Posted: Oct 25,2011 Written by 

Much to the dismay of my wife due to spatial concerns, I have an insatiable appetite for surf-related books. My collection first took shape a little over 10 years ago and is now comprised of over 250 different titles jammed on a large multi-level bookshelf that sees newer additions stacked into every empty corner. Similar to the boat captain in “Jaws” who realized he needed a bigger boat, I need a bigger bookcase or, better yet, a larger room.

I dig anything surf related, whether it’s a new book or an out-of-print rare gem from decades ago. I follow the current crop of pros, but am also all about the stories of the characters who were there at the rebirth of the sport in the early-mid 1900’s. The only types of books I don’t pursue are instructional manuals, those written by non-surfers or poorly written compilations, though I do get tripped up by the latter from time to time. There’s a wealth of literature on our groovy little sport. All you have to do is work hard at finding it.


Surfing Long Beach Island by Caroline Unger 2003

So, via this forum on, I’m going to periodically comment about some of the pieces I’ve stumbled across. Some will be familiar to you, others will be obscure, but those I profile have provided me with a stoke that I thought I’d pass on.

Surfing Long Beach Island by Caroline Unger 2003

Firmly entrenched in the local scene with a surf lineage that extends generations, Ms. Unger does a nice job of tipping her hat to those LBI legends that came before us. She is the daughter of Richard Lisiewski, founder of what is now the Brighton Beach Surf Shop and grew up with the stories her dad would tell about such characters as, “Stretch” Pohl, “Chill” Paul, John Spodofora, Ron DiMenna and Rev. Earl Comfort. They are all profiled in the book, as are many more. Additionally, she highlights several of the original shops and the moments that were instrumental in developing the scene. It’s a cool little piece of work by a local lass that, particularly given the dearth of local surf chronicles, deserves a place on your shelf. You can find it at local surf shops and in the New Jersey Surf Museum at Tuckerton Seaport.

Beneath the Waves by Layne Beachley and Michael Gordon 2008

An extremely well-written auto-biography of the 7x World Women’s Surf Champ, the book refreshingly extends beyond Beachley’s accomplishments in the water and reveals the many obstacles she had to overcome to reach her goals. Composed via journal entries, e-mails and extensive interviews with all those that touched her life, the work chronicles Beachley’s struggles with loss, re-uniting with her biological mother after being given up for adoption, countless injuries and unsettling bouts of depression. Fueled by a persistent drive and unmatched will, the book is as much about a woman doing whatever it took to achieve her goals as it is about her surfing.

1936-1942 San Onofre to Point Dume: Photographs by Don James 1996
Prewar Surfing Photographs by Don James 2007

Waterman’s Eye: Emil Sigler-Surfing San Diego to San Onofre 1928-1940 by David Aguirre 2004

I’ve grouped these three books together because they are very similar with regards to the time period on which they focus and layout. All are built on photographs from what is often termed “The Golden Age” of surfing—those few decades that surfing took shape on the West Coast prior to WWII. California was still pristine, only a few hundred surfers existed (if that), boards were giant hand-hued works of art and the ocean boiled with sea life. Everything changed though with WWII, as many of the period’s surfers were lost to distant battles and American’s innocence was replaced with the stark realities of

war and the uncertainty of the future. The pictures are all about the nostalgia of perfect empty breaks gone by. If you’re a history buff like me, you’ll get lost in the images.

While the onus clearly lies in the images and 1936-1942 San Onofre to Point Dume: Photographs by Don James contains the most by far, the written introductions are also worth noting.



surf book reviews by Mike Reynolds


1936-1942 San Onofre to Point Dume: Photographs by Don James enjoys an extensive introduction by skate/surf writer C.R. Stecyk. His is a name that brings a great deal of credibility to the small book (as if Don James’ name didn’t already), as he’s been supplying his own eccentric style of writing to both industries for decades now. Though his piece is comprehensive with regards to the period and its contrast to the present day surf industry, I was struck with the feeling that it was a bit too robust for the images themselves. While I appreciate perspective, I was content with the concise captions provided for each picture in the back of the book. Those captions provide the info without supplying the subjective romance that I’d rather interject on my own. I would have preferred a toned-down introduction that was a set-up for the images rather than a separate section of the book that was competing for attention. It may simply be style preference, so take it for what it’s worth. No matter how you look at it, the book is a gem.

Prewar Surfing Photographs benefits greatly from an intro written by prolific surf journalist, Matt Warshaw. His insight is unmatched (he’s published The History of Surfing and The Encyclopedia of Surfing for crying out loud) and each piece he pens stands firmly on its own as a representation of our sport. In a true nod to the purity of the images and the clean (re: stark) presentation, Mr. Warshaw sticks to the pictures themselves, reflecting on how they make him feel and the thoughts they conjure in his head. His approach is simple, yet still rich, and permits the images to stand on their own.

While the stories in Waterman’s Eye: Emil Sigler-Surfing San Diego to San Onofre 1928-1940 are fun and fascinating, the text runs a bit dry, which is unfortunate given the life easily breathed into the rich history described throughout. The introduction was built on countless conversations between Mr. Aguirre and Mr. Sigler over cups of tea, which is a beautiful basis for a first person account from one of the original California surfers. But the energy of those discussions does not come across quite as strong as it could. Again, there is tremendous value in the stories themselves, so the intro is still worthy of your time.

More book reviews/comments will follow periodically here at, so check back in. There’s a bunch of jewels on those shelves…