Flea, Vince, Ruffo
Flea, Vince, Ruffo | Photo: Playboy

How Meth Almost Sunk Big Wave Surfing!

Playboy magazine nails story on drugs and their role in the big-wave game… 

There was a time, late-sixties through the seventies, when Playboy was…the…magazine for writers. The magazine, which avoided graphic beaver but celebrated the ski-jump teat, was better than respectable. It was hip.

In the Christmas 1968 issue, there were contributions from Truman Capote, Lawrence Durrell, James T. Farrell, Allen Ginsberg, Le Roi Jones, Arthur Miller, Henry Miller, Norman Podhoretz, Georges Simenon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, William Styron and John Updike. You get the picture.

Of course, it ain’t much now. But, occasionally, it lights up.

Remember when Chas wrote Fast Eddie’s Last Stand? And, this year, writer Peter Simek nailed a comprehensive piece on Santa Cruz and its meth culture. Which, at first glance, might make your eyes glaze.

Like, meth in Santa Cruz? That’s still a story?

Simek’s piece, however, is a detailed run through the lives of Vince Collier, Flea Virotsko and Anthony Ruffo. The stories will make your toes curl.

Like this on Collier.

By the time he was a teenager, Collier had discovered that the Santa Cruz his dad envisioned as an idyllic childhood setting could actually be a violent arena. In the early 1970s a string of serial killers earned Santa Cruz the moniker “murder capital of the world.” There were stories of parks haunted by massacred Native Americans, of Victorian homes occupied by the ghosts of murdered brides. Perhaps it’s the fog or the silence of the redwood forests, but the town has long inspired horror, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho to the 1987 vampire teen cult classic The Lost Boys.

From his bedroom, Collier could see the lighthouse that kept watch over Steamer Lane, a surf spot where locals hunted for waves in packs. Surfing the Lane required following a strict pecking order. Those who stepped out of line often found themselves the victims of violence. One day Collier rode a wave he wasn’t supposed to, and an older surfer tore his new wet suit. Collier hated being bullied on his home turf. He retrieved a baseball bat from his garage, and when the surfer came up from the water, Collier hurled the bat at his head, sending the man tumbling back down the cliff.

The bat incident became Santa Cruz lore, marking the moment Vince Collier established himself as the alpha male of Steamer Lane. At the time, though, Collier was scared to death. He had nearly killed a man and didn’t know what kind of retribution that would bring. Collier sought out Joey Thomas, a respected surfer and surfboard shaper who, after arriving in Santa Cruz in the late 1960s, quickly realized he needed to learn martial arts. But Collier was going to need more than a friend with a black belt; if he really wanted protection, Thomas told him, he should go up the mountain to see a man who went by the name of Jeff Ayers.

Ayers was known around town as a biker, someone who operated on the periphery of the scene. The few surfers who knew Ayers describe him as a megalomaniacal charlatan, a chameleon with a closet full of interchangeable costumes—carpenter, fisherman, businessman—that fit his various purposes. He looked like a cross between Jack Lemmon and Jack Nicholson and had charisma that could “direct traffic.”

“Everybody feared Ayers,” says Anthony Ruffo, a former pro surfer who is a few years younger than Collier. “He was fucking crazy.”

Collier and Thomas went up the hill to meet Ayers at his ranch compound north of Capitola. As they approached, stepping through a cluster of cars and motorcycles, Ayers’s dog rushed Collier and bit his leg, drawing blood. Ayers laughed.

“I want you to go up to my house,” Ayers said.

Collier scowled.

“You better go up there,” Collier remembers Thomas telling him. “He’s going to help you out.”

In Ayers’s house, Collier found many things to impress an aggressive teenager’s fitful imagination: gym equipment, guns, drugs. Ayers gave Collier marijuana and hash to smoke and sell, and taught him how to fight, shoot guns and clean and assemble weapons blindfolded. In the middle of the night he took the teenage surfer out into the bay, where mysterious schooners emerged from the thick fog, swung their davits out over the deck and dropped 150- to 200-pound bales of Thai weed. Ayers and Collier packed the marijuana into ice chests and covered it with store-bought salmon.

The other surfers at the Lane grew to fear Collier. He could now surf any wave he wanted. With his square, bulky body, Collier wasn’t built like a surfer, but he attacked waves like a bull. Along with his unlikely best friend, Richard Schmidt, a quiet and mild-mannered surfer with a distinctive bushy blond mustache, Collier became known as one of the best surfers in Santa Cruz. His first sponsorship came in the form of a suitcase filled with $30,000 in cash, given to him by the owner of a west-side surf shop that was a front for a marijuana-growing operation. Collier traveled to competitions and eventually made the pro circuit. In Hawaii, Schmidt’s smooth style at Sunset Beach and Collier’s penchant for beating on Australians who tried to surf their spots endeared the Santa Cruz surfers to the North Shore locals. 

Back home, Ayers pulled Collier in deeper, taking him into the woods, where they tied indebted clients to trees and beat and branded them. Ayers would also tie up Collier, pour fish guts over his bare chest while laughing and then cut him loose, sending Collier into a rage. He found out Ayers was slipping him steroids and noticed he collected books about mind control.  

“I was like, Fuck, this guy is brainwashing me,” Collier says.  

Then one of Collier’s friends blew his brains out while high on cocaine—the same cocaine Collier sold. It was the final straw. Collier sent Ruffo up the hill with a message: He was done. For the next four years, Collier was sure Ayers was going to kill him. Collier kept a shotgun tucked under the driver’s seat of his truck and recoiled every time he heard a motorcycle engine. 

“I had guns all over the place,” Collier says. “I used to sit in my tub with a cigar and a shotgun. I thought I was Clint Eastwood.”

And Ruffo talking about the high:

Ruffo says meth’s appeal was that it offered so much more than a rush. When he smoked meth, he felt good about himself—he felt like he did when he won the 1985 O’Neill Coldwater Classic or when he opened a surf magazine and saw his image frozen on a wave, framed by a crescent of whitewater spray.  

“We’d call it ‘winning acid,’ or when you got a cover, we’d call it ‘cover acid’—those good, natural endorphins,” Ruffo says. “What meth does is give you that feeling.”

And Flea’s descent:

Perhaps no one was more publicly ravaged by meth than Flea. It got to where he took so many beatings at Mavericks, his friends feared every wave would be his last. At the 2008 Mavericks competition, Flea showed up late for his heat, took two disastrous wipeouts, landed the biggest wave of the day and then disappeared for the remainder of the tournament. Later that same year, exhausted and dehydrated, he fell backward off a cliff at Davenport, north of Santa Cruz. He was airlifted to a hospital in Santa Clara. When he was released, he headed up the coast to find Vince Collier.

Flea’s body was too broken to surf. He didn’t know how long it would be until he could feel Mavericks again. At Collier’s place in northern California, all Flea could do was lie around. Why hadn’t he died when he fell off the cliff? It seemed as though everyone else around him died. His uncle, whom he idolized, had recently passed away. The day he won his first Mavericks competition, his friend died of a brain aneurysm. Another friend died of cancer the following year. When Peter Davi died, Flea had to break the news to Davi’s son. And yet there he was, broken and bruised but not dead. He could think of a dozen times when he should have been killed. Once, his leash got stuck in the rocky reef at Mavericks and he took wave after wave on the head. That day, it felt like the only way he wouldn’t drown was if he found the strength to do a sit-up with a mountain pressing on his chest. And yet, his leash broke. He didn’t die.

Holed up at Collier’s, all Flea could think about was drinking and smoking meth. When he was finally able to surf again, he didn’t. Instead, he combed the beaches of Santa Cruz and bought cases of spray paint at hardware stores. Flea’s sunken, scabby face haunted the town. He was a pariah, a cautionary tale. His house, once the surf scene’s social center, became a hoarder’s den and a flophouse for meth-heads. Uncashed sponsors’ checks lay buried beneath piles of spray-painted driftwood.

Compelling, yeah?

Read the whole story here. 

Chappelli bike
Return to the beautiful age of pedal power!

Buy: Chappelli x BeachGrit Bike!

Oowee, we got wheels!

Oh the glorious days of being a kid, flying everywhere on a bike. Jumping footpaths, squeezing past grid-locked cars, down alleyways, balancing a sled under your arm.

There was a beautiful summer in my late teens when, three times a week, I’d pack a bag with roast chicken sandwiches and a litre of apple juice, shove my brother’s old ten-speed on a ferry to Rottnest Island and cycle a dozen clicks to ride empty mid-week waves. I’d concoct so many potential futures on these long rides: maybe I’d make surf movies, magazines, books, maybe I’d learn to fly planes or front a band. The cool afternoon offshore in my face. Ears plugged into garage punk. Complete freedom.

Anyway, a few months ago, I figured I’d get back in the bike game. The topography in my part of Bondi is flat enough to make it an easy run to the beach. To stores. I did a little research, and found a company called Chappelli. Simple, classic bikes that weren’t overtly hipster.

The owner is an English guy called Pablo Chappelli, whose dad used to compete in the Tour de France. Pabs grew up assembling bikes. Figured that was his future. But en route to creating the eponymous Chappelli bikes in 2009, he was an industrial designer for Dyson and, later, headed the innovation team at Breville.

I bought a matte black ride with Louis Vuitton-style leather seat and grips.

Me and Pabs got talking over the cash register. Turned out my ol pal Jim Parry did all the graphics. Pabs said he liked BeachGrit, liked our monochrome aesthetic, and said, how about we do a collaboration?

It took a while. But this is it. The Urban 29er, also know as Fat Tony.

It’s a wild sonofabitch.

Pabs tells me it’s “got all the best gear including best of breed Avid BB7 cable disc brakes, sliding drop-outs, Sturmey Archer 3 Speed internal hub and 29 inch wheels for steam rolling your local hood. All teamed with a CrMo frame.”

What’s that mean? There’s a throttle-style gear selector under your right hand. It’s a three-speed but with the ratios of six. So you gonna eat up hills. The fat tyres bounce you over kerbs. And it ain’t gonna rust.

Pabs says he can ship it anywhere in the world.

Note: If you go to the site you won’t see an option of matte black or for BeachGrit. Punch BeachGrit into the discount code pane at checkout and you’ll get an eighty-buck lock (which you gonna need) for free and Pabs knows you want the BeachGrit version.

Buy here! 

shark proof surfboard
Researchers say recent testing conducted in South Africa showed it took, on average, 400 per cent longer for sharks to engage with their patterned wetsuits than standard black versions and, while the surfboards are not ­directly referenced in that study, the company says the science is similar. | Photo: Shark Mitigation Systems

Rusty launches shark proof surfboards!

You like stripes?

Here’s something for the poor bastards in WA and Byron Bay whose anxiety levels are off the charts. A surfboard that may, or may not, give pause to an attacking shark.

If you surf ’round those parts, you know there’s a chance, small, but not that small, you’ll be eaten alive by a great white. It’s hard to even drop into surf talk without the whispered stories, some true, some exaggerated, of near-misses, sightings, bumps etc.

But what are you going to do? It might be the greatest hypocrisy of modern man that while he binge eats the ocean clean, factory ships gobbling up entire eco-systems, sushi trains running 24 hours a day across the world, he simultaneously weeps at the death of a handful of select fish.

You don’t want man-eating sharks owning the beach? Throw in nets.

They’re brutal.

They work.

Ask anyone on the Gold Coast. Not a single fatal attack on a netted beach in fifty years.

It might be the greatest hypocrisy of modern man that while he binge eats the ocean clean, factory ships gobbling up entire eco-systems, sushi trains running 24 hours a day across the world, he simultaneously weeps at the death of a handful of select fish.

In Western Australia, shark nets were pulled after a thirteen-week trial ’cause the public couldn’t stand the photos of the animals being dragged aboard boats and shot.

Surfers? You’re officially on your own.

Which has opened the gate to a raft of supposed repellants, deterrents, whatever you want to call ’em. The most comical is a $250 legrope outfitted with magnets.

One industry insider told us the online surf store Swell had sold 600 in a day. 

This morning, it was announced that the Western Australian-based surf clothier and surfboard maker, Rusty, was cohabiting with Shark Mitigation Systems (another WA company who, incidentally, signed Taj Burrow as ambassador in June, the day after a surfer had his leg bitten off) to make patterned surfboards.

According to The Australian,

Shark Mitigation Systems surged yesterday after announcing a partnership with international surf retailer Rusty, which will incorporate the company’s shark-deterring patterns into its surfboards.

The news saw investors dive into the small cap stock, with trading volume 10 times above average and a closing gain of 10.7 per cent to 15.5c.

In conjunction with the University of Western Australia, Shark Mitigation Systems has developed patterns for wetsuits and surfboards designed to reduce the risk of a shark attack by confusing the predator’s vision.

Researchers say recent testing conducted in South Africa showed it took, on average, 400 per cent longer for sharks to engage with their patterned wetsuits than standard black versions and, while the surfboards are not ­directly referenced in that study, the company says the science is similar.

A sharp increase in shark interactions, and subsequent media coverage, in recent years has ­significantly boosted international interest in the technology, according to Shark Mitigation Systems co-founder and director Craig Anderson.

“We’ve been talking to a number of different water apparel and water equipment companies all over the world. There are already companies offering our graphic on the bottom of their board, as a retrofit or as a custom design,” Mr Anderson told The Australian.

Rusty will offer the patterns as an option on their custom surfboards in Australia and New Zealand before widening into the company’s international distribution.

You like ’em?

Or is it more snake oil to rub on your wounds?


Kelly Slater: The voice of the voiceless!

The world's most famous surfer stands up for animals everywhere!

You may chortle at Kelly Slater’s overt activism but I stand and applaud his every social edict. He wears his heart on his sleeve. Like a baroque poet. And in our cynical age that is as refreshing as a cool glass of spring water.

Did you happen to see his Instagram message from two days ago praising the closure of the Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Circus? Oh… here it is!

Hopefully this isn’t #FakeNews and people are really waking up enough to see that the enslavement, torture, and abuse animals suffer for our pleasure is no longer an acceptable norm. In fact, I would argue that all zoos and animal attractions not dedicated specifically to conservation and rehabilitation of animals should be dismantled and shut down. And I’m sure I’ll cop plenty of flack for saying that. I mean, people just gotta have their #DancingBears and Tigers jumping thru fiery hoops and Elephants doing handstands, ya know. #RinglingBrothersCircus and #Seaworld, #ByeFelicia.

And I am totally still standing and applauding but my face is also a little scrunched up. Like “Hmmm?” Because… ummmm… doesn’t shuttering all zoos and animal attractions (not dedicated specifically to conservation and rehab of animals) seem baby bathwatery?

A touch too far?

I mean… aren’t animals also and sometimes funny? I went to the Siegfried and Roy white tiger zoo thing in Las Vegas recently and the white tigers were laying about and looked very comfortable. I enjoyed looking at them and almost poking one with a stick. They seemed to enjoy being looked at and almost scratched.

Wouldn’t this world be a touch grayer without the Sig and Roy white tiger zoo thing in Las Vegas?

Or bear wrestling in Russia?

Or dancing elephants in Thailand?

Or gator goofin’ in Florida?

In conclusion, Kelly Slater is right. We, as humans, have the obligation and the duty to play with animals in any way we see fit since we beat them at evolution. We can dress them in clothing if we want or make them jump through fiery hoops and the closure of the Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Circus, a historic institution, is a failure of the will.

It shall be missed.

Carnage: Foamies Vs. Shore Pound!

When the wave breaks here...

If this don’t bring a smile to your crusty old grill, nothing will!

What’s more fun than seeing grown men hurled henceforth by the unkempt ferocity of four-foot shore pound? Certainly not doing it yourself, unless you enjoy the sensation of sand in every crevice and the off-chance of paralyzation.

After a personal accident at an undisclosed California shorebreak (just kidding it’s Seal Beach! A little north of Huntington! Hey Jake!), I’ve come to fear the condensed power of near-shore breaks and pretty much avoid them altogether. But that doesn’t mean I won’t watch them all day long!

You’ll notice that everyone in this video is riding a Beater. These boards may be corny but they also perfectly capture the anti-depressive nature of our sport. If you ever want to ensure a palatable surf session, take out something bright and buoyant. You won’t impress or progress but it’ll eliminate any chance of quitting surfing or worse, a cranky drive home.

When you ride a Beater or WaveStorm or something of the like, every sideways ripple becomes an opportunity for fun. You can switch stance, cheater-five, or if you’re anything like the lunatics in the video below, air-drop to imminent destruction. Best of all, snaking rules don’t apply. If someone gets mad, just throw ‘em a shaka and say something like, “Thanks for sharing the nectar vibes, my dude!”

You’re bulletproof!

Still not sand-proof, though. Remember that.