Blog | Drug Free Surfers – John Solanoa



Drug Free Surfers – John Solanoa


As a native of Santa Cruz, I have a deep attachment to nature, the beach, and love of surfing, albeit, from the beach or cliff as I admire this sport. Many of us are enamored with those who face walls of water that seem insane to ride.

There exists, however, an entangled relationship between surfing and drugs and alcohol: marijuana, alcohol, and methamphetamines take too many surfers out before their time. Dozens are left to battle their addiction, face jail time, and the damage to their families, friends, and own lives. Those left behind beg the question: how can one reach a culture where surfing and drugs and alcohol lay alongside one another?

John Solanoa, a local surfer in Southern California, who is a well-known writer and photographer in the surfing community, felt compelled to address this issue, resulting in an organization called DFS, Drug Free Surfers. Appealing to seasoned surfers and young alike, he rallied for them to take a stand, promoting a zero-tolerance for use of any drug. Members include Santa Cruz/Huntington Beach surfer Peter Mel, the winner of the past season’s Mavericks, his son John Mel, US Boys Champion, two-time Open Champion Brett Simpson of Long Beach, and San Clemente’s NSSA Champion Tia Blanco, to name a few.

johnmelDSF’s mission:

“…to promote and lift those who practice clean living within the extreme sports lifestyle. To build a vast network of professionals and amateur sports figures to help show the youth of our sports that there is another option to drugs, and to make aware those at risk kids that you can live that happy life you always wanted Drug Free.” 


out-of-breath-SMWhen I wrote my first novel, Out of Breath, which captures a surfer caught in the grip of addiction and its consequences, I had no idea how pervasive this topic was, although I later learned a great deal from Pro-Surfer Peter Mel and his father John Mel, owner of Freeline Surf Shop. Life flows in strange ways, and I was introduced to DFS when John Solanoa was on Santa Cruz’s radio station KSCO. On their show, Off The Lip Radio, co-hosts Neil Pearlberg and Terry Campion (owner of Santa Cruz Boardroom) interviewed John, spreading the word about DFS. Immediately, I knew I wanted to learn more and have John on my blog. Someone is daring to make an impact and a change that can save lives! Below is a snapshot of John’s and my time together, and his story of empowering the surf community to take the pledge to be drug free.


John, welcome to my blog, Can you share with my readers a bit about you and your life?

Hi Susan, thanks for having me. I am from Hawaii, but now live in Huntington Beach, Ca. I’ve been surfing the better part of my life, but have now turned into a weekend surfer that surfs about every third weekend, lol. I have been shooting as a professional freelance photographer for the past ten years, working with Quiksilver, Billabong, and Fox among others. I write editorials with Ghetto Juice Surf Mag, ESPN, O.C. Register, Surfline, Surfing Mag, Surfers Journal, and many others.   

What did you notice over the past twenty years in terms of drug use/abuse amongst the surf community?

In Hawaii and in California I have always seen drug use, but most of it was with the older guys. It wasn’t until the last two and a half years that I started to notice kids losing their way. 

On your website, you mention the death of twenty-year-old Chris Love, a grom (young surfer) whose life was cut short as a result of drugs. There’ve been others, as well, who’ve met early deaths due to the grips of addiction. Was this the impetus behind the creation of DFS?

Yeah, Chris was one of thirteen kids that I knew under the age of twenty-three who died as a result of overdose in the last twenty-six months. It’s been hard on so many people, and I just felt as a part of the surf community I needed to do something. I thought to myself, “Why are these kids dying like this? How does it all begin?” The only thing that kept popping up was peer pressure! These kids all want to be a part of something, they all want to climb that surf ladder of success and from a young age. They are exposed to this party culture that has imbedded itself into the surfing culture, so they think, “If I’m going to get ahead, I need to be a part of this party scene, and then my older peers will respect me not just for my surfing, but for my craziness as well.” So I came up with DFS, and to do nothing more than uplift those who live a DFS lifestyle. Positive peer pressure is born, and it seems to be working.  

What has the response been like amidst surfers, both young and veterans?

We’ve had a great response from so many big name surfers: Brett Simpson, Travis Logie, Nat Young—all on the World Tour. Nate Yeomans, Matt Pagan, Ezekiel Lau, Keanu Asing, Chris Waring and Kanoa Igarashi from the WQS Tour and Pro Junior Tour. And some of the most exciting groms to hit the water this year: Micky Clarke, Tia Blanco, John Mel, Nolan Rapoza, Daniel Glenn, Abby Brown, and Sebastian “Bash” Mendes among others.  We also have some of the most legendary names in the business: Peter Mel, Reef McIntosh, Jason Shibata, and South African Bill Sharp. 

dfs-squareHow can people support DFS?

If you would like to help support the movement you can go to the site and donate or fill out the form to become a DFS registered surfer. We have team stickers for team members and public stickers to help show your support. 

Thank you for not only your time with me, John, but for creating a powerful group of brave individuals who take a stand publically against drug use and abuse in the surf and extreme sport worlds. If this encourages even one person to not pick up that drink or drug, it’s an endeavor in saving lives.

Stay tuned for more interviews with drug-free surfers. Up next: Former professional surfer from Santa Cruz, Ca, Anthony Ruffo, and his story of addiction, recovery, and vision for the future!


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