Malibu Local Melds Surfing and Art

Local artist and longtime Malibu resident Denise Peak painting a styrofoam surfboard

The family name Peak is familiar to many in Malibu. Most locals will know Skylar Peak—a city council person and former mayor—and many others may know his mother, Denise Peak, who served nearly three decades as an employee at local schools. Now, after suffering losses in the Woolsey Fire and finding inspiration through a resilient community, Denise Peak is exhibiting her artwork that combines Malibu’s beauty and surf culture into one-of-a kind art pieces. 

The 50-year Malibu resident is currently the featured artist at Ollo restaurant, exhibiting her hand-painted custom surfboards. 

Growing up in Malibu, Peak has been surrounded by surf culture since she was a youngster. After attending local schools, she matriculated to UCLA as a pre-med student, but laughingly recalled, “I ran to the art department.” Married soon after graduation, Peak started a family that includes Skylar and two daughters—one a math teacher at Palisades Charter High School and another getting a doctorate in psychology. When Skylar was in kindergarten, Peak started working as a teacher’s aide and stayed with the school district for 27 years in various capacities at Juan Cabrillo Elementary, Point Dume Marine Science School and Malibu High School, where “I ended up in the library. That was my favorite position.”

While raising her family and working, Peak never forgot about art. 

“I always dabbled in art,” she said. Unfortunately, most pieces she made since graduating college, along with her late mother Phyllis Klein’s artwork, were destroyed in the Woolsey Fire when it devoured Peak’s storage locker. She was able to save a few pieces that are on display and for sale now at the restaurant.

Peak described her mother’s artwork as “wonderful.” She was a watercolorist. The two painted together for 32 years. Klein was also a docent at the Adamson House along with Peak’s mother-in-law, Marguerite Peak, and now, Denise is following in their footsteps. She just started volunteering at the architectural landmark at Surfrider Beach after completing training this past spring. 

The artist, experienced in pastels, watercolor and acrylic, explained she just started painting surfboards only seven years ago. The active paddle boarder has even shaped a few herself after taking a class with Ray Lucke at his shop in Camarillo. She’s painted shortboards, longboards and even paddle boards. Four of the boards are on display now. Peak donated one currently on display at Malibu City Hall. 

But these custom painted boards are not just for show. They can be used to surf as well. She’s made 30 altogether. Most are custom pieces made for clients who request a certain style. 

“I paint right on the Styrofoam,” she commented. 

The decorative styles on the surfboards range from geometric and abstract to floral and scenic Malibu. 

“I love color,” Peak professed. “One of my friends wanted a pink board so I did half in pink—like, Bazooka bubble gum pink. Then on the back, I did all my own designs with all different shades of pink. I’ve done hibiscus flowers, starfish and one person wanted stars and stripes with an octopus.”

“I love color and I am so grateful to live in a place that’s so beautiful,” she continued. “Amidst the fires and all the tragedy, it really meant a lot and touched my heart and soul to be able to paint how beautiful the place is that we live in and how grateful I am to be here.”

Peak’s exhibit at Ollo runs through mid-August. Customized boards can be ordered through Denise Peak at