We had the good fortune of connecting with David Dennis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi David, what do you attribute your success to?
We created a set of values that resonate with our customers and that we are proud to follow. Everything we do, every product we create, every interaction with our customers, every story we tell, every post we promote relates back to our brand values of artisanship, responsibility, and adventure. Quality and artisanship are very important to us. Every detail matters, and we want everything we make and sell to be used by our customers for many years. Our hollow wooden surfboards are hand-crafted, surfable works of art that set the quality bar for every product we offer. Every Ventana product speaks to environmental and/or social responsibility, and we donate at least 5% of profits to ocean conservation. A clean, protected sea is required for our business to succeed and for all of us to continue to enjoy the ocean. Social responsibility helps us create the kind of world in which we want to live. All of our surfboards, bodysurfing handplanes, surf supplies, and apparel run deep on the environmental responsibility front. Every Ventana surfboard is Ecoboard Gold Certified by Sustainable Surf. And, all of our boards, handplanes, and wooden products are made from reclaimed, historical, found wood, and offcuts from other businesses participating in our Upcycle Partner Program (http://ventanasurfboards.com/partners). We use recycled and organic materials in our apparel, and we offset the carbon impact of our customer shipments by funding forest protection projects using Offset by Shopify. Further, we think about our suppliers and collaborators in concentric circles. We focus first and foremost on working with artists, vendors, and collaborators from local, Monterey Bay-based small businesses. From there, we look to California-based businesses and then U.S.-based. Although rare, we occasionally source products from responsible vendors overseas. And, we’re transparent with our customers about the ways in which our products aren’t perfect from a responsibility perspective. For instance, we do not yet use water-based inks in our silk-screening. This isn’t ideal for the environment, but we like the quality of these inks, and we contract the printing to a Santa Cruz-based non-profit, Barrios Unidos, an organization that has promoted multicultural social justice, non-violence, and economic equity for more than 40 years. Finally, as for “adventure,” Ventana’s surfboards and supplies are made to be put to the test by ocean adventurers everywhere. Everything we make or sell is made to be used in the wild. We create beautiful, high quality surf products that help people live an adventurous, ocean lifestyle. All of our boards surf like a dream, but even if they hang on walls, they have the power to instill a sense of adventure in everyone who sees them.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My wife and I started our careers as public school teachers in Long Beach, CA. I loved the classroom but, when my wife stopped teaching to take care of our young kids, we found it very difficult to afford to live the life we wanted and stay in California. This was relatively early in the days of the internet, so I started a small web design company to make ends meet and ultimately parlayed that into a role at Microsoft where I’ve been for 20 years. Microsoft is an incredible company with great people, and I plan to retire there. But, about ten years ago, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough to help people in my community who were less privileged than I am. So, I started doing projects under the banner of what I call “philanthropic photography.” I put on photo exhibits of my photography to raise money for non-profits focused on education, ocean conservation, or homeless services. Microsoft’s giving program supports the projects, and each one raises between $10,000 and $20,000. You can learn more about my approach by watching my TEDx talk at http://ventana.surf/tedx. Through a photo exhibit I created of surfboard shapers to raise money for the Surfrider Foundation Santa Cruz Chapter, I met an incredibly talented, wooden surfboard builder named Martijn Stiphout. After lamenting the lack of environmental responsibility in the surf industry, we decided to start a company together to create the most eco responsible surf business on earth. Since 2014, we’ve been doing just that with Ventana Surfboards & Supplies. I’m very proud of what we’ve created and, although we’re small, we’ve inspired many others to take a more responsible path with what they create. And, we’ve done it profitably!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Santa Cruz has some of the best surf in the world, so that’s something not to miss…even if it’s just watching from the beach.. When friends visit, I like to give them a surf lesson at Cowell Beach or, if they’re experienced, paddle out with them for a session at Steamer Lane. After that, I recommend eating a sandwich at Zoccoli’s on Pacific Avenue and then strolling up and down the street for some shopping. Bookshop Santa Cruz is not to be missed, and Fybr Bamboo is a terrific store focused on sustainable clothing and supplies. After that, take a ride on the Giant Dipper wooden rollercoaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk before heading over to Midtown Surf Shop to pick up some apparel, supplies, and a coffee. From there, hike or mountain bike in Wilder Ranch at sunset to end the day before heading over to Humble Sea Brewing Co. for a top-notch craft beer and to meet some of the friendliest locals in town.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My parents, Steve and Sona, have been my inspiration since birth. They are both docents at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and have instilled in me a respect for the ocean and the environment since I was little. They showed me how to be the best father I could be to my kids, Jacob and Amaya, and the best husband I could be to Linda, my wife of more than 25 years.
Photos by Ventana Surfboards & Supplies, Sebastian Stiphout, Salty Breeze Surf Art & Photography, and Frank Baskovich