by David Downs
Oakland internet celebrity “Coral Fish” of CoralReefer420.com passed her one millionth cumulative YouTube view this month. The milestone marks a new high point for the social-media artist, who over the past eighteen months has found fame, followers, and promises of filthy lucre by doing what she does every morning — taking fat bong rips of hash, blowing them at the camera, and bidding viewers a good day.
Coral's intimate, relaxed, candid video posts — and yes, her butt on Twitter — is all part of what might be called an intuitive aesthetic of self-disclosure. Twenty-three years old with platinum blond hair, fair skin, manicured eyebrows, makeup, pierced ears, a tank top, and an elf-like smile, Coral takes viewers literally into the cannabis closet with her.
For first-time viewers, it’s a bit surreal, and for fundamentalist Middle America, CoralReefer420.com is a porthole into an unholy parallel universe. "One commenter said their doctor suggested they watch my videos to see a cannabis patient in a normal setting -- that blew my mind," she said by phone, walking to work in San Francisco last week.
Born in the US Virgin Islands, Coral grew up in California acclimatized to pot. She was raised reading about the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. At ten or twelve years old, she remembers the Santa Cruz City Council giving cannabis away on the front steps of City Hall, and “thinking my city was doing right.”
Coral said she smoked pot a little in high school, then turned eighteen, and moved around a bit before moving to Oakland six months ago. She works as a waitress in San Francisco and has a doctor's recommendation for cannabis to treat anxiety and depression.
“Since I began regulating and medicating with cannabis every day I have not been interested in abstaining,” she said. “I see myself as well-treated, and prior to cannabis treatment I felt very out of control of my emotions. Cannabis has been really helpful to me. It helps me see new angles for problems that I may spend hours dwelling on — and helps clear my mind.”
Coral is a creature of the net, and said the web project “started really as me playing with my pet rats, hanging out, showing off their tricks they can do. No cannabis involved. They were fun but boring. One day I was blogging about my day, starting a new job and smoking a bowl."
“The response was, people had never heard of a woman having a conversation while smoking weed,” she continued. “They were only used to — I don't know — people laughing hysterically or getting super high, so, sort of talking to them and smoking was revolutionary. So I kept doing it.”
She kept posting on Twitter, then bought her own domain name, which she now hosts through Tumblr. She codes the site herself, and it’s electric purple with a huge weed background and a series of pictures and video posts. Coral keeps track of strains she’s sampled in 2011, and has just started “@NewsNug” — a separate news feed.
“I try and keep my channel more personal,” she said. “It’s stuff that I want to tell my friends.
“I'm a little bit shy speaking in front of crowds,” she continued. “People can put on a video, sit back, and pack a bowl and they are sitting in a smoke circle with me. It makes me feel more comfortable, rather than like I’m just being stared at.”
Through break-ups, moves, and even her mom’s cancer treatment, Coral said her web fans “have provided so much companionship at really lonely times in my life.”
The most rewarding feedback: “The day before my birthday this year a baby was born, and they named her Coral,” she said. “They sent me a picture of baby Coral. It changed my life that someone felt that connected with what I was doing.”
“I would never listen to a man tell me how to dress or how to act, and when I hear it from women I'm just not interested,” she said. “I’m very happy. I’m not explicit anywhere. There are no naked pictures of me. I just don’t like following the norm.”
This holiday season, Coral again conducts her Stoney Santa, and fans have sent in anywhere from $1 to $100 for presents. The money is pooled, presents bought, and packages shipped out, with her donations paying for shipping and handling. “Nothing illegal will cross state lines,” she clarified.
The coming year and beyond is kind of a big question mark, though. “I wouldn't mind going down to waitressing three days a week so I could spend more time editing and speaking to people,” she said. “I don’t know.”
With 10,000 YouTube subscribers and about 8,000 Twitter followers, Coral said she has to resist requests to review custom pipes and bongs and commercialize her brand.
“I want to stay a citizen and private and personal. So many people in my place take it commercial and get sponsors and logos and ads. I want to keep blogging my life as I would be doing without a camera.”
Update, 12:06: A previous version of this post misstated the upper amount donated for Stoney Santa. It's $100.