Testing the Tour

A look inside the ASP's anti-doping policy

The talent on Tour is as entertaining as ever, yet the legitimacy of competitive surfing still struggles. Will drug testing help? Photo: Ellis

On January 16, 2012, the ASP formally announced its plan to initiate an anti-doping policy for World Tour surfers. The newly formed policy was said to prescribe to the standards set forth by the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA). Proponents of the initiative argued that by implementing a regimented form of drug testing, the sport was taking the necessary steps to create a more professional World Tour. But more than a year after the anti-doping policy was implemented, some of the sport’s most esteemed athletes have been questioning elements of the policy, openly stating that the ASP was infrequently testing only a portion of their athletes.

According to the ASP’s official anti-doping policy, the organization would begin testing World Tour surfers throughout the season at World Tour stops, with surfers selected at random. The tests (urine samples) would screen for a predetermined set of prohibited recreational substances as well as performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and would be examined at WADA-approved facilities.

In the event that an athlete were to test positive for a recreational substance—marijuana, cocaine, etc.—at a maximum, they would be given a reprimand and face a mandatory substance-abuse education class and enter a rehab course for their first two violations. If the athlete were to test positive for a recreational substance a third time, he or she could potentially be kicked off the Tour for up to two years.

The penalties for testing positive for PEDs are more severe. Current anti-doping rules stipulate that if a surfer were to test positive for PEDs (the ASP follows the banned substances outlined by WADA) they would face a minimum of a one-year suspension from the Tour. Much of the policies set forth by the ASP fall in line with the anti-doping policies outlined by the PGA, MLB, and NFL. But according to multiple surfers on Tour, the ASP isn’t testing their athletes enough.

Questions were recently raised at the Quik Pro Gold Coast when Kelly Slater was quoted as saying that he only took one drug test last season. Adding to further speculation, Steph Gilmore, the current women’s world champion, said that she had not been tested at all in 2012. Following the statements from Slater and Gilmore, the ASP encouraged World Tour surfers not to speak to the media in regards to drug testing. While the majority of World Tour surfers that SURFER reached out to—Gilmore and Slater included—were unable to comment on the story, we were able to speak to a handful of athletes under the condition that they remain anonymous.

“I wasn’t tested at all last year,” said one World Tour surfer. “I think that if they [the ASP] say they’re gonna test, they should do it all the way. I can’t see any positive effects recreational drugs would have on your surfing, but if there’s a surfer that’s taking performance enhancers and I lose to him, I’d be pissed.” When asked if he knew of, or thought that any World Tour surfers were using PEDs, he paused and said, “I’d think it would be naive to think that surfing at this level would be any different than any other sport.” He went on to say that “if you’re surfing four heats a day, that can take a toll on you. You’ll see some guys fall apart by the end of the day. I can see why some surfers would view performance enhancing drugs as an extra edge in surfing.”

Another World Tour surfer, who also wasn’t tested last year, said that while he didn’t personally know of any surfers using PEDs, he wouldn’t be surprised to hear that some surfers had or were using them. He also felt that by not testing all of the athletes, the ASP was making a mistake. “If they’re not really going to test everyone, then what’s the point? Either do it or don’t,” he said.

Some World Tour surfers that SURFER spoke to believed that the ASP only tested competitors who reached the quarterfinals. But according to the ASP’s Dave Prodan, that’s a total misconception.

“That’s completely inaccurate. The formula for testing on Tour is designed to be random and occurs at different points in the event windows,” said Prodan.

When asked why some athletes like Steph Gilmore were not tested, Prodan justified, “When testing is conducted at random, there’s always the potential that some surfers may not be tested.” Prodan went on to say that the ASP views the implementation of its anti-doping policy as being “a step in the correct direction in terms of legitimizing the sport of professional surfing.”

Because of privacy concerns, many of the details surrounding the tests are held in secret. However, SURFER was able to speak to an anonymous ASP official who believed that part of the reason the ASP doesn’t test all World Tour surfers is due to cost and the remote locations of some events.

“It’s really expensive to run those tests,” said the source. “I think it would cost nearly $30,000 to test every athlete at every event. The tests are done very discreetly. An event official will ask a surfer after his heat to step into a bathroom and provide a urine sample. We’ll send those tests out to a lab to be processed,” he added. “Some of the events we go to, like Fiji for example, we simply don’t have the labs there to test them, so we don’t.” The source went on to say that he believed the results of the tests—both for recreational and performance enhancers—should be made public.