“Ice is not a socially accepted drug, period,” said one anonymous source. “Cocaine is a more socially accepted drug these days, same with alcohol and weed, but people know that ice leads to tweaking, theft, and death.”
Ambivalence towards drugs is a common cultural trope of modern surfing: Some drugs will kill you, some will not. Some people can do drugs, some cannot. As Stone mentioned, acceptance of some forms of drug use is at least partly based on surfing’s “free party,” “rebellious” image and the marketing of that image to young people. The drug-related death of one of surfing’s most celebrated rebels, Andy Irons, has thrown a wrench into this paradigm. When the free party begins wracking up casualties, perhaps it’s time to scale it back.
The ‘70s surf legend Montgomery “Buttons” Kaluhiokalani could very easily have met the same fate. At 53 years old, he spent He spent roughly thirty years addicted to various drugs, including heroin. Since coming clean almost five years ago, he began to give talks to schools and rehabilitation centers while also promoting clean living through his Buttons Surf School.
“Everyone was using drugs back in my day,” He said. “No one really cared, actually. No one really told me what they can do to you in the later part of your life. No one really said nothing. They thought, ‘This kid is a good surfer. Wow, he can make it to the top,’ so they didn’t say anything. Also, I never had a dad, and my mom didn’t tell me you shouldn’t be doing this.” He paused. “Also, I didn’t really want to listen.
“It’s changed because kids these days see how people are on drugs. They see the homeless people living in cars, and they see how their bodies have deteriorated. It’s an epidemic, brah. But there is more awareness now, and that is a good thing. We need to make young people aware of how bad these things are for you.”
I asked him if it was difficult staying away from drugs. “You know, people ask me how I do it, and, honestly, I look at my kids every morning and I pray. Do I want my kids to be like their dad? No.” He paused. “I’m lucky, because my body didn’t deteriorate like some people’s, and I still have a memory. But I’m still taking it one day at a time.”
“I believe most young surfer are well aware of the dangers of drugs,” North Shore resident pro surfer Pancho Sullivan wrote via email. “They know that drugs have taken the lives of great surfers and ruined the lives of countless others. Drug use has been rampant in the surf culture and I think that [there] is just a greater awareness in general of how quickly you can lose everything in your life if you go down that path.”
Sullivan also pointed out that young surfers have greater incentive to avoid potentially career-ending substances. “I think that the culture has changed within the sport with the realization that you can earn a decent living as a pro surfer and potentially set yourself up for the future. Back in the day I think being a pro surfer was more lifestyle driven. Guys knew they were never going to make much money as a pro surfer so they lived it up and partied their way around the world. I think each generation learns from the one before, which in this case is a very good thing!”
If Hawaii is handicapped by its history of US annexation and the difficulties of being an island state, its strength lies in its communities and the people within them who promote positive choices – like Stone, Kaluhiokalani, and Sullivan.
When I asked Sullivan if the recent decision by the ASP to ban recreational drugs from competitive surfing robbed surfing of some of its soul, he responded with a bit of glibness: “…drugs rob you of your ‘soul’ so I would have to disagree with the notion that this policy is taking something like ‘soul’ away from surfing.”