Best Surf Cars Ever

As a surfer, you are what you drive

It’s a proven fact that you surf better when you show up to the beach in a dialed-in surf rig. It’s also a fact that you will heinously ruin the interior of a normal sedan with wax, sand, and foul smells if you’re wedging boards and wetsuits in the back. You need a good surf car, so if you’re on the market for dedicated surf transport, here are the models you want. All can be had for less than $7,500.


Jay Nelson's ewok-village inspired setup
Jay Nelson’s ewok-village inspired setup. Photo: jaynelsonart.com

Toyota Pickup (late 1980s – 1990s)

You Want This Because: Legendary reliability; economical; compact truck with plenty of space

If you’re fortunate enough to find a mid-1990s ‘Yota in decent shape, especially with the 4-cylinder motor and the 5-speed transmission, grab hold of the thing with both hands and never, ever let go. They get great gas mileage (mid 20s mpg), boast simple engines that are easy to repair, and parts are cheap. Throw a camper shell on the bed and you can do whatever the hell you want back there. The 4×4 models practically beg to be driven to Baja.

Cons: They look like surf cars, and may attract unwanted attention to your secret spot


Nissan NV200 (early 2010s)

You Want This Because: Will swallow an entire house, yet still fit in a compact car space

Man, these are dorky looking. No getting around that. Also no getting around that they’re basically Tardises (look it up, kids) far bigger on the inside than makes any rational sort of sense. Plus, they look like work vans, so you could probably get away with parking them at meters without paying, or even double parking with the flashers on and surfing for 2 hours before anybody realizes that you ain’t the plumber. You can find these puppies used with about 150,000 on the clock for right around $7000.”

Cons: Really nothing sexy about how this looks at all


"This just in—surf camping Toyota Vans are rad. Back to you in the studio."
“This just in—surf camping Toyota Vans are rad. Back to you in the studio.” Photo: Fergus McIver

Toyota Van (1982 – 1990)

You Want This Because: The best parts of the Vanagon and the Toyota pickup in one stout little van.

In the Japanese market, the van was called the “Master Ace.” In Europe it was marketed as the “Toyota Space Cruiser.” Need to know any more? Well, in addition to all the badassery of being able to cram the quivers of you and five of your friends in the Toyota Van, all the weight in these things is concentrated up front with the engine, so, if you are feeling particularly reckless, you can bust an endo if you stop quickly enough. Also, they’re cheaper than Vanagons, and 4×4 versions of the Toyota Van can be had for around $5,000.

Cons: Nothing.


You'll just have to use your imagination to picture a Subaru wagon here
You’ll just have to use your imagination to picture a Subaru wagon here.

Subaru AWD Wagon (any year you want)

You Want This Because: You are practical and you want a (fingers-crossed) reliable wagon with AWD

Subarus are either plucky little champions, getting you wherever you need to go for hundreds of thousands of miles, or heart-wrenching nightmares of blown head gasket upon blown head gasket. But, they are just about the perfect car. The 6-cylinder turbo editions will get you to the beach in a hurry. The AWD can deliver you safely to Scorpion Bay. You can fit a few boards inside, or strap your sleds to the roof and sleep in the thing on surf/camp trips.

Cons: You know about the head gasket thing, right?


Livin’ the dream.

Ford Econoline Van (mid 1960s – mid 2000s)

You Want This Because: So big, you could conceivably get lost inside one; virtually impossible to destroy

The Ford Econoline is like the B-52 of the car world; America’s been churning out these workhorses since the dawn of the Cold War. They grew bigger over the decades, but they never lost their charm. Weirdly, these things are widely available on the cheap, even though they run forever. You could live your whole life in an E-series van from the early 2000s and never feel cramped. Basically just rolling rectangles, the Econolines are blank canvases for your surf rig fantasies.

Cons: Vans like this are always just one missed wash away from being super creepy.