Isn’t it strange that in surfing, living in a van is not only acceptable but considered to be kind of cool? It’s like Drew Kampion said, “to surf is to travel, and a surfer is a nomad.” For decades, surfers lived in their vehicles and sacrificed a so-called “normal” life for one that revolved around waves. Society looked down on them, but looked down on them with an odd sort of envy. Then #vanlife turned into a whole movement, and soon social media was filled with images of people’s feet in their beds with the back doors opened up to an ocean vista. The insides of vans were covered in reclaimed wood and the empty road became a little less empty. Whole communities of van-dwellers sprung up, but where the van-dwellers of yesterday might have been doing it for different reasons, the new crop was doing it because it had become a little more acceptable. The video you see above features a man named Sam Garbutt, who has taken to the open road and found his place on it.
I lived in a van in Venice, California for three months. It was fun sometimes. At night it was not. Venice is a bad place to live in a van. The places where overnight parking is legal are often crack-addled and meth-fueled. I came to the conclusion that living in a van sucks if you’re not moving around. Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote a long time ago:
“Living in a van on a road trip entitles you to stumble out at grocery stores, unshowered and unkempt, sweating and stinking with dirty feet and an unbuttoned shirt. People think that’s fun and cute, and they wish they were doing it. Stumble out of a van at 7 a.m. in a residential area of Southern California in the same fashion, and people think you’re a bum, and bums usually aren’t fun or cute. They think you’re a bum because you look like one, and they’re jogging by with their brightly colored shoes, thousand dollar jogging shirt, great smelling sweat, and a bag of their French Bulldog’s shit pinched delicately between thumb and fingers.”
So I took the van to Mexico and left it in storage. Now, it sits full of surfboards, wetsuits, and spearfishing gear, full of fuel stabilizer and waiting patiently for me to notice a good south swell. When I do, I’ll invariably meet up with many of the same people. We’ll camp together, surf together, eat together, and laugh together for a few weeks, then not talk until the next time. They are some of my best friends in the world, and I only talk to them in person on a beach somewhere in the middle of nowhere. And that’s the only way I want it to be. It is a perfect, temporary community. Vanlife is great if you’re prepared to be a nomad, but if you’re not, vanlife become synonymous with homelessness pretty damn quick.