“If Thug Life Is Drinking 40s And Rolling Dice, Van Life Is Breakdowns And Being A Dirtbag”
Stab and House Beer present Culture Shifters: Foster Huntington.
Welcome back to Culture Shifters, our series with our friends at House Beer, profiling surfers whose ideas, work, and creative efforts have helped shaped The Culture at large.
For this episode, we sent Senior Editor Morgan Williamson and Director Mike Pagan, to visit camera-toting dirtbag drifter, turned social media savant and OG #VanLife-r, Foster Huntington, at his Pacific Northwest “Bro-Topia”, a compound of treehouses overlooking a dreamy hillside skate bowl, as well as an expanding production studio for Foster’s creative film projects, all built by Huntington and a rotating posse of talented friends, including Jay Nelson.
We’ll let Morgan take it from here:
“I like this one Mexican place down the hill,” Foster Huntington said, as we drove out of Portland to meet him. “It’s one of those places with six dollar meals and big pictures on the menu.”
We showed up to Don Pedro Taqueria in Washougal, Washington. Foster got out of his car. It was raining; he wore no hood, only khaki work pants, an army-green jacket and brown leather boots capped in dried mud…which was weird as it was raining and had been, it seemed, forever.
We extended hands and exchanged modern introductions. He scratched his beard, and asked: “Should we eat?”
“Yes. Starving,” was our response.
We ordered chorizo and egg plates fit with rice and beans of quality that’d be scoffed at in California. They came with flour tortillas folded into steaming triangles. Each plate was entirely too much food. Mike Pagan, the man behind the lens and editing bay for this Culture Shifter series, and I finished a sad half-portion each. Foster inhaled his meal, finished his coffee, poured another one and said something to the effect of:
“There are much hipper, nicer spots in Portland. But, there’s something about cheap Mexican food and lukewarm, shitty coffee that I like.”
Foster is the subject of the fourth episode of this series. He birthed—conceived immaculately—the very first #VanLife. Which, in the modern age could be chalked up as a viral anomaly. But it’s taken a lot more than a catchy Instagram # for Foster to garner the resources to build treehouses, a film studio, and skate bowl on a utopian compound for creative dirtbags in the tongue twister town of Washougal, Washington.
In fact, he somewhat resents the nature of the 2 million plus #tags, and the bourgeois millennial cliche it’s become.
“Originally Van Life was a joke,” he said. “It was a play on Tupac’s Thug Life. Now, it’s wannabe Instagram celebrities doing sun salutations on top of their cars at sunset. But, I guess I can’t complain.”
We hopped in Foster’s car. The windshield wipers never ceased. We climbed a hill. We stopped at the Columbia River Gorge. A crack of blue sky opened through the clouds, like cotton balls being clawed apart by cats in heat. And, the rain stopped. The hills wore autumn clothes, and lined the silver and blue river, flowing heavily, the water capped white with the wind. The banks lush from constant moisture. We got out and set up a shot. Mr Huntington smiled for the camera and held up his takeaway coffee. We got back in the car and he drove us up the hill, and very far away from any remnants of civilization.
Foster is a filmmaker. He got his start working for Ralph Lauren in New York, and in the meantime, started a blog called The Burning House. A simple concept: Take a (well-curated) photo of what you’d take from your home if it happened to be burning down. The blog’s success lead to a book deal, a $20k check and the ability for Foster to buy a van, quit his job in New York, move west to California and drive around, up and down the coast.
He started shooting photos of his now-iconic VW Synchro and other’s vans along the way, called the new blog A Restless Transplant, which turned into another book called Home is Where You Park It, followed by the aptly named Van Life, which, well, is it’s own story entirely, one everyone from the New Yorker to NPR have picked up on.
Just pushing 30, he’s landed firmly, and enviously on his feet.
For those unfamiliar in the surf world, you’ll know Foster’s work, especially Floater – his take on Spike Jonze’s invisible skateboard from the 2003 film Yeah Right!. Today, Foster runs a production company called Movie Mountain, they make everything from passion claymation projects like Pool Scum, to ASAP Rocky music videos and Nike commercials.
He brought us into his studio, which was would be better described as a barn.
“We had a Fourth of July party here last year,” Foster said. “We got a mechanical bull and had about 150 people. Since we’re so removed from everything, we can make as much noise up here as we want.”
Looking around, his home is an ideal scene for a party. From goats to the camp vehicles, random cots and beds lining the four different buildings in the compound, tree houses, the outdoor jacuzzi, skate ramp, and what felt like an acre of land.
The bathroom of the studio/barn was three walls filled top to bottom with VHS tapes.
The toilet was black with orange flames.
In his office, there was a frog kit, ready to be dissected; drawings and magazine cut-outs lined the wall.
Foster told us it was a storyboard; however, it was near impossible to see where the story led.
His home is a museum for fully grown, possibly brilliant, misfit children. At any given time there seemed to be two to three friends crashing somewhere. And, there should be; a man with as many toys as Mr Huntington would get lonely with no one to play with.
Let’s call him a success story.
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