The act of riding waves naturally lends itself to abundant and colorful descriptions of lively waters interacting with the bends of verdant coastlines. Sprinkle in copious amounts of travel, the inevitable lessons in patience of waiting for surf and immersion in new cultures, and you have a recipe for adventure stories that should be sensations by any standard.
But through the years, I’ve found just a handful of exceptional books about surfing. I’m not sure if most surfers are too busy chasing waves to document their proclivities or if they don’t enjoy writing (most likely the case), but the lack of written words about surfing is noticeable and a shame.
Still, there are a few books that I’d recommend to any salty dog who is unable to embark on their own adventure at this time but still want some escapism through prose. My favorite surfing books, in no particular order:
Caught Inside: A Surfer’s Year on the California Coast by Daniel Duane
You don’t have to be enthralled with the Golden State’s coastline to be drawn in by Duane’s beautiful and poetic descriptions of crafting a life by the Pacific, even if only for a year. His ability to capture the essence of surfing while staying true to the euphoria that comes with gliding on fiberglass atop water is second to none. At the end of his gem, you’ll be left wanting Duane to continue along the coast for another year, just so he can write more about his stay.
In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road by Allan Weisbecker
Weisbecker is a controversial character, and his books don’t shy away from addressing property squatting and drug-running in Central America in his many volumes. But the author’s true-life odyssey of selling his possessions and embarking on a trip south of the border in search of his missing friend is one of the real literary treasures of adventure travel and surfing. Weisbecker made living in a van cool before everyone was doing it on Instagram, and his stories brim with genuine fear, excitement and longing with each turn of the page.
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
This book won the Pulitzer Prize for autobiography in 2016 and rightly so. Finnegan’s descriptions and recollections of discovering surfing, which for him transcended mere sport and became a lifelong addiction, are breathtaking. His creative flair shines brightly in this memoir and makes even a non-surfer feel as though they’re dropping in alongside Finnegan while he rides waves in San Francisco, New York or Hawaii.
Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea by Jaimal Yogis
This coming-of-age memoir follows the adventures of a teenager who flees the boredom of his suburban life and sets off for Hawaii looking for enlightenment and a new way of living. Yogis finds his meditative groove in the beauty and fury of a wave’s barrel, where time both bends and seems to stand still. Teeming with adventure, this book masterfully weaves the unending desire to find waves with the internal struggle that comes with growing into responsible adulthood.
Welcome to Paradise, Now Go To Hell: A True Story of Violence, Corruption, and the Soul of Surfing by Chas Smith
I’d be remiss in omitting this lively and entertaining book from my list. Smith documents what it’s like to live and surf on Hawaii’s North Shore, what most consider to be the mecca of surfing. Equal parts funny and riveting, this book doesn’t mince words about the dangers of surfing along the Seven-Mile Miracle, exposing the greed and crime of the locale’s characters while still making you want to pack your bags and give life a go there yourself.
BRAVING THE COLD
According to Billy Hill’s G-town Surf Report on Friday, the beach water temperature at the Pleasure Pier was 50 degrees, which is pretty darn cold for these parts.
If you’re venturing out in the water this weekend (and as of Friday morning there weren’t any signs of surf in the Gulf), you’d be wise to pull out at least the 4/3 full wetsuit with booties, gloves and a hood. Outside temperatures are expected to hover in the 60s today but forecast to dip back into the 50s over the next few days. Winter is truly upon us.