The Essentials For Surf Tripping In A Van And Why Cyrus Sutton Won't Go Back To Russia
"We almost got killed last time we went."
Uncertainty is the traveling man’s adhesive to the familiar world. Inside “you never know until you go” lies lucidity: in culture, waves, people and hardship. Whether you’re on board a 36-hour mission to the far reaches of Africa or gassing up the car north of the Tijuana border, one thing’s for certain: the future’s unclear... and that's just fine. So, welcome to Stab x Reef’s contemporary travel series: Red Eye, where we pry the wisdom of the polished nomad and leave it here.
Cyrus Sutton is a gent who lives his life on the road, in tents and the back of a van. He’s an environmentalist, surfer, filmmaker, runs korduroy.tv and his own sun-care company. Which highlights everything from alternative surfing to film festivals. There’s also countless, comprehensive DIY tutorials covering everything from changing a tire, affording healthy food and shaping a Mini Simmons to the necessities of van living.
"I’m pretty much a solo guy but if I do travel with people I really enjoy traveling with Kepa Acero," says Cyrus. "I also have a dog, she goes everywhere I do. Her name's Miley, I picked her up from a shelter. I think she's part coyote."
When I ring Cyrus, he’s making his way up the Pacific Northwest — Washington in particular. “I’m going to take my time,” he says as he lugs his belongings in the back of the most extraordinary surf van to his new residence. “I like the lifestyle up there,” he says. “It’s beautiful and the people are great. I thought it’d be a good investment.” And, it’s a far-cry from the hustle of his old city: San Diego.
Mr Sutton's a proper rambling man. So, who better to present some insight, philosophies and the general do’s and don’ts of life on the road? “Aside from bringing the obvious boards, leashes, wetsuits, wax, fins and a fin key,” he quips, “the most important thing to bring is a stove and cookware. That way you can cook and eat healthy and affordably. I typically pack lentils and rice. Onions and potatoes also last a good while without refrigeration. I’ll buy a bunch of un-ripe avos and if I’m going somewhere I can’t fish or connect with local fishermen, I pack a couple cans of sardines. Grapefruit and apples are good; they keep a long time. I eat simple and try to save money.”
"I like people who are open to the mystery and complexity of life. I try not to be jaded or think I know what’s right for other people or even myself. Once you start feeling like that, life becomes pretty boring."
“The best part about traveling in a van is you can bring a lot of boards,” he continues. “I usually bring four or five boards with me. I always have a 9’6" utility longboard that will trim, nose ride and turn well. I have a fish by eco-flex, which is made from bio-based pine resin and recycled foam. I bring an alaia, they’re easy to pack and do a good job protecting my other boards. And a step up, I grew up riding longboards so I’m comfortable on bigger step-ups. I ride a 7’6" quad from Stamps. Those are my essentials.”
The well-traveled gent has spent his fair share of time scouring North America’s west coast. He knows where to pan gold but is a bit cagey when asked to share. “Where to go by car?” he asks. “I don’t know if I really want to talk about that. North of Point Conception you just don’t talk about. Selfishly, I don’t want to give away anything in Baja. I’m living in the Pacific Northwest now; if I want to surf, talking about the spots up there is off limits.” Fair enough. I ask: what about off the coast? “I love hot springs and the desert. I go out there to get work done. There’s no distractions and soaking in hot springs feels good at the end of the day. I tend to get insomnia if I work on the computer for eight hours a day. But if I have a soak, I get a good night sleep. Death Valley’s amazing and it’s close to Southern California. There’s no one around and in some areas you can get cell reception. The Eastern Sierra’s another one of my favourite spots to get away.”
Mr Sutton rides just about everything. He's a man that appreciates the trim, highline and smooth wrap.
Although he revels in most destinations, Cyrus will never return to Russia. “We almost got killed last time we went,” he says. “It’s the first place I’ve been where I decided I’d never go back. We discovered this really hollow wave on my last trip. We didn’t get it right and I’d always wanted to go back and surf it on a typhoon. The area’s idyllic. There was only one guy who lived there in a cabin with his wolf-dog. I wanted to make a film about him, his life and find some waves. The only way you can get there is by helicopter. We rented one – which is really expensive. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of Reef.”
“We got dropped off,” he continues. “There’s no reception without a sat phone; we had a satellite texter — two for mayday, one for we’re okay. When we got there the area had turned into a poacher camp. The man and his dog were gone; they most likely killed him. At first they thought we were military or police. They took us in and for a few days sussed us out. It was obvious they were deciding whether or not they were going to kill us. If they got caught, or if we told on them there would be serious repercussions. What they were doing was illegal, but the people of Russia are generally pretty poor. The tension was thick. I had my ex-girlfriend on the trip. She was probably the only woman they’d seen in a long time. They were a real motley crew. Luckily they decided to befriend us so we wouldn’t rat on them. But that was only when they realised we were just surfers and pretty harmless.”
"I’m a filmmaker by trait more than a surfer," he says. "I like the flexibility of being able to do both."
Traveling’s essential to surfing's mould. When touring out of your comfort zone — as we tend to — Mr Sutton offers a few words of guidance. “Just be friendly and don’t separate yourself from the culture,” he says. “If you think you’re going to get ripped off, or are trying to protect yourself you’ll never blend in. Wherever you go, go in trusting… but not stupidly trusting. Just assume people will be kind and treat them that way. Our media and culture tends to suggest the rest of the world is this scary, evil place that’s out to get you. I’ve been a lot of places and most people aren’t out to hurt you, even in Russia… unless they’re poachers,” he laughs. “Be aware that it can happen. Don’t flaunt your gear or give people the opportunity to take advantage of you. Our culture in the grand scheme of things is pretty fast-paced compared to other nations. If you slow down and relate on that level, it’ll go a long way.”
The Sprinter: a vagabond's dream.