Story 5 | Surf Resort Founder
I am not someone who sought out van life, it kind of found me through convenience. In 2011 I took a surf trip to Liberia, West Africa and that experience changed my life. I saw one of the most beautiful places and cultures in the world and a place that was ripe with tourism opportunity (yet no tourism) as well as some of the best left hand point breaks in the world. The local people were begging for opportunity so me and a friend decided to acquire some land and start a sustainable surf resort. To say it was a smooth process would be a lie. In June 2012 I was finally ready to depart to my new home in Liberia and begin a project of epic proportions. I had no idea what I was in for. Fast forward 1.5 years and 7 cases of malaria and we finally had momentum. Kwepunha Retreat was on the map for surfers and tourists alike (www.kwepunha.com). Guests were coming to stay with us from all over the world and we were being featured by the BBC, time magazine, espn and many more big name media outlets.
Spending 9 months out of each year living in Liberia and only 3 months in the states, I quickly grew tired of couch surfing with friends and not having my own space. I also felt a bit confined to my city of San Diego so while in Liberia on my next trip I began researching vans. I had no clue about van life or that it was a newly blossoming trend but I liked the idea of having a home on wheels and being able to chase whatever adventure I wanted. I ended up purchasing my 1984 Vanagon in Austin, Texas while I was still in Liberia. When it was time to return to the states I flew straight to Austin, picked up my van and instantly drove across the country to burning man. After that first trip I was hooked on van life!
After that I began a number of small trips to make the most of my visits back home. In 2014, west Africa was hit with the Ebola epidemic and I found myself stuck right in the middle. I did what I could to keep the business moving forward but it quickly became obvious that tourists weren't going to come with all the media hysterics behind Ebola. It took me 3 weeks to clear military checkpoints and quarantines within the country before I was able to get on a flight and evacuate the country. After that I held a fundraiser to support my 15 person staff of local Liberians and did the only thing I could to pass the time while in the states, I took a road trip across the country.
It has been a few years since then and a lot of amazing adventures from San Diego to Mexico, to Canada and all things in between.
A year ago I was invited to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican in Rome because of our work in Liberia using the sport of surfing to empower youth, give them a positive outlet and community to focus on which kept them in school and made them ambassadors for their communities with the tourists. I was the first person to ever enter the Vatican with a surfboard. I gave one to the pope and had him sign another for the surfers of the world which I then donated to a surfboard museum in San Diego. Even though Ebola has been gone for over 2 years, the stigma remains. That has left me to wander the states in my van and wait for business to pick up again. It might sound like I've been defeated by I've been through enough ups and downs in life to understand this has just been a setback.
Thanks to this setback I was fortunate enough to meet a girl 8 months ago who was on a road trip of her own and I convinced her to make a crazy decision and move into my van with me. We have been traveling together ever since and I never would have found myself at this point if it wasn't for that crazy decision to reform my life and try something outside the box.
For more from Dan and his Reformed Life follow him on Instagram @fluid.nomad