From Barney to Gnarly: Books for Getting Stoked, Amped, and Psyched

Jon Foro on February 21, 2019


We've weathered the worst. Pitchers and catchers have reported. Punxsutawney Phil has cleared the way for spring to begin as scheduled—it's just one month away, people. Maybe this doesn't matter if you call SoCal or the North Shore your home, but for the rest of us in the northern climes, the long winters tend to gnaw at the raw edges of sanity. Let's just say it's going to be close.

A good strategy for weathering this stretch is to begin plotting your summer adventures—and now is the time for high ambition. How about surfing? This won't be the first time I've tried it, but I plan to be better prepared, physically and mentally. I will visualize success. But since all the visualizing can be exhausting (and it's still really cold), I'll start with a little reading. Here are a handful of books that will start the journey from bogus to... slightly less bogus.

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The History of Surfing

We'll begin with the essentials. If David McCullough surfed, he'd likely be Matt Warshaw; no other writer has explored the sport as the author The Encyclopedia of Surfing, Maverick's, and The History of Surfing—500 obsessive and authoritative pages of words and rare photographs chronicling surfing culture, past and present. Just as most Krakauer fans have yet to climb Everest (guilty), you don't need to surf in order to appreciate Warshaw's books.

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Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul, And, of Course, Surfing

Is there such thing as an armchair surfer? Maybe geography, responsibilities, or galeophobia have conspired to keep you out of the water, but none of that matters: Get yourself a balance board trainer, fire up some North Shore videos, and dig the puka shells out of that one drawer you don't look in. Get your mind right and start living like a Force of Nature. Surfing legend Laird Hamilton—master of the big waves and radiator of supreme health—lays down his principles for health and happiness on- and off-shore: balance is everything, quality bests quantity, and mindfulness rules. LIVE LIKE LAIRD!

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Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

Would you believe me if I told you that the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography is a nearly 500-page book about a quest to find the perfect wave? And that the award was completely deserved? Raised a surfer in Hawaii and Southern California, Finnegan traveled the world searching for secret breaks and moments of transcendence, and his memoir is filled with enthralling recollections of both. A writer for The New Yorker by day, he still manages to find many more days to pursue his lifelong obsession, even in the frigid waters of Long Island winters.

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Surf Craft: Design and the Culture of Board Riding

You don't make or manufacture a surf board, you shape it. (At least you used to.) What word could better describe a process as much art as science, the quest to create a perfect interdimensional plane where rider and wave intersect, at once both and neither. What the hell am I going on about? Doesn't matter. But the answer is somewhere in Surf Craft, a gorgeous deep-dive into the aesthetics and evolution of the surf board from its earliest Hawaiian incarnations to modern, mass-produced designs.

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Surf Is Where You Find It

Born in Honolulu, Gerry Lopez spent his youth chasing waves on Oahu's North Shore, where he soon became a legend—and champion—for his stylish technique and mastery of tubes such as the Banzai Pipeline. Not content to limit his innovation to the water, Lopez pushed the limits of surfboard technology, developing a line of short, high performance boards, while traveling the world to seek out previously uncharted waves. (He was also in Conan the Barbarian.) Surf Is Where You Find It collects 38 stories of surfing legends, accompanied by his own stunning collection of photos documenting a golden age of sport and culture.

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Swell: A Sailing Surfer's Voyage of Awakening

Like Finnegan, Captain Liz Clark was obsessed with riding far-flung waves. She upped the ante when she launched her 40-foot sailboat from Santa Barbara on a solo voyage in search of beauty, meaning, and surf. Of course, it's not always easy. Swell recounts the crests and troughs of her ongoing adventure, and the accompanying images might leave you both jealous of her quest and  appreciative of your comfy reading chair at the same time.

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Surf Shack: Laid-Back Living by the Water

Like the "dirtbag" obsessives of Yosemite rock climbing, surfers are famous for their willingness to sacrifice creature comforts in the pursuit of the sport. Surf Shack is Dwell magazine for wave riders, a visual tour of beachside après-surf abodes—trailers, cabins, and beach homes that are as much shrines to sand, sun, and waves as they are living spaces. 

[Editor's note: Surfers generally don't live like this.]

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Image at top taken from Surf I Where You Find It by Gerry Lopez (Patagonia Books, 2015)

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