Man With A Van

Cyrus Sutton is one of our favorite DIY surf fellas. His film "Compass_ing" due out this summer recounts building the ultimate surf van and hitting the open road.

He made the surf film "Riding Waves," in his early 20s. And he won an Emmy for "The Next Wave." He's the driving force behind He also rips on a bunch of boards that the rest of us would just scratch our heads at. And he lives in a van.

They say the growth of the surf industry is "good for the sport." That means a better ASP Tour, more legitimacy, and ultimately more people from shop clerks, to commercial artists and sales reps making a living from something they love. But the result is that an ever-growing establishment is dictating what it means to be a surfer. What Cyrus Sutton is probably most known for is as a throwback to the surfer creating his own reality -- the individual defining surfing rather than surfing defining the individual.

In his most recent adventure, and much of the focus of his new film "Compass_ing" Cyrus Sutton does what we all want to do. He customizes a work van to be the ultimate surf trip vehicle. We had a chance to chat about all this. You can follow Cyrus' travels directly through his Instagram, Twitter and blog @cyrus_sutton.

Anyone can just go buy a used "conversion" van. Why did you decide to make your own and how were you able to customize it beyond your average factory camper?
At first it was a practical decision. I didn't want to be indebted to monthly payments on a new van so I converted the Ford E250 I'd owned for seven years into a home on wheels that I could be proud of. I drafted the inside on my computer. The goal was to maximize the small space by giving multiple functions into every element of the design. Material wise, the top was constructed of sheet steel and plywood over a tubular steel frame. I took the windows out of an old 70's El Camino shell for the sides and we put a Plexiglas hexagonal window in the back that opens up like the rear of a common camper shell. On the inside, there's a six-foot-plus long sliding bed in the top canopy and a single bed below. There's storage underneath the floor for clothes and supplies, the left side features a board storage case whose top serves as the kitchen counter. There's a small space for my stove, a trashcan, and five-gallon propane bottle. Next fall, I'll install a catalytic heater. I am about to install a Goal Zero solar system and Yakima rocket box and bike rack for more storage on long trips.

Cyrus Sutton: A Man With A Van

Where have you traveled with it?
I've driven the van the entire Baja peninsula a few times and gone as far North as Oregon. But since I started working on it I've just gone on weekend trips to the desert. It is really sturdy and watertight. I'm surprised how aerodynamic it is as well.

Where did you learn to weld? That seems like the ultimate do-it-yourself skill.
I would have never been able to convert my van without the help of a couple friends. Namely Brad Begent, who's an artist and builder from Ramona, CA and Glen Horn. It was Brad who taught me how to weld during the conversion. Looking back, the whole three-month project was a journey that I'll never forget. I learned so much and strengthened some lifelong friendships.

The new film "Compass_ing" doesn't just focus on converting the van. What's the film about?
I love telling stories with my films. And this one is going to be symbolic journey to find the meaning of freedom and power. It's inspired by the ancient books "The Illiad and Odyssey" by Homer. The a quick description of the film is "an inner-planetary quest for freedom through the ocean and the open road."

You are pretty synonymous with the DIY surf ethos. Have you seen that movement get played out a little?
I guess it's like anything really. Things become trendy, which creates opportunity and also pitfalls. Regardless of what's en vogue, there's people who will do things in hopes of being perceived as cool and people who act out of necessity and practically to improve their lives and the sometimes the lives others. I see a lot of practicality in the DIY trend. It's a really good thing that people are engaging with the pragmatic side of the creative process. Real hands-on life skills are something that I think will be become more and more important as time marches on, trendy or not.

The shot of your gear with asymmetrical boards, swim fins, and spear gun makes it seem like the ultimate journey. Did you score on this last mission?
Yeah, it was a really nice getaway. Two weeks by myself in the desert. The days were spent reading, writing, sharing waves, and eating fresh fish.

You are one of the busiest people in surfing. What's up next?
Haha! Well I'm in Tahiti right now with the Reef team and I get home to in a couple days. I then have two weeks to finish dialing in my camper and complete a short film I've been working on about Basque culture before going on a 10-week road trip to film for my new project Compass_ing. I get back in July to edit the film and three weeks later is the premiere in Brooklyn. After that, I'll probably stay home for a bit and work with my crew on our website before taking off again. Stoked!

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