The surfboard is and always has been a multi-faceted instrument of pleasure, both aesthetic and utilitarian. From the very beginning, when the ancient Polynesians speared fish from their olos as they paddled in over the fringing reef, framed by a setting sun, the surfboard has offered opportunities way beyond its principal function.
I first became aware of this on my first trip to Bali in 1974. On my third day in Kuta someone advised me to cycle across the cow paddocks to a place called Arena Bungalows to see a surf photographer we’ll just call Dick. (I’ve named and nailed him often enough with this story, but we’re both old now and he deserves a break.) Dick, I was told, could organize a fake student pass with which I could buy heavily-discounted airline tickets. Back in those days, if you wanted to be a travelling surf photog, you had to have a couple of scams on the side to pay your way.
So Dick, a genial guy who loved a chat, distractedly told me to come in when I arrived at the door of his losmen. I was somewhat shocked to find him stretched out on the floor of the room stuffing Thai marijuana sticks into the hollowed-out balsawood stringer of his surfboard. “Won’t be a sec,” he said, barely looking up from his labours. “There’s a thermos of tea on the porch, help yourself.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but there were chambered boards being stuffed with dope all over Kuta and Legian, every day, by travelling surfers, many of them champions, who were simply following a time-honoured tradition established in the 1960s. I was too much of a coward to try doing it myself – besides, I was on an enormous salary as the editor of Tracks (it’s a joke, Albe) – but over the coming years I was to see this process many times, and came to learn much about surfboards and drugs through my association with the great Jeff Hakman.
Hakman, whose photo doing a cheater five across a heavy Sunset inside section to win the inaugural Duke contest lived in a frame above my bed throughout my high school years, was a champion at 16 and a stoner at 17, learning the tricks of the chambered board trade from the masters at Plastic Fantastic Surfboards in Huntington Beach. Not only were Dave Garner and Dan Callahan producing the most cutting edge surfboards in California, they were also keeping the entire SoCal surf crew stoned to the gills with regular deliveries of blond Lebanese hash in chambered balsa boards.
A full-page magazine ad for Plastic Fantastic showed Hakman looking down the foil of a PF shape through darkly-lidded eyes with the caption: “A Plastic Fantastic Stick is so-o-o good it will boggle your brain.” You can imagine the howls that one got from the stoners in the shaping bays.
As well as being a team rider, Jeff was also a mule, heading down into Baja on surf trips with Gary Chapman (Owl’s brother) and coming back over the border with a few extra boards strapped to the roof. But as a smuggler he made a great surfer, and in 1970 was facing three-to-five in Federal Prison over a failed Bangkok run. A good – and very expensive – lawyer managed to get him off on a technicality.
In the early 1970s, despite his drug- dabbling, Jeff Hakman established himself as the leading professional surfer in the world, challenged only by fast-rising Michael Peterson, who couldn’t put it together in Hawaii, whereas Hakman was winning everything. By 1976 that balance had swung in MP’s direction, but the two surfers had formed an odd alliance over their shared affection for narcotics. When Jeff flew into Australia for the autumn season (during which he would become the first foreigner to win Bells) it was with a hollow glassed fin on both of his boards, filled with high quality cocaine. As it turned out, coke wasn’t Jeff’s drug of choice, but he knew someone who was all over it. Arriving on the Gold Coast, he drove straight to the carpark at Kirra where he traded his toot for a big bag of heroin. The other party to the transaction tried out the goods off the back of his hand, sniffed a few times and headed straight back out into the lineup he ruled. It was Michael Peterson.
Hakman survived his drug days and went on to co-found Quiksilver in the United States and later Europe, and become a global ambassador for the brand. In 1997 he fessed up about all of this when I wrote his biography, ‘Mr Sunset’. We’ve remained friends and recently traded a few dozen war stories over bottles of wine with our former Quiksilver Europe colleagues at our favourite beachside bar in Bidart, France.
The dodgy dope days are behind him, and Jeff, now 70, is training with Felipe Pomar to “surf to 100”. He’s a tenacious little bugger, and he’s still charging, so he’ll probably do it. Oh, and he doesn’t fly with surfboards any more.