They Fought The Law | 8 Surfers Who Went To Jail

Waveriders of note who swapped tube time for doing time

Credit: iStock

You can’t surf behind bars, goes the not so famous saying. Yet over the years many surfers have ended up on the wrong side of the law. From attempted murder to tax evasion, here are some of surfing’s notable inmates.

1) Miki Dora

One of surfing’s great anti-heroes, the Californian known either as Da Cat or the Black Knight spent the better part of the 1970s on the run from the FBI. He fled the U.S. in 1970 after a warrant was issued against him for credit card and cheque fraud.

He then spent the next seven years mostly in the south of France, but also in New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Namibia, Angola, and Australia. Upon his return to the States in 1981 he was jailed both for the original crimes as well as for altering a credit card and using it on a two-year spending spree through Europe and Asia when he was on the run.

Dora ruled Malibu in the 1960s and was one of surfing’s first ever superstars, but even then he had a slippery relationship with the law. He topped up his sponsorship dollars with dodgy cheques and was always reluctant to play by the mainstream’s mundane laws on tax and credit cards.

His lengthy FBI file is almost as colourful as his personality with one entry describing him as: “quintessential albeit ageing boy of summer on a perennial quest for the legendary ninth wave.”

Credit: WSL/Kelly Cestari

2) Sunny Garcia

The 2000 World Champion and six times Triple Crown winner was one of surfing’s most intimidating personalities, his muscular 5’10” 90 kilogram frame bolted on to a harsh upbringing on Oahu’s poorest west side. However despite several altercations with fellow surfers (he once famously chased Brazilian Neco Padaratz up the beach after a heat at Pipeline) and several arrests for violence it was the non-payment of taxes that eventually landed him in jail.

He had three months behind bars, beginning in 2007, plus a further seven months of house arrest. In typical style though Sunny had a “Death and Taxes” tattoo emblazoned in 64 point type around his neck after being released.

Gomes was famous for surfing on the north Shore of Hawaii. Credit: iStock

3) Johnny Boy Gomes

Johnny Boy Gomes was a surfing star throughout the 1990s, famous for his powerful surfing on the North Shore of Oahu and his competitive wins at Pipeline. However before, during and after his professional career his volatile and often violent personality saw him fall foul of the law. He started early when first sentenced to juvenile detention aged 12 for theft, and spent his 18th birthday under lock and key.

Even at the height of his surfing fame his chequered career he continued. He punched an opponent during a heat, slapped female pro Jodie Cooper at Pipe freesurfing and later was convicted for assault after a breaking a surfer’s nose at Chun’s Reef on the North Shore. Then only last year, aged 50, he was charged with attempted murder, later reduced to third-degree assault, after an altercation at Waikiki.

Anthony Ruffo was one of Santa Cruz’s biggest drug dealers Credit: iStock

4) Anthony Ruffo

In 2010 Santa Cruz surfer Anthony Ruffo was arrested for possession of drugs for sale, being under the influence of drugs, and being a felon in possession of a stun gun. He was sentenced to two years in state prison, two years in a sheriff’s custody program, and one year of county probation supervision. This followed on from a conviction for selling meth in 2005.

In the film Learning to Breathe: From dealer to healer Ruffo showed how his ten year career as one of Santa Cruz’s biggest drug dealers, with associated relationships with local gangs and violence, ran along side his successful professional surfing career. Now out of jail the film portrays Ruffo’s attempts to shed his criminal past and work with the victims of drug abuse.

5) Jai Abberton

The eldest of Maroubra’s Abberton clan Jai was a talented professional surfer in his early years. However, he had various run-ins with the local police before his arrest for murder of local hit man Anthony Tony Hines in 2005. Abberton claimed the murder was in self defence, as Hines had threatened to rape the girlfriend of Abberton, and kill them both.

The court agreed and in 2007 Abberton was cleared of the murder. However further criminal actions have followed after he bought a knife to a police station in 2011. Then in 2012 Abberton was tasered three times at Byron Bay police station and later sentenced to 15 months in jail for assaulting police.

Credit: Point Break/20thCenturyFox

6) Bodhi

Okay granted, Bodhi from Point Break doesn’t really exist, but when it comes to surfing and criminal activity, we can’t not include the charismatic leader of the gang of surfers and bank robber called The Ex Presidents. The mob were known for the quick raids of the cash drawers in the banks and never going for the vault.

Unlike many surfers on this list Bodhi wasn’t in it for the money, but to rebel against the system that: “kills the human spirit”. As you no doubt remember Bodhi would have got away with his crimes, if it wasn’t for the bumbling Johnny Utah, who eventually tracks him down to Bells Beach and forces him to choose between custody and a 50-foot wave of certain death. He chooses death which, ironically, really does kill the spirit.

7) Shapelle Corby

The Australian was found at Bali Airport with 4.2 kilograms of cannabis in her bodyboard bag and was subsequently arrested and convicted for smuggling drugs.

Corby always maintained her innocence claiming she was unaware of the drugs, but the Indonesian courts sentenced to her 20 years in Bali’s notorious Kerobokan prison, later reduced to 15. In 2014 she was released after serving nine years of her sentence, but under her parole conditions is not permitted to leave Indonesia until July 2017.

Credit: Facebook

8) Jill Hansen

In 2014 the self-described “pro surfer turned model” Jill Hansen faced attempted murder charges after chasing down 73-year-old Elizabeth Conklin in her Waikiki apartment garage and running her over. A passerby stopped Hansen from repeatedly hitting Conklin, who was taken to the hospital with cuts, bruises and a head injury.

The 2000 Hawaiian longboard champion Hansen also tried to escape from the police station at her arrest. Hansen however was acquitted last year on the grounds of mental illness. This wasn’t the first incident for Hansen.

She had previously pleaded guilty to driving with a revoked license and hit and run with property damage as well as a charges of resisting a peace officer and falsely representing herself to an officer.

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