Bookshop Santa Cruz welcomes surf journalist Chas Smith for a discussion and signing of his latest book, Cocaine + Surfing: A Sordid History of Surfing's Greatest Love Affair. Cocaine + Surfing peels the curtains back on a hopped up, sometimes sexy sometimes deadly relationship and uses cocaine as the vehicle to expose and explain the utterly absurd surf industry to outsiders. It also explores where dreams go when they die.
It is likely not terribly surprising that surfers like to party. The 1960-70s image, bolstered by Tom Wolfe and Big Wednesday, was one of mild outlaws. Tanned boys who refused to grow up, spending their days drinking beer and smoking joints on the beach in between mindless hours in the water. As the surf brands accidentally morphed into a multimillion, then multibillion dollar industry beginning in the 1980s, however, the derelict portrait began to harm business. In order to achieve wild year-on-year growth that came to be expected surf trunks, t-shirts and sunglasses had to be sold en mass through Midwestern mall stores. Moms in Des Moines did not want corn-fed junior to be a delinquent. And so the external surf image of the 1980s, 90s into the present became Kelly Slater and Laird Hamilton. Health, vitality, bravery, clean-living, positive and pure with heavy doses of puritanism.
Internally, though, surfing had moved on from booze and weed to its heart’s true home, its soul’s twin flame. Cocaine’s rise in American popular culture as the choice of rich, white elites was matched, then quadrupled, within surf culture. The parties got wilder, the nights stretched longer, the stories became more ridiculously unbelievable. And there has been no stopping, no dip in passion.
The surfer and his lover are entwined in gorgeously dysfunctional embrace. A forbidden love like Romeo and his Juliet and few, if any, outside the insular surf world knew or know about this particular rhapsody. A byzantine ethic keeps interlopers far away. Bad behavior is also kept very well-hidden, even from insiders, but evidence of psychosis rears its head from time to time. Overdoses, bar fights, surf contests and murders and cover-ups.
Chas Smith the author of Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell (It Books, November 2013), which was optioned for television by Fox 21 (Homeland and Sons of Anarchy) with producers at Television 360 (Game of Thrones) and a finalist for the PEN Center USA Award for Nonfiction. Chas began his writing career as a foreign correspondent, penning pieces for Vice, Paper, and Blackbook, amongst others, from Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Somalia, Azerbaijan and Colombia which led to a brief career as a war correspondent for Current TV. After being kidnapped by Hezbollah during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war he transitioned to surf journalism where he was a featured writer at the brash Stab before becoming Editor at Large at Surfing Magazine. There he developed a reputation as the most controversial voices in the space.
Matt Warshaw, author of the Encyclopedia of Surfing, calls him, “Bright and hyper-ironic.” William Finnegan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Barbarian Days, says that Chas, “...calls it like he sees it and in surfing that’s not usually the case.”
This free event will take place at Bookshop Santa Cruz. Chairs for open seating are usually set up about an hour before the event begins.