I always knew I wanted to be a writer. More specifically, a fiction author. As a boy, I used to make up stories and then acted them out with characters and props made of a hodgepodge of Legos, Lincoln Logs, Matchbox or Hot Wheels, and of course G.I. Joe (sometimes I’d even include one of my sisters’ Barbie dolls so long as there was nobody watching). Back in those days of the late ’60s, it is what I did when I was alone. Later on, I got busy participating in adventures near and far and never really made time to recall or recite stories related to the experiences I’d catalogued and filed away.
Decades passed before I had the confidence that my collected stories were worthy or interesting enough to put into writing . Something to offer up for mass consumption. Reflecting on my personal experiences and attempting to identify those that left a positive, indelible mark, I decided I’d make a list. I quickly discovered that in spite of having spent my adult years flying USAF Jets and slipping the surly bonds of the earth, most of the experiences I’ve enjoyed were the result of my intimate relationship with wind, water, and waves.
As a reader, I’ve consumed nearly every available piece of fiction written about surfing. Having said that, the list isn’t all that extensive. Among the titles on the shelf in my small study are a few favorites – The Dogs of Winter and Tapping the Source, both by Kem Nunn are raw examples of great writing from one with intimate experience with surfing as a central theme. Nunn can really take you there, right inside the cold dark roaring barrel of a Northern California monster wave, grinding its way to shore along a rocky point.
Similarly, it is possible to do some arm chair travel to places down under by reading Breathe, by Australian author Tim Winton. With honest authenticity Winton exposes the kinds of relationships surfers have with one another and the relationships they have with the ocean where they challenge themselves against the power of mother nature. Though Winton’s characters play out their parts antipode from those of Nunn’s, the stories reveal a certain commonality among surfers the world over.
Other favorites include Kilometer 99, by Tyler McMahon who wrote a gripping story set in El Salvador, from the point of view of a young female Peace Corps volunteer who loved to surf. Another good clean read for all ages is titled Caught Inside – A Surfing Passage, by Lauren Angulo, set on Kauai’s North Shore in the vicinity of Hanalei Bay.
As fiction goes, there are lots of popular genre out there, but if you perform a search for fiction related to surfing as a central theme and stack it up against the paranormal romance genre or any of the murder mystery varieties, the ratio suggests that there just aren’t that many pieces of fiction written with surfing as a central theme. The authors mentioned above took time out from their love of surfing, which demands a commitment that is unprecedented by some of the most extreme recreational activities.
There are a few new non-fiction works that do a great job of describing the emotional obsessive hold surfing has on those caught its clutches. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan, and Caught Inside “A Surfer’s Year on The California Coast”, by Daniel Duane (similar title to fiction work above, but a much different reading experience).
In my view, a fiction author can easily write about the extraordinary skills and experiences from their character’s point of view. That is perhaps a luxury of writing fiction. However, to be believable, it helps when the stories come from experiences the author has either lived or witnessed from close proximity. Since there are so few authors with the credibility to write stories with surfing as a central theme, it seems it would be ripe ground for an author who surfs. I don’t think it is too late either, so for the remainder of my blog entries this month, I’ll be hitting on some personal experiences with wind and waves.