Riders on the Shore

A tribe of Californians has eschewed the security of a fixed abode to chase the surf in their homes on four wheels. A new book follows in their wake

Photography by MATTHEW BROOKES


A Ford Econoline camper.


Finding inspiration in the back of a van parked by the beach may sound unusual for a photographer primarily known for his work with the world’s foremost actors and models as well as luxury clients like Armani, Cartier and Louis Vuitton, but for Matthew Brookes, it was part of a mid-pandemic escape. “I moved to Venice Beach from Paris at the beginning of 2021,” the Britain-born and South Africa-raised Brookes says. Once he arrived, Brookes quickly started photographing local skaters and surfers he bumped into, and soon saw that many of his subjects lived in tricked-out vans equipped to house a person or two (and the occasional pet). He was fascinated. “I love to discover people or groups that live a lifestyle which is opposite to mine, or that I know very little about,” he says. “I’m always on the lookout for little subcultures or tribes of people that are not widely documented.” After a few key introductions, the photographer spent the next six months traveling up and down the California coast, capturing itinerant surfers from Malibu to San Diego and learning about their lives. The resulting book, Into the Wild (Damiani, $50), is a beautiful expression of an alternative lifestyle, the kind readers may have spent their own lockdowns dreaming about.


INTO THE WILD (Damiani, $50).


Brookes believes that many of the surfers he photographed for the book started electing to live out of their vans — a trend now frequently marketed across social media and beyond as #vanlife — during the pandemic. Some, like Bob Badonic, Lucas Milan Ucedo and David Robert Vizulis, are or were recently teenagers, newly out on their own; others, like Zian Mateo Boyd and Aion Boyd, do it as a family. Some are California born and bred, while others emigrated here from across the globe. All are in pursuit of the same things: perfect waves and the freedom to pursue whatever else they want to do, however else they want to do it. “The lockdowns forced people to analyze their lives and what is important to them,” Brookes says. “I think young people had it especially hard. It’s understandable that they would explore every possibility to have a sense of freedom.”


DAVID ROBERT VIZULIS practices longboarding and shortboarding out of his 2005 Dodge Sprinter van.


A surfer in Malibu.


JOSHUA ISAAC PEREZ owns a 2001 Dodge Ram Van 1500. He learned to surf at Carpinteria and Leo Carrillo. Based in Malibu, he loves to explore the empty breaks of the Central Coast.


North Carolina native “FAIRY MARY” WEDELL lives in a 1979 Dodge school bus. Now based in Venice Beach, where she works in a bar, she previously lived in Costa Rica.


“FAIRY MARY” WEDELL and her friend Jane, whom she describes as her “soul sister.”


ZIAN MATEO BOYD lives in a 2002 Ford Econoline with his father and both are part of the Malibu surfer community. They bought the van from their board shaper.






KANDAI OTSUKA, who grew up in Japan learning to surf from his father, on top of his 1975 Ford Econoline 250 HP. He sells fruit at farmers markets for a living.


Southern California’s particular take on van life appeals for its possibilities of living off the grid, with less pressure and more room to explore. “When you’re in the water all you’re worried about is what’s happening two feet in front of you and two feet behind you. It’s a really clear headspace. Nothing else matters,” Samuel James Mallos told surf journalist Zack Raffin, who conducted the Into the Wild interviews. “I hope I’m able to surf forever.” It’s a common refrain in the book’s pages.

“What struck me the most about the young people I met was how happy they were,” Brookes says. “They seemed to shine with an inner peace. I asked them about it and one common answer kept coming up: ‘We go with the flow and we live for the flow.’ That was their secret motto.” Looks like the secret’s out.


Feature image: JACK “BLACKFOOT” HILL with his 2006 Dodge Sprinter van.


This story originally appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of C Magazine.

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