Classic Cars, Surfboards, and Beach Mobiles (Vol. I)

I bought a ’30 Ford wagon and we call it a woodie
(Surf City, here we come)
You know it’s not very cherry, it’s an oldie but a goodie
(Surf City, here we come)
Well, it ain’t got a back seat or a rear window
But it still gets me where I wanna go

Surf City, The Beach Boys

In an imaginary world where I am tan, athletic, and have a trust fund, I would be a surf bum, if only to have a cool car to cart my boards around.


P and I are looking forward to our upcoming trip to Melbourne, Florida in June.  One of our planned stops is Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach, where they have just released this limited edition die-cast VW crew cab pick-up with surfboards.

Ron Jon VW

You can bet I’m picking up one as a souvenir… because if I can’t have a real beach wagon to drive around the JUP in, I’ll take this miniature one to push around our living room floor.

The vehicle most commonly associated with surfing is an American creation: the woodie.

Diane Trimble Photo
Photography Credit: Diane Trimble

A “woodie” is a car body style with rear bodywork constructed of wood framework with infill wood panels.  First created by furniture makers at the start of the 20th century, they were extremely customizable.  Using an automobile without a body as a base, a woodworker would then build the body entirely of wood.

However, as those of us who live in wooden houses can attest, driving a wooden car has its inconveniences.  (Can someone say termites?)  Like any piece of wood, the body of the woodie succumbs to moisture damage, discoloration, and rot.  Not a practical family vehicle, by the mid-1950s most car buyers passed over woodies for its steel cousin: the station wagon.

Yellow Woody

Woodies all over American soon found themselves dumped in junk yards and used car lots, just in time to be picked up by surfers looking for a cheap mode of transportation that was big enough to haul their wooden boards, which ranged in length from ten to 15 feet.  Woodies were perfect for the surfer’s nomadic lifestyle because, well, you could live in one if you wanted to.

Surfers are nomads.  To surf is to seek, and to seek is to roam.  To find a good wave might require traveling a good distance.  To find a great, uncrowded wave might take you to the ends of the earth.  Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer actually recapitulated and promulgated the core ritual of surf culture: the search for the perfect wave. – Drew Kampion, Stoked!  


Certainly, woodies were not surfers’ only mode of transportation.  Drew Kampion’s book Stoked! A History of Surf Culture shows a slew of vehicles: pick-up trucks, VW buses, Jeeps, beat-up cars.  If it had wheels and a working engine, you were ready to go!

The best “beach mobile” description from Stoked! is surfer John Elwell’s recollection of fellow surfer Bob Simmon’s 1937 tudor with a V-8 60hp engine:

Bob had stripped the driver’s seat out and painted out the rear windows, took out the rear seat and trunk wall.  He plywooded it in and slept back there with his feet stretched out into the passenger area.  He had cans of soybeans, with fresh fruit on the floorboards, oceanographic charts of Southern California and the world in the back, with his boomerangs.  His bathing suit, a woolen World War II navy-surplus-type, was hooked on the front bumper to dry while he drove to the next surfing spot… The board shown on top is his “latest machine,” a concave, dual-finned, hydrodynamic, slotted-nose and -tail board with roll handles – a favorite 11-foot board for the biggest days and the finest of Simmons’ designs.


Photograph from Legendary Surfers


Maybe someday I will win the battle against my type-A , perfectionist personality and be able to find the beauty of sleeping in a rusting, hollowed-out car.  Until then, I’ll just have to settle for my die-cast VW and king-size Serta.


I’m keeping my eyes peeled for some modern-day beach mobiles and wagons rolling through the JUP!  Want to share yours?  Say hello:


JUP Girl

*Featured image from Google Images (



Stoked! A History of Surf Culture by Drew Kampion


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