Weed, Skateboarding, and the Olympics? Part 3 of 3

Words by Robert Brink; photography by Andrew Peters; additional photography courtesy Phantom Farms

There are three things that people should’ve learned from skateboarding’s six decades of existence by now:

  1. Never say never.

2. Change, progress and evolution are not only inevitable, they drive skateboarding.

3. Don’t ever underestimate the will of skateboarders.

The following interviews comprise of a cross-section of six different perspectives on cannabis, skateboarding and the Olympics. And, as much as we wanted to appease the naysayers, we came up short.

Olympics: 1, Blowhards: 0

Josh Friedberg, ex-professional skateboarder and CEO of USA Skateboarding, the National Governing Body for Skateboarding in the United States

You’ve been part of the long and winding road to getting skateboarding into the Olympics. Knowing skateboarding is a subculture that has unapologetically embraced marijuana for decades, one of the jokes and concerns about the Olympics was always ‘skateboarding will never be in there because no one will stop smoking weed or pass the tests.’ How was that addressed early on?

Initially, like any other sport, subculture or group of people on the planet, there are people that smoke weed and people that don’t. Obviously, in skateboarding it’s more accepted to be public about it. Because of that, a lot of the knee-jerk reaction from the media, some of the governing bodies and a lot of skateboarders was, ‘Oh well, this will never work because too many people smoke weed!’

As you integrate a culture-based sport with the structure of the Olympic Games, it’s really about getting people up to speed in terms of things like the anti-doping process and the national governing body structure. We were less concerned about whether or not people would want to participate and primarily concerned with trying to educate skateboarders about the anti-doping tests and ensure that they were prepared. So we did everything we could to give skateboarders at least a year of anti-doping education before any of the testing started at the sanctioned skateboarding events.

Have you seen an evolution of perception since the early days of no one believing it could work?

Absolutely, and I think a lot of that is based on the skaters becoming educated about what it meant for weed to be prohibited in competition and not out of competition. Also, the fact that WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) changed the acceptable limits for THC in the bloodstream—it increased significantly during their last code revision.

Were you surprised to see how many skaters were actually willing to participate, despite the fact that they may have been smokers? Some people are even quitting weed altogether, not just for the season.

I’m not surprised at all. When you’re looking at a recreational drug like weed and then looking at what your career could be if you qualify to skate in the Olympic Games for your country, I don’t think it’s that tough of a choice at all.

To me, one of the best things about skateboarding is that people can make that choice. There’s a strict competition career path and there’s always been a chance to become a professional skateboarder without ever entering a contest in your life. That diversity and freedom to pursue the path you want is one of the things that makes skateboarding great.

What about therapeutic use exemptions even for, say, paralympic skaters down the line if it becomes an event in the Games?

My understanding is that therapeutic use exemptions typically aren’t offered for weed. And hopefully, that’ll change because with weed becoming legal in many states and countries, the thinking around what is or isn’t prohibited when it comes to weed continues to evolve and could completely change to make it less restrictive.

The thing about performance-enhancing drugs in skateboarding, which is really what anti-doping is trying to prevent, is creating a level playing field so that one athlete doesn’t have an advantage that the other. With a lot of sports, you’re racing a clock or another human or you’re lifting heavy weights—there are definitely sports where doping is an advantage and will continue to be a challenge to regulate. But in skateboarding, being stronger doesn’t necessarily make you a better skateboarder and things like being judged on style, for example, make it less likely that skateboarding will have a performance-enhancing drug issue.

We’re going to be a part of the Clean Athlete Program, as opposed to the Registered Testing Pool at USADA, where the athletes have to give their whereabouts every day. In the Clean Athlete Program, skaters are still subject to the WADA code, but they’ll have to give whereabouts twice a year, so it’s much less paperwork and will be way easier for our skateboarders to deal with.

As a skateboarder, what was it like seeing Cory Juneau be the first skater/athlete to be suspended for marijuana?

Cory’s suspension was super disappointing, mainly because the Brazilian anti-doping agency tested him at an unsanctioned event. There was no reason for that event to be tested. It didn’t even make any sense. And they sprung it on him early in the education process, before many of those guys had a chance to even attend anti-doping meetings. So the fact that somebody tested positive for weed, before they had been educated, sort of proves our point. We were concerned with giving skaters a fair chance to understand what was going on and then for whatever reason, in Brazil, at this random event, they decided to drug test.

Even though he wasn’t a member of USA Skateboarding at the time, we actually spent some time trying to help Cory with that situation. It was just one of those things that never should’ve even happened and I hope that that’s why his suspension didn’t have any actual impact on Olympic qualification.

With CBD being a non-issue and seeing those THC bloodstream levels increased, do you view this progression a possible pathway to marijuana one day being removed from the list of prohibited substances?

I hope that’s the path, but I can’t speak for WADA. It was a good sign that they at least raised the THC levels. The issue with weed and THC, in general, is that it leaves everyone’s body different rates and you’re not able to predict that. It’s not like other drugs that are in and out of your system in a couple days. So, them recognising that’s the case and trying to find a solution is a good first step.

The issue with CBD is that it’s not FDA regulated. So, you don’t ever know if there’s THC in it or not, regardless of what the labels say. That’s the problem with supplements—the industry isn’t FDA regulated so they can literally put anything they want on the label and they can literally put anything they want in the supplement. So, I think figuring out how to regulate CBD in a way that allows people to continue to use it without adverse analytical findings is the right thing to do.

Allister Schultz, former pro snowboarder and cultivator/co-founder of Phantom Farms

You were a pro snowboarder when the sport was en route to the Olympics in 1998 and marijuana wasn’t even close to legal like it is today. What was the sentiment within the industry and the snowboarding community at the time?

I was 17 or 18, and all through the 90’s, smoking cannabis was part of the culture of snowboarding. When I used to go on trips all over the world—filming the biggest movies of the year—we’d bring a mason jar of weed and a bong and we’d get high and go build jumps and have a good time. That’s just the way it was.

As more money came into the sport, some people started taking it more seriously and acting more professional, almost like a serious jock attitude. People had trainers and agents. People started doing yoga and stuff like that and snowboarding transitioned away from how it was cool to be a rebel; cool to be punk; cool to be hardcore—because of the Olympics, and a lot of us pushed back on that. A lot of really good people who I chilled with boycotted the Olympics. Some of the top guys in halfpipe wouldn’t do ’em. Not just because of the weed, but because of the way everything became. I shouldn’t say ‘corporate’, but you know what I mean. But anyone now who tells you it wouldn’t be their dream to be in the Olympics and win a gold medal is lying, because it would change your life forever.

Everything you’re saying is exactly what’s happening in skateboarding now, 20 years later.

When the first Olympics finally came for snowboarding; Ross Rebagliati [Canadian snowboarder] failed a drug test and was stripped of his gold medal. There are growing pains, but eventually you come out the other side of it and it’s accepted for what it is. Like, it’s cool to be someone like Shaun White and it’s also cool to be some guy on the opposite end of the spectrum out there partying with his buddies or being the emo, skinny pants-wearing rail guy.

Now that athletes can use and get the benefits from the CBD during competition, do you feel it isn’t a big deal that THC is prohibited? Or do you believe that all of it should be allowed?

CBD becoming acceptable for athletes to use for recovery and pain relief is a great place to start. But other terpenoids and phytocannabinoids that are not just CBD, for instance, THCV, CBG, CBDV, CBC and CBN—these are all phytocannabinoids that have medicinal benefits as well. They just haven’t been studied enough to be socially accepted like CBD has, but I think it’s gonna happen soon.

For example, pinene is a major terpenoid in cannabis—in sativas. You know when you walk through a pine forest and you feel good, your head gets clear? In Japan they call it shinrin-yoku, which means ‘forest bathing.’ People think it helps the short-term memory. These types of things are in the process of being proven and I would vote to have it all be legal for people to use. Instead of giving the guys who’ve had knee surgeries oxycodone to heal up, it shouldn’t be illegal for them to use something that has high myrcene in it to manage the pain so they don’t get hooked on pills. I think everyone’s in agreement that pills have completely destroyed how people view recovery and have destroyed people’s lives.

People aren’t doing this for a money grab; they are doing it because it truly does help people. And now that cannabis has become more legally and federally accepted in all these states, more research can be done, which is great for a cannabis company like us who believes in organic and living soil, which brings out higher terpene profiles and we can breed more strains that are medically designed to help certain ailments.

Do you think THC is performance enhancing or decreasing?

I think it could be perceived either way. It would have to be a case-by-case basis, per sport. In the case of race car drivers driving around a track, I’d say no. But something like snowboarding where you’re by yourself on a halfpipe and it only has an effect on you; I think it should be acceptable. It’s not a steroid.

Tell me about your transition from pro snowboarder to the cannabis business.

This is my thirtieth season growing. I’ve been snowboarding for about 35 years. The two always went hand-in-hand because snowboarding is such an artistic expression. It’s not like a team sport. It’s more about your perception of the lines you draw and the tricks you wanna do and how you do ’em and the way you grab, and cannabis brings out the artistic side in people. Artists use it in all kinds of ways for that purpose.

I was always a plant enthusiast. Before I got into cannabis I had gardens, my parents always had flower and vegetable gardens… they still do. So I got into it and when my snowboarding career kind of ended, I had more time to spend growing. Then cannabis went medically legal in Oregon, so you were allowed to grow it legally with a certain plant count. That’s kind of the beginning of the path to where I am today.

Do you see the cannabis industry as a new and exciting option for skateboarders, snowboarders and surfers once their careers are winding down? It seems to be something many are really passionate about, like you were, but easier to get into now that legalisation is more common.

It’s a great opportunity for skateboarders and snowboarders to venture into for a couple of reasons. One is that most guys have been using the CBD and cannabis products their entire careers or lives. They have first-hand knowledge of the benefits—experts really—and can articulate the benefits perfectly and believably because they are, or were, professional athletes at the highest level. I’d believe the testimony of Tony Hawk or Matt Miller on the benefits of CBD so much more than say, Martha Stewart or Montel Williams.

Secondly, as an extreme sports athlete, there is no retirement plan for you when you’re sponsors feel you are not marketable and not worth paying anymore. They use your services and spit you out when the next ripping young kid comes along. We all know this. We all got there in that same fashion—it just usually happens so suddenly and most are left wondering what to do. So it is amazing when guys can parlay their careers into another career that they are passionate about. I think business minds and corporate people are realising how creative and artistic and business savvy—’cause more often than not, we had to negotiate our own deals and manage ourselves—extreme athletes are, and see the great opportunity in partnering with them. I know many ex-pro athletes that have gone on to start and run all kinds of really successful businesses; the cannabis-CBD one is just a really attainable one where it’s been so intertwined with snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing culture. It’s great to see our athletes be successful in it. We deserve it.


Read Parts 1 and 2, and learn more about cannabis at Phantom-Farms.com

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