“People in the surf community shouldn’t be scared to confront addiction, whether it’s in the surf industry or your surf buddy you grew up with.”

The Inertia

A few months ago, I watched a documentary about prescription drug abuse in Orange County titled Behind the Orange Curtain. The movie talked about how drugs don’t discriminate and anyone can be affected by addiction – even kids living in one of the wealthiest counties in America.

This movie made me realize how much surfer’s lives are similar to the lives of the teens growing up in Orange County. For example, like the wealthy Orange County teens, surfers often live in a space filled with the outside appearance of luxury and beauty, but underneath it all there is a darker side that’s swept under the rug.

We know there is a problem with drug and alcohol abuse in the surf industry culture. We know from learning about meth use in Hawaii and Santa Cruz, the controversy surrounding Andy Iron’s death and Tom Carroll’s admission to addiction that surfing has a drug problem. For some it’s a controversial and political issue, but for me, it’s a physical and mental health issue. Watching “Behind the Orange Curtain” made me think there is a conversation the surf community is afraid to have (or maybe doesn’t know how to have). Instead of pointing fingers and blaming, there needs to be a conversation around raising awareness of drug and alcohol abuse in our community. The conversation should focus on confronting the stigma behind addiction and the dangers of not facing problems that exist within our community.

There is a fair amount of history that predates the many new discussions surrounding this highly charged, yet important topic of addiction in the surf culture. One of the discussions missing to the overall picture that I feel hasn’t been identified is making a clear distinction between recreational drug use (the party scene) and a full-blown addiction.

So are surfers more prone to becoming drug addicts? If so, it may be for reasons of chasing a high or having addictive personalities. The truth is that there isn’t one real factor that determines who is at a higher risk of becoming addicted to drugs. The factors range from a variety of biological and environmental vulnerabilities to addiction. Sure, plenty of us are exposed to environmental influences, but the problem with recreational drug use in the surfing community is that for some it leads to addiction, and when that happens we are scared to talk about it. What happens when you’re done partying and your friend can’t stop?

Let’s be honest, when someone says “alcoholic,” the first thing you think about is a bum holding up a sign made out of cardboard begging for change. Or when you hear someone say “drug addict,” you probably get an image of a person getting high in a vacant building with some mattresses on the floor. What you don’t think about is a young, fit, world-champion surfer. But that’s just it – addiction can strike anywhere at anytime and unfortunately, in Andy’s case, we learned the hard way of what happens when you don’t confront someone about their addiction.

So where do we go from here and how do we deal with these issues moving forward?  The obvious place to start would be for our community/industry to stop promoting a party lifestyle and start promoting a healthier image of an athlete. We also need to get educated on what it means to be an addict, learn how to approach an addict and learn how to support addicts through the recovery process.

Understanding Addiction Recovery – The Intervention Phase
It’s recommended that you reach out to your loved one with your concerns before organizing an intervention. It’s good to put it out there and won’t hurt a future intervention. Once family and friends have tried to confront the addict and it hasn’t worked, then orchestrating an intervention is highly recommended. It’s important to seek the help of a professional interventionist to mediate family dynamics. The intervention process isn’t a onetime event; there is extensive follow up and aftercare up to two years or more.

Understanding Addiction Recovery – Detoxification
Since there are a lot of physical and psychological factors associated with addiction, the detoxification process creates anxiousness and uneasiness. Seeking professional treatment is very important during the early sobriety phase because of the need for ongoing medical treatment and non-medical support. Checking into a detoxification treatment center helps the addict by removing them from their environment where they get wrapped up in old destructive habits.

Understanding Addiction Recovery – Ongoing Treatment
Taking care of your mental health is critical during and after the addiction recovery process. Stress is a trigger for relapse and during the addiction recovery process, there is a great need to supplement long term sobriety with alternative stress relieving activities. Activities include a variety of things that help you de-stress like Yoga, meditation, and art therapy. I would say surfing here, but for some it might cause more stress depending on the situation. It’s good to experiment with new healthy stress relieving activities.

Understanding Addiction Recovery – Relapse Prevention
There are a lot of emotions that surge when navigating life through addiction recovery. Identifying and understanding emotions, especially anger and resentment, is crucial in preventing relapse. Addicts who abuse drugs and become angry express their emotions in an unhealthy way. Learning how to express anger in a healthy manner and how to control emotions is crucial for long term recovery.

It’s very important to know the difference between someone choosing to use drugs or alcohol and knowing when the drugs or alcohol are in control. It has been reported that one of the most common reasons people don’t seek treatment for alcohol and drug abuse is because of the concerns associated with the stigma of seeking treatment. People in the surf community shouldn’t be scared to confront addiction, whether it’s in the surf industry or your surf buddy you grew up with. We all know drug abuse/addiction is a problem, and ignoring it won’t make it go away.  Prevention, education, awareness and understanding drug and alcohol addiction are powerful ways to approach and deal with the issues.

  • Nicole Grodesky

    Hi Wave Creative,
    Congratulations on your 19 years! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’re right that I haven’t gone through recovery, but I have researched the topic a lot. I have friends and family who have struggled with addiction so I feel passionate about understanding the topic. I felt that there needed to be a discussion started in our community about what addiction is and how to recognize addiction and support those in need. I agree that entering a 12-step program and getting a sponsor is important for a successful recovery. My understanding is that is a critical step during the detoxification, but you’re right it is still an important part of ongoing treatment and relapse prevention. For ongoing prevention I also feel that it’s just as important for people to understand their emotions and supplement their recovery with stress relieving activities such as yoga. Yoga for recovery is a new practice that is gaining popularity in the yoga/recovery community. Check out this website to learn more Thanks again for sharing!

  • jac cruz

    i don’t think you can say surfing has an addiction problem. some people have addiction problems and a small portion of those people are surfers. skateboarding on the other hand seems to have a lot more pros who struggle with addiction. i like how its dealt with in their community. everyone knows its there, they’re open about it and support people trying to get out. i’ll agree with you that surfing, instead of accepting we even use drugs, sweeps it under the rug which is BS.

  • Joshua Persoff

    Stoked to see this article making its way to our community. Being a tight community what better way to bring about awareness than from within the tribe as these courageous rippers Flea and Tom have done. I am also in long term recovery from addiction and after some time developed a template for recovering surfers based on information from Shaun Tomson’s book, Surfers Code. You can see more about this at FB page Surfers Recovery or read the article on ESPN. We look at the world a little different, surfers, and can look at the dangers of addiction the same way. “Avoid the impact zone”

  • Good article and thanks for sharing, and sharing the link to the documentary. I had a hellish 7 year pain killer addiction that ended up with heroin. Yoga and meditation have helped me immensely as well as sharing my story now. More compassion and understanding is a key. Adrenaline people may be more pre disposed to become addicts, but there are a lot of factors

  • Chad Bonsack

    I think this line says it all (learn how to approach an addict and learn how to support addicts through the recovery process.) we all need to learn that. From Star Athletes ,Celebrities to and average joe.I have lost celebrity friends and Pro surf friends from confronting them about their problem.It was a great deal harder because they have a big following of people I call the (yes people). The yes people are just people who will get any drug or do anything for that person to be considered part of their group.The one thing about surfing which I think is harder. The age window dropped big time in the 80’s & 90’s not to many kids were home schooled and traveling the world in hopes of a pro surf career.Now kids as are being home schooled as early as 5 th grade to make all the competition.If you are not on the surfing radar by 15 and traveling the world very doubtful you will have the sponsors or level of talent to catch up. My point those kids have a lot more pressure at a young age to make it. Which could lead to addiction

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