If you think you know how surfers think, talk and act, think again. Those gilded boys and girls grow up — and some of them even mature into full-fledged writers. A lucky few break away from genre writing to achieve mainstream success, while others produce beloved cult classics. These books about surfing deserve to be widely read for their insight into surfing and the human condition, proving that a surfboard is more than a vehicle for hedonistic fun.
Surfing with style and writing stylishly about surfing requires two distinct skill sets that few people possess. William Finnegan's surf memoir "Barbarian Days" exceeds expectations on both counts. In line after line of evocative prose, he defines a sport that defies easy description, making the difficult look effortless.
As a staff writer for The New Yorker, Finnegan proved adept at covering all manner of political crises. All the while, he also chased waves to the far-flung corners of the world, to locations both exotic and at times dangerous. Along the way, he unlocked the mysteries of wave riding, reveling in the self-confidence that comes with riding challenging waves. Members of the tribe will hoot in appreciation, as wave after wave unfurls across the printed page. The uninitiated will begin to question their life choices.
Few novelists capture the menacing undercurrents that pervade faded California beach towns better than Kem Nunn. Published in 1984, "Tapping the Source" is the first of three "surf noir" novels to explore the seamier side of beach culture. Each book contains flawed, often dangerous, characters one or two missteps away from infinite regret, if not fatal consequences.
Ike Tucker, the adolescent protagonist of the first novel, ventures west to Southern California in search of answers about his missing, presumed dead, sister. The dark novel pits the ugliness and immorality of Huntington Beach against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and the beauty of surfing.
If Paulo Coehlo married a mermaid, the offspring would be Jamial Yogis. A rebellious teen too fond of drugs and alcohol, the author ventures into the world in search of himself. In the process, he matures into a contemplative adult, who though his dedication to surfing and his pursuit of enlightenment becomes a consummate waterman. Part self-help guide, part surf-fueled odyssey, "Saltwater Buddha" dives deep into the mechanics and metaphysics of wave riding. His tribute to Ocean Beach, San Francisco and parts beyond recounts his search for meaning, both in and out of the water.
Allan Weisbecker explores dark side of the expat experience in a memoir of friendship and heartbreak that is best described as "The Heart of Darkness" with long boards. Two buddies from Long Island embark on a career trafficking drugs to feed a surf habit. The booming trade enables the risk-taking duo to chase waves around the world. One transforms his experience into a searing autobiography, and the other slips into the jungle of a remote Central American rainforest. The book recounts the Weisbecker’s two-yearlong quest down the coast of Mexico and Central America to find a man known by the moniker Captain Zero. What he actually describes is his own vanishing, and his own efforts to come back from the abyss.
Surfing is an ancient Hawaiian practice that has morphed into a global sport. How did that happen? Moore contends the ancient pastime is as American as jazz and baseball, held aloft by the forces of commerce and globalization. Predating World War II, surfers flattened the distances between global capitals and remote reefs in their pursuit of great waves. Moore follows in the tracks of the seekers and the slackers that gave rise to the surf scene in Munich, Cuba and Israel. Along the way, he interviews founding members of the tribe to get their take on what surfing is and what it has become.