.Green Swell

cov greenswellLocal surfboard company greens up the industry with an eco-conscious business model

Those who are lucky enough to surf on a Ventana surfboard can look down and wonder if they’re surfing on an old redwood floor, a wine barrel, or part of the Giant Dipper roller coaster. The Santa Cruz company Ventana Surfboards and Supplies embraces the sustainable cash-from-trash business model by crafting reclaimed wood into highly valued and collectable surfboards with eye-catching designs.

Microsoft Product Manager David Dennis and humble craftsman Martijn Stiphout are the odd business partnership leading Ventana in its budding business venture. Stiphout began whittling wood as a child in South Africa, and went on to live in various countries in the world before ending up in Santa Cruz, all the while honing his woodworking skills. He had been building boards and hand planes for a few years under the name Ventana before meeting Dennis, whose marketing savvy incorporated and fast tracked the company, which became Ventana Surfboards and Supplies six months ago.

The team’s dual focus is to create surf products that are uniquely Santa Cruz while building local partnerships to reduce waste in the country and green up the surfing industry. The end product is so aesthetically impressive that they often end up as art pieces on walls—local tech company Plantronics has three of the boards on display to serve as design inspiration. The hollow wood boards are also crafted to cut a satisfying path through waves. Hollow-framed like the wing of a model plane, the boards require vent plugs to equalize internal air pressure to the surroundings. Santa Cruz surfer Tom Castro says it’s like hearing the board breathe when he opens the plug.

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The boards come in designs ranging from checkerboard to sunburst, with found-object accents made from materials like abalone shells and ivory piano keys. They are just a few pounds heavier than their foam equivalent, and the extra momentum allows them to better carve into waves.

Though Dennis and Stiphout come from opposite ends of the personality spectrum—Dennis the workaholic extrovert, Stiphout the laid back minimalist—their chemistry as business partners is a winning combination. “We don’t compete with anything we do,” says Stiphout. “David has a lot of good ideas and takes the marketing off my plate so I can think about the boards I’m working on.”

Saying that Dennis has a lot of good ideas is the modesty equivalent of saying that Stiphout tinkers in the woodshop. It was Dennis, for instance, who sealed a partnership with the Dream Inn: anyone who buys a board for over $3,000 gets an overnight package deal at the hotel. At the same time, every partnership and product—like tree sap-based surfboard resin—is carefully vetted for environmental responsibility and local allegiance.

Dennis routinely finds himself impressed by Stiphout’s wave of creativity. “Martijn is a creative genius and I am his biggest fan,” Dennis says.

Stiphout has been using reclaimed wood from the dump and cabinet maker offcuts for years to build his boards. Ventana is now forming “upcycle” partnerships to take the no-waste business model to a micro scale—down to the saw dust that ends up on their shop floor, which they are currently exploring potential uses for.

Ventana’s local upcycle partnerships include collecting wood scraps from Santa Cruz Guitar Company, old wine barrels from Soquel Vineyards, and a variety of historical wood sources around town like the wharf, Giant Dipper and the old Twin Lakes Schwan mansion. Wood is starting to find its way to Ventana simply by word of mouth.

When Dennis approached Santa Cruz Guitar Company about a partnership to use their guitar wood offcuts, President Richard Hoover said he “squealed with glee” over the idea.

“It’s so fitting with the ethos of our own company,” says Hoover. “All of our wood comes from responsible harvest or reclaimed timber. To complete the chain by using every little bit of it is a dream come true.”

While Hoover says that ethics, not profit, drive the partnership, Ventana still wants to create win-win situations. From a pile of kindling-sized offcuts from the guitars, Stiphout is building $230 hand planes and $3,000-plus surfboards that bear the company’s name.

“The things that I do can’t be scaled for production,” says Stiphout, who is currently turning out roughly one surf board and a few hand planes per month. “David takes that into consideration,” says Stiphout. “It’s not what the company is about.”

The recent addition of two apprentices in Stiphout’s woodshop may up production, but Ventana’s success remains grounded in the quality of responsibly made products and long-lasting partnerships.  

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the level of support we’ve seen in the community. We’re seeing that a high level of craftsmanship and environmental responsibility are both important to our consumers,” says Dennis.

Ventana also co-brands the company’s logo on their popular Save-a-Surf tool—a multi-purpose tool that includes a wax comb, fin screws, and leash attachment—made with wood from Santa Cruz Guitars The leash attachment on the Save-a-Surf tool is the waste product of local mom and pop business Khordz, which creates mugs using cleverly knotted paracord around glass jars.

“We hand tie the mug handles leaving a leftover strip that is cut off,” says Khordz co-owner Daniel Fontius. “We have never thrown one of those scraps away, it just seemed too wasteful. I’ve used some as surfboard leash ties and it seemed like a perfect fit to add them to the Save-a-Surf tool for the same purpose.” Ventana offers the co-branded mugs for sale on its website and Fontius says he’s seen a rise in the business since Ventana started getting more exposure.

Longtime Bookshop Santa Cruz co-owner Neal Coonerty says that Santa Cruz is a good place to start a small business because people help each other out. “Partnerships are essential to being successful, along with a deep sense of dedicated determination,” Coonerty says. “You have to believe in the product you have and work towards your goal with persistence.”

For more information visit ventanasupplies.com. PHOTO: Martijn Stiphout with his rising sun Ventana surfboard. SEBASTIAN STIPHOUT


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