Three books about surfing

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The U.S. Open of Surfing, the sport's biggest event, ends its nine- day competition today in Huntington Beach, Calif. For those who didn't qualify to compete this time around or couldn't get there to mingle with the nearly half-million spectators, several new books have washed ashore to provide a much-needed jolt of surfing ethos.

1.Sweetness and Blood: How Surfing Spread From Hawaii and California to the Rest of the World, With Some Unexpected Results,

by Michael Scott Moore (Rodale, $25.99).

The Berlin-based journalist and avid surfer admits in his introduction that this travelogue is not meant to be a definitive history of the sport. Only passing mention is made of its ancient Polynesian roots or how the Hawaiians refined the act of "surf riding" to include standing upright on the board -- what we recognize as surfing today. Rather, he explores how this modern form of surfing became a huge American cultural export, taking root in some unlikely places. And it's those very places that he visits, from Morocco to the U.K., Cuba to the Gaza Strip. It's a lively global jaunt that will offer some surprises even for the heartiest of wave-riding experts.

2.The Surf Guru: Stories,

by Doug Dorst (Riverhead, $25.95).

In this book of fiction, only one story focuses on surfing: It's a poignant tale of a former surfing champion, who rides his success into the business world to become a surfwear impresario, while reflecting on his uncertain future as a new crop of young surfers hit the waves outside his beachfront home. The other stories present characters facing internal struggles and a yearning for something new. Dorst's debut novel, "Alive in Necropolis," was a genre-bending coming-of-age tale that elicited comparisons to Haruki Murakami and Denis Johnson. The book was named San Francisco's "One City, One Book" read for 2009. Not bad for a former "Jeopardy" champ and Austin professor.

3. Surfer Magazine: 50 Years,

edited by Sam George (Chronicle, $40).

You read that correctly: fifty years! This sumptuous book of stunning photography and pithy essays tells the tale of a magazine that evolved from a 36-page, black-and-white movie program to an arbiter of taste, style and adventure that would come to define the surfer lifestyle. John Severson was the filmmaker whose 16mm film, "Surf Fever," inspired that original companion booklet, and he went on to edit the magazine in the mode of Martha Stewart, marshalling all of his talents (artist, filmmaker, writer, photographer) to launch his vision. Many editors since have added their own spin to the publication, along with countless writers, photographers and art directors, and this book is very much a paean to them and the devoted surfers who religiously read every copy and then tucked away those dog-eared issues for posterity. A terrific intro for the surfing world novice, even if all you know about surfing is the name of uber wave rider Laird Hamilton.

-- Christopher Schoppa


© 2010 The Washington Post Company