Libraries are not a surfer’s natural habitat, and good surfing books are on the endangered list.
Thanks to the dedicated work of a few intrepid surfers and eloquent wave enthusiasts, there are few rare surfing reads worth searching for.
Here’s my top ten surf book discoveries:
1. Breath by Tim WintonBreath is my favourite surf fiction book ever. It’s a coming of age story, in which Pikelet, a young boy on the West coast of Oz, discovers the thrill of surfing. As the title implies the book has a ‘breath’ theme throughout.
As a kid, Pikelet and his best mate ‘Loonie’ would scare onlookers by seeing who could hold their breath underwater the longest. As a teen, the thrill of big wave riding caused a few heavy hold downs. And asphyxiation, resuscitation and didgeridoos all played their part in Pikelet’s adult life.
With experience and emotion drawn from the West Oz ocean, Tim Winton has conjured mythical waves for all to enjoy in Breath. From the fun peelers at The Point to the mind-blowing gut-wrenching Nautilus, there’s something for every surfer to soak up. Read my full review of Breath here.
2. Dogs of Winter by Kem NunnI’m currently reading this book for the third time. Kem Nunn’s Tijuana Straits and Tapping the Source, are also awesome surf books, far better than the usual surf fiction fodder. But Dogs of Winter is my personal favourite.
Kem Nunn writes surf fiction with a dark side, and Dogs of Winter is no exception. Terrible deaths, forbidden waves, local legends, crazed surfers and a washed up photographer, all stirred together in a remote Californian Indian reservation.
If you haven’t read a Kem Nunn book, do yourself a favour and order one. Now. Go on then.
3. Barbarian Days by William FinneganWilliam Finnegan’s descriptions of surfing and waves are the best I’ve ever read. Long, detailed and emotional, Finnegan captures the essence of what it means to be a surfer.
For an international journalist and New Yorker writer, Finnegan is surprisingly open about his own feelings and friendships. His honesty, wordsmanship and obsession with waves will take you on a ride across every wave imaginable, from Pacific Island perfection to brutal monsters on the cold San Francisco coast.
If you want to know what it’s like to ride big waves and travel the world before it was cool, read Barbarian Days.
4. In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road by Allan WeisbeckerIt’s hard to believe but In Search of Captain Zero is actually a memoir not a work of fiction. As Allan Weisbecker nostalgically recalls his drug smuggling mishaps, Mexican misadventure and a melancholy mission to find his old best buddy ‘Captain Zero’.
From the safe haven of his seaside home in New York to the lawless limits of Central America. Weisbecker’s journey is packed full of deep thoughts, remote waves, colourful characters, and travelling challenges.
His mission is to find long lost friend and fellow surfer Christopher Conner AKA Captain Zero. He fears Chris has ‘gone off the rails’. Considering the extraordinary lifestyles they lead together during the ‘good times’ this could be bad, possibly fatal. Hope is all Weisbecker has to go on.
A true tale, of true surfers living exotic surfing lifestyles, but all good stories come to an end.
5. All Our Waves Are Water by Jaimal YogisWhilst ‘stumbling toward enlightenment and the perfect ride’ Jaimal Yogis has learnt a lot, and he’s put the good stuff in All Our Waves Are Water. It’s a mix of epic surf adventure, love and heartbreak, spiritual quest and the inescapable force of real life.
If you’re a surfer, interested in philosophy or religion and love a good read, I highly recommend you give this a go. Not convinced? Read my full review of All Our Waves Are Water here.
6. The Dawn Patrol by Don WinslowThe Dawn Patrol is a little more light hearted, but like most successful surf fiction, there is a sinister undercurrent.
Boone Daniels is a P.I. in boardshorts based in San Diego. He’s a talented sleuth by trade but a devoted surfer by nature. Just as a once-in-a-lifetime swell is predicted to hit, so does a complicated case that Boone is compelled to take.
Dead strippers, Hawaiian gangs and trafficked Mexican girls, cause the case to take a dark and unpredicted course. Boone gets sucked into an emotional whirlpool, from which only his Dawn Patrol buddies can rescue him.
Will Boone catch the baddies and ride the giant swell, or will the case and his life get sucked into an eternal darkness?
7. In Waves by A J DungoIn Waves by AJ Dungo is a rare and exquisite graphic novel every surfer and art lover will covet. Sight-soothing illustrations, intriguing surf history and a heart-breaking but life-affirming personal story, make this a truly unique surf book.
From the fascinating lives of Duke Kahanamoku and Tom Blake, to a tragic experience of loss, grieving and solace in surfing. In Waves weaves these tales in an irresistible 367 page tome you’ll treasure forever.
Dungo describes his book as ‘a love letter to my late partner Kristen Tuason. It’s a book that highlights the significance of relationships, past and present. My hope is that it communicates the idea that one important person can change your life forever.’
8. Pier Rats by Bruce GreifWhether your a salty old sea dog or a teenage grom, Pier Rats will have you effortlessly turning pages with a smile on your face.
It has the surfing insight and emotion of Breath by Tim Winton, but without the kinky sex.
It contains the adventure and thrill of a Kem Nunn novel, but without the dark adult edge.
However, it’s not candy coated for kids. So beware, the contents of this book are physically, socially and criminally hazardous. Get more Pier Rats info and an interview with the author here.
9. Amazing Surf Stories: Tales of Incredible Waves and Remarkable Riders by Alex WadeA collection of short but genuinely amazing surf stories, from a fellow Cornwall dweller.
Before I read this I thought Garrett McNamara surfing giant waves from crumbling glaciers was a hoax, and had no idea that ‘Kelly’ isn’t Slater’s real first name.
I was expecting more ‘story’ if I’m honest, as all of these little surf gems are told in Alex Wade’s concise columnist style. But what I first thought a fault later became a strength, as each tale is quickly read, easily remembered and joyfully recounted.
Amazing surf stories has given me more tales to tell with surfer friends than any other book.
10. Native Moments by Nic SchuckAfter the death of his brother, Sanch Murray runs away on a surf trip in a bid to escape sorrow, responsibility and mundanity. With his friend and mentor Jake Higdon, they wander the dirt roads of Costa Rica circa 1999, in search of waves, women and a surfing traveller’s paradise.
In the coming of age escapade that unfolds, these fearless surf explorers experience being a matador at a rodeo, a battle with dysentry and falling in love with a local prostitute.
This might be the best surf book you’ve never heard of. With authentic surf adventures, life defining moments and an unexpected ending, Native Moments leaves a lasting impression.
There are many fantastic books about surfing, and naturally fitting my favourites into a top ten was frustrating. Those that only just missed the mark include Mindfulness and Surfing by Sam Bleakley, God Clobbers Us All by Poe Ballantine, and Surfers Code by Shaun Tomson.
Shouting at the screen saying ‘how can you not include …’? Let us know in the comments below 🙂