On the 20th of June, 200 miles off the coast of Gran Canaria, a Spanish police boat pulled up alongside a UK flagged 40-foot yacht, with the name ‘Pepper Sauce’ emblazoned on its hull.
The boat was swaying steadily in the Atlantic chop as three Spanish officials made their way on aboard.
In the hull they found a man from Newquay, two frenchmen and 61 bales of cocaine, weighing in at 1,850kg, with an estimated street value of several hundred million pounds.
The crew members were promptly detained and the boat impounded and transported to Las Palmas. Once ashore, the men were imprisoned and are currently awaiting a closed court trial.
According to Spanish police, the drugs had been transferred onto the yacht from a fishing boat off the coast of Suriname, in South America, some weeks earlier. The Pepper Sauce was then reportedly steered towards mainland Europe, where the contents would be either transferred onto another vessel or be brought directly ashore. The drugs would be taken to a safe house, before being divided up and distributed.
The seizure was the culmination of a three year long investigation into drug smuggling by sailboats from South America and was hailed as a great success in the war against drug trafficking by Elena Máñez, a Canarian official who gave a press conference as the confiscated bales were proudly laid out in Las Palmas.
The news that the man, referred to in the Spanish media as a ‘British Drug Lord’, was a local surfer from Newquay spread quickly through the tight knit Cornish surf community. He was reportedly a well known and well liked character, with the overwhelming reaction among friends and local surfers being one of sadness and sympathy for his plight.
The intertwined histories of our beloved pastime and drug smuggling are well documented. Throughout the 70’s many pioneering surf explorers funded their never-ending travel by selling and transporting narcotics across borders, with a hollowed out surfboard serving as the perfect vessel to slip through customs undetected.
The most famous story is that of Mike Boyum, who featured in the controversial documentary Sea Of Darkness and is renowned for discovering G-Land and Cloud Nine amidst a life of drug smuggling.
In his new book Cocaine and Surfing Chas Smith posits that the ubiquity of smuggling throughout this period of surf history is one of the main reasons for the surf media’s reluctance to tell stories involving drugs, despite their enduring prevalence within the culture. Back when the surf media was gathering momentum, writing stories that involved narcotics was likely to draw unwanted attention.
If the trails were followed, such attention might have landed big industry players, like the man who reportedly used drug money to bring Quiksilver to the US, in hot water and so writers kept quiet.
For many, this latest incident will bring these often repeated tales out of the history books and uncomfortably close to home, as the reality of a long jail term in a Spanish prison beckons for one of the Newquay surf communities’ own.
Cover photo: Policia National M Interior