Surf, Eat, Read, Nap

Enjoy these ten books on SURFER's back-to-school reading list

| posted on October 01, 2013


Summer has given way to fall, so thankfully, students across the country are leaving the lineup and returning to school. Reading lists will be assigned, and while they’ll undoubtedly feature some very important parts of the great literary canon, those lists likely won’t include the best works of surf lit (unless being handed out at a surf studies program of course). Here’s a list of ten surf books every surfer should own.

History of Surfing (2010) By Matt Warshaw
If you were to buy only one book about surfing, this would be it. Exhaustively researched and written with Warshaw’s sure-handed confidence, it’s our history told by one of the sport’s most respected intellects. It’s also full of some of the best surf photos ever taken, all put together in a gorgeous 500-page hardcover by Chronicle Books. A gem.

Surfing Guide to Southern California (1963) By Bill Cleary and David Stern
A meticulously-written guide to every known nook and cranny that was surfed in Southern California in the early 1960s. You could probably make good use of it today. It’s nostalgic as all hell, and a joy to thumb through, a full five decades after it was published.

Caught Inside (1997) By Daniel Duane
There’s just something…true about this book. It covers Duane’s evolution from newbie to competent surfer in the workaday but beautiful lineups of Santa Cruz. For the most part, Duane avoids hackneyed surf clichés while noting the little things that make up the bulk of a surfing existence. You’ll recognize yourself in Caught Inside, whether by identifying with Duane’s experiences, or with one of the caricatures of local surfers that make appearances throughout the book. You also might try to move to Santa Cruz after reading it.

The Big Drop: Classic Big Wave Surfing Stories (1999) Edited by John Long
A bit of a mishmash of articles from surf and mainstream mags, The Big Drop is full of classic bits of surf journalism, tall tales, and some truly epic bullshitting. The two best pieces are “Cold Sweat,” Ben Marcus’ first-look at the relatively unknown Mavericks in 1992, and “Big Time,” Dave Parmenter’s prescient plea, written in 1987, for a return to glory of big wave surfing, neatly tying into his own experience at Todos Santos, one of the best session stories of all time.

Sweetness and Blood: How Surfing Spread from Hawaii and California to the Rest of the World, With Some Unexpected Results (2010) By Michael Scott Moore
I know nothing of Moore’s surfing ability, but his writing chops energize this pretty cool historical map of how surf culture spread globally, with Moore taking a particular interest in the less-traveled (read: written about) surf scenes. He’s a serious journalist (who has been held captive by Somali pirates since early 2012), who can dig in and get at the meat of a story. Which in this case means traveling to each country he writes about and surfing there, all while trying to figure out who introduced surfing to that region, then pondering how each culture makes surfing its own. If you subscribe to The New Yorker, you’ll love this.

In Search of Captain Zero (2001) By Allan Weisbecker
A cautionary tale about the risks of dirtbag traveling, or an exhilarating call to strike out on a grand adventure—it’s sort of up to the philosophical bent of the reader. Weisbecker has lived a strange life, and his memoir of a challenging mission into Central America to find a long lost buddy and to surf some warm pointbreaks is too campy-spiritual, too riddled with surf clichés, and too grouchy to be a “great book,” but it is nevertheless a great read. Part of the surfy canon.

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean (2010) By Susan Casey
Casey isn’t a hardcore surfer, but that actually makes this book a little more refreshing, because she writes about the history and science of huge waves and big wave surfers with no cynicism whatsoever. But really, despite an intimate look at the lives of some legendary hellmen, the book is way more interesting when Casey gets into giant ships being whalloped by rogue waves. It’s thrilling and nightmarish stuff.

Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume: 1936-1942 (1998) Photographs by Don James
Some pre-Gidget era heaven right here. Southern California as it exists only in your time-traveling dreams. What else do you need to know?

Ghost Wave: The Discovery of Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave on Earth (2011) By Chris Dixon
Cortes Bank is a fascinating, scary place, and Dixon treats it with the respect it deserves in this biography of the most challenging big wave break on earth. His accounts of his own experiences at Cortes—watching, not riding—are exhilarating. Dixon is a very observant writer, and his description of the sounds the behemoth waves at Cortes make is by itself worth the price of the book.

Photo/Stoner (2006) By Matt Warshaw
Ron Stoner was the world’s best surf photographer in the 1960s. By the mid ’70s, he had disappeared completely. Nobody really knows what happened to Stoner; he was declared dead in the 1990s. His classic shots of the southern California surf scene before crowds really took hold are beautiful and heartbreaking. The photos alone make this book a must have, with Warshaw’s biography of Stoner a compelling read.

Any other recommendations? Let us know in the comments.

  • Jimmy the Saint

    Breath by Tim Winton

  • justin j. moses

    Complete Guide to Surfing Your Best Vol 2 by Nick Carroll

  • Tonio

    Tapping the source by Kem Nunn; The Dawn Patrol & The Gentlemen’s Hour by Don Winslow

  • Mardo

    Dora Lives by Tom Adler

  • John D Rosenthal

    check out MONKEYS GO SURFING on amazon for the kids at heart

  • Saint Jimmy II

    sweet G&S Redfin boards

  • Ana Krulec

    Also, West Of Jesus from Steven Kotler.

  • Andreas Düllick

    What about Kem Nun “The Dogs of Winter” and “Tapping the source”

  • JKR

    “On a Wave” by Thad Ziolkowski, “Kook” by Peter Heller, “Saltwater Buddah” Jamail Yogis, “The Fear Project” Jamail Yogis (not entirely surfing but the Mavericks chapter alone is worth the purchase).

  • Diogo

    Salt and Suits by Phil Jarrat

  • zach

    Pipe Dreams Kelly Slaters autobiography

  • nir

    Pipe dreams by Kelly Slater

  • Dave p

    I’d add Saltwater Buddha by Jaimal Yogis

  • Ricardo Sanchez

    How bout The Glide??? Best long boarding book there is…

  • Jim Mann

    You forgot “Return by Water” by Kimball Taylor.

  • donpnz

    Photo/Stoner … a great book with such an apt name!

  • NorCal_Val

    “West of Jesus” and “Caught Inside” are both excellent reads as well.

  • n_tusa

    Pipe Dreams and All for a Few Perfect Waves are great Biographies, West of Jesus is a great spiritual look at surfing, and Leroy Grannis Photo book has great iconic images!

  • mateo

    not a book but great surf lit:

    “Playing Doc’s Games” by William Finnegan

    a couple cool pics if you can get it from The New Yorker, otherwise:

  • Patrick Hasburgh

    Tapping the Source, Dogs of Winter, Tormenta and Breath… add these to the list.

  • Mark Z

    Such a parochial list; Bustin’ Down the Door, MP and Breath are essential reading for any surfer, do yourself a favour…

  • Drew Koslow

    Dogs of Winter and Tijuana Straits by Kemm Nun, Eddie Would Go, All For a Few Perfect Waves

  • micheal moore jr.

    Question: Did Micheal Moore actually travel and write this book or did someone think that writing a book as if they were actually him would read more interesting? I don’t really want to look into this because it stinks.

  • Vince Bury

    The account of Jose Angel in The Big Drop(fist chapter in the book, I believe) is essential for every waterman/waterwoman.

  • Scott McCourtney

    In Search of Captain Zero is the best book on here. The best story, the best written story about anything to do about surfing. You should have been lucky just to read it

  • Abele

    why are they all about california? DUMB.

  • Taylor Kennedy

    Devils Teeth. Not surfing but about great white whites. Some tie ins though. Same author as the Wave

  • Grace Dalton

    ‘The World in the Curl: An Unconventional History of Surfing’ by Peter Westwick and Peter Neushul