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Full of Joy

Jen and her VW Bubbletop

Jen and her VW Bubbletop

For Jen Wolf, the beach has always been a place of refuge. There's something about being at that boundary zone, being on one side and looking out to another, that gives your mind a sense of ease and escape. The beauty of nature can help the worst situation seem not so bad. And as a child, Jen had a situation that she wanted to escape from.

 

Growing up with a single mom and two brothers in Ventura, California, there were times when her family would lose their apartment and would end up living out of their Volkswagen van, often camping by the beach along Highway 1. While living at the beach sounds like every kid’s dream, it became clear to her that she was different from the rest of the kids. The stigma of not having a home is a heavy weight to bear as a child. And while her childhood was a relatively happy and normal one, the experience stuck with her well into adulthood.

 

Our fundamental belief that inspired the #thatvanagain film project is that VW vans and surfing are both driven by the yearn for freedom. And we hope to capture stories of freedom and weave them together into a short film to inspire audiences to pursue their own path to freedom. Sometimes the story might be around the freedom from the monotony of a corporate job or it could mean the freedom to pursue adventure and travel around the world looking for surf. Sometimes it’s the freedom to get out of the city and take your family into the wild. Or in Jen’s case, sometimes it’s the freedom to leave something painful behind and move forward.

 

Jen knew she was still carrying these childhood struggles with her, even as she established herself as respected artist based in Venice, California. It was there, at a yard sale, that she discovered the VW Bubble-top van that, together with her husband Neil, they restored into their ideal surf exploration vehicle. On weekends, they would pack up the van, load their dog, and find themselves heading up north from Los Angeles to urban camp in Ventura, exploring the downtown scene and surf spots around the area. And without any real intention, she realized she was revisiting her childhood experiences.

Heading up highway 1 North of Ventura

Heading up highway 1 North of Ventura

This time something was different. This time she wasn’t a powerless little girl struggling to come to terms with life without a home. This time she was doing things on her own terms, in her own van, with her husband. And she realized the refuge she found in the natural beauty of the area offered more than solace. They provided her a chance to heal. They allowed her to re-experience those difficult situations from her youth and bring a new healthy perspective to those stories she told herself. She found the freedom to move on to her next story, one that’s full of joy.

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The Story of Seagull

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The Story of Seagull

It was a hot summer day in Arizona. You could feel the dry desert air engulf you. It felt like a hair dryer was constantly blowing on your face.

Hans Hormann, woke up at 4am for a day trip to Phoenix to see about a bus. He arrived to find a 1972 Kombi, glistening in the sun. It was sitting there in the middle of a backyard - a bit rusted with one flat tire, chocolate brown and cream exterior, with a “nice-enough” interior. This diamond in the rough belonged to a lesbian couple until the maintenance of such a vehicle got to be too much for them to handle. After a brief negotiation with the owners, Hans towed it back to his hometown of Ventura, CA to fix her up.

The original root beer float paint job.

The original root beer float paint job.

Hans would often buy beat-up old buses and flip them, but he realized early on this bus was different. He and his wife, Liana, knew it right from day one. He said, “I saw that brown and cream bus and it reminded me of a root beer float. I loved it!”

Hans and Liana incorporated the van into their wedding.

Hans and Liana incorporated the van into their wedding.

In his driveway, he assessed the situation: flat tire, barely starts, doesn’t run for long, etc. He decided to start in and weld the motor mount. Then he needed to get the engine going. He took it to a mechanic in Ventura who also had a tough time getting it to run. Hans took matters into his own hands and in his own words, “I whacked the carburetor for a while and kept trying, then boom, it started!” He went on to flip another bus to make enough money to get the entire motor rebuilt. He said goodbye to the root-beer-float brown & white and painted her Turkish Green. He added some finishing touches, like those sweet handmade curtains, a new radio, and a wooden crate dash holder. Before he knew it, he was cruising around in one of the coolest rides in town. Hans and his wife Liana fell in love.

On a joy ride around their wedding day, a close friend made the comment that she rides “slow and steady, just like a seagull.” From then on, she was named Seagull.

Seagull cruising up Highway 1.

Seagull cruising up Highway 1.

Right around this time, the #thatvanagain crew discovered Seagull on Hans’ social media feed. And, after a few months of being insanely jealous, we asked to take her for a weekend bachelor party/surf trip to Big Sur. Hans rented Seagull to us in exchange for some photos of Seagull... and we fell in love. A few months later, Hans and Liana got pregnant, and priorities set in. “We need more space!” they said. So with a tear in their eye, they decided to sell Seagull and help fund an addition on the house.

A few years back, we (Tony, Scott, and Brett) made a pact to make films about the thing we love most - surfing. Along the way, we realized our shared passion for VW vans and the underlying root beneath them...the yearn for freedom. We made this passion-project official and launched the #thatvanagain project to tell these stories of freedom. And now, Seagull the Bus, is our own story to tell.

Evening surf check in our hometown of Ventura, CA.

Evening surf check in our hometown of Ventura, CA.

Surf trip to Jalama Beach.

Surf trip to Jalama Beach.

We negotiated the deal over beers at a local brewery and 10 minutes after we signed the papers, Scott headed home to check on his 9-month pregnant wife. A few hours later, they welcomed a sweet baby boy named Julian to the family. So the day we adopted Seagull, Scott and his wife brought a new life into the world. We took that as a sign of great things to come.

Owning Seagull the Bus means so much to us. The three of us all have kids. It’s great to see how much they love Seagull. Their imaginations are sparked as they climb inside. Games, adventures, sing-alongs, naps, meals, dance parties, etc are all possible at any given moment. In the words of our co-director Scott Erickson, “Seagull the Bus, is like a fun cousin who comes to town to visit without being tied to the practical realities of life.”

Introducing the next generation to the VW van life.

Introducing the next generation to the VW van life.

We've been all up and down the California coast in Seagull and some of our greatest memories in life are being forged together in this bus, as a creative partnership and with our familes. The feeling that we’re going to take it slow and go the long way, maybe get stuck in the sand, is ever pervasive and inspiring. She brings us the freedom to roam this great country and sleep anywhere we choose.

We’re thankful that Hans found her, loved her, and passed the keys for us to continue the lovefest! Here’s to good times ahead, more babies, surf sessions, camp vibes, and that sense of adventure & freedom. Yeeewww!!!!

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If you have a VW story, we’d love to hear it in the comments section below. Please follow us on instagram @thatvanagain and Facebook, and follow the hashtag #thatvanagainproject for some behind the scenes imagery of these films coming together.

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Skip Work and Surf

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Skip Work and Surf

It's no coincidence that when surfing took off in popularity in the early 1960's in Southern California, Volkswagen vans were there at the start. Never was there a more perfect vessel to pile into with a few friends and surfboards and skip work and head down to the beach and go surfing. And after spending time with longtime VW event organizer Rich Kimball, I dare to say, there still isn't.

We were lucky enough to spend some time with Rich at his home in Tustin, California, as he showed us his fleet of VW's and extensive collection of parts, paraphernalia, and old photos. He shared his stories of how active and passionate the early VW enthusiast community was in Southern California and his own story of finding his passion for surfing as a kid at San Onofre State Beach. It's only fitting that he's the longtime organizer of coolest underground VW surf meet up around, Big Wednesday.

It's an event that celebrates the shared spirit of the VW and surfing community; a love for freedom, individuality, and having fun. The unofficial motto is Skip Work and Surf (preferably in your VW.) There's no cost to the public and there's no publicity or marketing. The surfing contest is open to anyone who brought their board in a VW and the car show trophy (for coolest car) is determined by the whims of the moment. The trophy's are handmade by Rich himself and food is provided for all with a donation jar on the side. It's a far cry from a regular auto or surf industry event . 

It's no wonder people line up the night before and the line gets longer every year. This event remains true to the pioneering spirit of surf and gear-head culture in Southern California and that deeply resonates within our current day culture. 

It was an honor and a pleasure to spend time with and share Rich's story with you all. We hope you enjoy our film. 

 

  

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Meet our Producer • Brett Kirkpatrick

Brett Kirkpatrick.JPG

Hi everybody, my name is Brett Kirkpatrick (@brettkirk) and I'm the producer of the @thatvanagain project! I'm a husband to my beautiful wife @elocin31and dad to our three-year-old daughter, Clementine. I've been a fan of VW buses and a board rider since grade school. Growing up skateboarding and snowboarding on the East Coast, I remember seeing VWs in the parking lot at the mountains and thinking how cool it would be to live in one and wake up ready to ride. Gratefully I can say I am now the co-owner of a '72 Kombi named Seagull. She's amazing. 
Growing up I spent summers surfing, but it wasn't until my early 20s that surfing became my lifestyle. I destroyed my shoulder in a snowboarding competition and spent a month recouping in Hawaii. It changed me. I came home devoted to surfing. My wife and I have always made our home by the ocean. Even while working in NYC, I commuted from the Jersey shore just to be able to see the ocean every day. We've lived in San Diego, Hawaii, Bali, and while living in a camper van in New Zealand we discovered we had a baby on the way. Luckily we ended up in Ventura, CA. This led me to work across from Rincon, in my dream job, with great friends. My creative partners on this project Scott Erickson (@scottgregerick) and Tony Cruz (@tonycruz) inspire me creatively every day in and out of the water. I'm so stoked to share this and future projects with them and ultimately, with all of you.

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Meet our Co-Director • Tony Cruz

Hey everybody! My name is Tony Cruz (@tonycruz) and I’m a co-director for the #thatvanagainproject. I’m a husband to Megan and dad to my two boys, Lucas and Ethan. I’m an avid surfer and a huge fan of VW vans and buses. And now a co-owner of a '72 Kombi named Seagull. My love for vans started as a child when neighbors would cruise up the street. There was no doubt when they were coming because it was the loudest, yet slowest car on the block. I was always intrigued by its look, which was nothing like my parents Astro van. HA.

My love for surfing didn’t start out as a kid, but actually as a teenager graduating from high school. I spent that graduating summer going to the beach with a friend and his family. It was then that I caught the surfing bug and many years later I still get super excited about spending time in the water.
Back in 2014, I started shooting photos of vans and buses on my way home from the beach and posted then with the hashtag #thatvanagain. The photos had a specific look, a side profile shot of a van in the lower third with a lot of negative space above. This led to numerous opportunities to talk to van/bus owners who had pretty cool stories on how they got their van, where they’ve traveled on surf trips with it, etc. This led to where I’m at today - working with two good buddies of mine, Scott Erickson (@scottgregerick) & Brett Kirkpatrick (@brettkirk), we work together in production at @Linkedin and now on this project. Our backgrounds and stories are unique, but what we do have in common is, we love surfing, VW vans and telling stories. This is where and how our project about telling unique stories of VW vans life thru surf culture began. It made sense to us because our passions collided and opportunities presented themselves to begin production with this project. So, here we are today two years later and this project has been what the three of us describe as pushing a train in sandals while watching the waves. At times it has been slow moving and other times full throttle. So, I’m excited for us to start sharing some of the short vignettes we’ve completed. Yeww!

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Meet our Co-Director • Scott Erickson

My name is Scott Erickson, I'm a co-director of the film project, and I've been surfing and shooting film for almost 20 years. I'm holding in my arms, my newest passion project, my 3 month old son, Julian. The #thatvanagaincrew '72 Kombi, Seagull, adds a nice frame to our portrait. I was introduced to #VW surf vans as a kid through an amazing surf family down my street, @jercollings and his parents fire truck red Vanagon. Growing up surfing North LA county surf breaks, you'd see plenty of vans around, but it wasn't until putting down my own roots in Ventura that the passion for VW vans really settled in.
I developed my craft as a filmmaker making documentaries for lynda.com where I met fellow creative collaborators, @tonycruz and @brettkirk. Over many surf sessions, we felt a creative synergy that over time has led to this project.
We're super excited to share the initial short films we've developed for this project and start bringing more people into the process!

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All shapes & sizes

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All shapes & sizes

One of the things we love about VW surf vans is that they come in all shapes and sizes! No two are exactly the same and this variety draws people in and creates community. This video is our tribute to that spirit of individuality.

We cut this teaser based off footage from our shoot down at San Onofre a in August. For those that don't know, every August on a Wednesday morning, hundreds of VW's descend upon San O to skip work to go surfing. It perfectly represents all that that #thatvanagainproject hopes to capture for our film. And, it's a whole lot of fun!

Music by: The Walkmen

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Words from the road by Scott Erickson

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Words from the road by Scott Erickson

 

I’ve had a long standing feud with seagulls. It’s deeper than their predisposition for shitting on people or other annoying tendencies; it’s more personal than that.

It all goes back a few decades to when I was a kid when, after buying lunch at the food shack at Zuma beach, a flock of sea gulls knocked over my soda and stole my chili dog. It was the worst day of summer vacation and I never quite forgave the sea birds for the crimes committed that day.

So when my buddy Tony Cruz rolled up outside my house in a two-tone 1972 VW Kombi named Seagull, I knew it was time to let bygones be bygones and start the healing process.

 #ThatVanAgain is a surf film disguised as a documentary film that Tony and I have been working on with our partner, Brett Kirkpatrick, for the past couple of years. Born out of the desire to combine our passions for surfing and filmmaking, the project wasn’t initially about vans.

But when we started to think about the unique lens we could bring to surf films, we thought about what we see everyday around our hometown of Ventura, California: VW surf vans. 

Since the days of redwood surfboards, surf vehicles have always been important in the surfing community and VW surf vans have withstood the test of time without loosing any charm. No one who has a van doesn’t have an amazing story about their van which they will undoubtedly share with you with little prodding. Frankly put, VW van owners are more interesting than the rest of us.

We borrowed the film title from a hashtag that originated on Tony’s Instagram feed and away we went. There was only one problem. None of us actually own a van.

Enter CalKombi, a VW van rental service launched by Hans Hormann, who loaned us his newly restored van named Seagull for a weekend trip up to Big Sur. As a combination surf trip/film shoot/bachelor’s party of sorts, it was to be a weekend of adventure, good light and good times.

Our first destination was Jalama Beach which, while always beautiful, can be a sketchy call in terms of surf conditions. Thankfully we had head-high swell, beautiful light, and the beach to ourselves.

Just when we thought the trip couldn’t have started better,  warm offshore winds picked up a few minutes after sunset and the surf got super playful. Brett, a goofy foot surfer who grew up on the East Coast, could not get enough of the perfectly groomed beach break lefts that seemed to open up for nobody else but him.  

Our hope for the trip was to link up with vans and van owners along the way, collecting stories and connections that might make their way into the film itself. After spotting only a few vans and some failed connections, we learned quickly that the road is not often the easiest way to meet people but we took in some amazing vistas and fueled up on coffee and batteries in Morro Bay before heading our way up the coast to Big Sur.

Now driving a 40 year old van with no power anything along twisting narrow roads overlooking thousand foot cliffs is quite a different venture than my Subaru WRX but we all quickly fell into the rhythm of things; braking early to build up pressure in the lines, accepting the fact that there was 15-20 degrees of play in the giant flat steering wheel, and developing the understanding that pressing the gas pedal didn’t always have any sort of measurable impact upon actual acceleration.

Still, we were smitten by the many charms of Seagull, including how we always seemed to get a campsite even when signs posted outside campgrounds claimed them to be full.

We pulled into Big Sur in time for one last evening session at Andrew Molera State Beach, a beach break a bit of a walk from the road guarded by a creek to wade through. The beautiful river mouth sandbar was pulling in a fun chest-high swell and was sheltered from the howling winds by a giant beautiful headland point. It reminded me of the line up of my home break, Leo Carillo State Beach in Malibu, except 15 degrees colder. Without booties, Tony was forced in early but Brett and I made the most of the dying light and fun surf before heading back to camp.

The next morning, we packed up and rounded the coast up towards Monterey, capturing some iconic shots of Seagull cresting the Bixby Canyon Bridge to feature in later video projects. Away from the coast, we felt the heat rise as we cruised down the 101 freeway back to Ventura, frustrating RV owners and semi-trailers alike with our 60mph top speed.


Van life, particularly in a VW surf van, offers a different pace and philosophy to normal everyday life. Instead of thinking about which spots to check or where else might be breaking, we simply headed north to find what was in our path.

We loaded up on provisions and never needed to stop for anything other than fuel and power for our electronics. We literally took the backseat and let Sea Gull and higher powers guide the way. And we were all the better for it.

Now if I could just forgive those damn seagulls…

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