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.

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.