Cade Sharp And Chase O'Leary's Guide To Surviving The Van Life

Photo: Chase O'Leary

Photo: Chase O'Leary

The trend of living in a van has been sweeping Australia and the world of late, where individuals from all walks of life – but especially, surfers – have been uprooting their lives, downsizing to a four-wheeler and hitting the road. Whether it’s a middle-finger to the surging price of real estate, a modern-day movement away from tradition or just an easy way to score Instagram likes, one thing’s for sure: in joining the movement, you’ll probably score way more waves than you ever have in your entire life.

Take Cade Sharp and Chase O’Leary – two satisfied road hogs who’ve spent around two years apiece living in their respective rolling homes and scoring pumping waves in the process. Considering joining the van life? Here, we asked both Sharp and O’Leary to describe their experiences living on the road. Let them be your guides.

MM: What made you want to live out of a van? Did you choose the van life, or does the van life choose you? 

Chase O’Leary: My girlfriend and I were in the same vicious cycle – basically, working hard and not enough play. Our jobs were getting pretty stale, and I had owned a bus for a number of years but hadn't done many big trips with it... so we just decided to go for it.

Was there any customisation performed on the bus before you set sail?

Cade Sharp: We bought the bus off an older bloke who had already decked it out with a tv, storage, fridge and freezer. The only thing we really did was new tyres. Didn’t get a puncture till i was back in QLD.

Chase: I fit out the main components of the bus quite a while back, but I put a motorbike rack on the back before I left which carried my XR250 and a board rack on the bike. I also added an extra deep cycle battery for more power and put a black painted PVC pipe on the side of the roof so I could have a quick shower while on the go. It worked really well.

The O'Leary whip, equipped with all the trimmings. Photo: Chase O'Leary

The O'Leary whip, equipped with all the trimmings. Photo: Chase O'Leary

Were you worried about quitting your job, or not having a constant flow of funds?

Chase: Everyone thinks you have to save this absurd amount of money before you go on a trip like that around Australia, but we hardly saved before we bailed. I actually started to enjoy the challenge of finding a random job in a new place, too. It’s so out of my comfort zone because I've had the same job at home for about 6 years.

Did you work while on the road?

Chase: We had quite a few different jobs on the road, ranging from a grain harvester in South Oz, to oyster farming, painting and being a pizza delivery boy – which was easily the most bizarre gig. One afternoon they made me hold the pizza sign at a roundabout. That was a low point. People were giving me the finger and stuff.

Cade: We worked in Sydney for three months while sleeping in a Bondi car park. It was wild, especially with a dog. We found a free public hot shower off some French backpackers. Then after that, we worked for five months near Margaret River and lived on a farm near pumping waves.

What was the standard of the hygiene between your partner and yourself during the trip? Ergo, how did you shit and shower?

Cade: I had a toilet in the bus but at the start of the trip I took it out to clean it and I reversed over it. But it was a blessing in disguise. Chase's one stank. We just used a toilet seat on legs for a bush poo. [My girlfriend] Grace was an absolute trooper – a princess could not do what we did. Some days we used baby wipes if there was no shower.

Chase: Hygiene was quite high, actually. We had an outside shower tent and a portable camping toilet so we were pretty sorted in that department. When you're camping near the ocean and surfing everyday there's no real need for a shower. But it was still nice to have one.

Got a go-to, van-friendly feed? 

Cade: Nachos. Quick and easy.

Chase: Jaffles on the fire. We've got a couple of 30-year-old iron jaffle makers in the bus, so we pull them out most fires (if we have cheese of course). I think we had a jaffle every night while camping at Gnaraloo.

What’s the strangest location you’ve parked your well-travelled asses up for the night?

Chase: We've slept in so many beach carparks around the place and on the sand itself; the occasional sly park in a dark alleyway in the middle of the city. We love a good free camp wherever possible. The rangers are probably going to track us down now.

It's moments like these that make all those exhausting miles, uncomfortable sleeps and defecating behind roadside bushes worthwhile. Photo: Chase O'Leary

It's moments like these that make all those exhausting miles, uncomfortable sleeps and defecating behind roadside bushes worthwhile. Photo: Chase O'Leary

Living a minimalist life can be quite daunting to some. Have you received any backlash from your decision?

Cade: Not one bit. My girlfriend makes coffee and I’m a tradie, so both can be done anywhere around Australia.

Chase: You could say it was a little daunting at the start, but you slowly get used to it. Your life becomes so much less stressed – more pure and simple. It's definitely not for everyone. Some people would trip out on not having a washing machine, blow dryer, oven and hot shower and heaps of other comforts you take for granted in a house where you have everything in the click of a button.

Has living the van life led to more waves?

Chase: I've never had so many good waves in my life. South Australia and Western Australia really turned it on. There are a couple of clips floating around from those salty days.

Cade: Definitely. The waves that greeted us in South Oz were mind-blowing. Groomed swells, stiff offshores and a couple of noah sightings had us all geed up. What I backed so heavily in the desert was all the open space. It became very customary to walk around starkers, just peacocking off every desert ledge. Although you need to find a balance with wave-hunting and human-loving, as you know there are two of you on this trip it’s not all about you and waves. Balance is key. Don’t be greedy. 

When’s the adventure going to end? Or has it just begun?

Chase: Our journey ended 3 days ago. It's been a bit of a shock coming back home to Port Macquarie – it hasn't really changed at all. But I could see myself bailing again in the near future, for sure.

Cade: We have just arrived home after two years on the road and I can guarantee you we both have been infected by the travel bug and will never stay still for too long.

Some liken the van life to a homeless existence. What’s your take?

Cade: People will always hate you if you’re enjoying life and they aren’t.

Chase: I'm not sure. But I felt very homely in the bus so much, I'm tripping out a bit living back in a house since our return home. I think I might have to bail again.