Van Life Tales – Spike Kane adaptive surfing champion

Earlier this month we invited surfer and campervan enthusiast Spike Kane to share his experience of life on the road… and the waves!

Spike competes internationally in adaptive surfing competitions and was the first British surfer to represent the UK at the adaptive world surfing championship. Spike has connections to UK based Surfability, a surfing school for people with disabilities, with whom we’re working on a Love Campers Adapted Surf Van.

At Love Campers, we’d been following Spike’s journey for a while and had heard all about his unique campervan that he uses for surf adventures and getting out into the wilderness. We interviewed Spike to find out his top tips for van trips and accessing the great outdoors as someone with a disability.

He has had some truly epic adventures around the globe with his campervan! Check out the photos below πŸ™‚

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into surfing?

I was born and raised in Liverpool and used to work at the Liverpool watersports center when it first opened and was located on the canal outside the city center. It now has a really nice facility in the Queens Dock close to the waterfront. That was back in the early 80’s and the staff there were a real adventurous bunch. We used to do weekend road trips in search of white water kayak adventures and one weekend we washed up at Rhosneigr Beach in Anglesey to surf and that’s where it all began. A few years later I came to the USA to teach watersports for a summer and fell in love with the place. I was located in the Pacific Northwest which was a Mecca for outdoor sports and had everything you could imagine including empty surf beaches. That is when I really sank my teeth into the sport.

Spike Kane surfing

Tell us about your early van adventures?

I purchased my first van in 1989, a 1968 Chevy Sports van. Total Scooby Doo style!  We had some epic adventures!! I ended up staying in the USA and going to college to get a degree in wooden boat building. That is what I did for work up until I was injured in 2005.

We’d love to hear more about your adaptive world surfing lifestyle?

Having worked in the watersports already I was fully aware of the industry, and had helped disabled people get on the water including surfing. So as soon as I was out of hospital my surfing friends and I headed to the coast of Washington State, duct taped a chest pad to my board to keep my face out of the water and went surfing. It was brilliant and I haven’t stopped since! I was the first British surfer to represent the UK at the adaptive world surfing championship and have helped  develop the sport in the UK and beyond including working with the architects to make the inland surfing lake “THE WAVE” in Bristol fully accessible.    

The Wave Bristol
The Wave in Bristol – an inland-surfing destination

This is my van at Cardiff Beach in San Diego county with my friends from Argentina, USA, South Africa and Hawaii. Apart from the practical aspect of a surf van they also become social hubs at the beach and in the adaptive surf community this is just as important as the activity of surfing itself!

Amazing! Can you tell us a bit about your campervan?

My camper van is a 1996 Ford Econoline 150 with a raised roof. It was modified to teach people how to drive with hand controls and was equipped with a Ricon lift on the passenger side for wheelchair access. It was empty inside so I put my woodwork skills to work and built a bed/storage platform in the back. Having the wheelchair requires some room to move around inside so I didn’t do an extensive buildout. I have had a lot of experience before I was injured, adventure traveling in my previous vans and the more I did the less I took…

And any tips for life on the road?

You learn what the essentials are and you adjust to the environments you are traveling in. My kitchen was always in a plastic tote and a small cooler with a 20 litre water jug next to it, all accessible through the back doors. I built a small shelf that just slotted above the rear bumper and that was the kitchen counter. I don’t live in my van so when I am out I want to feel like I am camping rather than managing a living space. I have traversed the USA, coast to coast five times now so this set up works well for me.

What do you love most about the campervan lifestyle? 

I would say the sense of adventure is what is most appealing about Campervan life. Unlike backpacking, you have your transport with you and can change plans instantly and follow your instincts or change plans on a whim and adjust your travel to accomodate people you may meet on the road or follow opportunities that may present themselves while you are in those areas. I think everyone who has ever adventured in any vehicle would agree, it is all about freedom. There is also a certain amount of security one feels when enclosed in a steel structure in remote surroundings. 

Have there been any challenges with campervan life?

I would have to say that the challenges from van life pre and post injury are not that different.  As with everyone who doesn’t have an enclosed head (toilet) in their van, bathrooms are always a priority. I keep a gym membership to a national chain which gives me access to bathrooms and showers anywhere in the US 24/7. Being a surfer, and using the van for that purpose most of the time, keeping it clean and dry are challenges I face. I have yet to find a portable vacuum that can keep up or survive the demand, and I have put them all to the test!

Basic maintenance like topping off fluids, checking oil etc are all out of my reach so I have to rely on other people for that but I stay on top of all aspects of maintenance to avoid any problems in remote areas. 

As for the community challenges, it has always been difficult to coordinate with other “Vanners” who want to share your current adventure, but you always meet like minded travellers on the road and sometimes your agendas align. 

Can you tell us about your most memorable adventure using your camper? 

That’s easy, it was the first big trip from Seattle Washington To St Petersburg  Florida in 2013. Just about as far as you can drive in the lower USA. The scenery is astonishing and changes all the time. You never stop saying “WOW”.

I did it at the beginning of winter to escape the Northwest cold and spent four months in glorious Florida sunshine. While I was traveling through Denver, mid November, they had their first winter snow and as I headed out onto the motorway I had a tyre blow out and spun out on the snow smashing into a pole. Luckily, because of the weather, I wasn’t going very fast and the impact was on the side of the van near the back. It caused a lot of cosmetic damage but it was still drivable. I had to wait for a few hours for roadside assistance to come and change the tyre but a state trooper parked behind me on the hard shoulder and kept me safe and provided good company. I was on the road again the next day after sealing a broken side window with plastic and replacing all tyres with new. The winter storm chased me all the way to Florida but it was a stunning drive. St Petersburg has some of the best beaches in the country and the van made itself quite comfortable there! 

After that I drove from Florida to San Diego, spent some time surfing, then headed up the coast back to Seattle. 

What’s the number one thing you’ve learnt about “van life”?

The thing I’ve learned most about van life is how easy it is once you figure out a few basics. You always need fuel so unless you are parked in the wilderness and not moving for weeks on end, you can always resupply at fuel stops. Having a reliable vehicle is essential for me as I can’t just walk out of remote areas with difficult terrain. I don’t have to be far from civilization to get into trouble quickly with a broken down vehicle and no cell service. I carry a personal emergency locator beacon in total wilderness areas. 

What do you love the most about having a campervan?

What I love most is using the van to explore. I can access obscure places and be in some stunning wilderness areas to witness and experience all the beauty it has to offer with relative comfort and safety. That and my dog gets to come along for the ride πŸ™‚ Best co-pilot ever! 

Dog in campervan

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