Surf Shacks 020 - Janna Irons + Johnny Stifter

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By Indoek / Published by Indoek
Janna and Johnny are one of the most fun-loving and adventuous couples we know. Janna was born into one of surfing’s royal families and has carved her own path as a talented writer and brand strategist (not to mention surfer). John, by contrast was born strapped into a pair of skis in the Pacific Northwest and has also forged a successful career for himself as a writer, editor, and producer. Both live the avid outdoor enthusiast’s dream scenario of working in the field, immersed in the sports they are passionate about. Recently they both decided to sell all their stuff, downsize, and hit the road for an epic cross-country adventure in their newly converted Dodge Sprinter van with no set schedule, plan, or trip timeline.
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Tell us a little about yourselves.

Janna: I was born and raised in Hanalei. It’s the most amazing place to grow up, but feels like such a small place when you’re a teenager. As soon as I graduated I moved to California—I think I left the day after graduation. I went to UC Santa Barbara, interned at SURFER Magazine my senior year, and pretty much got hired right after. I was there for six and half years, and have spent the last year and a half at a creative agency in Encinitas.

John: Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, I am a 32-year-old writer-turned-editor-turned-producer. After high school, I attended Montana State University in Bozeman, where skiing was just as much, if not more, my focus than school, working at a ski shop and skiing Bridger and Big Sky and the surrounding backcountry. The summer of my junior year, I interned at Powder, which was a dream come true. Thereafter, I freelanced for local Bozeman magazines, ski magazines, and ESPN for three years during the X Games before scoring my dream job as Associate Editor of Powder in 2007. In April 2012, after a year spent as senior editor, I was named the magazine’s Editor. Most recently I’ve transitioned to the role of Executive Producer for Powder Magazine’s in-house production studio, Powder Productions.

Janna, what was it like growing up in Kauai and being in such a legendary surfing family?

Janna: My family is surfing. My dad is one of nine rowdy siblings who grew up surfing in Torrance Beach, all eventually making their way to Hawaii in ’60s. They’re all legends. Everyone on both sides of my family surf. It’s pretty awesome being part of a big surf clan because it seems like no matter where I surf anywhere in the world I meet people who know one of my uncles or cousins—and usually they have some story about how an Irons almost got them arrested or killed, or some other tale debauchery. My mom was also a charging mat-surfer in the ’70s on the North Shore of Oahu. She’s an awesome artist too—she did all the art for Greenough’s Innermost Limits of Pure Fun. Between both sides of my family it’s fair to say my life has been pretty drenched in surf history!

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Johnny, what was it like growing up in the Pacific Northwest, skiing from a young age?

John: I used to joke with my parents that the best gift they gave me wasn’t love or education but skiing at Schweitzer. I was a spoiled kid in that my parents got me on skis at Mount Spokane, Washington, when I was 2 and bought a ski cabin at Schweitzer in Northern Idaho when I was 5, so we’d load up the Suburban every Friday after school during winter and drive the two hours from my hometown of Spokane. While at the mountain, I’d ski race all day followed by building jumps and forts and generally playing in the snow and having the best time of my life with friends. The local mountain culture and passion for skiing impacted me from a young age, as I used to go to the local ski shop in Spokane, where I later worked in high school and college, and just hang out—talk shop, watch ski movies, and inhale melting ski wax. Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho aren’t on the ski map, I guess you could say, so I learned to appreciate the downhome, unpretentious vibe that permeated the scene there. And, of course, it allowed for big dreams—inspired by the pages of Powder—to go ski in Utah or Colorado or Tahoe or Whistler or even Europe someday out there.

What led you to make the leap of selling all your stuff, moving into the van and hitting the road for a while?

Janna: We both just started seeing life passing us by. We had great jobs and really fun lives full of travel and great friends, so it’s really not that we’re escaping anything at all. We just felt like we somehow had to find a way to step out of our routine, scheduled existence to feel like we were really living. We also felt that by being in the same place doing similar things for so long our creative wells were going dry—and that we needed to get out of our rut to really get inspired again. John had always dreamed of getting a van and building it out, and I’ve never been one to say no to an adventure, so after a few years of talking about it and watching friends "settle down," we realized it was time to just do it.

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What is your intended mission for the journey?Any bucket list to-dos?

Janna: We really just want to see everything. Mostly we want to remember what it feels like to not be busy. To just slow down and appreciate life and nature. We want to go to all the national parks, and to creative, inspiring cities. We also have plans to spend good chunks of time in places off the beaten path, with no cell service. Just really unplug, slow down, read, hike, and just relax. We plan to go up the west coast, into Canada, then across into Montana, Wyoming, the Great Lakes, and over to the Northeast. Our rough plan is to spend the winter up in the Northeast—maybe rent a cabin a few different places when it’s too cold to sleep in the van—then head down the East Coast in early spring. But it’s all totally open to change. We just want to take it as it comes, and stay as long as we want in the places we love.

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How did you go about finding the van the suited your needs and how did you customize it?

Janna: We talked ourselves in circle discussing just about every option in existence—from a VW to a Tacoma with a shell to an Econoline. We settled on a Sprinter because we really wanted something we could stand up in and something big enough to bring all our gear. We also aren’t mechanically inclined so we wanted a vehicle that was reliable and a bit newer. Sprinters really are the most amazing vehicle for what we are doing—they get great gas mileage, have tons of room, drive really well (their turning radius is actually incredible), and are stealthy enough to sleep in in random places without raising any red flags. Plus, the 144"-length fits in normal parking spaces so we don’t have to worry about finding a special long parking spot.


This article was originally published on Indoek as part of the Surf Shacks series, featuring the homes of creative surfers from coast to coast and overseas. See the full interview and photo gallery here.

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