Extending past swell charts and Instagram captions there’s plenty of good literature out there for surfers to get stoked on. I’ve long been an avid reader and found the best books are those which are most relatable. So, it would be pretty safe to assume I’ve got my beak stuck into a few surf books over the years.
Below is a list of a handful of my favourite surf books out there. Sure, it’s somewhat subjective but aren’t all lists? My feelings are that none of these will disappoint. If I ever had to start a surfers book club these are what I’d put out first. Enjoy.
P.S most of these books come with pictures!
Table of Contents
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
If you answer yes two both these questions then this book is for you. Do you have an affinity for strong writing? Do you froth for surfing? BOOM! Go get yourself a copy of what I personally view as the best book on this list, Barbarian Days. The Author William Finnegan goes above and beyond on this one to give you one helluva riveting read. Enjoy this memoir of an obsession, a complex enchantment! The book features in-depth and intimate accounts of Finnegan’s first ‘meetings’ with surf culture, waves and the relationships that paved the way to where he is today. If you’re the average ‘surfer brah’ you might need a dictionary as the Author does tend to show you how big his ‘vocabulary’ is.
The most relatable part of the book, for me, is how the pursuit of waves ebbs and flows in a surfer’s life. One day you’re consumed the next your focus must shift as the ‘real’ world beckons. Recently I’ve been fortunate enough due to my freelance work-nature that my day, as it did when I was a child, has been structured around 1 question – are there waves? Beyond the waves delve into Finnegan’s personal triumphs and failures. Being a surfer is both the hardest and best thing about who we are it’s all about perception. If you lust for old-school adventure, get on this one. Once read give it away but make sure it comes back as it’s 100% gonna be picked up again.
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard
“I’ve been a businessman for almost 50 years. It’s as difficult for me to say those words as it is for someone to admit to being an alcoholic or a lawyer.” That right there ladies and gentlemen, is the very beginning of Yvon Chouinard’s biography, Let My People Go Surfing. The founder of the outdoor apparel brand Patagonia, a business that has consistently challenged the status quo and pulled a whole sector closer to sustainability. It’s not every day that a surfer/climber builds one of the most widely respected and socially responsible businesses on earth. Right behind Barbarian Days, this book comes in at a close second.
Yvon Chouinard is a maverick, a man not afraid to take and shoulder risks. He not only inspired change but he instigated it, creating an environment for those around him to flourish. The amount of knowledge tucked between the folds of these pages is awesome and inspiring. If there’s a flat spell on the charts grab this book slap up the hammock and stretch it out.
When it comes to females and their history through the surfing ages this is quite literally the one and only book there is. Girl in the Curl is a comprehensive illustrated history of female surfers. The book captures an important and overlooked part of the sport’s past in stunning colour.
This one may be a bit of a cheat as it’s more pictures and anecdotes than words to paper. But still, it manages to highlight how female surfers have been integral to the sport from the very beginning. Enjoy this photographic walk through the last century of women’s surf. From Layne Beachley and her freckly face to Lisa Anderson the double world champ this book takes you through it all. Sure it may have been published some 20 years ago but it still remains relevant today. Perhaps it’s time for a new one this time including the likes of Carrisa Moore and Steph Gilmore.
Putting gender aside, it’s a beautiful walk through the past, a time capsule of the sport, alongside a detailed look at the evolution of wave culture.
If surfing was an option for a University credit, let’s call it Surf 101, then this would 100% be the prescribed textbook – The History of Surfing by Matt Warshaw. I compare it to a textbook because you gotta really, REALLY, be stoked on surfing to enjoy this one. It’s not fictional tales with pleasurable plotlines but rather moments in surfing that have been chronicled with pictures painted by intelligent commentary.
Can you imagine what the professor lecturing you would look like for Surf 101? To be honest they’d probably look like Matt Warshaw. Warshaw is a former professional surfer, former writer and editor at Surfer magazine, and the author of dozens of feature articles and large-format books on surfing culture and history with this being the Grand Daddy of them all. Basically, the dude knows what’s what.
Surfing has been detailed exhaustively in this one. Just shy of 500 pages and with over 250 rare photographs, The History of Surfing gives the sport a voice that is authoritative, funny, and wholly original. The writing is as compelling as the scholarship behind it. This one is for all the surf nerds.
Since we’re on the topic of surfing history we’d be remiss for not bringing up the GOAT. Obviously, Kelly Slater makes the list, or rather his book does. For the Love may be a little dated, published back in 2008 when Kelly had only managed 9 titles (Yeah, I know right… what a loser). A few years before he published Pipe Dreams which between you and me was how we say in South Africa – hond kak.
With that being said and to my surprise Kelly, like he did in many a heat before, came back with a bang and gave us For the Love. While the first book of his was his autobiography, this one is his scrapbook. Filled with pictures from his very storied surfing career which range from hanging with friends to surfing some of the most exotic locations in the world to winning world titles to his views on politics and the environment.
In this revealing and heartfelt tribute, written with surfing veteran Phil Jarratt, the world’s best surfer talks about a life filled with big wins, big money, and big loves. From heartache to fame sprinkled with a dash of Kelly’s personal philosophies the man puts his emotions on display making for a great read. Next time you’re on a long-haul flight whip this one out and get away from that 6-inch screen. At the end of the day, who knows the GOAT better than Kelly?
Life stories and lessons beyond drunken escapades are not shared too frequently among surf hood. Out to change that narrative we find Shaun Tomson and his book – The code. Shaun needs no introduction, if you’re sitting there scratching your pip at the name Shaun Tomson … fix it. Those who truly define their own success and then go on to realise it, are the ones who really inspire.
Shaun is just that type of person. A couple of years ago I had the privilege of interviewing the man where we briefly spoke about The Code (which until then had been nothing but a shelf ornament) inspired I went home and proceeded to read the book cover to cover.
The outline is pretty simple. Tomson lays out a direct lesson or rule that can be mirrored with something surfing. Following that he draws parallels to his own personal story that inevitably led him to that lesson. Memories of waves, surf trips, contests, or even specific wipeouts all serve on the point. Shaun was a man possessed in the best possible way, following his dreams whilst traversing the globe. He took what the ocean gave him and inspired change in his own life. From a man who’s suffered one of the deepest pains a farther could there’s something for everyone to learn/gain from reading the code.
Chalk up another one for author Phil Jarratt as we add a second one of his books to the list. Alongside For the Love (which he co-authored)comes Mr. Sunset: The Jeff Hakman Story. Here Jarratt pens the definitive biography of surfing prodigy, drug addict and world champ Jeff Hakman. Hakman was also the man behind Quiksilvers’ move into America. Like your favourite point break, the book rolls out with highs and lows coming to a close with a thunderous end section by way of the man’s struggle with drug addiction.
Jarratt does well to capture the camaraderie, adventure, and innocence of the surfing subculture in its formative years. What pushes the book to that next level is the electric photographs and brilliant layout and design. If you’ve worked in print media as I have you’ll appreciate the finer details thrown in there. A surfing legend living like a rockstar this book will give you what you’re looking for.
The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey
Wave junkies/nerds we got another one for ya. Written by the former editor of the Oprah Magazine, Susan Casey, this combo of rogue waves, Laird Hamilton and science gets perfectly blended into an educational cocktail that’ll get you frothing. In short sea monsters exist and this is the tale of those brave enough to confront them.
Casey journeys alongside two groups of individuals who are the same but oh so different- big wave scientists/ researchers, and big wave surfers. The premise is simply: most people see big waves as something to get away from. Here, Casey attempts to understand the people who’ve adopted a different approach and devoted their lives to them. Be it intellectually (through the researchers) or physically (through the surfers).
Don’t take this book as your leisure reading on that next cruise (post-pandemic obviously) or you’ll be constantly cranking that neck toward the horizon, scoping for freak death waves.
If Mr. Pipeline puts out a book best believe I’m reading it. Published in 2008 I got on this one a little late around 2013 whilst on a flight to Bali. In the Same way that Yvon Chouinard’s words bear significance, so too do Gerry Lopez’s. The man never seems to take the great ride he is on for granted and captures the stoke in every aspect of his life. This attitude translates to his surfing style which so many of us have tried and for the most part failed to emulate.
Extracting significance from barrels and pumping surf this book is relatable to all of us who’ve scored outback. To be fair the same can be said for those who have yet to feel what the best wave of their life feels like at a base level. Through a number of tales/lessons, Lopez waxes lyrical and reflects upon a lifetime spent among waves. Equally as impressive as his surfing is Lopez’s writing that garners the feel of a zen master.
For surfers, a must-read. Though he is one of the all-time legends of surfing, you wouldn’t know it by reading his book. He is quick to heap praise and credit on so many others and is appreciative and grateful for all that has happened to him.
Surf books make the perfect gift. They can also be a lot deeper than a surf guide, narrative or biography. Surfing, for many, is a spiritual or transformative experience and these authors have done their best to capture the essence of the experience and some of its most loved personalities.
Whether it’s for your next holiday, a gift or to help you fall asleep with a smile, these books all contain messages that may shift your perception and potentially change your life.
Hound of the Sea: Wild Man. Wild Waves. Wild Wisdom
by Garrett McNamara
In this thrilling and candid memoir, world record-holding and controversial Big Wave surfer Garrett McNamara chronicles his emotional quest to ride the most formidable waves on earth.
Garrett McNamara—affectionately known as GMac—set the world record for the sport, surfing a seventy-eight-foot wave in Nazaré, Portugal in 2011, a record he smashed two years later at the same break. Propelled by the challenge and promise of bigger, more difficult waves, this adrenaline-fueled loner and polarizing figure travels the globe to ride the most dangerous swells the oceans have to offer, from calving glaciers to hurricane swells.
A reviewer said: His descriptions of the complex physics and mysterious beauty of waves drew me in. Most engaging were the first few chapters of his chaotic, wild, free and daring childhood, which most children today can only dream about. It was a real fun, thoughtful and easy read. Our verdict: Buy this book. Garret is a living legend and deserves his revered place in surfing history.
by Jim Heimann
This platinum tome is the most comprehensive visual history of surfing to date, marking a major cultural event as much as a publication. Following three and a half years of meticulous research, it brings together more than 900 images to chart the evolution of surfing as a sport, a lifestyle, and a philosophy.
The book is arranged into five chronological chapters, tracing surfing culture from the first recorded European contact in 1778 by Captain James Cook to the global and multi-platform phenomenon of today. Utilizing institutions, collections, and photographic archives from around the world, and with accompanying essays by the world s top surf journalists, it celebrates the sport on and off the water, as a community of 20 million practitioners and countless more devotees, and as a leading influence on fashion, film, art, and music.
An unrivaled tribute to the breadth, complexity, and richness of surfing, this book is a must-have for any serious player on the surfing scene and anybody who aspires to the surfing lifestyle. As one surfing scribe has declared There has never been a book like this, and there will never be another one again.
It has everything from rare Honolulu prints and posters of the early 20th century to movie posters, magazine covers, advertising, psychedelia, a full spread from “Apocalypse Now” with another apocalyptic spread of Huntington Beach burning in a riot.
Our verdict: Perfect for those who love surfing’s finer details. If you are mad collector of surfing memorabilia then in these pages lies your Nirvana.
Salt & Silver: Travel, Surf, Cook
by Johannes Riffelmacher and Thomas Kosikowski
Salt & Silver is the first book to blend traveling, surfing, and the food cultures of Central and South America together through the travel stories of two young, adventuresome guys.
Salt & Silver traces the journey of Johannes Riffelmacher and Thomas Kosikowski as they travel through Central and South America—reporting on all the best surfing locations, chronicling the stories of local surfers and restaurant owners, and compiling recipes representative of each area. The narrative begins in Cuba with beautiful images of the city and the beaches, as well as stories related to the Cuban surfing community and a discussion of popular Cuban dishes.View on Amazon
A reviewer said: This is the most beautiful book I think I’ve ever seen. The photography is just super. More than just tacos and surfing, this is a story of a journey where love and nurture overlap. Our verdict: The perfect gift for a beach house family, or perhaps for your better half if you’re keen on some new cuisine. We love surf recipes, so long may Johannes and Thomas continue on their adventures!
Make Your Own Waves: The Surfer’s Rules for Innovators and Entrepreneurs
by Louis Patler
Within a month of publication, Make Your Own Waves was named the NASDAQ Book of the Month and also was the #1 new release in surfing books on Amazon.com.
Yes, you read that correctly…accolades came from both the business and the surfing world. Here’s why.
Like the ocean, the marketplace constantly changes and today’s cresting reward becomes tomorrow’s crashing risk. Louis Patler, one of the foremost authorities on innovation, explores why 8 out of 10 business ventures fail and offers lessons learned from elite athletes that apply to business.
In this book, Louis Patler offers the Surfer’s Rules, 10 lessons in conventional wisdom “that will serve as a guide to anyone seeking to be a successful entrepreneur.” Whatever the number and nature of the appropriate lessons may be, the fact remains that peak performance requires “planning, preparation, and passion” to contend with the waves encountered but also the ability to create one’s own waves with which others must contend.
Our verdict: Great metaphors, reminiscent of Surfing Life Waves by Bradley Hook, but angled at business people. Invaluable for anyone who enjoys using nature as inspiration for life.
Surf Odyssey: The Culture of Wave Riding
by Andrew Groves
Cold-water surfing, the most remote surf spots, spectacular photography, illustrations, and custom boards: Surf Odyssey documents the modern cult of surfing as its own subculture and way of life.
here’s much more to surfing than palm trees and beach boy clichés. People surf not only in Hawaii, but also in Norway, South Korea, and India. Surf Odyssey is a book about the world of surfing today and those that live in it. This community is made up of the surfers themselves as well as surf photographers and board builders who are also spreading its distinctive spirit into other creative fields.
Comparable to the new outdoor movement, today’s surfing is about an attitude toward life, a lust for adventure, and a love of nature that one can only find far away from established spots. Surf Odyssey presents this scene’s places, people, stories, and brands. Its stunning photography is sure to inspire many further surfing exploits.
A reviewer said: Great collection of content about esoteric surfers and wave riding. Not your typical action shots seen in sport magazines, this book chronicles various big personalites in surfing and focuses more on the lifestyle of these individuals. Our verdict: More than a coffee table book, this is an artistic voyage into surfing culture. It’ll thrust you into worlds you might not have imagined, then make you want to set off on a surf voyage of your own.
The Illustrated Atlas of Surfing History
by Joel Smith
Surfing has become one of the most popular recreational and competitive water sports. For many, it is a way of life, but how was it discovered? No one knows who first rode a wave simply for the pleasure of it. It could have been Stone Age fisherman on a log raft or in a dugout canoe, and it could have happened anywhere in the world where humans engaged the ocean.
Perhaps it was a swimmer. There are Egyptian cave drawings of swimmers dating back 10,000 years. Similar representations have been found in places ranging from Mesopotamia to Mexico. The first recreational surfer could have been bodysurfing a wave, thrilled by the experience and swimming out to do it again, or a swimmer clutching to a piece of driftwood and using it to plane on the surface of a breaker.
There are no recorded descriptions that can confirm any of this. There are however, several later observations that clearly describe the independent development of wave riding in very distant parts of the globe.
Joel has written a wonderful and sensitive book about the history of surfing around the world, filled with colorful characters and tender moments in the global tribe of surfers, now numbering an estimated 20 million globally. It begins with an introduction and is divided chronologically into eight chapters, from the dim mists of antiquity, thru the Polynesians, to the global uptake of surfing by the world, its resurgence, its golden age, to the modern era, and ending with a chapter on surf culture.
Our verdict: A wonderful book, nostalgic, sentimental, timeless and insightful.
Tom Blake: A Surfer’s Philosophy
by David Christopher Lane
Tom Blake changed the face of surfing and has long been lauded as one of the true pioneers and innovators in the sport. Although much has been written about him and his contributions (culminating in Gary Lynch’s magisterial biography of him, Tom Blake: The Uncommon Journey of a Pioneer Waterman, published in 2001), very little work has been done on Tom Blake’s Einsteinian philosophy.
This is a shame, since though Blake was not formally educated (he never graduated high school due to the devastating influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918 and 1919), he was an astute observer of nature and had a deep understanding of science and its implications on such perennial questions concerning ethics, God, and the goal of human life.
The essence of Tom Blake’s philosophical outlook is best captured in his book, Voice of the Atom, an engaging narrative that centers on his conversations with a young nomadic wanderer named Anthony. Yet, there are also other scattered writings, particularly letters that he wrote to friends over the years, that provide a wider glimpse into Blake’s thinking that are invaluable. Tom Blake was not a man of many words, but what he did write, occasionally in terse and epigrammatic phrases, are pregnant with meaning.
View on AmazonOur verdict: Great insights into one of surfing’s enigmatic pioneers. Discover what a true innovator thought about and where he went in this biography.
by Andreea Waters
New York surfing is mad. Breaks are hard to access, waves are inconsistent, winter (which produces the best waves) is brutal. You might risk almost anything just so you don t hear those famous words, You should have been here an hour ago. Follow dedicated wave hunters to the end of the A-train and beyond and peek into this passionate way of life through authentic photography and several surfers personal journeys. Discover what it takes to brave the cold Atlantic Ocean and get a fresh insight on the Big Apple s hidden surf subculture.
An adventurous photographer has developed relationships with local surfers, absorbed scarcely available knowledge about the ocean and climate, and placed herself in these elements without reservation. To respect the locals and their underground culture, there is no mention of where the specific action takes place. Locations may include Rockaway, Montauk, Long Beach, Lido Beach, and Northern New Jersey.
Surfers everywhere will delight in Waters’s pictures and descriptions of NYC surfing. I’m guess Rockaway Beach is not destined to become a mecca for surfers from around the world, but those NYC surfers who lug their boards on the subway in the middle of winter in hopes of catching some waves know there’s something special in NYC.
Weird and wonderful. A good read for those who live in NYC, or enjoy reading about unlikely surf microcosms.
The Dharma of Surfing: Wisdom from the Water for Life by Sally Anne MacKinnon
“Surfing is more than standing up on a surfboard. It is, I believe, the language of ‘Oceanspeak’; of feet on waves, of heart in sky, of breath and body in synch with Mother Nature.
Perhaps if we surf with a spirit of sharing, connection, love, mindfulness, gratitude, humility, joyfulness, awareness, playfulness and curiosity, then we might also take those qualities further into our lives as a right way of living.”
“the dharma of surfing” is a coffee table book collection of 52 wisdoms and photographs for surfing and for life. They have emerged from the water-based experiences of surf, yoga and fitness instructor Sally MacKinnon, sailor and surfer Scott Johnson and educator Huon MacKinnon-Farnworth.
View on AmazonOur verdict: Surfing and spirituality go together like tofu and mung beans (or chicken and chips). Enjoy a journey into the esoteric with wisdom and photographs that will brighten up any coffee table.
My Life As A Magic Surfboard: Magic Surfboard by Ash Lingam
This is an educational book for young surfers. Included are terms, rules, illustrations and surfing etiquette. This is about Style. A surfboard blank that was shaped and glassed in a Soul Surfers factory and was adopted by a young man named Kai. It is about their life, living in his VW van with his girlfriend Sandy and how their surfboards became Magic Boards.
View on AmazonA reviewer said: I believe this book is targeted to kids but I am a 72 year old how found it very good. I think anyone new or contemplating starting to surf would find this one delightful. It is quick read with a nice ending. I will be looking more to more of this type of books from the author. Our verdict: An excellent gift for the grommets in your life.
Surf Lessons: Stories Of An Eastern Surfer
by Earl Shores
SURF LESSONS is a new book from author and longtime East Coast surfer Earl Shores. Stories of the mid-Atlantic, the Outer Banks, and more.
Put your toes in the sand and the wax in your hand as you drop into the pages of this vibrant set of surf stories from Earl Shores. It’s a Top 20 of his best work, including favorites from his early days with Eastern Surf Magazine. And it’s one of the few surf books ever written from a purely East Coast perspective.
That means SURF LESSONS isn’t full of heroic gnarly surf dudes trekking the globe for perfect waves. Instead, Shores aims his focus on the ordinary moments of the surfing experience. After putting the reader in his “regular guy” flip-flops, he never fails to capture the passion that inspires surfers to rise before dawn to catch the uncrowded early morning calm.
This book is for east coast, west coast and international surfers… and even the non-surfer. No one who picks it up will regret it, but rather be challenged to get down to a shore where the waves are breaking… where they’re “calling”.
Our verdict: An insightful glimpse into surfing life on the East Coast of the United States.
Going Surfin’ Surfing Profiles of Bud Browne’s People 1950’s-1970’s by Anna Trent Moore
Going Surfin’ is a collection of stories from some of surfing’s most compelling surfers from the 1950’s-1970’s. A rare and personal glimpse into a unique period of surfing and its people that was captured on film by the father of the surf film genre Bud Browne, these stories reveal the interwoven friendships and experiences formed in another place and time that is now called, The Golden Period.
A reviewer said: Disappointedly thin volume of stories (some of them repeated almost verbatim in different chapters), with almost no “stories” told by the “friends” of Bud Browne. Instead we have mostly a collection of the author’s vague recollections about them. Our verdict: For those with an interest in The Golden Period this book may rekindle memories of Bud Browne and those involved in one of surfing’s most transformative eras.
Surf books for kids
Two of our favourite surf books for kids are Hubi’s Surf Atlas and Mop Rides the Waves of Life.
Hubi’s Surf Atlas
If you’re looking for a surfing-themed book that will entertain and educate the kids in your life then you won’t find better than Hubi’s Surf Atlas by Wiilder World. In fact, you might just find yourself reaching for this book when the surf is flat and you feel like exploring the world’s most interesting surf destinations. Read our full review or buy it on Amazon.
Mop Rides the Waves of Life
A beautifully illustrated book, written by Jaimal Yogis, Mop Rides the Waves of Life sees a young surfer learn important lessons about calm, compassion and purpose from the surfing experience. The book is an essential guide to mindful living that kids of all ages will enjoy. Get it on Amazon.