If you’re into surfing, you’ve probably marinated in the briny, surf-tastic past as much as you have in the briny deep, from Elvis beach flicks to Beach Boys albums. But as much as music and movies fed on and later influenced surf culture, so too did the cars that the surfers of the 1960s took to the beach—frequently, surf wagons.
But today, wagons are totally uncool, from the manufacturers’ perspective, and aren’t even being made by most of the brands that made the original batch of surf wagons. So what’s a surfer to do for a rad ride that’ll get you and your board (and maybe a few buds) to the beach and back with a minimum of headache? Chill, we have you covered. Check out our list of best cars for surfers.
Well-known for dog-friendliness, granola-crunching eco qualities, and all-weather go-anywhere attitude, the entire lineup of Subaru vehicles is well-suited to just about any outdoor activity, especially surfing. All of Subaru’s vehicles are available with a factory roof rail system, which makes adding a rack and carrying your board(s) super easy. If you opt for the Forester or Outback, you may be able to carry a board or two inside, as well, if you’d rather not stick yours on top—or if you may not want to leave it exposed to potential thieves on a longer drive to or from the waves.
Although it looks like some kind of space-mutant hatchback, it’s actually a cleverly disguised wagon. Bonus, it’s a Prius underneath, meaning it’s a hybrid with great gas mileage (up to 44 mpg city, 40 mpg highway), so you can be kind to both the earth and your wallet as you enjoy your maritime hobbies—even if you end up traveling long distances in search of the best tubes.
Technically known as the Type 2, but beloved everywhere as the Bus, the Microbus, or a handful of other names, this classic is an obvious choice, and while it’s iconic, it’s certainly not for everyone. For starters, Volkswagen hasn’t imported these to the U.S. since 1979, meaning even examples in great condition will be approaching 40 years old. That means the typical Bus will require more maintenance, more understanding for its lack of amenities, and more forgiveness for its lack of power and pep than with a more modern car. But the Bus will repay the loyal owner with a busload of style—and a perfect surfer’s mobile hangout.
If you’re more of the Wall St. hedge fund or high-powered Hollywood type who surfs for stress relief as much as any other reason, you might want to look into the Volvo V60 Polestar. Introduced just this year, and sold only as a high-performance, Smurf-blue, limited-edition model, these cars are fairly rare—and probably unavailable on the used market. You’ll have to pony up for new if you want one of these, but if you do, you know who you are.
Sure, it looks a little like a minivan at first glance. But look a little harder, and you’ll see the Flex is actually a squared-off wagon masquerading as a crossover. If you want some serious pep—as well as a really nice interior—the Flex is definitely capable of delivering. Look for the EcoBoost model if you really like speed—but be prepared to pay for that power at the pump. Practical, roomy, comfortable, and under the radar, the Flex might be just about perfect for the surfer who wants to slide out of the sea and back into the daily grind without making waves.
Whichever name it goes by, the VW Sportwagen is a great choice for surfers, because it’s roomy, with plenty of space for boards inside or on the roof, while still being compact and easy to maneuver through traffic or park on the side of the road. In a pinch, you could even stretch out in the back for a post-surf nap. It’s not quite as iconically surf-y as the VW Bus above, but it’s a very practical choice, not just for your frequent trips to the beach, but for everything else, too. The name change from Jetta Sportwagen to Golf Sportwagen only occurred in 2015, so the most recent examples will be called Golf, but earlier examples will be Jettas—but fear not, they’re all basically the same car, despite some mechanical and aesthetic changes over the years.
Ford, Chevy, Dodge, it doesn’t really matter. All of these will have the personality, capability, simplicity, and affordability a surfer will need. Boards can go in the bed, or they can go on a rack; add a camper shell and you have secure storage as well as a stealth camping/sleeping spot should the need arise. There’s pretty much nothing an old truck can’t do, except get great gas mileage, pass a parts store, or survive long with anyone who isn’t committed to making the relationship work. If you’re a surfer who likes getting greasy now and then, an old truck could be exactly the right answer.
Perhaps the most iconic surf wagon of all time, this classic will turn heads and spark memories—or help create new ones—while still being just as practical today as back then—at least when it comes to actual surfing duty. Built more than 80 years ago, the ’34 Ford Wagon wasn’t designed with today’s taller people in mind, and the cabin can feel a bit snug as a result. Advanced safety or electronics? Forget about it. But for a healthy dose of completely un-ironic nostalgia for the history of your favorite pastime, you can’t beat the Woodie.
If you want to go surfing, don’t let the car you’re driving hold you back—you’re not surfing the car, after all! If you need to pick something that’s not especially surf-focused for the daily grind (for whatever reasons), you can find ways to make it work for a board-hauler, whether it’s every morning before work or just on the occasional weekend. Racks, straps, even trailers are out there for just about any car you can imagine. Visit an outdoor outfitting shop and get squared away—and get out there on that board. No more excuses.
Now that you’ve decided what you want for your next car, why not shop for great local examples with Instamotor? The Instamotor app lets you buy directly from private owners near you, saving you time and cash compared to buying from the dealership.
Founder and a car nut. Born and raised from Detroit, Michigan. Val managed 12 dealerships prior to founding Instamotor.