Drug Smuggling, Sword Fights And Fraud: These Are The Most Notorious Criminals In Surfing

Living the life of a surfer doesn't mean you can escape the po po too easily

Surfers are a clean living bunch on the whole, right?

Wrong. From the 1970s to the present day, pro surfers have mixed themselves up in everything from drug smuggling to large scale tax evasion.

Here are nine surfers who’ve felt the hand of the law….

1. Russel Winter and the sword brandishing incident

Russell Winter with his ornamental sword back at the 2006 O’Neill Highland Open. Photo: ASP Europe/O’Neill Europe

Russell Winter is the man many consider to be Britain’s best ever surfer has a reputation for standing up for what he believes in.

On July 30th this year, the Cornish Guardian reported that Winter had been arrested for pulling a large ‘ornamental’ sword on a group of men in Newquay after a dispute erupted over a bottle being smashed on the ground.

Whether it was the same sword he collected after winning the O’Neill Cold Water Classic in Thurso Scotland, 2006, is unclear (the winner’s trophy is a sword) although it does bare an uncanny resemblance.

Russ has always been one to stand up for who he is and what he stands for. You only have to look at the serve he gave his fellow British surfers last year after they voted to cancel the North East Open.

“I think this is pathetic that our future surfers lack any drive what so ever,” he fumed following the decision. You’ve been warned.


2. Al Merrick goes from narcotics to shaping

Al Merrick pictured with Kelly Slater. Photo: Aroyan/A-Frame

Back before Al Merrick was making boards for pretty much every high profile surfer on the planet (Dane Reynolds, Conner Coffin, Kelly Slater and Rob Machado among them) he was just another swingin’ hipster puff-puff giving his way through the Summer of Love.

That was until he was busted for a sizeable amount of marijuana at home in Santa Barbara County, California and sentenced to eight months in Susanville’s correctional centre.

“There were a lot of narcotics in Summerland. It was the 60s, you know?”

“The police knew there were a lot of narcotics in Summerland,” said Al. “It was the 60s, you know? Hippieville. I was in a bad point in my life-sometimes you get into stuff and you don’t realise how far backwards you fall.”

Merrick credits jail term with turning his life around. “Prison certainly gave me pause to consider my life and where my life was going, and how far I’d fallen,” he said. “That was a sobering thing, and the salvation message made a lot of sense to me. I accepted the Lord, and that just turned my life right around.”


3. Peter McCabe – the legendary drug smuggler

It’s no secret that surfing and drug culture have intersected pretty heavily over the years.

A lesser known fact is that many high profile surfers in the late seventies were actually big time drug smugglers, moving commercial quantities of drugs across borders.

The reason being, well, how else did you finance a lifestyle of travel and surfing? We couldn’t all be Bunker Spreckels.

Legendary Australian surfer, shaper and early Indonesia pioneer, Peter McCabe, was one of them, eventually going down for smuggling cocaine into the Pacific island of New Caledonia en route to Australia.

He served three years in prison there, the story of which is told in the underground classic surf film, Sea of Darkness (above).


4. Ricky Rasmussen meets a foul end

Another of the big time pro surfer drug smugglers from the late 70s, Ricky Rasmussen was also one of the most stylish American surfers of the time.

Originally from Maine, and later New York, Rasmussen became the first ever east coast surfer to win the American National Champs. Incredibly he also won the kneeboarding title that same year.

“Rasmussen was shot in the head and killed a week before he was due to be sentence for another drug trafficking charge”

Rasmussen was also among the first generation of surfers to explore Indonesia, which is where he was first arrested for possessing a kilo of cocaine in Bali.

He somehow got acquitted of that only to be arrested two years later for trying to sell $500 000 worth of heroine to an undercover cop in New York.

A week before he was due to be sentenced for that drug trafficking charge, he was shot in the head and killed while trying to put together another deal in Harlem.


Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.