The surfing subculture draws the imagination of many writers
If all American literature comes from "Huckleberry Finn," all American surf literature comes from "Gidget," the ostensible diary of Kathy Kohner, a teeny, gutsy teenage girl who crashed the all-male scene at Malibu Beach in 1957 and earned the nickname Gidget, for "Girl Midget."
Her father, screenwriter Frederick Kohner, fascinated by the beach-shack counterculture, interviewed his perky daughter at length, eavesdropped with permission on her phone calls, fictionalized her adventures and batted out this influential best-seller. He nailed a tiny subculture's new form of speech and made it a pop-culture staple.
"Gidget" was about the best, if not the only, surf-themed fiction book until about 20 years ago when Santa Cruz, Calif.-based writer/surfer Kem Nunn -- today's undisputed leader in novels with surfing as a backdrop -- wrote "Tapping the Source: Waves and Mystery, Guns and Grit" (1984). Nunn followed with "The Dogs of Winter" (1997) and his latest, "Tijuana Straits" (2004).
"Tapping the Source" describes the author's slightly surreal California -- a theme park expanded to the borders of the state without the knowledge of its inhabitants. His unlikely hero is Ike Turner, 18, slightly naive, physically scrawny, emotionally undeveloped. Ike leaves his desert home, San Arco, to search for his runaway sister, Ellen, in the surf town of Huntington Beach, Calif.
In "The Dogs of Winter," Nunn draws again on the legends and tall tales of surfers. Jack Fletcher is a pill-popping photographer who lucks into the assignment of photographing an aging surfing legend, Drew Harmon, and two young pros at the Heart Attacks in Northern California -- a shark-infested "mysto spot" reputed to have 30-foot waves. The hapless Fletcher and a local tribal council worker named Travis McCade desperately try to avert the curl of disaster that builds and breaks in this heavily atmospheric novel.
"Tijuana Straits" features Sam Fahey, an ex-con and ex-surfer now running a worm farm, who is tracking a pack of feral dogs in the Tijuana River Valley when he encounters a badly beaten Mexican woman stumbling across the dunes near Tijuana Straits, a legendary surf spot. Surfing is only a backdrop in this thriller; the novel's real subject is the lawless U.S.-Mexican border and three damaged lives that Fahey touches.
More surf literature
The Windward Oahu resident introduced his "Surfing Detective Series" with "Murder on Molokai," published last year by Island Heritage. His hero, Kai Cooke, is to star in a six-part series of Hawaii-based mysteries. The next three will be set at Waimea Bay, Kula, Maui, and at Volcano House on the Big Island.
Allan Weisbecker: The native East Coaster and surfer, who has traveled the world riding waves and smuggling drugs, wrote the mesmerizing "In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer's Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road" (Jeremy P. Tarcher publishing, 2001).
In an account that's part Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" and Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," Weisbecker analyzes almost every experience he encounters, from riding perfect waves, thoughts about leather-skinned fishermen and the preference of long boards versus short boards.
Daniel Duane: The author's "Caught Inside: A Surfer's Year on the California Coast" (North Point Press, 1997) is a mixture of fiction and non, chronicling his first year of learning to surf in the Santa Cruz area. Duane does what so many dream of doing when he heads for Santa Cruz to surf for a year. His blend of wave wisdom and literary, historical and scientific references cover topics from the physics of the perfect wave to surfing characters met along the way.
Christopher Hawkins: The author's first novel, "The Water's End" (Trafford Publishing, 2001), is a beautifully descriptive story that places the reader in coastal Mexico, where you can practically taste the salt water and feel the sun beating down. Surfing is central to the story, but you do not have to be a surfer to appreciate the relationship of man and ocean.
Hawkins describes the sensation of surfing so well that you will believe you have done it yourself. Most important, however, the story grips you from the very first page. It has a refreshing lack of violence yet still manages suspense and tension.