Surf Campervan 101: How to Choose a Van to Convert

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Surf trips are an iconic staple for surf girls. We love to venture to beachside destinations in search of new experiences, fun waves, and great weather. What better way to chase swells and sleep near the best breaks than from the freedom of our own campervan? A campervan lets you spot check, carry a whole quiver, and sleep near wherever you want to be.

Campervans can range from being old-school rust buckets on wheels to all-out glam wagons. No matter your budget, here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing and decking out your new surf ready campervan.

Second hand or brand new?

Typically, buying a campervan secondhand will give you a better value than purchasing a brand-new campervan. As we all know, as soon as a new car drives off the lot, its resale price decreases dramatically.

However, there are also many campervans already modified to sleep in, cook in, and carry boards whereas you’ll have to do all the modifying in a new campervan yourself.  It’s easy to create a basic bed and storage space for a campervan, so you should put the quality and safety of the van above any cool features that it might have inside. An old van with a ton of gadgets is like buying a run-down house with a new paint job. Prioritize the van itself first.

The downside for buying a used campervan is that you won’t know its history, and there is less accountability from the previous owner if something happens to it. If you do buy a secondhand campervan, ask for all recent mechanical receipts and take it to an auto shop to get looked at before committing to buy.

If you’re on a budget, a good guideline is to choose a van with less than 100kms, less than 10 years old, and one that has never been in an accident.

Safety first… second… and third

Before anything, you want to make sure that your campervan will be road worthy and safe to sleep in. Even if your budget is low, you’ll want to look for a campervan that has never been in an accident, has ideally no more than 200,000 kilometers, airbags, and working locks. Of course, you should also be aware of any strange noises and test drive it beforehand to see that it drives smoothly.

Make it your own

One of the best things about having a campervan is that you’ll always feel right at home no matter where you go. Depending on your budget and preferences, your campervan can be a simple place to sleep or an entire home on wheels – kitchen and hot water shower included!

No matter your style, all campervans should have a set up where you can sleep with your boards inside of the van comfortably. Your first investments should be a cozy mattress with warm bedding to get a restful post-surf sleep, curtains, an inside light – ideally a flashlight with a magnet that can stick to the roof, a large bucket to put your wet surf gear, and a container to store food and water.

After you’ve got the basics, grab a set of kitchen necessities, folding chairs, organization crates, a solar shower, a corkscrew/bottle opener, solar panels, toilet paper, and a portable power bank. Things tend to rattle around when you drive, so make sure that if you have glass or ceramic items, they’re securely tucked away.

You can easily find stylish and cheap camping supplies and décor at most thrift stores or garage sales. Old maps, patterned textiles, and throw pillows can really turn a campervan from just another vehicle to your new favorite hangout.

Most campervans do not have a bed built inside already, so you’ll have to make one yourself. Having a set up with a raised bed is the best for simple campervans because it leaves just enough space to store all other surf trip equipment underneath. This is also the easiest set-up, especially for short term trips where you won’t have to rely on having your own kitchen or lounge space.

If you want something a bit more versatile, you should consider building a campervan with a tuck-away bed. These vans typically have a bench on each side of the van and maybe even a table in the middle, allowing you to sit comfortably or fit more than two people in the van at once. If you’re traveling long-term, it’s more comfortable to modify the van in a way where you can sit and eat, read, or wait out a  storm inside.

Surfboard storage

One factor when creating your campervan that most other van-life people don’t have to deal with is how to store your surfboards. Ideally, you can create a set-up where your boards can fit comfortably inside at all times to avoid theft or looking like an obvious surf camper.

If you have a large campervan, you might be able to fit some shortboards underneath the bed. Otherwise, sacrifice some under-the-bed storage space by lifting the bed only slightly off the ground, and install surf racks on the inside roof of the campervan. If you have just one or two shortboards, a few bungy cables might be enough to do the job. If you have bigger boards or more than two, you’ll need to install sturdier metal racks on the upper roof of the van, or use wire cables.

Of course, some surfers simply toss their boards to the side of the van and snuggle up close!

It’s unlikely that you’ll find your dream van for your budget, but you should try anyways. As long as you have a safe set of wheels, your surfboard, and a comfy bed to crash in afterward, you’re ready to live the vanlife.