Matt Foley, Chris Farley’s pants-hitchin', table-crashin' Saturday Night Live character, warned teens that they better shape up or they too would "be livin' in a van down by the river." Foley appearently thought that was a bad thing. But “a van down by the river" can be bliss when that van is a hobbit van and the river has whitewater.
Ben Hayward, 25, a member of the Canadian National Slalom Kayak Team, turned a 2005 LDV Convoy, a panel van built by a defunct British company, into affordable (and mobile) housing. The hobbit van means he doesn't have to rent when traveling to Europe's World Cup races and training to qualify for the 2016 summer Olympics. Money saved goes into hiring a coach, physical therapy, flights, and water fees. The van is kept in Europe because Hayward believes that the best coaches, venues, and paddling are there.
An Edmonton native, Hayward used crowdfunding, the skills of friends, and his education in architecture to convert the drab panel van into a green, woody, and welcoming hobbit van, complete with a round hobbit door. To pinch pennies, Hayward built his own crowdfunding site.
"Building my own site, I only lost 2.5 percent to PayPal as opposed to the typical 9-30 percent crowdfunding sites take."
Hayward documented the building, so donors could see where their gifts were going, and did his homework beforehand.
"I was planning on crowdfunding for about a year before launching it. I had seen amazing successes with other athletes and didn't want it to fizzle. It ended up going really, really well. I got $4,000 to $5,000 the first day and after the Toronto Star did an article, it really blew up."
Hayward also had hands-on help.
"Adam Williams is a very good friend who lives in Cardiff, Wales. He's also a marine and auto mechanic and his mum is a seamstress who did the van's upholstery. Their family has been my biggest support in Europe, and they were incredibly enthusiastic about doing this. Adam lives on a sailboat with solar and a wind turbine. When we outfitted the hobbit van with the wind turbine, solar panels and supporting electronics, he'd already done all that, so he knew what to do."
Among Hayward's contributions were the building plans and his carpentry skills.
"The woodworking and design come from my studies in architecture at Carleton University in Ottawa. I spent a couple days designing the interior with AutoCAD. I also made a model of the truck."
The Canadian paddler incorporated some slices of home while modifying his British-made van in Wales.
"The wood we used was Canadian maple that came from various hardware stores in Cardiff."
Custom touches turned the ordinary into the extraordinary.
"The round hobbit door really defines it. The dining room table is also a bed, with the table folding away."
The overall effect is captivating.
"It's pretty cool driving down the road. The front of the van looks like it's something out of the 70s and the rear looks like something from Middle Earth. Every single person turns their head, whether they're afoot or in a vehicle."
Traveling in style is good. Continuing to paddle is even better.
"Before the hobbit van, I was looking at renting cars and apartments. The hobbit van is the affordable solution. It cost less than a year's rent in Ottawa and it's totally paid off, including the van, woodworking, electronics, and appliances."
But what's life like in a rolling hobbit hole?
"Compared to a kayak, it's roomy! I even have a bit of reverse claustrophobia now in a bigger space. In my hobbit van, I know where everything is and it's quick to clean. Best of all, I can stand up in it!"
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