From Steinbeck To Surfboards: Famous Fishing Boat Surfs Back to the Sea

Lashed to the deck of a lumbering drilling ship that recently arrived in Moss LWestern Flyeranding, California were planks of historic wood from what is arguably the most famous fishing vessel in the world. The Western Flyer, immortalized by Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck in his book The Log from the Sea of Cortez was lost for dozens of years. It was discovered by an enthusiastic Steinbeck fan and will set sail again soon as a state-of-the-art, ocean research vessel, but not before its extraordinary wood finds its way into some of the most beautiful, performance surfboards ever crafted.

In Pacific Grove, California in 1929, Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck published his first book, Cup of Gold. In that same year, on the island of Oahu, Tom Blake revolutionized the sport of surfing with the invention of the hollow wooden surfboard. Gone were the days of 100-pound, solid wooden boards that took the strength of Atlas to walk them down the sand. Although Steinbeck and Blake likely never met, their historic paths crossed again in 1935 when Steinbeck published Tortilla Flats, his first critical success. That same year, Blake invented the surfboard fin, allowing surfers to make sharp turns on waves and energizing the sport for legions of ocean enthusiasts around the world.

Five years later, in 1940, Steinbeck set off on a 6-week research trip around the Sea of Cortez in Mexico with his close friend, biologist Ed “Doc” Ricketts. The Log from the Sea of Cortez is Steinbeck’s autobiographical account of the journey, a book that has inspired countless explorers, conservationists, and ocean lovers.

Western Flyer Board #1Fast forward 60 years to 2010. Santa Cruz, California based surfer Martijn Stiphout embarked on a three- and half-month paddling trip with his father, Herman, around the Sea of Cortez in kayaks they built themselves. On deserted beaches and in isolated coves, Stiphout devoured Steinbeck’s log and, by the end of the trip, had decided to make building ocean-faring craft his life’s work. Upon returning to Santa Cruz, Stiphout formed a business using reclaimed wood and materials to create, using the methods of Tom Blake, what are some of the most beautiful and well-crafted surfboards in the world.

But the story doesn’t stop there. The Log from the Sea of Cortez made famous the Western Flyer, the vessel on which Steinbeck and Ricketts sailed. The boat, a 77-foot purse seiner built in 1937 and often referred to as the most famous fishing boat in the world, was found by Bob Enea after a three-year project to locate it. It was purchased by John Gregg in 2015.

Martijn with Western Flyer wood and square nailsThe story of the Western Flyer and Gregg’s renovation project in Port Townsend, Washington has been covered extensively by media around the world and has inspired fan pilgrimages to visit the boat, but there’s a new twist to the narrative.

The evolution of Stiphout’s company, known as Ventana Surfboards & Supplies, is now renowned as one of the most environmentally responsible businesses in the world. Stiphout and his business partner, David Dennis, collected white oak, redwood and Douglas fir boards removed from the Western Flyer during the on-going renovation project to turn the boat into a state-of-the art, ocean research vessel. The notable paths of Steinbeck and Blake are crossing once again as Stiphout is using the wood from the Western Flyer to return it to the sea in the form of stunning and functional hollow wooden surfboards. The Western Flyer Surfboards also incorporate reclaimed exotic and historic woods from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Santa Cruz Guitar Company, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and other exciting sources from the Ventana Upcycled Partner Program. And, while the boards will certainly become the center pieces of various interior design projects, they are all built for performance surfing on the waves near Steinbeck’s home thanks to Blake’s innovative construction methods.

    Watch the crafting of a Ventana Surfboard in hyper lapse.

    Learn about the wooden turtle we created that has been inlaid into the deck of the Western Flyer.


    About Ventana Surfboards & Supplies

    Ventana Surfboards & Supplies

    Ventana Surfboards & Supplies sells hand-crafted, hollow wooden surfboards, bodysurfing handplanes; eco apparel and surf supplies that are loved by adventurers everywhere. Ventana surfboards are high performance, surfable works of art that jumpstart conversations in homes and wave lineups.

    Ventana donates up to 5% of profits to the ocean conservation efforts of Save Our Shores, Surfrider Foundation, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Seymour Marine Discover Center, Save the Waves Coalition and more.


    About the Western Flyer Foundation

    Western Flyer Foundation
    The Western Flyer Foundation will serve children up and down the West coast of North America, including Canada, Mexico. First, they will restore the Western Flyer. Aesthetically, she will look the way she did in 1940. While maintaining the historical integrity and “DNA” of the hull, the vessel will also be upgraded to exceed U.S. Coast Guard safety requirements. The foundation will install a state-of-the-art “green” electrical propulsion system and equip the vessel with scientific and laboratory equipment, including a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to view marine life at ocean depths. Following restoration, the foundation will sail the Western Flyer to ports along the Western coast of the United States and Mexico for educational outreach, working with ports and local maritime historical centers. School children will have an opportunity to participate in scientific information gathering and analysis aboard the boat.