An Ode To Bess

Campsurf bus

Today a new girl came to town.
She arrived white and quite unaware of what history she would guard.
I hear she is getting “wrapped” with all the Camp Surf and JMMF info.
But does she know the history she will be carrying within her clean
and un-sandy interior?

When Jimmy started Pure Surfing Experience 25 years ago, he knew he would need a “surf mobile” to carry equipment, boards, wetsuits, tents, towels, coolers and first aid kits. At the time, he had a small black truck that carted everything to and from the beach. He parked it at his house and kept all his equipment in our garage at 524. As the time went by, he needed more room for more equipment and gear, so he studied the internet for months, looking for the best deal he could find.
Remember, this was in the late 90’s, when buying a vehicle online was like dealing with the wild west. You had to take a leap of faith to put your money down, and hope you would get what you wanted.

From the beginning, he wanted a vehicle that could hit the road for trips down south at the drop of a hat, and trips up to Northern Cal on a regular basis. He found his van in the form of a dark blue Dodge Van. It wasn’t exactly new, but the mileage wasn’t too scary, the motor was intact, the windows worked, and he got new tires when it arrived. His excitement was contagious, and we celebrated as we lugged most of his equipment out of our garage and into his new vehicle. Little did we know then, how important this step was in the growth of the Legend of Bess!

Since we had always named our cars, from Bonnie the Barracuda to Wongerbung, the VistaCruiser, to Fancy the Mustang and Trevor the Jag, we think Jimmy decided to call the new van “Bess.” According to Chris Brown, “I’m not even sure Jimmy named her Bess. As the original Bess aged and declined, Mark and I just started referring to her as “Old Bessie,” and the name just stuck.

As the years went by, and Pure Surfing Experience morphed into Camp Surf, Jimmy needed another van, and that’s when the real fun started. Jimmy was not a “car” guy, and quite often, the vans were in need of upkeep. As Jason remembers: “Oh man, where to start! The glass folding doors falling off and shattering was a shocking start to the day (I blame Dana). Putting a wooden door on Bess with Tommy, and then cutting a window hole in her was a fun project! And then there was the time Russell almost died when the brakes went out and he flew into the El Porto parking lot on two wheels going Mach 3! That was fun! Russell confirmed, “that thing almost killed me! It came in real hot and somehow hit nothing! I showed up to my lesson very awake! I also remember being a camper and referring to the Big Bess as the “nice one,” as compared to the little Blue Bess. And how could I forget the hundred pounds of sand swept out of that thing over the years. The reclaimed wetsuit water also made for some epic MVP moments! That van was awesome!”

Jason continued, “we had to jump start Bess every other week because there was no key ignition facing the right direction. We would often set off car alarms in the parking lots because Bess was so loud. And who could forget kidnapping Davey Latter for his bachelor party with stockings over our heads! There have been so many adventures in the Bessies.”

(Editorial decision to leave a few adventures out for the sake of the children reading this blog 🙂

After Jimmy passed away on August 7, 2004 – Camp Surf passed to Chris Brown, Tommy Ostendorf and Mark Gerold. They kept Camp Surf going that summer and have grown it to the amazing company it is today. They kept the original Bess and added new ones as their needs grew. For better or worse, they also maintained Jimmy’s blasé attitude towards their vehicles.

Chris recalls, “The best one was when Mangiagli called me almost crying to say that Old Bess had blown up and was on fire!! It turned out that a plastic bag had just gotten stuck on the exhaust and was burning. Old Bess was fine.”

Some of Mark’s favorites were the 4th of July stories (they are best heard in person, but if you know!) The early days at Pendleton were really something. They were pre-wrap, no seat belts, and plenty of beers for fuel. Post wrap, still sketchy rides, no seatbelts and more beer for fuel. As Dr. Carly Rodgers recalls, “My favorite (memory) is our first time sharing Bess with the Marines at Pendleton. It just solidified everything related to building community, crossing the line division between marines and civilians and truly just having a day at the beach. You could visually see them relax with eyes wide at the normalcy of hanging around the big van, sipping a cold drink and talking story.”

Many students asked questions like “how often do you clean Bess?” The answer was truly, NEVER!” She probably had 1,000 pounds of sand in her, and ended up being held together by duct tape.

By the time Sam joined the JMMF crew as a Safety Coordinator, nothing much had changed. According to Sam, “One morning I was pulling onto Rosecrans off of Bell, and was surprised when every door including the passenger, drivers and back door all swung open simultaneously! There was no need for coffee to wake me up after that!”

Tommy really summed up the essence of the Bessies over the years: “Too many good memories. It’s crazy to think there are thousands, maybe 10’s of thousands of people in the world who remember Bessie and associate her with a positive experience. There are hundreds of South Bay kids who will always remember their first job – working out of Bessie the Van!”

For the Marines at Camp Pendleton who waited for Bess to crunch up through the unpaved parking lot, and whose smiles lit up those early June gloom days, it’s been an honor to serve you for the past 12 years. Thanks for unloading Bess and then loading her back up again for the trek north. Your smiles, passion and enthusiasm are the reason we have come every other Tuesday for all these years. We can’t wait until we can surf with you again!

For all the kids, parents and counselors who waited for Bess to arrive and then patiently lined up to get their wetsuits, thank you! We thank you for putting your faith in the Camp Surf and JMMF crews to keep your kids safe and stoked.

For all those who dared to drive a Bessie, rode in her and shared stories up and down the coast, we thank you. We can only imagine the secrets Bessie kept. She heard your stories of stoke, courage, love, loss and crazy stunts. You shared the opportunity to help others learn to surf and shared Jimmy’s passion for surfing with almost 3 generations of people around the world and around the corner. For Jeff, Chris, Tommy, Mark, Anthony, Fitz, Ryan P, Jeff G, Jeff R, Keith, John K, the Harvard Westlake Crew, Chris G, Gene B, Russ R, Peff, Davey L, Dave P, Jeff B, Matt M, Brewers, the Many Meistrells, Doug W, Dickie & Brendan, Jeff C, Dr. Daniel S, the Caldwell Family, The Silva Family, The Ostendorf Family, Alex & Chris G, Russell W, Brandan, Ben, Sam M, Connor R, Kyle, Tyus M, other Sam M, Ryan U, Juliette U, Kathryn T, Tandis, Erin, Kris, Pam, Jodi, Kevin, Andy, Gregor, and of course Carly and so many more, we thank you for sharing this ride with Jimmy, Pure Surfing Experience, Camp Surf, and JMMF. What a ride it has been! Please forgive me if I left your name off this list of early drivers and riders!

And welcome new Bess (pre wrap)! We know the “Besst” is yet to come!!



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