The rise, fall and redemption of the surfing legend….Flea
I pull up outside Darryl “Flea” Virostko’s house that he shares with his mother and I notice freshly cut grass, I knock on the door and no answer. A few years ago this would have meant no interview, not the case this time as Darryl comes walking around the corner with a mask over his mouth “Man, cutting the grass kills me” he smiles while pulling an inhaler out of his pocket.
As we get settled in his living room, he throws his feet up and wipes his face “I love just chilling in my living room”. This is a much changed Flea of years past, Santa Cruz is a small town when it comes right down to it, and myself being in the surf industry and living through the era of The Westside brigade I was privy to first hand visuals of his rise to the top as a premier surfer. We get right into it and Darryl comes straight out stating his sobriety and how he has started FleaHab with Providence Recovery Center. He just starts pumping out information, but before we can jump into the redemption of Flea we have to first understand the rise and fall of the man now sitting before me.
Darryl Virostko aka “Flea” was 21 when his first paychecks started coming down the pipe and it was a really good time to come up in the surf industry. Flea had always dreamed of one day being a pro surfer, something his Grandma (rest in peace) always scoffed at the possibility. It was later in his career he would fondly remember “hooking” Grandma up with red Oakley’s that she would wear while riding around in her Impala. Along with his friends Rat and Barney, this Westside trio of surfers would change the face of surfing forever and firmly plant Santa Cruz on the map, surfing 2 foot to 50 foot without regard, dominating huge airs and progressing big wave riding to a level never before seen. “I was not a three to the beach guy, I loved to do tricks and ramp out.” Flea states, “What we did in that era opened the eyes of pro surfing in so many ways. People were like, you can make money doing airs, big wave surfing and just ramping out? They changed the whole criteria on the WCT/WQS tours and now airs and progressive maneuvers are part of the deal.”
In ’99 Flea was crowned the champion of Maverick’s; again in 2002 and 2004…a Fleapete as most would say. Darryl landed the cover of Surfer Magazine for his wipeout on a 50 foot wave at Waimea during the Eddie Aikau and declared it wipeout of the decade. Major motion pictures Riding Giants and Step Into Liquid put him on the big screen. However the side people didn’t see of Darryl was beginning to formulate, his hard charging ways of any size surf was also crossing over into his personal life. Partying became the norm; anytime Flea would win a contest he would share it with the Westside and throw huge parties replete with the roulette of drugs and alcohol reserved for the likes of rockstars. Darryl had it all, huge sponsorship dollars, endorsements and endless amounts of industry and mainstream press. Flea was on top of the world.
The darkness came creeping in, travelling the world and making stupid money as Darryl will say, lead him down a path many tried to warn him of, but to no avail. Flea would sit around bonfires tossing $100 bills and watch people jump in and grovel, drinking and smoking weed since the age of 12 it was common for the binges to last for days if not weeks on end. Stories of collecting driftwood at all hours of the day and night to his eventual falling off of a cliff over 50 feet high in Davenport on a bad one, left his family and friends wondering if he was going to die. Flea fought those accusations off all the while intoxicated or under the influence of any number of drugs (meth, acid, coke were all readily available), he continued to self destruct. Darryl states “I was just bullshitting all my sponsors, my family and friends.” He adjusts in his chair as he gets more focused “I am not pissed on anyone cutting me or whatever and if you have to do that then I understand.” He goes on to say ”Expectations on pro surfers encourages malicious behavior, I have no regrets on anything, but when you are making crazy money every month and you are getting paid to be a surfer…well you can see what happens right?” It was after his fall from the cliff that lead to the end of the road, he figured since he couldn’t surf he would just drink and do drugs while he was healing. Surfing was once his life, but now had become a distant object of affection, injured and strung out he drove himself to a rehab facility. It wasn’t until after one of the numerous NA meetings that someone asked him “You done yet? I mean are you finished destroying yourself?” Flea realized right then, fuck yeah he was done.
What had started out as a dream to be a pro surfer had become a nightmare in reality of life. Darryl was at a cross roads, one that meant life or death. He realized he could no longer hang out with the same set of friends he once did. But instead of trying to repair himself, Flea decided he wanted to go one step further and help others. “People are lonely” states Flea, “sometimes people just need someone to hang out with”. His recovery has been well documented, his new venture FleaHab is up and running with guidance from Providence Recovery Center. He takes his clients surfing (1st choice of course), skateboarding, tennis and basketball, basically anything that creates an active lifestyle. He is navigating the non-profit status application and has plans to create this new family business, one of helping others through his experiences and lifting people back up when they fall.
The Flea of old, one who didn’t give a shit about life, just charging it all the time, partying, waves, chicks whatever, not thinking about the effects on him or people in general. Now it’s a different Flea who cares about life, about others and make sure he can lead people down the right path and maybe save a few people from having to go through what he did. “You have to take care of things and appreciate that. I clean the house and mow the lawns and responsibilities are part of life. If you don’t have responsibilities then you are not living. You are basically just getting by. “
Flea squints when he looks at me “I want to help the kids of Santa Cruz and beyond and know that I can wake up and have an even keel life while showing someone the right way”.
Make sure to watch and his recent role in the documentary The Westsiders about his rough upbringing and addiction to drugs and alcohol filmed by childhood friend Joshua Pomer co-starring his friends Shawn “Barney” Barron and Jason “Ratboy” Collins. www.thewestsiders.com
Visit www.fleahab.com for more information on Darryl “Flea” Virostko’s non-profit FleaHab.