stiphout spends his afternoons in his Aptos warehouse transformed into a studio, a space filled with the earthy scent of wood and surfboards in various forms of finish. On one side, the planks are stacked from floor to ceiling, and everything – from rosewood and redwood to laurel and black acacia – is linked to unique stories and places.
Stiphout and his business partner have organized everything from the Alaskan yellow cedar benches of the Monterey Bay Aquarium to the boards of the historic Big Dipper on Boardwalk. They also acquired wine barrels from a local vineyard, planks from the Santa Cruz Beach promenade, leftovers from an upscale guitar store, and redwood planks from a historic Victorian mansion.
They asked to get their hands on some of the valuable CZU wildfire materials that have survived, but that has yet to happen.
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 go back a few years. Although Steinbeck is best known for Grapes of Wrath, his newspaper published The Log of 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 has heightened America’s environmental awareness… and that same ship just happens to be the one Stiphout and Dennis got their hands on.
How the hell did they manage to acquire such a valuable piece of history? This is thanks to John Gregg, the current owner and renovator of the Western Flyer. “He bought the boat as a complete wreck,” says Stiphout. “He sank three times, spent months and months underwater, as many barnacles inside and out. The Coast Guard ended up shedding light on it and made it a channel marker for a while. “
Gregg saved the boat from a real estate developer who planned to cut the wheelhouse and stick it in a bar in Salinas. But Gregg’s plan is to stay true to Steinbeck’s original mission, preparing him for educational and research cruises departing from Monterey Bay. “[John] brought it back to the shipyard where it was originally built in 1937, ”says Stiphout. “They’re rebuilding it with the original bandsaw. And the grandson of the original builder is refitting the boat.
When Gregg ran into Dennis at the Steinbeck Center, he offered to bring him some of the sunk planks.
Steinbeck’s journal is also of particular significance to Stiphout and his own journey of self-discovery. “I made a personal connection [to Steinbeck] because I fell into this whole thing as I was going down the Sea of Cortez with my father for the first time, ”he explains, stating that he made the trip shortly after determining the need to 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 that marine biology was not his field. “The researchers didn’t work together,” he recalls. “They are all ruthless… They all keep it a secret so they can get the grant money.
While building planks of wood alongside his father during their retirement, he fell in love with the craft. He also read The Log of the Sea of Cortez for the first time.
After building his planks from an old barn that Stiphout shared with the rats, he met Dennis and the two determined to create a brand together. The craftsman fondly remembers having organized many “business meetings” on surfboards under the moon of Capitola. Today, Ventana has garnered considerable attention and was featured on an episode of Starbucks’ “The Art of the Craft” as well as INSP Network’s Handcrafted America.
And do these works of art Actually surf the waves? “You will probably never find a surf in a contest,” says Stiphout.
Less than 10% of them go out into the wild – the rest spend their cozy lives on the living room wall. “Yes, a lot of people buy them with the intention of surfing, even surfing it once or twice. I think that often wives stop them when the painting presents itself, ”laughs Stiphout.
So what’s next on the to-do list? Stiphout would like to find lignum vitae, a rare wood of exceptional density used in industrial revolution machine parts and antique bowling balls.
Dennis is eager to get his hands on the lumber of the original Roaring Camp Railroad buildings, something with ties to the California Gold Rush, and everything salvaged from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.