Hailing from Bozeman, Montana, Iris Pham has been on the rise the past two winters with an ever-growing bag of tricks that puts her in podium talks at every event she enters. With a peculiar case of rail prowess coming from a big mountain town, the more we get to know her, the more interesting she becomes. Filming for friends’ projects and dropping a short of her own this fall, Iris hasn’t stopped moving since she started getting some recognition, and by the looks of her recent purchase, isn’t planning on slowing down (by choice) any time soon. Honestly, we all thought van life was a late-aughts trend that was an answer to Millennials not being to afford homes, but this Gen Z ripper checked in with us recently to tell us all about her latest venture, and has no regrets of putting all her cash in her new four-wheeled project. – Mark Clavin

How’s your summer going?
It’s good. I got back from Peace Park in early May, lived with some of my homies for a month, and was just working on this van every single day. I learned how to use a lot of tools. It’s crazy how far the build has come along.

What kind of van is it?
2017 Ram ProMaster 1500.

I know nothing about vans. I’m guessing that’d be all-wheel drive, yeah?
No, it’s front-wheel drive.

So this is a summer van, this is not your winter vehicle?
No, I’m going to use it in the winter. Once we have studded tires, I think it should change the game. The first van we had built was a Chevy Express and that was rear-wheel drive. It got us everywhere once we had studded tires on it, so I think I should be good.

Whatever you say. This is your second van build?
Yeah, this one was way better. I sanded all the wood and finished it nicely and sealed everything. I kind of knew a little more, but I worked with this company that my dad’s friend owns called Beartooth Van Works.

How much did it cost you to get up and running?
About $30,000 probably when it’s all done. I got a deal on the van because there was a hole in it and there were all these problems with it…but that’s what I bargained for.

And now you can live in it.
Yes, exactly. I always have to remember that it will save so much rent and stuff.

It’s also big enough that your brother is living with you, too?
Yeah. We just left for a road trip! Well, we went to Mammoth for like nine days and rode every day. The chairlifts are open from 7:30am to 1:00pm, so we just would get up early, make breakfast and ride. Then go to the skate park or a lake. There’s so much more to Mammoth than I thought. Oh, and the hot springs! The chairlifts close and you’re like, holy crap, what do we do for the rest of the day?

So the skatepark’s melted out now and you can actually skate it?
Oh yeah, and then there’s another one like fifteen minutes down the street. It’s so awesome. I think it’s called Crowley. We went there and then we stopped at a taco truck, and the next day we were so majorly food poisoned. We had to go to a friend’s condo for the whole day and sleep. We did nothing and tried to eat solid food after awhile.

Was food poisoning the worst hiccup you’ve had on your road trip so far?
Not really, that passed within two days. But our tire wobbling problem is a new one that is constantly stressing me out. It wobbles whenever I’m driving at 40 miles an hour or more.

Yeah, that sounds like a big deal.
Yeah, I’m going to get it fixed though. This is all a big, huge learning process.

Did you hit something?
I have no idea what’s going on. I didn’t hit anything, but before I bought this van I think it was in a pretty big crash.

How did it get a hole in its roof?
I just I assumed they went under something that was too low. I bought it with 16,000 miles, so I figure if I can fix everything, I would have a brand new van for $15,500 plus the 15k I put in.

Where did you get the money to buy the van?
I won Dogfight [SLC rail jam hosted by The Bomb Hole], deposited the money in my bank account, and bought the van right when I got home. My whole plan was to live in it and just travel around, film and do everything, but I couldn’t get the hole fixed in the roof until later last winter. So it was three months of just snowboarding and waiting, slightly worried that I just spent all my money on a van that had a hole in the roof. But it got fixed and I felt way better about it…until the the next problem when the transmission started leaking. But it’s got us everywhere that we need to go and it functions so well for sleeping and cooking. It’s all good now, except for this wobbling tire.

What is all in the van?
A full-size bed, a 60 liter fridge, a fixed stove, a little port-a-potty thing that flushes electrically, and a sink that’s an awesome size. It’s big and deep, and all that I need. Then I have a closet to hang our clothes and a ton of storage underneath the bed that is currently fitting two surfboards, my two boards, and my brother’s skis. I haven’t even put the roof system on yet. So I’m gonna be freaking carrying everything I need.

Do you have a heater in there to warm up and dry your clothes?
I have one bought already, but we didn’t put it in before this trip because it’s the summer. It is just nice to be finished. I don’t have any other house.

Plans for this winter?
Yeah, I feel like I’m probably gonna go to events like I did this winter. I hope I can do whatever rail events pop up and then film more street stuff. I filmed some street clips this year and my homie is editing it who lives in Bozeman. I think I’m just gonna release it as a separate short video. Would be really cool if I can go do more trips in Canada because it’s beautiful there and it’s not that far away from home.

How old is your brother?
He’s turned 13 on this trip. Bentley is a big teenager!

Is he the one getting your follow cam clips?
Oh yeah. He’s been practicing for a couple of years.

Will he join you this winter?
Maybe. He started online school last December, so he honestly could come with me, but we would need wifi. Maybe we can get Starlink or something nice.

So if the worst part is the wobbly wheel, what’s the best part of your van life so far?
Cooking with the ocean in the background or just all the homies in the Mammoth parking lot, and I’m just like, Wow, I have everything I need right here.

Have any thoughts on last year and kind of your huge breakout in snowboarding?
I haven’t really reflected on it yet because I don’t feel like I’ve stopped. I traveled a lot this winter and then I got to Montana and just started grinding out the van and working at Pita Pit. I was also going river surfing every afternoon because the rivers were finally big and it was sick. So I’ve been just doing a lot. Now I’m here in Santa Cruz, surfing every day, and we will just go back to Mammoth and snowboard every day. But this winter was awesome. I went so many cool places and I guess I’m just more excited for next winter because now I finally have the setup I’ve been waiting for. I was definitely stressing the build while on snowboard trips last year, just drawing pictures, researching fridges, watching like all these YouTube videos of people who already did it. I might not have been fully with it on all the trips because I was caught up in all that. I didn’t have a home really last winter, so I wanted the van ready to live in. I’m finally starting to feel good about it all. 

Are you going up to Hood at all this summer?
I don’t think so. I’m bummed I’m gonna miss Halo Halo, but with the whole wobbling issue with the van I don’t want to add another like ten hours of driving onto that trip. We just got out to the coast now from Mammoth and we are going straight back. Eventually we will head back to Montana or whatever. I don’t want to add more.

How are the waves in Santa Cruz?
They’re good. We initially didn’t know what we were doing. So I just looked up where you go here and it brought us to Steamer Lane and Mavericks…places two people from Montana shouldn’t be. So now we’re just dinking around and hitting some smaller waves and practicing how to time it out. We would show up to those other spots and paddle out and the locals would just look at us like they hated us.

So overall, you like the van life so far?
I’m just really enjoying seeing other places.