Entry 2 in our journal of surf book reviews:
The book: “The History of Surfing”
The author: Matt Warshaw
The vital info: Chronicle Books, 495 pages, $50 (released Sept. 1):
The curl: In his 2003 book, “The Encyclopedia of Surfing,” Warshaw (Manhattan Beach’s Mira Costa High Class of ’78) spent just 9 1/2 pages at the top writing what he called “A Brief History of Surfing.” The former editor of Surfer magazine wasn’t satisfied. Thankfully. Spending four years to write and research, he cranked out a 250,000-word, 245-picture production that’s nearly the size and weight of a small surfboard — with nine pages of references, plus an index.
Warshaw says his goal, aside from tracing the sport’s roots to the Inca fishermen in Peru more than 3,000 years ago, was also to demythologize some of what’s out there. From Polynesia, Hawaii to Malibu and beyond, from Captain Cook to Duke Kahanamoku to George Freeth (and not to overlook the contributions of locals such as Dale Velzy, Dewey Weber, Greg Noll and Bob and Bill Meistrell of Dive ‘N’ Surf) Warshaw follows surfing’s high and low tides — and, most enlightening, coming to some conclusions along the way about what it all means.
The excerpt: From pages 11-13: “The mechanics of surfboard design, and all the attendant hydrodynamics, still bore me just as much as the forces behind the board changes — the rivalries, the spark of an idea, trial and error, dumb luck — still fascinate me … What really attracts me … is tracing and understanding the jagged fault line between surf culture and culture at large … (It’s) Hollywood, politics, music, fashion and the great digital vastness … it’s a sport (as well) as art, religion, philosophy, metaphysics … meditation … modern dance. … A mortal imitation of Jesus’ walk on water.”
And on pages 476-477: “There’s the perpetual urge to recontextualize the sport — to see waves in clouds, shrubbery, even the curled edge of a potato chip … Surfers invariably do whatever it takes to bring the sport ever more front and center in their lives. you see God in the hollow of a breaking wave. Surf lust, surf passion, surf fever … it never changes. … For a few seconds at a time, we get to ride that current. Surf history is so many banners and streamers waiving from that single, incredible fact.”
== A review in the Nov. 17 Easy Reader (linked here)
== A Scripps News service Q-and-A with Warshaw (linked here)
== Nat Young’s History of Surfing book from the 1980s, updated in the 1990s (linked here and linked here)