“You go surfing to get high; why get high when you go surfing?”
— Legendary skateboarder/film director Stacy Peralta
Encinitas is about as nice a town as you’re likely to find in this country. With the Pacific Ocean directly to the west, joy and adventure are just a few steps from the front door. We live just this side of Eden, and still our little town is plagued with the same numbing epidemic that has swept our nation for the past four or five decades — drug abuse.
I live near the beach in a place where Andy of Mayberry would feel at home. My house is surrounded by a picket fence, and my neighbors often stop in to talk about kids, grandkids and, of course, surfing. We live in a place offering about 300 days a year of decent to excellent surf, all within walking distance. There are many surfers in my neighborhood, but not all of them are surfing any longer. Three passed away recently, two are in jail, one is in rehab and several more need to be.
I am reminded of the first Mister Pipeline, La Jolla to Hawaii transplant Butch Van Artsdalen, of whom it is said he never encountered a foe too great to conquer. Actually, there was one that defeated him, alcohol. He died in 1979 as a result of drinking at age 39.
More recently, in 2010, three-time World Surfing Champion Andy Irons died from a drug-induced heart attack at age 32. You may not know about New York’s finest surfer, Rick Rasmussen, who was shot and killed in a Harlem drug deal gone bad. He was 27.
While never a drug addict myself, I can count more than 20 friends who died before their 40th birthdays because of drug overdoses. There are far more who never got their lives together because they have been high most of their waking adult lives.
Thankfully, it’s not all bad news. There are famed surfers like big-wave legend Darryl “Flea” Virostko and Dogtown’s Jay Adams who broke the grip of addiction and continued surfing, even though Jay’s former habits may have played a role in his early death through heart failure at age 53.
Shawn Briley grew up in Hawaii where he made a reputation as a charger on some of the world’s most dangerous surf. While no longer taking the risks he once did, Shawn continues to live on the North Shore of Oahu where he and his wife are raising three boys. He is considered an attentive father and an asset to his community. That was not always so.
From the time of his childhood, Shawn watched drugs and alcohol take down many of his heroes. Even so, much of the risky business of his youth was fueled by liquor. While still in his prime, he traded the rush of big Pipeline barrels for the hard-drinking life of a Las Vegas gambler. Realizing that such a life was paving his way to an early death, he eventually made the U-turn that led him home.
Another year is gone and with it some friends who left the party far too early. The body count is far too high. Many among us celebrated the New Year with a few too many toasts to excess. If you’re reading this, you have obviously survived. Here’s to those who did not. I lift my glass to you and to a clean and sober 2018.
May all your risks be taken in the water. Happy New Year, my friends.