To The Parochial Outsiders


Last night I watched Real Sports on HBO and I have officially had it. I am livid.

For those who didn’t see, the final banger fifteen minutes of the episode was on drugs and surfing. What Bryant Gumbel called “hard” drugs as he twiddled his reading glasses and sunk his non-existent chin into a horrible suit jacket/shirt combination. And then off to Santa Cruz where Anthony Ruffo and Flea spoke about methamphetamine and the segment reporter, also in a horrible shirt/pant combination, asked leading questions about the surf industry complacence in burying the wild addictions of its stars against the backdrop of Andy Irons’ death. Which led to their one self-righteous conclusion: Surfing needs drug testing.

This followed Outside magazine’s two exposé pieces on Andy’s death and, again, the implication that the surf industry buried truth in order to maximize dollars at the expense of Andy himself. And the same one self-righteous conclusion. Surfing needs drug testing.

Surfing doesn’t need drug testing because it doesn’t need broad, meddling, top-down responses to societal problems. Surfers aren’t taking steroids in order to boost performance (save Neco Padaratz). They are partying and maybe too much and maybe too often but, fuck, since when did parenting adults become the obvious solution? Each country in which the tour stops has drug laws. Surfing doesn’t need to add more dumb red tape to an overly legislated area.

But more to the point, both HBO and Outside assume a watchdog tsk-tsk position, reporting the “facts” while not being involved in the space in any way, shape or form.
HBO’s look was an obvious piece of shit. They didn’t speak with anyone close to Andy and, while I love them both, Ruffo and Flea are outliers in Santa Cruz doing an outlying drug. Meth or ice or shards or devil dust or whatever is weird. And I know Santa Cruz and Oregon and the Ozarks and Hawaii have problems with it but, still, it ain’t the norm. Surfers aren’t ice-heads.

Outside’s was more insidious because it had the ring of truth, which is always more insidious. Mormonism also has the ring of truth. But the work was shoddy. The writer had a clear supposition before interviewing, compiling and writing. He knew what his last sentence was. He supposed Andy died of a drug overdose and he supposed the industry was at least partly to blame so he worked backward to prove it. Yellow and shocking. The writer twisted what he needed to in order to make it all fit. I know because he clearly and purposefully twisted me. Rude and small.

Even still, some armchair pundits applauded the bravery. And so, the editorial staff at Outside got what they wanted: All the feel-good whistle-blowing amazing of cracking one tough nut of a tale. The surf industry’s cursed silence! The surf industry’s wanton blindness! They got to be Woodward and Bernstein.

The only difference is they are not Woodward and Bernstein, Andy’s death was not Watergate and the story had massive holes spackled over with insinuation and even more self-righteousness.

Andy’s life, told in a moralistic “Let’s all learn a lesson from his death. Guess what everybody? Drugs are bad”-way, is cheap and tawdry. It is a bad story.

And that is just it. I once wrote, “If nobody tells a true story then what is the point?” I still believe this, firmly and passionately, but the emphasis is equal on both true and story. And the surf family did tell Andy’s story. It was told, orally, in line-ups around the world. It was told by those who knew and loved him. It was told by the surf magazines. It was told well. Beautifully.

HBO and Outside have nothing invested in our world. They know nothing and can come in and wave a stick around and beat their chests as purveyors of awesome and unbiased truth, but their perspective is worthless. They could have invested time and energy. They could have talked to interesting people. They could have come to a less ham-fisted conclusion or chosen not to have their minds made up before damning an entire industry. But they didn’t. Because they are content with spilling out the same dribble Nancy Reagan did thirty years ago: Drugs are bad. They both told bad stories. Rotten ones.

And frankly, while I am being livid, I am also livid at the surf family for not telling HBO and Outside to fuck off vociferously. So I will say it for all of us.

Fuck off. Vociferously.

Now let’s party! —Chas Smith