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…