Jeremy Leonard says with a laugh that his own personal story with Volkswagens goes “all the way back.”
In 1973, Leonard’s mom was standing in her driveway, eight-and-a-half months pregnant, when she realized she’d forgotten to set the emergency break on her VW Bus, which started rolling down the hill. When she jumped in to stop it, she started feeling contractions immediately. Leonard was born the next day.
Now the 46-year-old entrepreneur is combining his love for all things VW with his flair for Santa Cruz surf style to put on the second-annual Santa Cruz Dub’n festival this Saturday. The free event transforms the county government building’s Ocean Street parking lot into a street-fair-style celebration, featuring almost 200 vibrantly painted and restored VW Buses, Bugs and Ghias. This year’s festival is a fundraiser for the Coastal Watershed Council.
For Leonard, the festival is a chance to celebrate Santa Cruz’s counterculture and surf-town roots. “Although it’s totally changed now, Santa Cruz has this aura of being a VW place,” he says. “You think of Santa Cruz, and you think of hippies; you think of Volkswagen Buses cruising around. It lends itself naturally to a Volkswagen show.”
He sees the shifting culture here in Santa Cruz as similar to what’s happening in VW bus culture. In the realm of Volkswagens, new money has created less opportunity for ordinary enthusiasts to buy an old van and get involved in the fix-it-up hobby of making a car their own.
“Now, they’re this rare vehicle, commodity sort of thing. Not every hippie can drive one around anymore,” Leonard says, “I was kind of dumbfounded—this car I bought for a hundred bucks is now worth $20,000. I honestly thought people were joking.”
For Leonard and fellow co-founders Andres Burgueno, Mike Krakowiak and Randy Widera, Dub’n is a way to push back against this trend by creating a space where everyone can participate in and enjoy the quirky VW culture.
“Unique and creative people are all around, and it’s a way to share that and to hear people’s stories,” says Widera.
Burgueno says they do it “for the love, for the passion and for the kids.”
In addition to the VWs, the event will feature gear swaps, vendors, raffle ticket sales, and food stands—including from Burgueno, whose family will serve up tacos at their cart Tacos Freestyle. A live music stage will feature local bands, including the headlining Hoopty Funk, which plays a mix of dance and modern jazz music.
Santa Cruz’s Coastal Watershed Council, the beneficiary of this year’s event, is a nonprofit aimed at restoring the San Lorenzo River watershed, which provides drinking water to nearly 100,000 Santa Cruzans.
The Watershed Council does water quality monitoring and habitat enhancement for endangered and threatened species, and community events.The Watershed Rangers, the nonprofit’s youth environmental education program, also works with 2,500 elementary and middle-school students each year. The project shows kids how to help to take care of the river through field trips, after-school programs, summer camps, spring-break programs, and in-class lessons.
“Ultimately, we’re helping to empower kids to learn that, no matter their age, no matter if they’re in kindergarten or 7th grade, they can make a difference for their river today,” says the nonprofit’s Programs Director Laurie Egan.
Since Watershed Rangers is completely free for schools and students, Egan says the Santa Cruz Dub’n funds will help the program reach more students and lead to more field trips to the river.
Widera worked in outdoor education for years, even founding his own outdoor school, the Web of Life Field School, out of his VW Bus at age 25. That kind of long-standing passion for empowering youth made donating to the Coastal Watershed Council a natural choice.
“The river is a place we’ve kind of been turning our backs on, and their passion and leadership has really transformed the river,” says Widera. “I know we’re supporting a great organization; we’re supporting great stuff, and we’re supporting great leaders. To me, it’s just everything I could want.”
Leonard, who has a background in outdoor education himself, likes to joke that donating to an environmental organization helps offset the carbon footprint of his hobby of working on Volkswagen Buses, which have notoriously low gas mileage.
Leonard adds, though, that there are several ways to increase the efficiency of a VW Bus, including a popular movement among VW owners to convert their vehicles to run on electricity. This year, car show participants can enter to win a rebuilt, zero-mileage engine.
Last year, with around 700 attendees, the group raised $3,000 for the O’Neill Sea Odyssey, a Santa Cruz non-profit dedicated to ocean education. This year, they’re hoping to raise more for the Coastal Watershed Council.
Krakowiak, a U.S. Navy veteran and 911 dispatcher, says that the logistics of the event can be challenging, but that it’s worth it.
“When it all comes together,” he says, “it’s magic.”
Santa Cruz Dub’N is Saturday, Sept. 14, from 9-5 p.m. at 701 Ocean St. Free.