The relationship between cannabis and alternative sports
By now, you already know of my profound and abiding love for skiing, entrepreneurship, and the tradition of cannabis farming. If you’re doing any of them well, you’re never playing it safe. No matter how old I get, I never lose that taste for the adventure you can find in these disciplines, and neither do any of the people that master them.
As a kid, I had always loved skiing right alongside music, and in many ways, they’ve gone hand-in-hand with me because once I started to rebel, my tastes in both also shifted. Right alongside my move from classic rock to RHCP and Phish came my introduction to The Blizzard of AHHHH’S. Now it’s true, Gregg Stump opted for music from Trevor Horn and music from Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Act, and synthpop from his label ZTT. But it also connects because of Horn’s son? He’s now running a hemp-CBD store in London after self-medicating for PTSD. Funny how all of these things connect.
But the real excitement for me was in seeing skiers commit what would have been designated crimes in America out on the neck-breaking drops of Chamonix. Foremost to me was Glenn Plake, he of the five-foot mohawk, who literally couldn’t even go back to America after shooting wrapped up because he was actually a fugitive from the law. Nowadays, in the era of terrain parks and massive corporate sponsorships, it is hard to relay how deeply against the grain this skiing style was. You really couldn’t pull this stuff off on most commercial peaks. To see these guys do it and do it with such courage and real artistry - well, the appeal to me wasn’t that much different than listening to some of my favorite groups at the time.
Of course, I know all too well what happens when you play with fire. But it’s also given me a real taste for the wild frontier of life. It’s also positioned me well for the work I do with Medicine Box. Because ultimately, it all comes back to the plant for me, and how it can both aid you in taking the risks you need to propel forward in your craft and how to heal from inevitable failure. All of those things come in pretty handy when you’re an extreme skier.
The extreme vs. the mainstream
Whenever they maneuver too close to a cliff, some people get a crazy idea: what would it feel like to dive right off of this thing? For guys like Scott Schmidt, Mike Hattrup, and Glen Plake, they just went ahead and did it. Once they did that, it gave everyone sufficient inspiration to try it for themselves. And that taught me something important about risk and reward: if you’re the first to jump off the cliff and come back alive, you share something special with those who did it alongside you. You know something about life that those other guys playing it safe just don’t.
It was mainly about linking pretty turns and getting down the hills back in those days. The competitive elements of the sport — slalom, grand slalom, ski jumping and moguls — were time-tested, but generally risk-free. Once Stump started injecting new faces, sounds and even humor into the game with The Blizzard and The Maltese Flamingo, it showed a brand-new way this could all be done. It also got me even more hungry to head out to Squaw Valley and attempt it for myself — which I eventually would when I turned 18.
Nowadays, of course, if you aren’t hucking yourself or shredding lines, then you aren’t trying hard enough. And it wasn’t always easy for me to accept that something which was so dangerous could eventually open up to more people. But once ESPN created the X-Games, it dissipated quickly once I saw the pioneers gain the notoriety and fanbase that was their due. And of course, their activity meant that you could finally pull off these moves on the general slopes all around the country, making the sport feel cool again. Many of those kids took what they saw in Stump and Warren Miller and took it even farther, and eventually back into the world of mainstream competitive sport. Most of you may have seen halfpipe and slopestyle at the 2014 Winter Olympics, and they’ll be joined by skateboarders, surfers, sport climbers and breakdancers.
Ultimately, skiing for me should be pursued for fun and the sheer love of it, and I’d rather not let organizations like the Olympics change that part of the culture. I will always advocate for the free spaces to explore and experiment outside of the rules and regulations which constrain it. But it does show how the underground can ultimately make even a mainstream organization like the International Olympics Committee take notice.
Cannabis, of course, has been embraced by all sorts of athletes, regardless of their status as mainstream or extreme. Because of its outlaw status and ongoing controversy as a potentially performance-enhancing drug, it has always branded those who use it as outlaws. While the World Anti-Doping Agency has backed away from persecuting athletes for CBD, you can still catch hell for having even a little THC in your bloodstream because it not only might enhance your performance, but it “violates the spirit of sport’ because of the stigma attached to it — a stigma based on large part on lies and ignorance, but a powerful one all the same.
Still, as more people stand up, those attitudes start to crumble. Take Nick Diaz, who has been suspended from UFC, yet still recently publicly puffed on CBD before UFC 241. Bringing cannabis directly into the rule-based world of competitive sport versus the unregulated backcountry of extreme, experimental sports is where we find ourselves today.
But all I have to do is to see the new-school skiiers on Squaw Valley today on Instagram to know that people are still pushing it wherever you go. The new-schoolers I see are truly fearless and taking it to even higher levels. As they reach for cannabis, they will most likely be using it for its wellness benefits and as a sleep moderator. In The Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler speaks about the achievement of boundary-breaking performance through achieving flow. Properly harnessed, cannabis can help today’s boundary breakers achieve that more quickly and move a lot farther than those who used to sneak it in under pine boughs or on a gondola. They will find a new way to work with this tool, and maybe it won’t be as alternative since everyone will be able to do it. But it will be different. So bring it on.