• April 12, 2021
  • Garage
  • By: Pete Whish

Forget the noise, funny engine smells, and lack of creature comforts. It goes zero to sixty in sixty minutes… which is exactly the point. Slow down, gain a new perspective and see a whole lot more.

Most car commercials sound the same – an inspiring message from a recognizable celebrity voice spewing something along the lines of ‘it’s about the journey, not the destination…’ Of course, this statement is true; but does it apply to Volvos, minivans, or Mazdas? Definitely not. In a sea of white and silver soulless steel vessels on their way to Bed Bath & Beyond, something out of the ordinary appears, a vehicle that is completely unique and instantly recognizable. Heads turn, curiosity grows. Behind the wheel of a VW Camper, you feel like a celebrity. You’re not just driving a van, this iconic machine is equal parts nostalgia and Americana. Who do you have to thank for your newfound celebrity status? California’s own: Vintage Surfari Wagons.


It all started with a trip to Hawaii. Vintage Surfari Wagons co-founder, Bill Staggs, dreamed about experiencing the islands like a local. Hoping to skip the typical Big Island Jeep rental and soulless name-brand skyscraper hotels, Bill started thinking smaller. Much smaller. Inspiration was sparked by childhood memories of driving along the Southern California Coast, piled into the back of his dad’s VW Camper Van. With this story in mind, his girlfriend (now wife) Diane, was able to source a vintage Camper in the islands. The goal was to hide in plain sight and immerse themselves — like they lived there — in this studio apartment on wheels, without an itinerary or homebase.

After island hopping and a new appreciation of thinking small, the couple was determined to bring the same experience back to their coastal California home. After many hours of expert-level eBay hustling and a crash course on website building, Vintage Surfari Wagons was born.

Vintage Surfari Wagons (VSW) is about more than a way to get from point A to point B, it’s a feeling. This feeling of escape, the mythical “endless summer”, and the golden lure of the California lifestyle draws sun-seekers to VSW. Over the years, their fleet of campers has grown, and the good vibes have spread across the globe one road trip at a time. And now it’s your turn, even if you’re a landlocked city dweller whose only link to a surfing lifestyle was the Quicksilver hoodie you had in high school.

But that was the past and you’ve just picked up your VW Camper; the open road awaits. You’ve never surfed in your life, but you’re certain that the hours spent watching ASP World Tour videos on YouTube have prepared you for the mighty Pacific.

The first stop is the local surf shop a mile down the road from the VSW Depot. Walking through the front door, you instantly notice a sleek neon yellow shortboard. It’s calling your name. You picture yourself cutting back across the face of an over-head bomb. Just as you feel the ocean spray flow through your hair (which inexplicably, for the sake of this daydream, is now blonde) the shop owner interrupts and kindly recommends a plain white, significantly less cool, soft top board that has seen its fair share of beginner rides.

Taking Bill’s sage advice, your first day of surfing brings you to San Onofre’s “Old Man’s” Beach. A spot surfed since the 1930s, this family-friendly location is where you can park your vintage camper beachside and choose from five different surf breaks, ranging from beginner to expert. The crowd at San Onofre is an eclectic mix of families, locals sneaking in a ‘sesh’ on their lunch break, kids who ditched school early, and the perennial grey-haired OG’s. After a long day that was spent paddling, wading, having seawater forced into every orifice, rather than actually surfing, a nearby state park is your refuge for the night.

The evening is spent mapping out your itinerary: later in the week, you’ll head further south to Encinitas and its cliffs overlooking the Pacific, before finishing up in La Jolla — the Beverly Hills of surf towns. Many swells and breaks await, but for now, a second (and likely third) fireside bourbon is all you need. Salude!

This California (No one says “Cali”) native who’s made this adventure possible, Bill said it best: “VWs are slow for a reason: sometimes you just need to bite off a little bit less and get a little more flavor instead.” As you try to wrap your head around this piece of wisdom, you realize that you haven’t checked your phone all day. Maybe that was the point. Maybe you’re starting to understand the lifestyle you’ve been chasing. Or maybe you’re reading into it too much. The thought fades, as you refill your glass, and your mind shifts towards the week ahead, the open road and changing tides.