A look inside photographer John Rathwell’s #Vanlife

john rathwell vanlife
Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt/SUP the Mag

This story was originally published on SUP Magazine. Words by Mike Misselwitz.

JOHN RATHWELL, FOUNDER OF SEARCHING FOR SERO
Age: 30
Hometown: Ottawa, Canada

Living in a van isn’t for everyone, but it appears to be just right for John Rathwell. The Canadian photographer spent 10 months rebuilding a vintage Westfalia with a smart and reliable setup for life on the road. Now you can find Rathwell traveling North America full-time for his “Searching for Sero” project—a photo series about people using adventure as the key to happiness. We’d say he and his van life are just as fit to be in front of that lens as they are behind it. —MM

john rathwell vanilfe

This pup has traveled across North America a few times and is enjoying van life as much as her owner. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt/SUP Magazine

1. 1991 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia

It’s a full camper with about 300,000 miles on the odometer. GoWesty helped me with the parts and I spent almost 10 months fixing it up. I put a lift kit on it, a custom bumper, awning, solar showers, two beds and a bunch of other stuff. Now this is home.

2. Rain

This is my 8-year-old Beagle-Lab mix. She’s currently on her third lap around North America.

3. Goal Zero power station

To charge everything I use the Goal Zero Yeti 1250 powered by two Boulder 90 Solar Panels mounted on the top of the van. It’s essentially a solar-powered generator that runs the fridge and charges my camera batteries, cell phone and laptop. Living in the van, this setup is key.

4. Fly fishing kit

Fishing is one of my favorite van life activities. I like the Proof x Tenkara Rod Co. Collaboration fly pouch and the Tenkara Teton rod because it folds down super small to store. There’s no reel, so it’s fun because it’s more of a challenge to get the fish in … not that I need fishing to be more challenging.

5. Liberty Skis Origin

I had to narrow my skis down to a one-set quiver, so I ended up with the Liberty Origins. Good all-around rocker-camber-rocker ski that’s best for powder but can do groomed runs too. They’re set up with the Liberty Adrenalin 16 touring bindings and skins, because touring’s fun and lift tickets are expensive.

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6. Camera equipment

I’m using the Lowepro Whistler BP 350 backpack, which can carry my skis and tripod on top of two Canon camera bodies, a bunch of lenses and GoPros. I also have my SPL water housing for SUP and surf photography.

7. Surftech surfboard

The Cudafish XL is my go-to surfboard that will perform in surf from knee-high to a little overhead. If I can only have one board with me, this is the one I bring.

8. Surftech SUPs

For SUP surfing, I like the Surftech Superfly at 8’6″ x 29″ x 3.8″ (110L) with a quad fin setup because it has the right volume so I’m not wobbling all over but it’s still really responsive. The inflatable is an 11’0″ touring board. I can blow it up and store it on top of the van or pack it up and throw it in the back. And the ability to pack it on hikes is awesome.

john rathwell vanlife

There’s no shortage of roof top storage with Rathwell’s restored vintage Westfalia. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt/SUP Magazine

9. Surftech two-piece paddle

The two-piece carbon paddle is nice because I can adjust it so I don’t need to carry two paddles for surfing and touring. Plus it’s great for van life because I can squish it down and stow it in the Thule box.

10. Drybag

The Watershed Ocoee has a padded liner and is the perfect size for holding a camera lens and body. I can strap it to my SUP and it’s good for peace of mind in the rain. I learned from my whitewater kayaking days to never travel without one of these.

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