Surfing: My claim to free cocaine was based on Walrus' belief that I ha d starred in the film of Scarface

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The Independent Online
Surf culture in Hawaii is inextricably bound up with drugs. Local methods of dealing with the big wave vary from marijuana to cocaine via crystal methamphetamine.

"Hey, bra, can I use your phone?"

I'd never seen the guy before when he put his tanned, stubbly head round the door.

"It's OK, I'm a friend of Hank's."

I told him to come in and prayed he wasn't calling China.

"Bra, that showed real aloha," he said, putting the phone down. He unzipped his backpack and took out a transparent sack, containing the fruits of an abundant marijuana harvest. "Here, take one of these - consider it a Christmas present." He laid a "bud" on the table, the size of a small cauliflower. "Wow, it's a big one! Your lucky day."

The North Shore bartering system was alive and well. Within the hour, that bud had been incinerated by a small but dedicated band of surfers.

A couple of weeks later, it was my birthday and I was sucking down yet another Bud - a Budweiser - at Portofino's in Haleiwa, a whimsical Wild West town of saloons and surf shops along the Kamehameha Highway. The owner of a local surfwear company drove me away into the darkness and parked on an obscure bluff. Then he took out a small packet, emptied out a pyramid of white powder on to a square of card, and handed me a rolled- up tube of paper. "Got it for nothing from `Walrus' when he heard it was your birthday. Go for it."

My entitlement to free cocaine was based, it transpired, on a case of mistaken identity: Walrus believed that I had starred in the film Scarface and was lying low in Hawaii under cover of an alias.

Nevertheless, a fair cross-section of illegal substances are freely available on the North Shore.

A lot of surfers swear by "kryppie" (high quality marijuana): all that inhaling is supposed to increase your lung capacity and thus ability to survive wipeouts. Smoke relaxes you and slows you down; coke, on the other hand, speeds you up. Thus the idea is born that some cunning combination of the two is the perfect panacea for all surfing problems. One cures the anxiety and curbs the fear; the other facilitates power moves. No one, so far as I know, bothers with steroids.

Ken Bradshaw, the big-wave hell man, notorious (in North Shore terms) for his disciplined clean living, subscribes to the performance-enhancement theory, but from the opposite side of the fence. "I'd like to see drug- testing," he said, "because it'd make the playing-field more level."

But surfing is too much of a free-form activity for that. Everyone's afraid of a kind of Third Reich mentality. In fact, drug-testing is now being brought in by the Association of Surfing Professionals in professional contests.

Kryppie is still cultivated in secret locations around the Islands and smoking it is held to be a virtually sacred obligation on the North Shore.

It is like supporting local industry. A recent LA Times report, warmly welcomed here, to the effect that 70 per cent of American basketballers puff and that the idea of banning the substance was therefore unworkable, gives a rough guide to the North Shore's sense of how many locals partake of the weed. Except that that "70" quickly became inflated to "90".

In the oral history of the North Shore, the legend persists that for most of the 70s and 80s everyone survived around here by purveying marijuana to one another. In reality there was inevitably a pyramid, with one man making a lot of dough out of a lot of dopeheads.

I was once naive enough to contemplate writing an article about the local drugs baron, then going through the courts, now a thoroughly respectable citizen. Somehow word that I was doing a "Mr Big" story got around. Pretty soon I was being visited by a couple of heavy dudes, one of whom was known as "Sharky", and both of whom the word "henchman" fitted like a glove, who made it plain that, unless I had an overpowering desire to see a shotgun shoved down my throat, I might care to reconsider. It was around this same time that I started to feel that, what the hell, it was not such a great story after all and that the world would be a finer place without it.

Pro-smokers often despise other substances. Billy, a coke-head, dropped by Dan's house on New Year to inquire if, perchance, anyone could kindly spare a gram. Billy's beloved baseball cap was ripped from his head and torn to pieces. "Don't come round here again," yelled Dan, "or next time that'll be you on the floor!" Billy withdrew, with apologies, but Dan needed an outsize reefer to calm him down afterwards. Coke users, in turn, heap contempt on crystal methamphetamine, considered the root of all evil out on the break.

"Had to come in," groaned one surfer hitting the beach at Ali'i Beach Park recently. "Got hit by some kamikaze."

"Who was it?" asked a sympathiser.

"Dunno," came the reply. "Been doing too much crystal for sure though."

A doctor in the psychiatric ward of the Kahuku Hospital blamed relatively high drug use - and youth delinquency - on what she called "North Shore neurosis". Anywhere else you can just be normally unhappy, she argued, whereas here you are not only unhappy but guilty about being unhappy to boot, since in Hawaii happiness is a cultural imperative; and if you add to that being broke, when prosperity is next to Godliness in America, then you are doubly damned.

There is a forthcoming "Surfers for Christ" contest on the island of Kauai, where participants are vowing to "stand up for Christ" and "declare against drugs". Their plan is to paddle out en masse and - for once - not grab anyone else's wave and just sit there beaming, so that other less altruistic surfers will feel the full force of their superhuman charity.

In this event you get scored for virtue rather than style.

But, ironically, the reason so many turn to drugs is because surfing is like a theology and promises more than it can ever deliver. The perfect wave - and sometimes even the imperfect wave - is as elusive as God and its absence induces a void that has to be filled somehow. Some get religion, others get high.