Doping isn’t a magic wand. You don’t instantly become a better athlete as soon as you eat the cookie. Instead, most performance-enhancing drugs allow you to train more, recover faster, or pop the intensity for a single session. What if chemistry could help you surf for more hours with less fatigue? And what if, when it came time to surf a crucial heat you could find a little extra? Surely, you would feel a tug of temptation.

Long Read: “Yes, you can dope for surfing!”

What if chemistry could help you surf for more hours with less fatigue? What if, when it came time to surf a crucial heat you could find a little extra?

I’m at a surf contest and a well-known pro is walking in my direction. He has the trademark short-legged, wide-shouldered physique of the sport’s best athletes.

He’s leaner than I expect, every lineament cut deeply. As he passes, I catch sight of an over-long jawline and a slight hunch in his back.

Maybe he was born that way, but I can’t help but remember how human growth hormone (HGH), which athletes use to increase lean muscle mass, causes bones to grow suddenly and at uneven rates. Athletes well past the age of puberty acquire new shoe sizes. Jaw lines extend precipitously. The synthetic hormone tattoos the pitfalls of performance-enhancing drugs on an athlete’s bones.

Surfing’s tight relationship with recreational drug use is well-documented. Doping for performance in surfing, by contrast, is generally dismissed as impossible. A recent article in The Surfer’s Journal by Kyle DeNuccio, for example, places surfing squarely in the realm of art. Toke up in the parking lot or drop acid, but surfing remains immune to athlete’s little helpers such as growth hormone or steroids.

The elements of good surfing, it seems, don’t come from a needle, but how exactly do you acquire skill and style on a surfboard?

Normally, you get good at surfing by doing it for as many hours as you can. That simple truth opens the way to making it a sport like any other where doping’s invisible hand can push some surfers farther down the line than others.

The tug of temptation.

Doping isn’t a magic wand. You don’t instantly become a better athlete as soon as you eat the cookie. Instead, most performance-enhancing drugs allow you to train more, recover faster, or pop the intensity for a single session.

What if chemistry could help you surf for more hours with less fatigue?

And what if, when it came time to surf a crucial heat you could find a little extra? Surely, you would feel a tug of temptation.

Of course, doping can severely fuck up your health.

The thinnest membrane separates doping for performance from long-term addiction. Side effects, such as joint damage, can shorten a career even as the successes pile up. And you may not really know what’s in the products you’ve purchased from the internet’s dubious purveyors.

In the long run, we’re all dead, but there are numerous ways to hasten the process. Doping is one of them. When cycling first discovered EPO, which increases the blood’s ability to transport oxygen, no one knew how much to use. Inject too much of the drug, and your blood turns to sludge, your heart stutters to a stop, and you die. Riders would set their alarm clocks at night to ensure that they were, in fact, still alive.

Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race offers a detailed guidebook doping’s hellscape. If it doesn’t give you pause, you are a far less squeamish person than I am.

Doper’s roulette

In theory, testing puts firm limits on a competitive surfer’s ability to dope, especially if they have Olympic ambitions. The reality is more complicated. The WSL anti-doping policy allows for unannounced testing at any time. Athletes are required to keep their addresses up to date (known as “whereabouts”) and be available for testing at any time. A violation can lead to a four-year ban. Lesser offenses – if you can prove you ingested the substance unintentionally, for example – may only carry a one-year sanction.

When JP Currie looked into how often surfers are tested, he found noticeable disparities. Steph Gilmore and Kanoa Igarashi, for example, appeared to be tested more often than many of their competitors. The answer is probably a simple one. Olympic hopefuls are typically tested by their home country’s anti-doping agencies. As national team members, Gilmore and Tyler Wright, for example, would likely be tested by the Australian anti-doping agency (ASADA) in addition to the WSL.

Doping sounds like a pretty dumb thing to do if you’re a high-profile athlete. Why lose a shot at the Olympics and four years of prize money for short-term gain? In his Surfer’s Journal essay, DeNuccio argues that the lack of positive tests means that “very few” traditional performance-enhancing drugs pump through the veins of pro surfers. This may be true, but it’s also true that testing is a long way from perfect.

The limits of testing

Designing a water-tight anti-doping program borders on impossible. Anti-doping researchers chase a moving target as athletes turn to ever-changing cocktails to evade detection or find an extra edge. Every substance metabolizes at a different rate, so testing windows can vary significantly. Some anabolic steroids remain “testable” for many months and are easy to detect. Other substances, such as EPO, disappear without a trace in a matter of days.

You have to get tested at just the wrong time to get caught. The WSL’s doping policy allows for up to three whereabouts violations per year, which means you could, intentionally or not, miss up to three tests. Spin the globe and find a remote island with clear water and perfect reefs.

Let the testers try, if they can, to find you. I text the whereabouts clause to a source with first-hand knowledge of doping for performance.

“I can’t even wrap my head around that,” he says.

Evading detection would be “so easy.”

The history of anti-doping enforcement, meanwhile, rumbles with allegations of corruption. A conflict of interest is baked into the process when a sports league polices itself. If you never understood the Lance Armstrong story, that reality lies at the heart of it. If you’re a sponsorship-driven sport, do you really want one of your biggest name athletes to test positive?

Such stories are impossible to confirm, but rumors whisper of “drain testing” in which samples are collected, but never tested. A source tells me about an athlete (not in surfing) who’s serving an unannounced suspension. He says it’s not the first time he’s heard of the practice. A dead grandfather, a long illness, or a tricky injury can all interrupt an athlete’s career. They can also serve as credible cover stories for an enforced vacation from competition.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing needle-wielding monsters under every bedframe. Sometimes, things are exactly as they appear to be. Other times, the most cynical explanation you can imagine can’t touch the reality. Welcome to the hazy, shady world of sports doping.

Pick your poison

You’re a pro surfer with a solid, if not amazing career. Last year, you requalified, but it was a far closer thing than you’d have liked. Too much travel, too many heats, too many hours trying to score clips. And sure, you partied a bit, too. Everyone does. Good waves got you psyched, sure. Too often, it all felt like a fucking slog.

One of your friends, though, man, that bro is always on. Super fit. Always charging. You wonder how he does it.

– Um, so bro, you seem really good this year? What’s up?

– Yeah man, got a new chick, she’s super into health food. Been doin’ some yoga, you know, just livin’ it!

You’re skeptical. Yoga?

Bitch, please.

Even if the health food chick is truly your buddy’s secret weapon, you’re pretty sure you’re out of luck on that front. Time is short. The season starts soon.

You’ve heard talk of other, easier options. You remember this one time before a heat, a team manager gave you some of his allergy pills. Corticosteroids, he said. They’ll give you energy. You felt like you could do anything, like walk up walls and shit. You literally wanted to kill your opponent, which was a little scary. You were also weirdly too hot the whole time. But you won. That part was pretty great. There was something about it being bad for your joints, but maybe you could get some more of that stuff. It felt pretty good.

You lie back on your couch, open Google, and begin to search. You’re a little wary. You don’t want your dick to fall off. After all your hopes of finding a hot yoga chick of your own aren’t totally dead. But surely there’s something out there that’ll help.

A bodybuilding forum hosts a detailed discussion on the infinite variants of anabolic steroids. Doses. Cycles. It’s all a foreign language. You’ve heard steroids lead to hair loss, acne, and rage, but your new online besties tell you that newer compounds have fewer side effects. Build muscle, improve recovery! This is exactly what you need. You’ve always imagined that anabolics would make you huge and creepy. Turns out, it’s all about the dosage. A small dose plus consistent training will turn you into a lean mean surfing machine.

Excited, you read more. Oh. Most anabolics will trigger drug tests for months after ingestion. Well. That would be so, so embarrassing. Like, how are you going to tell your mom you tested positive? Also, the yoga babes would be so grossed out. But you were actually only tested once last year. What if you just disappeared? There sure are a lot of islands in the world.

But there’s more. When you finish your round of anabolics, you’d have to buy some female hormones to balance things out. Now that you think about it, you do know a guy with an unusually girlish ass. Exactly like a peach, not that you were looking or anything. Back when you were groms, he was such a tiny little fucker, too. Then suddenly he became a jacked up, big-wave charger. Too much honey on his Cheerios, for sure. You definitely don’t want to wind up like that guy, but you’re not super excited about the prospect of taking girl hormones.

Synthetic Testosterone, maybe this is better. Lean muscle mass and an energy boost. Sounds good. You might not have to order it from a sketchy online dealer if you could convince your doctor to give you a prescription. Oh yeah, man, I’ve been feeling so tired lately. On second thought, you’re probably a little young to play that card. Ebay. T patches. $40. Seems like a bargain. The testing window looks relatively short, so maybe you wouldn’t have to tell your mom you tested positive.

You’re convinced that your perpetually jacked friend has to be doing something more. A week or so ago, you heard some older bros in the lineup talking about HGH. You’re not even sure what that is, but they claimed it helped them gain muscle mass and recover more quickly. “I feel young again!” You’re already young, but the lean muscle mass and sped up recovery sounds amazing.

You check back in with your friends on the bodybuilding forum. Human Growth Hormone. They have all the information you need. You just need to find a supplier. You try to figure out if you’ll test positive, but it’s too confusing. What if you got lucky and weren’t tested at all? It’s not like you’re going to the Olympics or anything.

Bone growth. Cancer. Side effects are such a buzzkill. Your friend’s feet do seem like they’ve been looking larger lately. But he’s also fucking crushing it out there. With all that beautiful prize money, you could easily buy new shoes. And if you were super cut, the yoga girls would be so into you. If you’re careful, you probably won’t get cancer, right?

It’s not like you’d be trying meth like the big wave guys. They say it feels like you see things before they happen. You’re so hyperfocused. You actually want to throw yourself down a giant wave face. Thanks, but no thanks. It’ll keep you warmer, but a better wetsuit sponsor sounds a hell of a lot better. If you’re honest, everything about meth scares the shit out of you. You’re pretty sure you have an addictive personality and it would all end badly for you.

Your relationships are bad enough. There was that girl you dated who was really into triathlon. Fuck, she was so maintenance. Always bitching and moaning about how the other girls were definitely on drugs and that’s why she wasn’t winning every race. You learned not to argue. EPO. That’s what she was always talking about. The same stuff that guy Lance reportedly used. Well, you aren’t exactly looking to win the Tour de France, but if you could win a paddle battle without turning your lungs inside out, that would be pretty great.

EPO increases red blood cell production which means more oxygen delivered to the muscles. How many turns could you do at J Bay if your legs never got tired. Fuck, that would be a dream. You’d be totally fresh the next day, like none of it even happened. You could hit the gym more often, too. More turns, more airs! You’re gona be a clip machine!

Though it leaves the body quickly – look, mom, no failed doping control – EPO’s good vibes stick around a while, unlike your last girlfriend. You’re a little scared of needles. The website where you carefully enter your credit card number looks super skeevy. You figure it’s worth the risk. If you could just win something, you know? Maybe just once you could win something.

Chasing Unicorns

The reality is some athletes dope and get away with it. It happens more than anyone involved in sports would like. And let’s be clear. An extra, artificial boost of energy will help in just about any sport you can imagine, even the wild, artful dance of surfing.

That is not to say that everyone is doing it. In the world of elite sport, unicorns are the norm. By its nature, top-level sports involve feats of athletic performance that aren’t easily imagined. Higher airs. Bigger turns. Giant surf. We watch from our couch in wonder, recognizing that we would never be able to do those things. Pushing boundaries is the point of the game. But some of that pushing is almost certainly happening with a little help from chemical friends.

Coup: Nissan steals Jeep’s thunder, designs car with built-in “surf shower!”

And a waterproof wristband key!

Jeep’s collaboration with our World Surf League and its subsequent “surf the world” campaign was one of last year’s highlights. We live in fractured times, extremely tense with people all across this globe angry at one another for various things, mostly politics, but anytime Jeep’s ad came on we could all share a laugh.

“I surf the air. I surf roads, lanes and alleys. I surf dirt and mud and muck. Drop in on mountainsides and carve through valleys. I rip forested trails, pull aerials in the sand. I surf the ocean. I surf adventure. I surf it all.”

Very hilarious but while Jeep was being very hilarious Nissan was out designing a car for real surfers and let’s read about it together. Let’s dream like we used to.

With a starting price of just $17,990, a roomy cabin, and attractive looks, the Nissan Kicks is arguably one of the best offerings in the entry-level crossover segment. It’s targeting primarily young people, and the new Kicks Surf concept is here to prove you don’t need an expensive, super high-tech vehicle to have fun and practice your hobby.

As the name itself reveals, the study is designed for “those in search of the perfect wave,” or people with an active lifestyle enjoying surfing. Nissan says it has installed roof crossbars for carrying boards and a rear deck for wetsuits and different accessories. What’s even more interesting, the car has a portable shower system and a water-resistant wrist band that actually locks and unlocks the vehicle’s doors.

The funky concept has been developed with input from brothers Alejo and Santiago Muniz, who are both surfing champions competing for Brazil and Argentina respectively.

“We imagined it would have to be the perfect ally for the lifestyle and needs of surfers,” John Sahs, who led Nissan’s design team that created the Kicks Surf concept, comments. “Blue is an evolving color that goes from dark to light, and we used it to represent the variety of tones in ocean water. The bright yellow-green accents, together with the blue, gives the Nissan Kicks Surf concept vehicle a dynamic and sporty feel.”

Are you sold? Did the evolving blue kick you over the line?

Once again, for the record, I hate surf showers. I want the ocean to linger on me all day.

I surf the ugly looks from people in the grocery checkout line. I surf girl scouts turning up their nose as I pass.

I surf the world.

An auction for dreamers! Bid for a session (with pal) in Surf Lakes’ Yeppoon Test Pool!

How much you gonna pay for a date with the Big Plunger?

I do admire the bullish, can-do attitude of Queensland wavepool company Surf Lakes.

Despite not having a functioning pool, 0r having created a wave over two feet, we’ve read the announcement of their first commercial pool (Gold Coast, opening 2020, waves with “eight-foot faces”) and, today, a charity auction where two people can join the licensees/shareholders at the testing tank in Yeppoon, Central Queensland.

There’s a catch.

You gotta be in the Wollongong area in two days time for the KidzWish annual barbecue, which will host the former world champion surfer Mark Occhilipo who is also a Surf Lakes ambassador and minor shareholder.

KidzWish is a charity in the area whose goal is “to provide support, love and laughter to children in our community who are sick, disadvantaged or have a disability.”

Tickets cost between one hundred and five hundred dollars to get into the Wiseman Park Bowling Club, Gwynneville, on March 1, where the Surf Lakes package will be auctioned.

Now tell me.

You’re at the barbecue, you got a little ink in your veins and you want to take on the Yeppoon Plunger.

Presuming it gets going again, how much you going to throw at a day there?

Listen: “Don’t homeschool your damn kids unless they’re going to make you a millionaire!”

Come spend time with the utterly charming Matt Biolos of Lost surfboard fame!

It is almost always a pleasure to sit down with Moncler Jesus aka Matt Biolos. His lovably cantankerous take on life in general, and surfing specifically, is such a welcome relief from the usual jibber jabber of any day. It is refreshing like the last sip of French press’d coffee in the morning. The one where lukewarm and bitter grounds dance in perfect harmony.

Today, I had the pleasure of sitting down with him and David Lee Scales at the Surf Heritage and Culture Center in sunny San Clemente. We spoke of surfboard design and professional surfers. Of Brazil and a world title landing nowhere but Brazil for the next decade. Of the surf media’s love of looking at normal heart rhythms and turning them into the massive spikes and falls of a heart-attack.

“You guys take the smallest thing…” he says “…and just blow it all the way out. It’s garbage, it’s lazy and it’s damned nonsense.”

We also spoke about movies, energy drinks and the bullish surfboard market.

That enjoyable crinkly sound you’ll hear is not bad audio. It is Matt Biolos’s insistence on playing with a small piece of velcro for the entire second half.

I think it may be our best show yet.

darren handley
The great shaper Daz Handley jackrabbits his ski during last year's run of swell.

Cops: Jetski pilots fined for Kirra whip-ins!

How much y'gonna pay to avoid the rip and the takeoff at Kirra?

Ain’t nothing Australians like more than blowing whistles, riding car horns and, if a uniform is involved, handing out fines.

And therefore, when surfers used jet skis to avoid the rip and the takeoff during Queensland’s recent cyclone swell called Oma, the cops thought Christmas had arrived early, photographing the ID numbers of jet skis and sending fines in the mail.

According to local surf mag  18Seconds, “The fines have started arriving in the mail for people using skis during the Oma swell. According to sources, they’re being fine for going over 6 knots within 60 meters of (scarce) paddlers. They have even issued fines to several lifeguards going over 6 knots near the Alley breakwall. There have been lots of cases where skis are the ones helping surfers who are in trouble during dangerous cyclone swells. In fact, we were only speaking to a guy (fit in his fifties) yesterday who wiped out over the weekend. He said it was such a heavy belting, when he surfaced he couldn’t see anything – was just seeing black. With eight-foot sets washing him around, he thought he was gone. Luckily, a ski grabbed the man and took him to the safety of the beach.”

Other fineable rules include, not having an observer on the back when you tow or whip and if you’re in partially smooth waters, ie Kirra, not carrying drinking water, a map, a compass and a GPS.

Fines range range from $250 to a mandatory court appearance.

Perhaps this event, from last year, prompted the arrival of the police.

Now, some questions.

Do you appreciate it when police officers execute their duties to the letter?

Or does it make your native contempt for authority and for anyone who picks up a badge flourish?