Friday was a warm May day. Santa Cruz was mostly flat, but there was a surprise glassy little runner peeling through Capitola.
We were out on a few logs that 33-year-old Martijn Stiphout built -- logs, of course being longboards, but also that they're made of wood. He sat calmly out the back, allowing micro lines to pass underneath for the pack of groms on the inside. Occasionally two kids from the pack would take off in his path. He smiled and encouraged them down the line.
On the occasion that he got some open face, he found speed in the tiniest of pockets and arced turns on a longish redwood singlefin. He's tall and smooth -- a surfer and an artist.
And he doesn't seem at all concerned that tonight he is presenting his work to a new crowd. Starbucks' DoubleShot "Art of the Craft," is a thee-part web video series on Stiphout and San Diego shaper Josh Oldenburg, celebrating the independent shaper as craftsman and artist. As part of the project, his boards are the feature of a pop-up gallery at Stripe in downtown Santa Cruz.
A Shipout wooden surfboard under his Vantana-label is art. You can ride it or hang it. But as beautiful as the contrasting wood tones might be, or intricate as his inlays look, he really got into making boards for a different reason.
"All of my foam and fiberglass boards kept breaking," he explains, "I just wanted to make something that would last."
These boards will last, no doubt.
Of course, building wooden boards serve another function. As much as surfers may be foot soldiers in the battle to save our planet, our very ride is petroleum based. And for Stiphout, who spent his childhood between South Africa, Holland, and Germany before moving to California in high school, his background teaching conservation, studying marine biology and captaining a sailboat made him very aware of it.
"It's definitely the idea of putting less in a landfill," he explains between sets. The wood will biodegrade eventually, but the board also last a lifetime, creating less waste, making it inherently earth-friendly.
"But to me, it was just as important to not work with foam and fiberglass. I had done enough ding repair to know that it's just toxic."
Furthermore most of the wood he uses is reclaimed. He sources the materials through different demolitions and discoveries, giving each board not only inherent character, but also a story.
Earlier in the day, he showed us around his shop. Normally the smell of a surfboard factory is a volatile compound assault. His is the sweet smell of wood. He shows us some of his early boards, the classic old hand tools he uses, scrap wood that will eventually be part of a noserider or fat fish, and the hollow chamber construction. His father was a skilled woodworker, but Stiphout has no formal training. He's self-taught and ingests any designs, articles, and videos on board building. While his boards are reminiscent of other wooden board builders, he has tried to improve on the process. One thing that sets him apart is his use of solid cork for the rails.
"It serves a function. If you're going to ding a board, drop it on the steps or collide with someone in the water, the rail is where you're going to ding it. If the rails are hollow, you immediately have water inside the chamber. And that's not good. The cork provides something of a buffer," he explains.
The boards are heavier than their foam counterparts by around 50 percent. But the extra weight can be useful, as he would demonstrate in the Cappy peelers. He takes painstaking care with his glass jobs, using Super Sap, a mix that is 70 percent bio resin. His more recent boards have delved deeper into the ornate.
Following the session and tacos, we meet him that evening at Stripe, a boutique that is a perfect pairing with these boards. They've done a pop-up gallery of his work.
He has about eight gorgeous craft showing from classic noseriders to a high-performance thruster that is heading to the Maldives next week as well as a tiny-scale version that shows his construction and a few handplanes. The room is packed at 8:30 when the hosts show the three short videos that make up the DoubleShot "Art of the Craft" series.
"Before this, I had my boards at some smaller shows and that's where all my exposure came from. This kind of event will allow more of an art exposure. Starbucks took the time to look for the shapers who are really into handcrafted boards as an art. It's making me aware myself as to how art-based they are."
He can build about three boards a month and he's got a few custom orders to keep him busy. He's moving his shop to an old barn in Buena Vista, Ca this summer.
The Ventana Surfboards pop-up gallery will be at Stripe Men's, 117 Walnut Ave, Santa Cruz, CA until Friday, May 17.