Something else to add to my bucket list: in the wake of William Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize win for Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life last year, I’ve developed a serious obsession with surfing — and especially books about female surfers who share the same passion, sense of adventure, and physical daring that Finnegan described so captivatingly in his 2015 autobiography. As it turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, there are tons of books written by male surfers; books by surfer girls, on the other hand, are fewer and further between. So someone get on top of that, when you get a chance.
As a gal who grew up somewhat terrified of water (I didn’t officially learn how to swim until I was almost a teenager) I’ve always felt a twinge of awe for surfers. During a brief stint living in Los Angeles, I would take the hour-plus-long drive to Venice Beach or Malibu, and spend mornings watching the surfers literally fly through the water, after gauging the exact moment to press themselves up onto their boards and catch the perfect wave. They looked spectacularly in control and addicting out of control all at the same time; and despite my lingering fears, I’ve always wanted to try it.
For the time being, however, I’ll be satiating my surf cravings through books. Here are 10 books every surfer girl should read.
1. Chasing Waves: A Surfer's Tale of Obsessive Wandering by Amy Waeschle
If you’re new to surfing — or even if you’re a pro — this book is a great one to start with. Amy Waeschle takes you along on her journeys around the world, as she learns to surf and quickly discovers her complete obsession with the sport. In addition to writing beautifully about the art and athleticism of catching waves, Waeschle is a stunning travel writer, describing the moments spent off her board just as vividly as the moments spent on. If this book doesn’t make you want to quit your job and become a traveling surfer immediately, I don’t know what will.
2. Girl in the Curl: A Century of Women in Surfing by Andrea Gabbard
Andrea Gabbard’s Girl in the Curl: A Century of Women in Surfing offers a great survey of the history of the women who made waves (pun intended) in a sport long dominated by men. Complete with photographs that’ll give you some serious FOMO, (and Instagram #goals) this book profiles the magnificent, under-celebrated women who have been giving it their all in the ocean for as long as men have.
3. To Touch a Wild Dolphin: A Journey of Discovery with the Sea's Most Intelligent Creatures by Rachel Smolker
You’ve probably heard those stories about the surfer who loses her way in the ocean and is accompanied to shore by a quick-acting dolphin with eyes as deep and expressive as that of a human. (Is this a true story? I hope so.) Celebrate the original surf-dwellers — dolphins! — with this part memoir/part scientific investigation into the complex, brilliant minds of dolphins, and the experiences of a woman who studied them and fell in love with them. If you don’t already love dolphins, you will after reading this book. One more reason to take up surfing.
4. Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton
Maybe the most recognized of surfer girls — at least to my Millennial generation, who watched her story repeatedly on the Disney Channel — Bethany Hamilton is a lifelong surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack, saved herself by paddling back to the beach with one arm, and couldn’t wait to get back to the waves when she recovered. Even if surfing doesn’t run quite as deeply through your own veins as it does Bethany’s, this story will still inspire you to go after whatever it is that drives you.
5. Paddling My Own Canoe by Audrey Sutherland
Although Audrey Sutherland isn’t exactly a die-hard surfer girl, her story in Paddling My Own Canoe will resonate with women wilderness adventurers everywhere. Venturing throughout the northeast coast of Molokai — still one of Hawaii’s most untouched of islands — Sutherland overcomes fears of the remote landscape and finds unparalleled beauty and tranquility along the way. An ultimate female empowerment book.
6. The Tribes of Palos Verdes by Joy Nicholson
The Tribes of Palos Verdes is a novel with surfing at its heart. Medina Mason doesn’t quite fit in with her new community of Palos Verdes, California. And when her life at home begins to fall apart — her parents divorce and her brother struggles with addiction — surfing becomes her place of peace and solace. But as the only female surfer in her community, Medina’s journey is an uphill battle in more ways than one. Beautiful and gritty, this novel is about all the ways our passions can save us.
7. The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey
For surfers, 100-plus foot waves have long been the stuff of legend. Scientists, on the other hand, refute the possibility that the ocean's power defies the laws of physics — until recently, that is. In The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean Susan Casey takes you into the heart of this legend, exploring both scientific research, recent natural disasters, ancient mythology, and introducing readers to a cast of characters who have dedicated their lives to surfing the world’s largest, wildest, and most dangerous waves.
8. Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox
Another non-surfing story, Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer is, nonetheless, an epic tale of another woman who communed with and sought to conquer the sea. Long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox swam the English Channel and the Bering Strait, was the first person to swim the Strait of Magellan, took on New Zealand’s Cook Straight accompanied by dolphins (more dolphins!) and swam a mile in the Antarctic. You won’t believe it until you read it.
9. Surfer Girls in the New World Order by Krista Comer
If you ask Krista Comer, surfing isn’t just a physical sport — it’s also political. In her book Surfer Girls in the New World Order, Comer explores what it means to be a girl in surfing: the stereotypes, the expectations, the portrayal of surfer girls in pop culture, the rise of women-run surfing businesses, and the ever-increasing rise of girls dominating in a sport once practiced primarily by men. Just one more corner of the world where women came, saw, and conquered.
10. That Oceanic Feeling by Fiona Capp
As a young woman, Fiona Capp loved surfing. But life swooped in, and suddenly catching that next wave ranked lower (much lower) on Capp’s list of priorities. But when Capp turned forty, she realized if she didn’t get back on her board, she might never be able to again. That Oceanic Feeling is part surf biography/part travel memoir/part autobiography of a woman approaching the middle of her life, and choosing to rediscover her greatest passions all over again.
Image: Rob Bye/Unsplash