Excerpt: Boards of Infamy

The golden era of surfboard smuggling was brief, coinciding with what many consider to be the definitive American decade. Read the full feature in TSJ 32.1.

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By 1969, Travis Ashbrook, an original member of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, was regularly returning to Afghanistan. As he made last-minute preparations for one of those trips, a friend handed him two custom-made boards and told him, “Hey, man, take these boards along. You’ll get an extra 40 pounds.” 

Ashbrook flew the two boards to Germany, bought a Volkswagen camper van, and strapped them on the roof. The boards saw much of Europe atop that van. Chuckling, Ashbrook says, “Can you imagine driving through the Alps to Switzerland and Austria in the dead of winter with two surfboards strapped to the top of the car?” The boards were “thick, clunky.” He pauses. But “they would have [went].” 

Eventually, they were filled with close to 40 pounds of Afghan hash and shipped from Karachi, Pakistan, to New York. Then, “fucking United went on strike,” says Ashbrook. 

The boards were delayed for two weeks in New York due to the strike at the airport. “They sat in New York in the heat,” Ashbrook says. “They were in denim bags…made out of blue-jean material. And they got overheated.” The hash started to mold, swelling up the hidden compartments until they were loose. “That’s how they found it.” 

Warped and rattling, the boards were shipped to Los Angeles, where a United Airlines employee notified Bureau of Customs Special Agent George Corley that “he had two surfboards ‘which he thought possibly contained narcotics.’” 

 A Rare Earth Surfboards winged single-fin, its stringer drilled for fine-powder transpo. Photo by Grant Ellis.

According to court records, Corley “lifted both boards and noted that they appeared to be about twenty pounds heavier than other boards he had handled of the same length.” Corley cut into the glass with his pocketknife and “there was a rush of gas from inside, with an odor which he recognized as that of marijuana.” Not knowing to whom the boards belonged, Corley “replaced the plug, filled the holes with candle wax,” and placed them back in their denim bags. 

Having beaten the boards home, Ashbrook drove to Los Angeles International Airport to retrieve his cargo. The baggage handlers were remarkably polite, he remembers. “They helped me load [the boards] on my car. [Even] strapped them on the racks.” 

Ashbrook drove the hash-laden boards back to the Brotherhood’s private ranch. After passing through the locked gate, he looked back and “saw this whole parade of cars barreling up the road behind us. And then I looked up and saw that there was an airplane circling above.” 

Special Agent Corley later testified that “a total of 39 pounds of hashish worth $100,000 was removed from the two boards.”

[Excerpted from TSJ 32.1’s “Boards of Infamy” by Cedar Hobbs. To read the full feature, click here.]

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[Feature Photo Caption: Double exposure of Brotherhood/surfer crossover session featuring (left to right) David Nuuhiwa, member/smuggler Johnny Gale, Mike Hynson, and Mike Haley (with Haley also appearing in the second frame). Photo courtesy of Surfer Magazine Archives.]