William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days is considered one of the best pieces of writing about surfing. Nonetheless, it is not the first book to use surfing as a lens to explore what it means to be a person in a vast world, charting the challenges, joys, and mysteries of the sport. Below are seven titles that pair well with Finnegan’s memoir. Be sure to sign up for Alta Journal’s California Book Club, which will discuss Barbarian Days with Finnegan at its July 15 gathering (at 5:30 p.m.). To join the California Book Club, click here.
Casey traveled the world to narrate the awe-inspiring thrill and terror of surfing some of the world’s most ferocious waves. Keen to include the scientists who dedicate their lives to researching the physics of hundred-foot waves, Casey attempts to unravel what it means to face nature’s beauty and wrath.
In this book, Duane chronicles a year spent catching waves in Santa Cruz, mixing in cultural history, nature, and the science of breaks, swells, and currents.
If you’re curious about the lives and work of women surfers, look no further: Gabbard’s Girl in the Curl presents a glowing, illustrated history of several women surfers, including Layne Beachley and world champion Lisa Anderson. Tracing about 100 years of women’s surf history, Gabbard fills the gap of the role of women in (what has been long considered) a male-dominated sport.
When Hamilton was 13, she survived a shark attack while surfing but lost her left arm. Her memoir, Soul Surfer, recounts the process of her recovery, along with her faith, grit, and determination to get back out on the water.
Considered a great noir classic, Nunn’s novel follows Ike Tucker, who arrives at a beach town in Southern California to find either his missing sister or the men who might have murdered her. Traversing the dark worlds of surfers, drug dealers, and Vietnam veterans, Tucker finds himself on a perilous journey from which he might not return.
Smith rips away the veil of the little-known history of cocaine use among surfers and within surf culture during the late 20th century. Mapping the turn of drug use from the ’60s to the ’80s, Smith also describes the transformation of surf economies and businesses.
Warshaw, an avid surfer himself, spent five years conducting research to offer an extraordinary written and visual history of surfing, replete with humor and zeal.