The Inertia Senior Contributor
Pipeline Mikala Jones

The lens rarely strays from the more obvious attractions on the Seven Mile Miracle, like Pipeline. But let's take a look at a more discreet influence on Hawaii and its surf scene: drugs. Photo: Patrick Ruddy/

The Inertia

How much do you know about Hawaii? Besides the Seven Mile Miracle, I mean. Besides Pipeline and Waimea Bay. Besides Da Hui and the Wolf Pack.  Besides the Volcom house, the Billabong house, and the other million-dollar properties that line the coast.  Besides the faceless girls in bikinis.   Besides the threatening, dark-skinned locals who have become sinister caricatures in the mostly white world of surfing. Besides “Respect.” Whatever the hell that means.

If you have never spent extended periods of time there and receive most of your info about Hawaii through travel brochures and surf media (like I do), this is probably the extent of your knowledge of the place.  It’s surfing’s slightly disturbing version of Disneyland.  It’s Mickey Mouse with a neck tattoo and brass knuckles.

This is, of course, a small and aggressively marketed version of a much larger and more complex place.  Hawaii is an island nation.  It’s a place of great wealth and extreme poverty – where diverse ethnic and socioeconomic groups vie for power and influence while relying heavily on tourism revenues.  So let’s step outside the lens that rarely strays from the seven most recognizable miles in surfdom for a minute and consider a wider issue that has had an impressively overlooked impact on the community itself. Let’s take a look at drugs.

Hawaii has been the capital of methamphetamine use in the United States since the 1980s.  Methamphetamine first appeared in Hawaii when Chinese drug trafficking organizations began test-marketing ice, a crystallized form of methamphetamine, in the Philippines, Korea, and other parts of South East Asia. From there, it came to Hawaii with the large Asian diaspora communities.  Some public figures have even accused the federal government of ignoring the problem in order to focus attention on marijuana eradication in the state.

If this was true in the past, it seems that the national growth of methamphetamine use has changed the government’s outlook slightly.  In its latest assessment, the National Drug Intelligence center (NDIC) calls ice methamphetamine the greatest drug threat to Hawaii followed by, in no particular order: cocaine, cannabis, heroin, and the rising abuse of prescription drugs like opioid pain killers.

The NDIC has identified Hawaii as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area because it supplies marijuana to the mainland and receives ice from California and Mexico.  Its heavy reliance on shipping, both to import and export goods, facilitates the movement of drugs.

When I started interviewing people to get a better grip on methamphetamine’s impact on Hawaii’s surf community over the years, I suspected that ice hit the Hawaiian surf community much the same way that heroin did in Australia and Hawaii in  the ‘80s.  This turned out to be a false assumption.  “The funny thing is that the surfing community, for the most part, is not impacted by the “ice” epidemic,” said Hawaiian Cultural Studies teacher and traditional board shaper, Tom Pohaku Stone.  Stone has a masters degree in Pacific Island studies and can talk as fluently about the sociological history of Hawaii as he can carve an olo. Very fluently.

This is encouraging news considering that estimates for the number of meth addicts in the state reach as high as 120,000 (total pop: 1.2 million).  Nearly 35 percent of men jailed jailed in Honolulu had the drug in their system – a percentage higher than any other city in America.

Stone notes, however, that ice still manages to impact the surfing community indirectly, just as it is impacting all of Hawaii.  “Personally, I have had no experience with this drug,” he said, “but it has taken a toll on my ohana. My nephews, niece, younger sisters, and other extended family have fallen to this drug and it is not an easy road to get off of…In my native community, it is sad to see the youth falling to this ‘recreational’ drug and a lot of young girls, not women, are now providing sexual services for it.”

Drug-related prostitution rarely sits well with tourism boards, so ice has become something of a gorilla in the room for surf marketing (indeed, all tourism marketing) especially given surfers’ propensity to indulge in other drugs.

“The surfing world has maintained that ‘free party’ image that was popularized through the movies in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” said Stone.  “Drugs and alcohol are a mainstream component of the image and have influenced other areas of the fashion and product industry. This is not to say that everyone is caught in the BS, but it is what keeps bringing tourism to Hawai’i. It plays off of the early promotion of surfing – the free-spirited beach boy image that was used to sell Hawai’i and it is still the same.”

If not ice, what drugs are surfers using?  “The surfing community is impacted mostly by cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, Viagra (this is the new stimulant – like speed), and the other drugs used consistently in almost all American sports and not just surfing. The most common is “weed,” which I do not see as a drug, and it should be legalized already just like alcohol.”

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  • Sbriggs

    No mention of the name on everyone’s lips?  The elephant in the room metaphor is central to this topic.  Mention his name and a contract can be put on your head.  Just ask Ian Cairns.

    • Blasphemy Rottmouth

      Kai Borg?

      Cocaine Cowboys kids. Remember that term. It’s not going away. And the truth is going to come. Thanks to people like Ted Endo and Fred Pawle… though progress is slow… the truth is starting to come out.

      Once people realized Nick Carroll, Tim Baker and the crew of “Old Media Surf Writers” were nothing close to being “journalists,” they’ve sat silent and become witless husks of the giants they once felt they were. I assume they are shaking in their sandals right now… knowing The Truth will not be kind to them.

      Cocaine Cowboys.

      • Al Baydough

        Holy shit. Something you said that I’m aligned with. Some snowballs do indeed have a chance.


      • SjH

        Oh yes well said , the sonner the likes of little Nicky and Co are exposed as  the self proclaimed holders of all things surfing the better infact mostly they are product of the over indulgent substance abuse that they belive is the basis of thier surfing experaince ….wankas the lot of em

  • D.matt

    The drug use is particularly bad on the South Shore and West Side. Spend a little time in the Ala Moana Bowls parking lot/harbor and you’ll see a lot of old uncles and aunties with skinny bodies, missing teeth, and twitchy personalities. 

  • ctwalrus

    the Hawaii’ of today is NOTHING like the Hawaii’ that i once knew…….I spend two years going to grad school and living on the NS after i returned home from lovely southeast asia(late 60’s)…….surfed my ass off and actually attended classes…..knew some really great locals who took a weird  guy who had little or no clue of the hawaiian culture and made a friend of him…..I’ll miss those folks forever.   and i don’t want to go back and be forced to see the mess it has turned into….

  • ted

    That’s very interesting, Nick. After reading the ASP’s general press releases, I had the vague feeling that they had plenty of good intentions but not much worked out on a practical level.  I wasn’t aware that it is such an in depth process to become registered and pay for the kits.  Based on what you’ve written it seems unlikely that they will get it together by February, but do you think they will renege on their earlier statement to implement the testing?  It seems, with all the bad press they’ve endured lately, a decision like that would cause an even deeper loss of faith in them.  I’m just musing here, thanks for posting a more “insiders” perspective.  I’m going to go hide now so I don’t get “blasted” by Tshel. 

  • Al Baydough

    Something akin to the solution proposed in this film is the only rational way I think it is possible to deal with people who can’t help but wreck themselves with harsh drugs:

  • The Roller

    When viewing any comment by our beloved Rottmouth/Rottkamp, be assured, the old boy is nothing but a copy of that over inflated egomaniac, Nancy Grace in drag, trying his best at upping his twatter followers.

  • Phil

    Just moved to town a couple months ago and the omnipresence of meth-heads and rampant homelessness lurks around every corner, under the bridge and dim-lit parks at night.  It’s definitely upsetting to see these addicts in their current state that resembles some shell of a person.  You can only wonder what they used to be like, when they took their first hit and the dark road they’ve been travelling on since.  People who haven’t experienced this  like to write off HI as some paradise-utopian island where everyone is happy and aloha reigns supreme, but it’s a real place with real issues, just like anywhere else.  I can only say this because I’ve had to redefine my perception of town since moving here.  

  • ookla the mock

     Ha ha ha. This cracks me up because I was thinking the same thing. What is the f*$#ing point of this article? Thanks Tshel3279 for hitting the nail on his head.

  • Silk and Steel

    As an addiction counselor who has worked in three different programs on the island of Oahu, as well as an avid surfer having surfed over 100 days with 45 different people this year, I can honestly say I have my toe dipped in each world, and they are mutually exclusive. An addict has one thing in his or her sight, and that is the drug. Purchasing boards and paddling out being able to handle any normal Hawaiian sized wave does not mix with drug addiction, not for any length of time. The only addiction I have witnessed with surfers is health, yoga, or fitness addictions. I have lived for periods of time on the West Side, worked with men, veterans, women, felons, and the dual diagnosis population, and I have found the clients and their extended family whom I work with have little or nothing to do with surfing and surfing culture. In fact I would say that surfing and a passion for anything in life, sport or otherwise, does not progress or develop under the guise of drug addiction. Surfing is time consuming and expensive. Surfers who struggle with drug addiction are most likely struggling with a mental illness. The author quoted two sources, a cultural studies professor and a famous surfer from the West Side. The Inertia isn’t Vice or the New Yorker in terms of investigative journalism, but the author could have quoted a few more sources and done his research. It seems the whole point of his article was to point out that Hawaii is a real place, with its own dark underbelly. I’m familiar with the paradise that it is, beauty of the ocean and the sport, as well as the poverty and lack of opportunity that goes hand in hand with drug addiction here. There are athletes who seek treatment, but in my time as an addiction counselor working with hundreds of clients on the island, I have met only two.

    • Goose

      I stopped reading when you counted the number of days and people you’ve surfed with this year.

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