Surfing culture and vans have gone hand in hand since the days of “The Endless Summer” and the Volkswagen Microbus.
For Eric Lizerbram, a physician in Encinitas, Calif., those days are still alive. When he’s not in scrubs he prefers to be in a wetsuit, and his van is a vital component.
Lizerbram owns a cement grey 2016 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 2500 that has been customized to indulge his passion for the sea.
“I wanted that beachy theme,” he said.
The floorboards can be washed out to remove any sand. Hidden compartments hold bottles of sunscreen and other beach necessities. Thule racks mounted on the van’s walls can hold up to eight surfboards and paddleboards.
A nozzle attached to the rear cargo door allows Lizerbram to rinse off any time. He can stand on a rear deck platform that drains the water into a bucket on the ground.
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American Camper Shells in Garden Grove, Calif., completed the build from start to finish. The shop designed a cover that uses magnets to snap around the open cargo doors, providing privacy during impromptu showers.
There are even slots to hang hammocks inside from one end of the van to the other.
“I wanted an open, free feeling,” Lizerbram said. “That’s the last thing I need — to be cooped up.”
Lizerbram grew up in nearby San Diego and has lived near the ocean all his life. Now 52, it’s a passion that he shares with his wife, Sharon, and their four children. The family often travels together to the beach, filling the van with up to 11 people at a time.
Other outdoor activities — such as weekend trips to the mountains for biking, or to the desert for motocross — are common. The van has a bicycle carrier attached to the trailer hitch. Hooks on the floor are used to tie down motorcycles. A high-performance Fling surfboard and a King’s Laser paddleboard are secured to the van’s ceiling. An assortment of hammocks, hangers and cargo nets swing from their hooks as the Sprinter coasts along.
Lizerbram is usually solo in the Sprinter. The van is his primary vehicle, a transportation tool as well as a place of refuge from his high-pressure profession.
“The Sprinter was the best starting point for me because I needed it as a daily driver,” he said. “I wanted something to be able to live out of every day.”
Lizerbram researched the large-van market for two years, searching for something that could carry gear, offer a clear pathway from front to the back and serve as the base for his surf-mobile vision.
One day he stopped into Mercedes-Benz of Temecula. The sales associate showed him an array of vans, but none was quite right. As he was leaving, Lizerbram asked about a Sprinter 4×4 Crew Van across the lot. Sorry, the associate said. It was taken.
But the next day, Lizerbram got a call. Financing had fallen through, and the van was his if he wanted it.
Lizerbram hopped in his Toyota Tacoma and made the 35-mile drive. Normally it takes several months, at least, for the delivery of the rare 4×4 models. Lizerbram traded in his Tacoma and drove the Sprinter home in about an hour. He called Sharon on the way back to deliver the news.
“Honey, I did something,” he said.
On a recent drive along Pacific Coast Highway, Lizerbram talked about how he typically surfs in the morning as mental preparation for another 12-hour shift.
Glancing seaward, Lizerbram shed his even-keeled demeanor and pumped his fists. “Freedom!” he said. “How cool is that?”
Lizerbram pulled into a beachside parking lot and demonstrated the many configurations of his Sprinter. He thrust the cargo doors open wide and swung the centralized table off to one side, stretched the leather bench flat into a queen-sized bed and lay flat with his feet pointed to the crashing waves.
“Such a big part of me is being a loner and wanting to surf and be in nature,” he said. “This is what allows me to do that every day.”
Lizerbram said he spent about $30,000 on the custom work from American Camper Shells. He took an active role, requesting particular color combinations for the double-stitched leather seats, as well as the marine decking along the floor.
It was all worth it, he said.
“If I had to drive a regular car, my blood pressure would be all high,” Lizerbram said. “I’ll never go back. Not after experiencing this.”