In his prime, Kevin Reed was a surfing legend, credited with inventing aerials, Surfing magazine cover star, and worldwide surf competitor.
Fast forward 30 years and his story is quite a different one. Last May, now-homeless Reed was arrested in connection with the death of Steven Lee, 52.
It’s such a sad story. My uncle used to surf with him. It’s sad to see he is where he is
Police were called to the scene after they received reports of a fight and a deceased casualty man. Reed, who was known to have been spending time with Lee in the weeks prior, was arrested.
Although he was released due to lack of evidence, it is clear that Kevin Reed has fallen a long way from his glory days, and the Santa Cruz surf community have been left disheartened that one of their great heroes is struggling so much.
“It’s such a sad story. My uncle used to surf with him. It’s sad to see he is where he is: he’s now homeless and that drugs put him in that situation is just heartbreaking” local surfer Brad told Wavelength.
“I used to work on the boardwalk and you’d always see him around. Looking at him you’d think he was just another homeless bum, not one of the greats, which is disappointing considering how much he’s contributed to surfing and what he’s done for the reputation of Santa Cruz as a surfer town. I think this was a case of just wrong place wrong time for Reed.”
Following a familiar trajectory from the time, Reed was a skateboarder first and foremost, and, once he took up surfing, his style and approach in the water very much reflected that. “He was the first guy to do the aerials. That’s a fact, and he did it five years before anybody else,” lifelong friend and founder of Pearson Arrow, Bob Pearson told Mercury reporters.
Its clear Kevin Reed was a surfer ahead of the times, with his contribution to the sport being recognised by big publications such as The New York Times.
In 2010 documentary “The Westsiders” which follows the rise and fall of the westsider surf gang, Jay Adam’s commented: “Kevin Reed was a really great surf skater.
“In the beginning with the urethane wheels and stuff, Kevin was one of the leaders. He was just a really good skater–and he could surf. A lot of the guys in the beginning back then… skateboarders were surfers, and Kevin was definitely one of the better ones.”
With Marijuana being legal, and so accessible in Santa Cruz it leads to other things and people end up abusing drugs
So how did one of the greats end up on this path? Bob Pearson who travelled with Reed in the 70s and 80s competing worldwide, told the Guardian that Reed had struggled with substance abuse over the years. “He’d a hard upbringing and he just fell through the cracks.”
“I think because Santa Cruz is such a surfer town it’s hard to grow up and be an adult in a town like this. It just makes it easy to fall down that path I guess.” local surfer Blake added.
Unfortunately drugs seem to be a contributing factor in the demise of many Santa Cruz legends. Both Anthony Ruffo, a pro surfer in the 90s, and Darryl Virostko A.K.A Flea, three time winner of the Mavericks big wave competition have documented their struggles with methamphetamine addictions.
Another Santa Cruz hero Peter Davis, drowned in 2007 while surfing in Monterey with autopsy reports showing high levels of Meth in his system at time of death.
“They were growing up in late 80s-90s and there was a major problem (with substance abuse) going around. It was really known among surfers and skaters to get into it.” Brad commented when asked about this trend among Santa Cruz pros.
“It was big at the time and I guess it was the cool thing to do. At the time they thought it would make them surf better…”
In “The Westsiders” Reed himself, is seen talking about how drugs have rooted themselves into surf culture and warning other surfers about their dangers:
“I did tell all of them – Barney, Ratty, all of them – I never want to see any of them living in the gutters,” Reed said in the interview. “Because surfing will not support you.”
So was it the post-pro blues that lead to this downhill spiral? They say that those at the top have further to fall, and this appears to ring true in this case. Or was it the drug culture that’s evident in Santa Cruz? Either way Reed’s arrest has been a wake-up call to Santa Cruz surf community to take care of their own.
Pearson told The Mercury that he has considered raising funds to help Reed and was heading to find him after his release. Along with the likes of Virostko’s “Fleahab” rehabilitation programme, (teaches recovering addicts how to surf while living a new way of life) in place in the town, there is a flicker of hope for a turnaround:
“Nowadays kids aren’t getting into drugs thanks to our surf icons being into it. They’ve seen firsthand what an effect drugs can have with the likes of Kevin Reed, and now thanks to the great work Flea has done kids are more aware. Despite how tragic Kevin’s story is I think it does serve as a warning.” Brad added.
“Teaching kids in school, having people like Flea going around, we’re putting in good steps to prevent this happening to our future surf icons. People who are really committed to surf do stay away from that crowd as they look at older role models and they know it’s not worth it”
Like every legend there is a lesson to be learned, and it looks like Santa Cruz are eager to learn from the errors that is the legend of Kevin Reed: a fallen hero.