Some things lend themselves to literature. No-one’s going to sit down and read History’s Great Accountants Vol. III, but surfing books… surfing books are like a rip tide, pulling you out to sea. And over the last 60-odd years, surf literature has grown into its own salty, sun-kissed genre, packed with interesting biographies, fiction, journalism and self-help titles.
At the end of the day, who doesn’t want to read about rebellious mavericks, travelling the world and surfing huge waves, leaving cubicle life behind, walking the tideline where child-like adventure washes up against cut-throat commercialism?
There are dozens and dozens of good surf books out there. These are just our favourites: six surf books every surfer should read once in their lives.
Let My People Go Surfing | Yvon Chouinard
One part adventure screed, one part business plan. This is Patagonia-founder Yvon Chouinard’s famous autobiography. Think of it like Into The Wild for the Silicon Valley generation. There’s stuff in there on surfing, adventure, rock climbing in the 1950s, and plenty of musings on the nature of responsible business. If you like big waves and big ideas, give this a try.
The Wave | Susan Casey
Men’s Journal named The Wave as one of the ’50 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time’. It’s the story of journalist Susan Casey (the former editor of Oprah’s in-house magazine), and her worldwide trip with legendary big wave rider, Laird Hamilton. Casey puts you right on Laird’s jet ski, staring down the barrel of some of the world’s most terrifying swells. It’s edge-of-your-board kind of stuff.
For The Love | Kelly Slater
“For a surfer, it’s never-ending. There’s always some wave you want to surf.” Any surfer is going to want to spend a few days walking around inside Kelly Slater’s brain. The GOAT started with his autobiography, Pipe Dreams, in 2004 (when he was a measly six-time world champion). For The Love is his follow-up book, co-authored with surfing vet Phil Jarratt, published four years and three world championships later.
Classic Krakauer | John Krakauer
This is a collection of Krakauer’s best adventure journalism, most of it written in the late 80s and early 90s, before Into The Wild made him a household name. The whole book is can’t-turn-the-pages-fast-enough amazing, but we’re including it on this list for one story in particular: Mark Foo’s Last Ride. It’s a heartfelt eulogy to professional surfer Mark Foo, and an outsider’s look at the wave that claimed his life, California’s infamous Mavericks.
Mr Sunset: The Jeff Hakman Story | Phil Jarratt
Jarratt sure does get around. Not only did he co-author Kelly Slater’s second autobiography (see above), but he’s written the definitive biography of Jeff Hakman, the surfing prodigy turned world champion turned drug addict, and the man responsible for bringing Quicksilver to America. Mr Sunset unrolls like a point break, crashing down into the depths of Hakman’s addiction. Put it this way: anyone who can surf Waimea Bay at the age of 13 is worth reading about.
Girl In The Curl | Andrea Gabbard
This is the first (and perhaps only?) comprehensive illustrated history of female surfers, compiled by author Andrea Gabbard. Girl In The Curl is a photographic walk through the last 100 years of women’s surf – from a freckle-faced Layne Beachley to double world champion, Lisa Anderson. Gender aside, it’s also just a fascinating time capsule of the sport, with colourful anecdotes picked out by Gabbard, and a detailed look at the evolution of wave culture.
The Code | Shaun Thompson
The Code paddles over brackish water: the tidal swell where biography flows into self-help. It’s basically a former World Champion’s creed for living a successful life. Thompson lays out several rules for achieving personal fulfilment, and ties each one back to surfing: the painful maelstrom of a wipe-out, time elongation inside a tube, and the transcendental feeling of dropping-in on the perfect wave. Most surfers can’t easily articulate why they surf, much less what it means. Thompson manages to do both.
Barbarian Days | William Finnegan
If we had to pack one book for our desert island surfing trip, it’s be William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days. Finnegan has arguably penned some of the most beautiful and evocative words ever written about surfing, and many of them are caught between the covers of this book, his Pulitzer-winning surf odyssey. Barbarian Days follows Finnegan all over the world, from Maui to San Francisco to Fiji, chasing the perfect wave, tripping on acid, and meeting a rogue’s gallery of weirdos, misfits and surfing gurus.