Makala Smith's Surfmobile Survival Guide

Sure, we can cram all our worldly possessions in a backpack for most warm water adventures, but how else are we going to haul our friends, and 9-foot plus logs around but in a van? Read on for the ultimate vanlife checklist.

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Inside Makala Smith's van. Photo by Nick LaVecchia. 
Living and traveling out of a van might be trending thanks to #vanlife hashtags on Instagram but surfers have been the poster children to the simple living of these mini mobile homes since the 1960s.

Why? Sure, we can cram all our worldly possessions in a backpack (swimsuits, sunscreen, some clothes) for most open-ended, warm water adventures, but how else are we going to haul our friends, and our 9-foot plus logs around? Enter the spacious interiors and ample roofs of vans that surfers outfit to be as much an expression of style as practicality.

We tagged along with Seeababe Makala Smith and her van, "Vanessa" to get a look inside.  Here, she dishes her tips for smooth spot checks on the road.

Van Provisions Checklist: 

"Well my van is pretty much always ready for more than a day adventure, wardrobe included. Ice chest, propane stove (don’t forget the propane), umbrella for the beach or the back of the van, windshield heat reflectors are great for just the day so the van isn’t cooking, and great for camping so no creepers can peek in. Solar panel lanterns that I was fortunate enough to receive a couple from Thalia Surf via Vans promo gift with purchase and they are the coolest things ever with a hand crank on the bottom. Beach chairs, ukelele, plenty of dry food snacks, and WATER."

Pantry Do's and Don'ts: 

"Storing food is easy. Just have to eat it fast and plan ahead. Have to be careful with produce that goes bad — you don't want a smelly van.

Dry food, soups, coffee/tea, rice, beans, canned food, almond milk, cereal are easy. Ice chest and plastic storage bins are perfect cause you don’t want ants!"

What’s the best place to park your van?

"Best place to park it would be near the beach on a friendly looking street/ neighborhood if you don't have a campsite. No alleys, sketchy parking lots.

That's why it's always good to be friendly and make lots of friends from all up and down the coast! Who knows you could park in front of there house and they so happen to live a mile from Malibu?"

Don't worry, Makala knows exactly where everything is. Photo by Nick LaVecchia.

What do you need to know about sleeping and camping out of your van?

"There are weird people everywhere you go! LOCK YOUR VAN.

Example: Seeababe Lola and I were camping in the Malibu lot for the Call to the Wall comp a couple months back... keep in mind its 5:00AM. We wake up to this horrifically piercing consistent knock on the back door of the van. We both ignored it for a solid 20 minutes, it paused then of course it started again. We both were like, “Who the flux is that? Maybe it’s the boys telling us the waves are pumping. So finally we get up and respond... WHAAAAAT. So 'it' just opens the back of the van.

'Oh hi oh my gosh oh I’m so sorry I thought you were my friend. My friend has a van just like yours with surfboards on it as well.'

Sigh... Are you kidding me? Everyone camping here in the parking lot has a van and surfboards. Why us? Hahaha, so we finally try to go back to bed and she comes back rambling like before 'Oh my goshhh I’m so sorry do you girls want a frozen water? A hard boiled egg? Champagne?'

We just said yes to shut her up, locked the back door, and woke up three hours later with all this crap on the feet of our bed. Lola looks at me, 'Oh shit I thought that was a dream this morning.' LOL"

Where are most fun places you have you taken your van?

"Santa Cruz and San Fran. Trips for the coalition at Steamer Lane camping on the bluff!

Joshua Tree, and just local to Blue Jay, I do all the time!"

What makes a good surfmobile?

"Surfboard storage inside and up top. Comfy bed, so you can get up and surf in the morning without a sore back. Plenty of water, good drinking water, and shower water now because of the drought, there's a lack of beaches with showers. Toiletries.

It has to be fun to hang in during the day to get out of the sun!"

Close-up of her Seea suits clothesline. Photo by Nick LaVecchia. 

How did you customize your van to make it into a full-fledged surfmobile?

"Well a lot of people I know with vans have built wood frames for the bed so its off the floor, with awesome storage underneath. Its awesome, not that hard, and the best way to do it.

The thing with my van is it has all the seats and I still like to be somewhat legal when driving people around — especially for road trips with more than one passenger. So I use either wooden pallets or plastic crates. Its like a puzzle figuring out how to lay them out, but can be removed and easy to throw a row of seats in if I need to.

Fake grass is a good alternative to carpet because you know us surfers with wet stuff, it doesn’t mold and super easy to clean just shake it out."

Why do you love traveling in your van? 

"It’s like a house on wheels! You don’t need much more than that! Traveling with more than three people is rough in a van. I recommend just two max unless you have a tent also.

I like taking my own van places because you got all your swag, your own bed, you’re not taking over anyone else’s space. It’s your own hotel room."

Number of times Makala's van has failed: 

"Zero. Vanessa is a reliable friend."


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