alcohol and surfing


The surf world's relationship to alcohol isn't much different from that of other sporting or recreational cultures. For a small percentage of surfers, drinking is addictive, hazardous, and occasionally deadly, but for a huge majority it's a safe and enjoyable part of their après-surf lives. "We thought that our last pints were being pulled at 11:30," American surf nomad Kevin Naughton wrote in a 1978 Surfer magazine article, describing his first visit to an Irish countryside pub, not long after a cold water wave-riding session in the North Atlantic. "At three in the morning, I just managed to squeeze my way through the chattering, musical crowd, and nonchalantly asked the barman, 'When does the pub close?' He answered with a deadpan voice, 'October.'"

Alcoholic beverage companies have long recognized the marketing value of surfing: Smirnoff Vodka sponsored a popular pro surfing contest from 1969 to 1978, and other pro events have been sponsored by Bundaberg Rum, José Cuervo Tequila, Kahlúa, Coors, Fosters, and Michelob. Budweiser was the primary backer of the Professional Surfing Association of America tour from 1987 to 1993. Primo Beer sponsored Hawaiian pro surfer Hans Hedemann in the '90s. In 2012, Corona Beer hired surf filmmaker Taylor Steele to create a series of beach- and surf-themed TV ads.

California's Zele Breweries produced a line of beers in 1990 named after famous surf breaks, including Rincon Dry, Trestles Lager, and Zuma Light. San Diego's brewery renaissance in the 2000s added an influx of surf-themed beers, including Port Brewing's Wipeout IPA and Noserider IPA. Napa Valley's Random Ridge Vineyard has produced Old Wave zinfandel and Cloudbreak chardonnay since the 1990s. Twin Fin, a winery started by two surfers, has produced wines in central California since the early 2000s. The link between drinking and surfing was more immediate in events like the annual Stone Steps Surf Contest in San Diego, California, held in the '70s and '80s, where entrants all had to down a one-quart bucket of beer before each heat.

There have been no studies on surfers' drinking habits, but they're generally thought of as a beer-drinking group—although rum-based tropical drinks were popular with mainland American surfers in the '30s and '40s, in homage to the sport's Polynesian roots, and surfers in the '50s and early '60s sometimes warmed themselves with cheap red wine before hitting the waves during the cold winter months. In the late '60s and early '70s, a generational gap opened up between older surfers, who were drinkers, and younger surfers, who also drank, but usually as an add-on to their drug use.

In a nod to its tippling, young male customer base, surfwear manufacturer Reef introduced a line of drinking-friendly sandals in the mid-2000s. The best-selling Mick Fanning signature model included a bottle opener on the sole. The Dram sandal, released in 2007, contained a 3 oz. flask tucked away into its footbed, and immediately sparked outrage among school authorities (as well as a rebuke from the Transportation Safety Administration wary of hidden liquid explosives being snuck onto airplanes).

Alcoholism rates among surfers may likely be slightly less than that of the population at large. Surfers by nature are health conscious, mildly optimistic, and forward looking ("We're happy people because we always know what we want," big-wave rider Mark Foo pointed out in 1985), each of which acts as a deterrent to hard drinking. Nonetheless, alcoholics have regularly and sometimes tragically passed through the sport, most notably '60s surf headliners Dewey Weber and Butch Van Artsdalen, both of California. Weber, the prototype hotdogger and surfboard manufacturing kingpin—who later noted that his first taste of beer, at age 11, "really lit my life on fire"—died of alcohol-related heart failure at 53. Pipeline tuberiding ace Van Artsdalen died of liver failure at 38. Three-time world champion Andy Irons, who died from drug-related heart failure in 2010, drank himself comotose on his 21st birthday and, while the hospital being treated, suffered a collapsed lung.

Surf culture reflects the culture at large in the way it chooses not to deal with the ambivalence between approved, or glorified, drinking and problem drinking. A rare exception came in the form of a reader response to a 1998 Australia's Surfing Life magazine article that cheerfully examined how heavy off-hours drinking helped a group of Aussie pros improve their competitive performances. "So, Matt Hoy is a hot surfer who drinks heaps of beer?" noted an anonymous surfer from the Sydney beachside town of Maroubra. "Big deal! So was I and now I am a fat, bloated, red-faced has-been with nothing to look forward to in life."