While I’m not a surfer, I’ve always had a fascination with the sport. The mystical side of being in the ocean, the raw physicality of the sport, and the counter-culture and sub-culture of people who surf.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite books about surfing.
Tapping the Source is the classic surfer novel. Kem Nunn more or less invented the genre.
Tapping the Source
People go to Huntington Beach in search of the endless parties, the ultimate highs and the perfect waves. Ike Tucker has come to look for his missing sister and for the three men who may have murdered her. In that place of gilded surfers and sun-bleached blondes, Ike’s search takes him on a journey through a twisted world of crazed Vietnam vets, sadistic surfers, drug dealers, and mysterious seducers. Ike looks into the shadows and finds parties that drift towards pointless violence, joyless vacations and highs you might never come down from ... and a sea of old hatreds and dreams gone bad. And if he’s not careful, his is a journey from which he will never return.
The Dogs of Winter might be my favorite. Kem Nunn does surfer noir like nobody’s business.
The Dogs of Winter
Heart Attacks is California’s last secret spot—the premier mysto surf haunt, the stuff of rumor and legend. The rumors say you must cross Indian land to get there. They tell of hostile locals and shark-infested waters where waves in excess of thirty feet break a mile from shore. For down-and-out photographer Jack Fletcher, the chance to shoot these waves in the company of surfing legend Drew Harmon offers the promise of new beginnings. But Drew is not alone in the northern reaches of the state. His young wife, Kendra, lives there with him. Obsessed with the unsolved murder of a local girl, Kendra has embarked upon a quest of her own, a search for truth—however dark that truth may prove to be. The Dogs of Winter is a portrait of two men and an appealing yet troubled young woman set against an unforgettable background of stark and violent beauty.
Here’s a look at the dark underbelly of surfer culture, set in Hawaii’s North Shore.
Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell
A finalist for the PEN Center USA Award for NonfictionWelcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell, is surfer and former war reporter Chas Smith’s wild and unflinching look at the high-stakes world of surfing on Oahu’s North Shore—a riveting, often humorous, account of beauty, greed, danger, and crime.For two months every winter, when Pacific storms make landfall, swarms of mainlanders, Brazilians, Australians, and Europeans flock to Oahu’s paradisiacal North Shore in pursuit of some of the greatest waves on earth for surfing’s Triple Crown competition. Chas Smith reveals how this influx transforms a sleepy, laid-back strip of coast into a lawless, violent, drug-addled, and adrenaline-soaked mecca.Smith captures this exciting and dangerous place where locals, outsiders, the surf industry, and criminal elements clash in a fascinating look at class, race, power, money, and crime, set within one of the most beautiful places on earth. The result is a breathtaking blend of crime and adventure that captures the allure and wickedness of this idyllic golden world.
Here’s a more positive view — the story of Eddie Aikau, Hawaiian hero.
Eddie Would Go
In the 1970s, a decade before bumper stickers and T-shirts bearing the phrase Eddie Would Go began popping up all over the Hawaiian islands and throughout the surfing world, Eddie Aikau was proving what it meant to be a “waterman.“ As a fearless and gifted surfer, he rode the biggest waves in the world; as the first and most famous Waimea Bay lifeguard on the North Shore, he saved hundreds of lives from its treacherous waters; and as a proud Hawaiian, he sacrificed his life to save the crew aboard the voyaging canoe Hokule’a. Eddie Would Go is the compelling story of Eddie Aikau’s legendary life and legacy, a pipeline into the exhilarating world of surfing, and an important chronicle of the Hawaiian Renaissance and the emergence of modern Hawaii.
Here’s some other ideas:
WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR BIOGRAPHY 2016 WINNER OF THE 2016 WILLIAM HILL SPORTS BOOK OF THE YEAR PRIZE Surfing only looks like a sport. To devotees, it is something else entirely: a beautiful addiction, a mental and physical study, a passionate way of life. William Finnegan first started surfing as a young boy in California and Hawaii. Barbarian Days is his immersive memoir of a life spent travelling the world chasing waves through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa and beyond. Finnegan describes the edgy yet enduring brotherhood forged among the swell of the surf; and recalling his own apprenticeship to the world’s most famous and challenging waves, he considers the intense relationship formed between man, board and water. Barbarian Days is an old-school adventure story, a social history, an extraordinary exploration of one man’s gradual mastering of an exacting and little-understood art. It is a memoir of dangerous obsession and enchantment.
In the sixties and seventies, Australian Peter Drouyn was one of the world’s greatest surfers. He pioneered an aggressive approach called “power surfing,” introduced the man-on-man competition format, and charged giant waves in Hawaii. A Zelig figure, he took on many roles―method actor, surf resort owner, modeling school founder, and lawyer to name but a few. For nearly the past decade, Peter has been living as a woman, Westerly Windina, a complex, aspiring entertainer. Beginning with her 2012 trip to Bangkok for gender reassignment surgery, BECOMING WESTERLY traces Peter Drouyn’s odyssey from teenage Queensland hopeful to 1960s surf champion to embittered has-been who struggles to rise again as the glamorous, sixty-four-year-old Westerly Surf journalist Jamie Brisick provides an intimate exploration of global surf culture―a nuanced portrait of Peter/Westerly and the world that shaped her evolving identity. Brisick also co-directed the documentary film version of her story, titled Becoming Westerly.
From Susan Casey, bestselling author of The Devil’s Teeth, an astonishing book about colossal, ship-swallowing rogue waves and the surfers who seek them out. For centuries, mariners have spun tales of gargantuan waves, 100-feet high or taller. Until recently scientists dismissed these stories—waves that high would seem to violate the laws of physics. But in the past few decades, as a startling number of ships vanished and new evidence has emerged, oceanographers realized something scary was brewing in the planet’s waters. They found their proof in February 2000, when a British research vessel was trapped in a vortex of impossibly mammoth waves in the North Sea—including several that approached 100 feet.As scientists scramble to understand this phenomenon, others view the giant waves as the ultimate challenge. These are extreme surfers who fly around the world trying to ride the ocean’s most destructive monsters. The pioneer of extreme surfing is the legendary Laird Hamilton, who, with a group of friends in Hawaii, figured out how to board suicidally large waves of 70 and 80 feet. Casey follows this unique tribe of people as they seek to conquer the holy grail of their sport, a 100-foot wave.In this mesmerizing account, the exploits of Hamilton and his fellow surfers are juxtaposed against scientists’ urgent efforts to understand the destructive powers of waves—from the tsunami that wiped out 250,000 people in the Pacific in 2004 to the 1,740-foot-wave that recently leveled part of the Alaskan coast.Like Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, The Wave brilliantly portrays human beings confronting nature at its most ferocious.
Malia needs to leave El Salvador. A surfer and aspiring engineer, she came to Central America as a Peace Corps volunteer and fell in love with Ben. Malia’s past year has been perfect: her weeks spent building a much-needed aqueduct in the countryside, and her weekends spent with Ben, surfing point-breaks in the nearby port city of La Libertad. Suddenly, a major earthquake devastates the country and brings an abrupt end to her work. Ben and Malia decide to move on. Now free of obligations, they have an old car, a wad of cash, surfboards, and rough plans for an epic trip through South America. Just as they’re about to say goodbye to their gritty and beloved Salvadoran beach town, a mysterious American surfer known only as Pelochucho shows up—spouting grandiose plans and persuading them to stay.Days become weeks; documents go missing; money gets tight. Suddenly, Ben and Malia can’t leave. Caught between bizarre real estate offers, suspect drug deals, and internal jealousies, this unlikely band of surfers, aid-workers, and opportunists all struggle to find their way through a fallen world, in Kilometer 99 by Tyler McMahon.
The Surf Guru
A book of brilliant, adventurous stories from the award-winning Doug Dorst. With the publication of his debut novel, Alive in Necropolis, Doug Dorst was widely celebrated as one of the most creative, original literary voices of his generation-an heir to T.C. Boyle and Denis Johnson, a northern California Haruki Murakami. Now, in his second book, The Surf Guru, his full talent is on display, revealing an ability to explore worlds and capture characters that other writers have not yet discovered.In the title story, an old surfing-champion-turned-surfwear- entrepreneur sits on his ocean-front balcony watching a new generation of surfers come of age on the waves, all but one of whom wear wet suits emblazoned with the Surf Guru’s name. An acid-tongued, pioneering botanist who has been exiled from the academy composes a series of scurrilous (and hilarious) biographical sketches of his colleagues and rivals, inadvertently telling his own story. A pair of twenty-first- century drifters course through a series of unusual adventures in their dilapidated car, chased west out of one town and into the next, dreaming of hitting the Pacific.Dorst’s characters have all successfully cultivated a particular expertise, and yet they remain intent on moving toward the horizon, seeking hope in something new. Likewise, each of Dorst’s stories is a virtuoso performance balancing humor and insight, achieving a perfect pitch, pulsing with a gritty and punchy, distinctly American realism- and yet always pushing on into the unexpected, taking us some place new.
Tim Winton is Australia’s best-loved novelist. His new work,Breath, is an extraordinary evocation of an adolescence spent resisting complacency, testing one’s limits against nature, finding like-minded souls, and discovering just how far one breath will take you. It’s a story of extremes—extreme sports and extreme emotions. On the wild, lonely coast of Western Australia, two thrillseeking and barely adolescent boys fall into the enigmatic thrall of veteran big-wave surfer Sando. Together they form an odd but elite trio. The grown man initiates the boys into a kind of Spartan ethos, a regimen of risk and challenge, where they test themselves in storm swells on remote and shark-infested reefs, pushing each other to the edges of endurance, courage, and sanity. But where is all this heading? Why is their mentor’s past such forbidden territory? And what can explain his American wife’s peculiar behavior? Venturing beyond all limits—in relationships, in physical challenge, and in sexual behavior—there is a point where oblivion is the only outcome. Full of Winton’s lyrical genius for conveying physical sensation, Breath is a rich and atmospheric coming-of-age tale from one of world literature’s finest storytellers.