Anthony Ruffo

I couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened had Ruffo failed a drug test during his competition years. It could have saved him. It could have saved Andy Irons. Image: ruffothefilm.com


The Inertia

I was surprised last fall when I opened my copy of The New York Times and saw a photo of Santa Cruz surfer Anthony Ruffo lying serenely on a beach. Ruffo? In the Times? Weird. The story was heartbreaking – former pro surfer busted for dealing meth, awaiting trial, making progress in rehab – but I didn’t know what to think of it. Surfers getting involved with meth isn’t exactly new, and Santa Cruz has long been associated with a nasty underground drug scene. I felt a little sad, put the paper down and promptly forgot about it.

A few weeks ago, I was in Santa Cruz trying to catch a the tail end of a dying west swell, when I heard the news that Ruffo was sentenced to a two-year jail term (because of overcrowding in California’s state penal system, he will serve half that sentence, at most). Coincidentally, earlier that day, I had read an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel describing former pro and Santa Cruz resident Matt Rockhold’s successful life after a career in surfing. Ruffo and Rockhold, it seemed, had evolved along different paths. Ruffo’s road had been darkened by drug abuse, while Rockhold owned his own business (a hair salon with his wife), and was well-positioned to transition into regular, workaday life.

For the first time, after reading the piece on Rockhold, and thinking about how shitty Ruffo’s next year was about to be, the ASP’s new drug testing policy (effective for the first time this past week at Snapper Rocks) suddenly made a little more sense. When I had first heard about the ASP’s plan, I thought it was ridiculous – an unnecessary and unwelcome intrusion in the personal lives of its athletes. Another step in surf marketing’s march to sterilize what was once an outsider’s pursuit.

But I couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened had Ruffo failed a drug test during his competition years. Maybe nothing. Maybe he would have continued to struggle with addiction and found another, untested substance to abuse. Or, it may have been an early wake-up call, and prompted Ruffo to embrace the kind of rehabilitation program that has seen him sober for nearly a year, and has kept him, presumably, from dealing meth–the crime for which he’ll spend a year in jail. It quite possibly could have saved the beautiful life of Andy Irons. But that’s conjecture.

The ASP, of course, is nobody’s daddy, and ultimately shouldn’t be responsible for regulating the private lives of pro surfers. Yet pro surfers live in an artificially constructed fantasyland, one made partially possible by the ASP-sanctioned World Tour, and one that requires little personal responsibility on the part of competitors, short of showing up for their heats. The freewheeling Tour environment practically begs for poor decision-making. “Going to Brazil and getting $9 grams of coke was part of the fun,” Ruffo told the Times when discussing life as a traveling contest surfer. “Guys were coming out of their rooms loaded for their heats, it was part of the norm.”

P.R. move by the ASP? Absolutely possible. Hardcore drug use may be outlier behavior among elite-level surfers. The new anti-doping policy may ultimately do nothing but bust guys for smoking flat-spell joints in the middle of Fiji, or for doing a few lines in a Biarritz night club. But if the problem users, if the guys like Ruffo and Irons are made to at least acknowledge their substance abuse issues, and are forced to confront how their addictions may affect the only professional livelihood they know, then maybe the ASP as a tattle-tale isn’t such a bad thing at all.

A documentary about Anthony Ruffo is currently in the works. The trailer can be viewed below.


  • Bert

    “an unnecessary and unwelcome intrusion in the personal lives of its athletes”

    Well, it depends on what kind of drugs! Taking drugs in order to enhance performance is cheating, don’t you think? I never thought drug testing was implemented to fight drug use, but to fight cheating in sport. In the case of cycling, for instance, in the tour de France, it wasn’t against drug using, it was because the whole top 20 (or more) was using performance enhancing drugs on a daily basis, it became ridiculous. (it still is today, as a matter of fact, the essence of sport being put aside at the benefit of sponsors, but that’s another issue)
    Of course it is dangerous for the user, but he decided to use it, and it is a medical or penal issue. Cheating with perfomrance enhancing drugs is a sport issue, and should be dealt by sport authorities.

  • Al Baydough

    The ASP and all sporting agencies should let the science and NOT the politics dictate their course of action. From Chocolate to Morphine is one of the best texts on all drugs and their effects that I know of and should be required reading. From this informed POV is where policies on specific drugs and their uses/effects should be buoyed. Michael Phelps, one of the greatest, hardest working and driven athletes of all time, smokes marijuana but not meth. That should tell everyone something. That said, every athlete needs to be honest with what does and does not work for them in their lives in a positive sense. If you have to artificially enhance your abilities you’re cheating. If you can’t balance your responsibilities in life with the recreational use of less harmful substances you need to reassess your priorities (wake-and-bakes being a prime example).

     ”Just say no…” to ignorance and any policy that stems from it.

    • Businesssurfer

      Performance enhancing v Recreational is a good debate. But the line is always blurry. Surfers on tour have had a quick bump before massive Pipeline for courage – a recreational drug, used to enhance performance. Same for Phelps – calm his mind (self confessed ADD) to focus on his swimming: recreational drug used to enhance performance.

      The easiest way to handle that is either by committee where each case is judged on it’s merits, or a blanket & finite list of products that are to be avoided (always subject to ‘work arounds’)

      ASP Tour surfing is a professional sport, undertaken by professional role models & athletes - there is absolutely zero argument anyone can provide that justifies NOT trying to eliminate recreational or performance enhancing substances.

      • Al Baydough

        Alcohol is a recreational drug; it’s also more physically destructive than heroin. Like I said, let the science and not the politics dictate the policies. MJ is not a performance enhancer anymore than Benadryl or a muscle relaxer. 

        • Businesssurfer

          I mention this as devils advocate: Where do you draw the line? Surfer’s have a little nose candy before Pipe to give them courage. Phelps smokes MJ to keep his head focused for a race. 

          How is that not performance enhancing or cheating? It’s using a substance to overcome a personal issue that would otherwise inhibit performance.

          • Al Baydough

            You’re comparing pot to coke. Apples and oranges. You clearly don’t know what you are talking about.

             According to your “logic” they shouldn’t be allowed to use aspirin, ibuprofen, Ben Gay, or anything that helps them deal with the stresses of competition at that level – something you have no idea about. Yes, draw lines; make sure those lines are based on scientific studies and not political grandstanding – or pseudo-reasoning like yours.

          • Businesssurfer

            Not sure why I am dignifying that with a response, but your normal balanced reasoning has been clouded.

            Even when applying some of your ‘science’, the question remains, how are those examples of use not cheating or performance enhancing for that person – which ties into my point about the best way to audit and control this is to have a case by case review by a committee.

            Talk about apples and oranges (both fruit) & not knowing your subject matter – you’re saying that MJ and coke – two substances known to have a profound effect on the human psyche and (rightly or wrongly) illegal  -  are the same as Aspirin & Ibuprofen. 

            Have a little meeting with yourself Al, before you loose your audience. 

          • Al Baydough

            A) I don’t play to audiences, B) You grossly misinterpreted everything I have said on this subject thus far, C) I have at least cited a very credible source on this subject while you continue to rely on mere opinion, D) I did not in any way equate aspirin with coke in terms of effects, E)… ahhh, f–k it. You clearly come to message boards to fling your poop at people, Monkeybusinesssurfer.

             BTW, anyone and everyone who hears the “apples and oranges” point gets it – except you. What planet are you from anyway?

          • Businesssurfer

            I  haven’t flung any poop – merely caught some and flung it back. 

            I try to look simply at the subject matter – not the style or language semantics of how you or anyone else responds.  ”
            You clearly don’t know what you are talking about.” when you have no frame of context about me does not add anything to the debate, and only detracts from my respect of you as a poster on this forum.

          • Al Baydough

            And I thought I liked to jerk off too much.

  • Wan

    Santa Cruz is riddled with so much drug use that meth is a constant “theme” in the experience of surfing there, abuser or not. And just like every other major surf town, Santa Cruz is in its own little cultural bubble that magnifies everything involving a guy of Ruffo’s status. Whether you think he actively destroyed the potential of the young surfers on the Westside that idolized him or not, there’s no denying that he’s contributed to the major problem Santa Cruz has experienced for a long time. That alone should be enough to put him away for longer than a year.

    As for the angle on the ASP’s new testing, ever wonder why Nat Young is the only surfer with a promising contest future to come out of SC since Replogle?…because 99% of the kids with decent talent in Santa Cruz throw it all away by buying into the 24/7/365 drug and party culture of the town. Nat is the 1%. Ruffo, Flea, Barney…they’re simply exceptions with enough talent to get by, but even then it caught up with each of them at some point.

  • Jahmin Lerum

    On an interesting side note: Where would surfing be without drugs? Where would surfboard design be without the acid-induced “shamanic” sessions of the 70′s?

    Surfing as art-form is subject to the rules of art. Surfing as competition requires rules. Selling brain-rotting drugs to children (or anyone) is appalling (McDondald’s Happy Meals included…).

    • Wildrnes

      Where would surfing be without drugs? And where would surfing be with drugs?  

      Psychedelia and shamanic sessions are far different than teeth-nashing, methed-out tweekers with shrinking frontal lobes. Meth has never been an inspiring part of the equation.

  • Al Baydough

    I don’t live for your approval.

    • Firsttime_Poster

       haha, you live for this board’s approval.  Admit it to yourself – you’ll feel better. 

      • Al Baydough

        Yeah, I’ve made a career out of kissing everyone’s ass on here.

         Cynicism is easy. Doesn’t surprise me to see you consistently taking the easy way out, rookie.

        • Firsttime_Poster

           who you talking to?  Who am I and why are you arguing with me?  You post more here than everyone else combined.  Unless you’re being paid by Zach to do so, you might want to take a step back and consider what’s up.  Maybe go buy a guitar.  Ohhh, daddy, give me a guitar please!

          • Al Baydough

            I have a very uncommon, highly eclectic background with a broad range of interests and highly developed skill sets. I’m also an information junkie that enjoys sharing [is caring] and entering the public debate at large.

             As for you? I’ll leave that to Ian:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5p9xfMSP71M