We stumbled upon the ultimate surfing truck/van thing – and it’s called a Sportsmobile. We were intrigued – so we did some digging and interviewed one of the main dudes at Sportsmobile. Here goes.
DailyStoke: The SportsMobile has probably been favorite of exploratory surfers since before I was born, which is 1978. What’s the back story?
Sportsmobile: Sportsmobile (SMB) began in 1961 converting the Volkswagen vans to a camper with and expandable roof. At that time, the Volkswagen was the best available platform for a small efficient camper. In the 70’s Sportsmobile started using the domestic vans…(Ford, Chevy, and Dodge) Using the same basic conversion ideas as on the Volkswagens, the American vans were better suited to handle the added weight of the camper and still have enough power to make it up the hills and/or tow. Sportsmobile really grew in popularity around 1990 with the integration of the 4×4 system to the camper conversion. This would allow for travelers to get “off the beaten path” and explore places that normally only could be accessed by Jeeps and like vehicles. The comfort that the Sportsmobile provides as well as its great size and amazing off road capabilities make it a great way to travel for anyone that has a passion for the outdoors…surfers being towards the top of that list.
DailyStoke: I must commend you. The Sportsmobile vans that I saw would eat a Hummer alive. Are the Sportsmobile’s as environmentally friendly? 😉
Sportsmobile: One of my favorite custom license plates that I have seen on an SMB is HMR EATR. They really blow Hummers out of the water with their looks and capabilities. They also are much more environmentally friendly than the Hummers are. With the diesel engine on the 4×4 Ford vans, people are getting almost twice the fuel mileage as the Hummers. The last report I got from a customer on an extended road trip showed an overall average mileage of 16.7 mpg. To take it a step further, many of our customers use bio-diesel…or even do a full conversion to vegetable oil. Using the waste grease from restaurants to operate a vehicle like a Sportsmobile is about as environmentally friendly as it gets! Here is a one of our surf customers that has done the veggie oil conversion on his rig. You may have heard of him before 😉 – Jimmy Buffett.
DailyStoke: Any stories of surfers giving up the rat race for exploration of foreign surf breaks? Or better yet, traversing the Darien Gap? Have you read or heard of Allan Weisbecker’s In Search of Captain Zero? In that book, he puts one of those motorhome thingys on the back of a 4×4 Truck, and sets out on a surfing journey from New York to Panama. I’d bet he’d like to try out your vans.
Sportsmobile: There are more than a few surfers that have given up the day to day grind and jumped in their SMB for some surf exploration. We have had customers drive throughout North and South America finding as many breaks along the way as possible. The most popular destination for foreign breaks is of course Baja…being here in our own backyard. One of the nice things about the Sportsmobile lifestyle is the ability to go anywhere at anytime. These vehicles allow even the busiest of surfers to get away on short notice and hit some spots that normally would require tons of advanced planning.
DailyStoke: At the price point for a Sportsmobile Van, a regular surfer would likely have to make the Sportsmobile their home. Seems doable, barring parking and bylaw violations.
Sportsmobile: There are plenty of people who decide to give up a permanent residence and “live in a van down by the river”…or beach…whatever The thing many people do not realize is the ability for extended financing on these vehicles. Sportsmobiles are classified as recreational vehicles which qualify for 15-20 year loans. This can make monthly payments doable for almost anyone. The way these things hold their value, extended financing is a very attractive option.
DailyStoke: Are there opportunities to rent a van, rather than buy? I see there’s a resale market with 4x4s going for around $45,000.
Sportsmobile: Unfortunately Sportsmobiles are not something available for rent. We have sold some vehicles to a company in Hawaii that does Volcano tours, but nothing regarding surf destinations.
DailyStoke: What would be your van recommendation for a surfer interested on making the trek down south? Forget Baha – I’m thinking Torrance to Tamarindo, Costa Rica.
Sportsmobile: The Ford van with the powerstroke diesel engine and the Sportsmobile 4×4 conversion would be the perfect vehicle for a trip down into South America. This vehicle would be able to handle any of the road conditions encountered along the way. The bulletproof option may be wise for those driving through Colombia.
DailyStoke: C’mon now. Let’s not forget to soup it up, right – are a disco ball and wall to wall carpeting available accessories? What are other “I’d-be-stoked-to-have” accessories?
Sportsmobile: I did experience a Sportsmobile with a disco ball on our last rally. So far only one stripper pole has been installed in a Sportsmobile, but I can see that option picking up as soon as more people get wind of it. Of course shag carpeting is always fun for the retro look, but some of the features that are great for surfers include a durable marine grade vinyl flooring that can be easily cleaned and handle any salt water that might come it’s way. The addition of a shower wand with heated water in the rear of the van is a must for anyone hitting the bigger winter breaks up North. Full wet suit lockers with drains and interior board storage racks make it easy to have all of the gear ready to go if a swell comes in on short notice. On-board GPS navigation with flatscreen TVs are great electronic options for any surfer that doesn’t want to get lost, and for those who enjoy falling asleep to Endless Summer. Remote control exterior mounted spotlights can be great when searching for a good spot after dark. This names just a few of the options that are available…I could go on for days with this one.
DailyStoke: A van that breaks down is only as good as the mechanic you have on board, or the mechanic you find in a remote Peruvian town. You can’t exactly call OnStar, can ya! So what happens in that case? You live and die by your own hands? What’s the part that is most likely to break down? Not that it’s going to break down, ya know, but just thinking ahead.
Sportsmobile: Most of the components that Sportsmobile adds to the base chassis are very durable and simple to fix in a pinch. The toughest thing to deal with would almost always be an engine problem encountered on the vehicle. There aren’t always dealerships in or around many of the places that Sportsmobile frequents. But after experiencing some of the “bush mechanics” down in Baja, I am starting to question the training that these dealer mechanics are getting. We have had Sportsmobiles travel all over the world and had great success in handling repairs.
DailyStoke: Any advice if you’re making a slightly longer trek, say California to Argentina?
Sportsmobile: DO YOUR RESEARCH if you are taking longer trips that involve multiple countries. Being prepared with proper documentation and insurance usually presents the biggest challenge when making a trip across foreign continents. Know where it is safe to drive and when it is safe…ie no night driving etc. As far as the Sportsmobile vehicle goes, there may be some spare parts that would be wise to carry. Water filtration devices can also be very helpful when traveling in foreign territory. Usually vehicles that run into problems in foreign territory have what we like to call a “loose nut behind the wheel”…if you catch my drift. Using common sense and good planning will allow for a safe and enjoyable road trip.
DailyStoke: Bandits, road rage or bad surf. What’s the biggest hazard to drivers?
-Bandits…major problem in Baja. You can’t be too careful down there nowadays.
-Road Rage…big time issue in Southern California. This road rage then translates into wave rage when you are in a crowded lineup in Orange County and you keep getting snaked by some clown from Riverside.
-Bad Surf…biggest problem here in FresNO Beach where Sportsmobile West is based. Fortunately the recent trend of wakesurfing behind the wakeboarding boats here at the local lakes have brought us some surf, but it’ll never get double overhead!