Name: Tom Downer
Home: Normal Heights
Vehicle: 1971 Volkswagen Bus
Surfing: Dog Beach, Ocean Beach
Tom Downer's wife calls his '71 Volkswagen Bus his "beach garage." Tom says, "It's still the only vehicle I can get three surfboards and two volleyball courts in, and be able to lock it up." He carries a 10' 6" Ukelele, a 9' 0" Native, and a 7' 6" Native, with tarps between the boards for protection. Tom owns a brand new Toyota pickup but prefers the bus for beach trips. "I can't lock the boards up in the truck. I'd have to pick one board and stick with it no matter the conditions. Like this morning, I could've used the 10' 6" or the 9-footer. It was just fast enough to use the 9, so I locked the other boards up and went out."
The curtains, kept closed for added security, are tattered. The body and paint show bits of rust from ocean air and saltwater spray. "This is what I've been struggling with for the past couple years," Tom says. "Whether I want to restore it again or just let it go."
Mechanically the bus is in good working order. "I was hit in the rear last year so while I was fixing the bumper I pulled out the exhaust system and redid it. Everything except the body is perfect. I'm an old school guy; I think these are the last cars you can work on yourself."
He bought the bus locally in 1981 and used to take it up and down the coast from San Elijo Lagoon to Kilometer 38 in Baja, but now he confines his travels because of gas prices and doesn't "try to get across the borders these days. It's become too much of a pain."
Tom's been surfing since 1963. "The funniest thing I've ever seen, this sticks with me to this day, down here on Sunset Cliffs a girl's leash snapped and she lost her board. I passed her and she said, 'Can you bring me in? I don't know how to swim.'"