books and surfing


Film, video, magazines, television, and the internet have proven to be the most popular media outlets for surfing, but the sport has also been consistently well served by books. Surfing was first brought to the attention of the English-speaking world in Volume II of A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, the serialized and wildly popular accounts of Captain James Cook's exploratory voyages across the Pacific Ocean, from Tasmania to the Arctic. Upon seeing a native canoe surfer riding waves in Tahiti, Cook wrote, "I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven on so fast and smoothly by the sea." In Volume III, one of Cook's lieutenants writes about board-surfing in Hawaii.

Surfing was described in 19th-century books by American Henry Wise (Los Gringos, 1850) and Isabella Lucy Bird of Great Britain (The Hawaiian Archipelago, 1875). A dispatch sent by Mark Twain in 1866 to the Sacramento Union newspaper included an account of Twain's failed attempt at surfing, and was later reprinted in his 1872 book Roughing It. "The board struck the bottom in three-quarters of a second without any cargo," Twain wrote, "and I struck the bottom about the same time, with a couple of barrels of water in me."

Jack London had better luck with his attempt at surfing during his first visit to Hawaii, and his account was published in a 1911 travelogue titled The Cruise of the Snark. London's dramatic presentation, with its descriptions of "bull-mouth monsters" (waves) and "Kanakas" (surfers), was a great boon to surfing's popularity in America.

The Art of Wave Riding (1931), lifeguard Ron Drummond's 26-page instructional pamphlet on bodysurfing, has been called the first surfing book. The 95-page Hawaiian Surfboard, published four years later by Wisconsin-born surfing icon Tom Blake, offers a far more detailed look at the sport, with sections on history, board design, and riding technique, along with dozens of black-and-white surfing photographs. California Surfriders, a 108-page photo book published by Los Angeles surfer/photographer John "Doc" Ball in 1946, was the first hardbound work to examine the sport in California. California Surfriders and Hawaiian Surfboard (renamed Hawaiian Surfriders) have both been reprinted.

The large-format, photo-heavy coffee-table surf book, a perennial favorite, got its start in 1964 with Modern Surfing Around the World, written by Surfer magazine founder and publisher John Severson. These kinds of surf books can be divided into a number of categories, including history (The History of Surfing, 1983; Surfing: The Ultimate Pleasure, 1984; and Girl in the Curl: A Century of Women in Surfing, 2000), photography (The Book of Waves, 1989; Photo: Grannis, 1998; ), and surfing breaks/surfing areas (Aloha Blue, 1997; Maverick's: The Story of Big-Wave Surfing, 2000).

This Surfing Life (1965), by 1964 world champion Midget Farrelly of Australia, had some biographic information, but You Should Have Been Here an Hour Ago (1967), by California surf stylist Phil Edwards, is rightly considered to be surfing's first real biography. As of 2012, more than three dozen surf world biographies or autobiographies had been written, including titles on Duke Kahanamoku, Fred Hemmings, Nat Young, Wayne Bartholomew, Tom Blake, Mark Richards, Tom Carroll, Pam Burridge, Greg Noll, Rick Grigg, Mike Doyle, Mark Occhilupo, Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, and Lisa Anderson. Daniel Duane's 1996 book Caught Inside, the first surfing memoir, was excerpted in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Other semibiographic first-person books featuring surfing include Walking on Water (Andy Martin, 1991) and In Search of Captain Zero (Allan Weisbecker, 2001).

Surfing Guide to Southern California (1963), by Bill Cleary and David Stern, was the sport's first guidebook. Other popular titles in the genre include Where the Surfers Are (1968), Surfing California (1973) Surfing Indonesia (1999), The Surfer's Travel Guide (1995), and the Stormrider Guide series (1990-present). More than two dozen surfing instruction books and how-to manuals have been published since the mid-'60s, along with a smaller number of books on surf forecasting/wave formation, and how- to books on surfboard construction and repair.

Frederick Kohner's Gidget (1957) is the best-known title in the small and highly uneven canon of surf fiction. While Columbia Pictures' movie version of Gidget was maligned as frivolous and inauthentic, Kohner's book is smart, funny, lively, and full of neatly sketched characters. The Ninth Wave (Eugene Burdick, 1956), A Native Son of the Golden West (James Houston, 1971), Tapping the Source (Kem Nunn, 1984), The Tribes of Palos Verdes (Joy Nicholson, 1997), Dogs of Winter (Nunn, 1997), and Breath (Tim Winton, 2008) were all critically acclaimed works of fiction set at least partially in the surfing world. Not as well received, but hot sellers nonetheless, were the "pulp" surfing books of the mid-'60s and early '70s, including Surf Broad (1965), Hang Dead Hawaiian Style (1969) and Scarlet Surf at Makaha (1970).

Children's surfing books have been dependably ignored by the surf press, but are often charming and well-crafted. Broderick (Edward Ormondropy, 1969), tells the story of an intrepid mouse who runs away from home and becomes a world-famous surfer; Mrs. Armitage and the Big Wave (Quentin Blake, 1997) is about a cheerfully acquisitive woman who glides across a 15-foot swell towing her dog, a beach umbrella, a wind sock, and a horn, and performs "a California slither, a Bali serve [and] a Waikiki flip" while heading for the beach. In 2003, Roxy, surf wear giant Quiksilver's women's division, began publishing the Luna Bay series which featured a group of adolescent girl surfers coming of age in the waves.

The 1990s and early '00s brought a small explosion of new surf books, with a broadening of subjects and formats. Some books were available in bookstores, though most were sold in surf shops or by mail order, or on the internet; categories included interviews and profiles (The North Shore Chronicles, 1990), health, diet, and fitness (Sick Surfers, 1993), reference (The Surfin'ary, 1991; The Encyclopedia of Surfing, 2003), and essays/stories (Good Things Love Water, 1994). By the mid-2000s, a renewed boom in surf culture popularity brought a host of new surf world memoirs and non-fiction titles to bookstore shelves, including Saltwater Buddha (Jaimal Yogis, 2009), Sweetness and Blood (Michael Scott Moore, 2010) and The Wave (Susan Casey, 2010), which became a New York Times bestseller. William Finnegan's a long-time New Yorker writer, won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2015 memoir Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life.

Chronicle Books in San Francisco has released more surf books than any other name-brand publisher, with titles including San Onofre to Point Dume: Photographs by Don James (1996), The Perfect Day: 40 Years of Surfer Magazine (2001), Fearlessness: the Story of Lisa Andersen (2007), Kelly Slater: For the Love (2008), The History of Surfing (2010).

Peter Dixon's The Complete Book of Surfing (1965), originally published by Coward-McCann and released in paperback by Ballantine, sold more than 300,000 copies worldwide, making it by far the best-selling book on the sport. By the early '90s, early surfing books were being actively collected, traded, auctioned, and sold. First-edition copies of Blake's Hawaiian Surfboard and Ball's California Surfriders, by the end of the decade, sold for between $2,000 and $4,000. Surf 's Up: Collecting the Longboard Era (2001) includes a section on collectible books.

In 2011, the revised edition of Bethany Hamilton's autiography Soul Surfer, pushed by the just-released movie of the same name, hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list.