Whether it’s a busted-up sedan held together lovingly with duct tape and surf wax, or a $100k adventure van built to high tail it in air-conditioned comfort to Baja through an apocalypse crawling with zombies, a well-dialed surf rig is, or really should be, a point of pride for the mobile surfer.
But which rig is for you?
Well, that probably depends on how much money you plan to burn. Or, rather, carefully invest that is. If you don’t have the time, the wherewithall, the freedom, or, hell, even the interest in perusing Craigslist for, say, the first hour of every day while you have coffee and sift through dozens of ads looking for the next vehicular Mr. or Mrs/ Right, consult this handy dandy list for our advice on what to look for in an adventure rig at a few different price points.
$3000: Questionable Volvo Wagon
Ah, the humble Volvo. Or at least, the once humble Volvo, now a luxury brand for well-heeled families. Tough as nails, and paradoxically legendary for both reliability and neverending mechanical gremlins. A good one will outlive the sun, a bad one will cost a fortune in endless repairs. For a few grand you’re rolling the dice here, but if you can find a mid-90s 850 wagon, or the older 940 and 240 models in running order, you’ve got a classic board-swallowing wagon you can camp in and drive into the side of a cliff with little fear of damage. Good luck.
Honorable Mention: Rusted Jeep Cherokee; Any Japanese-made sedan from the early 2000s; ancient Toyota or Nissan pickup; barely running Ford E-line van
$10,000: 4WD Chevy Astro Van, late 90s-early 00’s
Out of left field you say? Maybe. But the humble Chevy Astro van, god rest its discontinued soul, when powered by the bulletproof v6 engine and propelled by all four drive wheels is a go-anywhere beast that can be outfitted in about a million different ways. 2WD models can be had for much less than $10k, but a well-maintained, trail-ready 4WD model typically goes for $8-10k, and will be ready to fulfill all your #vanlife fantasies. Just be prepared for lots of notes under your wipers asking if you’d like to sell, and for random people to snap photos of your rig for their Insta feeds.
Honorable Mention: Toyota Prius wagon; AWD Honda Element; Nissan Frontier; AWD Toyota Sienna
$25,000: 90s Land Rover Defender
Normally this is the boring used Tacoma or Sprinter van territory. If you’ve actually squirreled away $20k for a rig specifically with surfing in mind, why mess around? You know what you want. The Tacoma is the creme de la creme of adventure trucks, and will loyally serve its owner up to and including the heat death of the universe. As for the Sprinter, well, it’s the must-have house on wheels for the retired dentist cum adventure surfer type.
But that’s BORING. Dropping $25k on a surf rig ain’t exactly practical, so why pretend? Find you a 90s-era Land Rover Defender 90 or 110. These are the boxy ones that look sorta like old Broncos. Lots of them go for closer to $50k, but they’re out there for half that. If you can find the diesel, that’s your baby. Otherwise, the 3.5L v8 will do a fine job sucking through vast amounts of fuel. These things drip with refined adventure, will climb over anything, and will draw curious crowds anywhere you’ve parked. Plus, walking back to yours after a solo session somewhere in British Columbia or something will make you feel like the bravest explorer in the world. Especially if you’ve nabbed a right-hand drive version. Oooweee.
Honorable Mention: Tacoma, Sprinter, Ford Transit, five different Volvo wagons for each day of the workweek
$50,000: Don’t. Don’t drop that kind of cash on a surf rig. Buy a Sprinter and a old pickup and have options. Buy a Tacoma and bolt on every aftermarket gizmo you can find, AND an off-road trailer, and you’d still come in under budget.