The DIY Surf Wagon for Weekend Warriors

By Matt G – 05/10/2015 

Converting a regular van into a wave-chasing wagon can be a tricky task for even the most experienced DIY dudes. If you’re planning to paddle headfirst into a conversion project, here are a few thoughts you may want to consider before banging in the first few nails.

Having a number self made campers myself, I’ve come to learn that it’s not all about DIY skills. The most important thing is the layout of your Wagon, and how it fits your expected use. Before you start peering into other wagons wondering how the inside looks it’s worth considering what you really need, because every van should be as unique as the person driving it. Van-travel surfers can be categorized into general categories, with each category outlining how you should prioritize the van’s contents differently. Since owning vans, and surfing myself, I’ve been through different categories and found myself converting a new van to better suit my needs each time. And this machine is where it all started for me.

The Weekend Warrior

As the title suggests, the weekender is someone who’s keen to live for the weekends. They may not have had the need to drive many vans in the past, but are now ready to spice up their weekends.

For any readers in this position, I can’t urge you enough to follow through with the temptation. Getting a van will change your life for the better, no doubt. No more putting up/down tents in the rain, or wondering if you can find a campsite with space. Just hop in the wagon after work and head to the nearest break that’s pumping. Park up as near as possible, hop in the back, get some rest and be ready for the dawn session. You can’t beat it. Since you’re camper’s only likely to be lived in for the weekends it’s important to make it as user-friendly as possible. It’s pointless leaving it parked up all week when you could design it suitably and use it as your everyday vehicle.

Vehicle Choice

If you’re wanting to use the van as an everyday vehicle then efficiency and size are crucial. Short wheel base is almost a must to maintain hassle free parking day to day. You don’t want to find yourself maneuvering a beast through the shopping mall garage. And with everyday driving you don’t want a heavy truck that drinks fuel either. Keep an eye on the expected fuel consumption, since it may be worth spending an extra few bucks on newer van that uses half the fuel.

Conversion Tips

A simple, solid and light set up is ideal for weekend trips.

There’s little point buying an economical van if you’re going to fill it with heavy wood and drive it on the axels. Using minimal materials and lightweight framework is a must. 2” x 2” timber will be plenty for the majority of your framework if laid out sensibly. Avoid MDF and spend the extra bit on a thin, but strong ply. Whatever happens, don’t make the mistake of putting down carpet. I made that mistake on my first conversion. As a surfer, it’s guaranteed to get full of sand, damp and start to smell. Wood laminate can be easy to put down and simple to sweep sand out, but they usually don’t like water too much, which will cause them to warp and bend. The best is to either keep it simple and just use marine ply, with a few layers of varnish, or go for a sheet of vinyl.

I’d suggest that it’s probably not worth fitting a toilet. Emptying it every Sunday night will become tedious and you’ll likely find yourself not using it. They take up a lot of space too, even if you go for one of the potty style ones that you can pull out of a storage area. With a weekender you’re likely to be somewhere with a nearby facility, and if not there’s always a tree.

A folding bed,that can be changed into seating can be a great choice for weekend wagons. Comfort of the bed isn’t such an issue, since you’ll only be in it for a few nights and the space you can gain from folding back a bed could be really useful for opening up space for general use during the week. It’s a similar point with storage. You’re unlikely to need a full wardrobe for a weekend, so you can avoid the hassle of making complex storage units, by just having a few decent size shelves that can hold clothes.

If you’re just escaping for weekends, they you may find yourself eating out some of the time. Failing that, a simple little one-hob gas cooker could be fine. They take up next to no storage, don’t require gas fitting to be installed and won’t give you monoxide poisoning from a leak. In general, my tip for weekend warrior vans would be to keep it simple and light. Don’t build too many fixed items, which will increase weight and complexity of conversion and reduce the versatility of the van for your everyday use.