Book Review Cocaine and Surfing: An in-depth look at surfing culture
Ex-war correspondent and surfer Chas Smith takes the reader on a wild ride in this outrageously honest expose of surfing culture and cocaine use with Cocaine and Surfing.
For readers of SCAR TISSUE by Anthony Kiedis, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET by Jordan Belfort, MP: THE LIFE OF MICHAEL PETERSON by Sean Doherty and OCCY: THE RISE AND FALL OF MARK OCCHILUPO by Tim Baker
Duffy’s Thoughts On Cocaine and Surfing by Chas Smith
I’ve not always been drawn to books about surfing and surfing culture, it’s something that has crept up on me slowly since moving to Australia and holidaying in my happy place Waikiki. I’ve read the excellent Barbarian Days memoir whilst sat right on Waikiki beach, laughed at holidaymakers wobbling on body boards and watched competitions full of beautiful surfers wearing Roxy, Quicksilver and Billabong. I’ve taken numerous photos of the legendary Duke Kahanamoku (godfather of modern surfing) statue which sits proudly on Waikiki Beach. I watched in awe when Mick Fanning punched a shark in the face and I’ve bought Chia Pod pudding because Kelly Slater eats it and says it’s good. That’s the extent of my knowledge of surfing culture. Cocaine and Surfing schooled me in a love affair I didn’t know existed.
Chas Smith starts off brutally honest in Cocaine and Surfing. There’s no gentle warm up, Smith gets right to the business at hand. His hatred of the phoney culture, most of the surfers, and the big brands who both brought surfing into the mainstream, yet sold out on its behalf at the same time is obvious. One of the first things I picked up was that Smith doesn’t seem to have many friends in the surfing world. Primarily due to his lack of filter, tact and open displeasure of the soulless surfing marketing machine, but he does acknowledge that he can be a complete dick at times. It’s Smith’s self-awareness of his failings which kept me engaged instead of hurling the book across the room.
Smith seems to resent his surfing journo career which has been his bread and butter outside of the exciting world of being a war correspondent. It’s also clear that in tandem with writing Cocaine and Surfing, he’s wrestling with his own self-doubt, career choices and tossed in a bit of mid-life reflection. There is a lot of Chas Smith in this book and a lot of cocaine.
“[Chas] calls it like he sees it and in surfing that’s not usually the case” – William Finnegan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Barbarian Days
Chas Smith is an excellent journalist and an acerbic writer which is an interesting and entertaining mix. Smith refers to most of the pro surfers in his book by the name of their sponsor, not their name, and some of the take-downs are brutal and hilarious. I particularly enjoyed his open love for Kelly Slater. It was refreshing after so many pages of sledging to read that Smith has a heart, and a large part of it belongs to the universally beautiful and talented pro surfer.
Alongside personal interactions with various surfers, media, marketing dudes and surfing photographers, Smith delivers a thought-provoking expose on the relationship between cocaine and surfing culture. Starting 3000 years ago in Peru with the origins of the white powder, to the 70’s when cocaine was Florida’s biggest import. Smith then delves into today where cocaine seems to be as accessible as a beer. Why did these two worlds collide and why is there this strange and powerful love affair?
A particularly poignant story is that of the tragic early death of Andy Irons in 2010. A hugely successful surfer, known for his partying and ‘going all in’. Irons died alone in a Texas airport hotel room and his wife was pregnant with their first child. The press and family listed his death as a heart attack, yet the rumour of drug use being a contributing factor was talked about in heavy whispers.
Who Should Read Surfing and Cocaine?
You don’t need to be surfing mad to find Cocaine and Surfing interesting, this book is many things. A self-deprecating memoir of a surfing journo who maybe hoped for more. A book stuffed full of outrageous anecdotes. A serious journalistic investigation into cocaine use in surfing culture, and an expose of a world which is televised and promoted to show bronzed, healthy and squeaky clean sportsmen, but is actually a little grubby in places if you care to dive a little deeper.
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