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The Open Road Generation
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How a Surfer Turned Entrepreneur Wins Life on the Road

Cyrus Sutton balances running a successful filmmaking studio and his sunscreen brand—all while living mostly on the road

For most of us, cruising up California’s iconic Highway 1, catching waves and having campfire jam sessions with friends along the way, while sleeping every night in your truck camper, would be considered a dream trip. For Cyrus Sutton, a semi-nomadic filmmaker and entrepreneur, it was just a typical week this past spring. “It was standard springtime coastal weather,” says Sutton, “so it was really sweet to have a warm and dry place to retreat when it was raining—or the waves were crappy.”

You see, Sutton, a former pro surfer, is part of a growing generation of young professionals who have decided to take their show on the road, working, living, and playing from their van or RV. While a lot of folks are new to the lifestyle, Sutton has been living out of the back of his van off and on for the past 16 years and was one of the originators of the movement. (He helped develop the now ubiquitous #vanlife hashtag with fellow filmmaker Foster Huntington.) These days, he runs Manda, the organic, food-grade sunscreen company he founded, and manages the media content for Guayakí Yerba Mate, although he’s probably best known for his thoughtful films about surf culture. In what may be his most poignant film, Stoked and Broke, Sutton and a friend took a 10-day surf trip where they walked 50 miles through Southern California, carrying their boards on homemade rickshaws while examining gentrification in the beach towns. 

It can be hectic balancing all his gigs from the road, but Sutton says he couldn’t have done it any other way. “I’m kind of a neurotic, overproductive individual. I have to work really hard to chill,” he says. “If I were in a city, I would froth too hard and self-destruct. Living and working on the road in tranquil environments helps me relax and focus.” So if you’re interested in pursuing van or truck life once it’s safe to get out there again, take a few lessons from Sutton on how to do it right.

5 Tips for the Road

How Cyrus juggles work and play in good style

Dial In Your Tech: “Get an unlimited data plan on your phone and tether it to your computer for Wi-Fi, create a schedule and a workflow, and stick to it.”

Take It Outside: “Most of the time I work sitting in my bed with my laptop. But I have a little desk that goes on top of my hammock, which I break out on really hot days.”

Embrace the Simplicity: “Really, living in a van or RV is about not doing a lot. I’m active and I work. Not doing more than I need to do is pretty fun.”

Feed Off the Change: “It’s about getting into quiet environments where I can reflect. There’s something really refreshing about driving to a new place and switching it up.” 

When in Doubt, Go Bigger: Sutton’s RV for his California surf adventure was a Lance 650 truck camper, perched on an F-150, that came complete with a TV, heater, and hot shower. It’s plusher, with more square footage, than Sutton’s primary vehicle, a converted Sprinter van, which made life on the road that much more comfortable.


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