From a viral hashtag a decade ago and social media phenomenon to a lifestyle movement, van life, is still strongly resonating. It’s the aesthetic, the open road, the freedom that it evokes that captures our imagination. So what is it like to travel in a van as a pro SUP athlete? Is it as slick and polished as the Instagram hyper-reality makes us believe?
Right at the 2022 ICF SUP World Championships in Gdynia, TotalSUP caught up with Kaelan Lockhart, NSP International Team Rider and Sunshine Coast-based waterman, who has been relentlessly competing around Europe while travelling in his van, to go beyond the hype and chat about his experiences and representing Belgium.
Photo credit: APP World Tour
Hi Kaelan, how’s life on the road?
For me, it’s the freedom to go where I want outside of racing. So I have a great race but then rather than being stuck with a huge backpack, I can go explore. For example, Majorca was awesome and I did a great trip around the island. It’s also so good to have my bed with me everywhere I go, as I’m not getting used to sleeping in different beds all the time and that’s really helped me with my health. I get to sleep basically in the most beautiful places you can find… There’s a great app park4night – It’s a wiki where people have collated the best places to sleep, whether it’s cliff tops or forests with streams it is such a beautiful way to travel. It’s also so good to have my kitchen and everything with me.
The other amazing aspect is being able to travel in a convey of other SUP paddlers. The challenges mainly come from the size of my van as it’s pretty big – it’s seven metres and super tall as well. As for parking, in Saint Paula, Caren, the NSP Manager, had to save me on a corner with only inches to spare with angry Spaniards honking at me front and back. However, I gradually have learnt where I can and should not go so all is now smooth sailing!
My first time driving the van was the Ice Race in Thun and I decided to go toll free. The first mountain pass was a bit sketchy being very foggy, wet and steep. The second mountain pass was a monster though- only single lane with a huge incline. The whole time I was thinking it was a bad idea but it took a 90 degree turn at a huge incline to stop me. I then had to reverse around 5km down the mountain pass with a trail of unhappy swiss commuters before and aft. That was a pretty full-on experience, but perhaps also the best way to become acquainted with a new vehicle!
What do I miss the most? That’s probably just my breakfast… at home. I love having five raw egg smoothies – instantly digested so full, so good. And then other than that, it’s probably my little niece – She’s three years old so missing her…
Does it get lonely on the road? I’d say when I’m tired and I don’t have the energy to make some human interactions but we’re such an awesome community that it is pretty easy to have company wherever I go. And then it’s the public – they love to talk to a guy travelling in his van so I always have visitors.
There’s a lot of hype around van life… How does the real life in a van of a pro SUP athlete compares to that polished hyper-reality of the social media hashtag? 😊
Yeah, I had never had a van before just some small cars at home in my youth. I lived in that for a bit and then that was understandably messy. And I’ve always seen these beautiful pictures of these varnish timber vans with like little puppies and flowers. I was quite disappointed one week into van life when my van was pigsty barely able to take a step anywhere in my seven-metre van. In reality, it’s very hard to keep clean because always having to put things away and if I have my 14-foot boards inside the van, say I go shopping or something, then I just have to throw them in because the cupboards are all closed up…So you can imagine mess builds up quickly.
Also, the smell… when you have to cook and do everything in your van… That builds up for sure. Smelly young men too. I think that might be toxic for other people. So beware. What else? The risk of leaks – Whenever there’s a rainstorm I’m checking every cupboard, plugging up leaks the next day I’ll be on the roof with my silicone gun, fixing that up.
Things go wrong too, like the hinges will fall off your cupboards, you got to fix that. Had to get a new battery, I popped a tire so I had to change that. So yeah, it’s messy, it’s raw, but I’m getting tons of skills, also a few electrical skills as I had to fix up things. So I think it’s all positive.
A Sunshine-Coast pro SUP athlete representing Belgium – What’s the story behind it?
My mum was born in Belgium and her parents came to Australia when she was about three. So for that reason I could get the citizenship. I’ve still got a lot of family in Belgium and I visit them a couple of times for Christmas. When it comes to the ISA World Titles in Puerto Rico and representing Australia if I could make the team, it would’ve been more for one event such as Sprint or maybe Tech racing.
So the opportunity to go of Belgium and compete in everything which I love to do, it was too good to be true. So I went to the Belgium National Championships for SUP and it was just so reminiscent of my SUP family at home from the Sunshine Coast SUP Club. Just everyone’s so friendly, so supportive, so awesome. And Vincent Claeskens who runs the Belgium Tour has just been amazing with getting me talking to the Federations, getting my fees paid and helped me get there. So it was a great choice for me.
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What’s your NSP board set up?
I’ve been travelling now with my two Carolinas – I have the 20.5 and the 22 inch board. This has been the perfect set up for me because the Carolina is perfect for flat water. And then when there’s a little bit of a bump, then I have the stability to be able to wash ride and my 20.5 I use in the long distance.
You’ve been travelling by van to majority of the European competitions -What are your top memories to date?
I’ve already been to tons of competitions, including ICF events which are run so smoothly and EuroTour races which has provided a fantastic group to race with. One of my second races was Vandee Gliss and that was just such a cool experience. Having all those speedboats take us from the beach out to the start of the downwind – I didn’t expect it. I had my paddle facing up with the blade and it was hitting me in the head the whole time, I believe my arms cramped up during the race because of this!
Majorca was one of the most stunning locations but super hard for me with chop coming from maybe four directions when boats came past. But I got to spend the next day travelling around the island a bit with SUP Racer and Georgia Schofield, and we got to see some amazing places, some nice gorges with some awesome swimming and seafood. Then in Saint Paula getting to surf behind a ferry back from the island – I’ve never seen anything like that. In Australia I’ve just paddled behind mid-sized boats as you have to work a bit to get in the wash but this was like surfing a three-foot wave with the risk of nose diving. Both Majorca and Saint Paula have an awesome group of paddlers and it was so nice to meet them all.
I had a great time staying with my coach Vincent in Brittany with Ilona and Ty and we got to have a crepe party, which was fantastic and they even made me some gluten free crepes – super tasty and super exciting.
And then I did stop in Montenegro but more just travelling with my brother and a bit of whitewater but it’s just the most stunning country I’ve ever been to. I hope I am free for the Montenegro stop of EuroTour next year!
Good luck with the rest of your SUP racing season!
To find out more about NSP, visit nspsurfboards.com and follow the brand on Instagram and Facebook
Follow Kaelan Lockhrat on Instagram
To find out more about the event, visit www.icfsupgdynia2022.pl
Find out more about the International Canoe Federation at www.canoeicf.com
*Images courtesy of Kaelan Lockhart