The mystique of surfing, since its music-fueled rise on the American West Coast during the 1960s, has always had a lot to do with rebellion, with alternatives, with a countercultural image. With the “bushy bushy blonde hair” and the rest of the accoutrements, of course, came marijuana and LSD, drugs of choice for the surfing culture which, unlike traditional narcotics and stimulants, didn’t noticeably reduce the physical abilities of those participating in the sport.
The mystic search to catch the perfect wave became the obsession of many a stoner — but the perfection of the art of surfing was a double-edged sword. It brought with it the inevitable commercialization of the sport, and big-purse surf competitions, along with their attendant product endorsements, became the tail that started wagging the dog.
In a familiar pattern to anyone who smokes weed, the inevitable crackdown came, not as a result of harmless cannabis nor even of its frisky big brother, LSD — but due to the same, tired old death drugs that have been killing people and destroying lives for generations.
The move comes after the tragic death of triple world champion surfer Andy Irons in November 2010. A postmortem examination found Irons died from a heart attack and “acute mixed drug ingestion.”
Traces of methadone, methamphetamine, and cocaine were found in his bloodstream.
Another pro surfer, Anthony Russo, 47 — who helped pioneer the Santa Cruz scene in the 1980s — is looking at some time behind bars for methamphetamine after allegedly being caught selling an ounce of the stuff.
“We believe this is a natural evolution in enhancing the professionalism of our sport,” said Dave Prodan, a spokesman for the ASP. “This motion has the full support of the surfers on tour as they want to be taken more professionally, and believe this is a step in the right direction.”
“We have been discussing and drafting a policy with the guidance of the World Anti Doping Agency [Editor’s note: There’s a ‘World Anti Doping Agency’? Far out] for over two years and the budget, approved at the November board of directors meeting, has just allowed us the possibility of implementing it as soon as next year.”
Pro surfers compete for prizes of up to $100,000, and testing is already carried out at some European events and in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Brazilian surfer Neco Padaratz was suspended in 2005 after he tested positive for performance-enhancing anabolic steroids at an event on the French Atlantic coast.
And Peter Davi, a pioneering big wave surfer, was found to have high levels of meth in his blood after he died in December 2007 riding a 20-meter wave off California. Davi died of head and chest injuries, probably after being dashed against jagged rocks.
Most surfers oppose the idea of taking drugs before riding the waves, claimed Gerry Fitzgerald, a pro in Ireland.
“I have seen guys who are stoners and they drop off the scene because it is not sustainable,” Fitzgerald claimed. “Athletes are training hard. The way the contests are now, it will catch up with you.”
“I think the surf culture has always been pretty festive,” granted Pancho Sullivan, a pro surfer from Hawaii who claimed he supported the new testing regime.
”That being said I think the sport has evolved and surfers are now becoming athletes,” Sullivan said. “They are eating right and cross training which leads me to believe that there is very little drug use amongst the elite level surfers on tour.”
“Part of its appeal is that it is countercultural, marginal and in some way subversive and that’s where the association with drugs comes in, whether real or mythic,” said Andy Martin, author of Stealing The Wave.
But the commercial imperatives require [surfers]to be straight.”
“How can mainstream surfing be losing its soul?” Martin asked.
According to Martin, marijuana was always a key part of community life when he lived among surfers in Hawaii more than a decade ago.
“There was a view in Hawaii that marijuana smoking in particular was actually good for surfing because you increase your lung capacity with all that drawing in of the smoke,” Martin said. “So it was good when there was a big hold down under the waters and you could stay down for longer.
“The more marijuana, the better the surfer.”
Surfer Dan (The Turtles, 1968)
(Music and lyrics by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan)