Every now and then, it’s nice to lose yourself inside the world of a good surf book. The surfing genre is vast, and there are hundreds of surfing literature you can use as an inspiration or a way to destress when needed.
You’ll learn more about surfing’s culture and heritage through countless memoirs, biographies, and other journalisms. You’ll also get to know the stories of surfing legends and rebels, the propagandas, the photographs of hidden destinations, and much more!
This post contains a compilation of the best surf books to make you understand and appreciate surfing. These are books that stand the test of time and continue to inspire thousands of surfers worldwide.
The Best Surf Books of All Time
Whether you’re looking for a gift for your friend or you want to discover more about surfing, an enjoyable surf book is always a good choice. The titles below are just some of the best books we’ve compiled to get you started.
- Big Wave Surfer: The Greatest Rides of Our Lives
- Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
- Afrosurf - The Book
- The History of Surfing
- Wayward: Stories and Photographs
- Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer's Quest to Find Zen on the Sea
- Epic Surf Breaks of the World 1
- Randall the Blue Spider Goes Surfing
- The Drop: How the Most Addictive Sport Can Help Us Understand Addiction and Recovery
- Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave
- Under The Wave At Waimea
- Rockaway: Surfing Headlong into a New Life
- Surf Dreams: New Zealand Surf Culture
- She Surf: The Rise of Female Surfing
- BAD KARMA: The True Story of a Mexico Trip from Hell
- Golden Daze: The best years of Australian surfing
- Surf & Stay: 7 Road Trips in Europe
- Author: Kai Lenny
- Publish Date: October 26, 2021
First, we kickstart this list with a surf book about the biggest waves and the daredevils who tried to surf them. The book Big Wave Surfer: The Greatest Rides of Our Lives features the journey of a famous big wave personality, Kai Lenny, the youngest surfer to be inducted into the ‘Surfer’s Hall of Fame’.
Alongside him are 30 other elite surfers who shared stories of how they conquered the massive waves of Nazare, Jaws, and Teahupoo. There’s Shane Dorian, Peter Mel, Ian Walsh, including Laird Hamilton who retold the story of his near-death experience with friends while surfing a monster wave known as Pyramids.
This book also features heart-stopping and stoke-inducing photographic tributes of some of the biggest waves ever surfed. It also includes the different methods surfers from various eras used to ride those waves.
Pro tip: Don’t read this before bedtime. You’ll get super stoked with the photographs, the adrenaline rush will keep you up all night!
- Author: William Finnegan
- Publish Date: April 26, 2016
Barbarian Days is a timeless memoir that tells the story of William Finnegan’s epic surfing journey. Possibly the best surf book that’s ever been written, this piece is the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography, and it’s also included in President Obama’s 2016 Summer Reading List.
In summary, this book contains Finnegan’s experiences being in a whites-only gang in Honolulu, and how he traveled the world immersing himself in different cultures. Finnegan’s story-telling captures the heart of the readers as he intimately describes the sensations, as well as his obsession with riding waves.
- Author: Mami Wata
- Publish Date: June 15, 2021
The lack of media coverage in Africa is the reason why we only know so little of the place, but the year 2021 has changed all that. For the very first time, a book dedicated to celebrating the surf culture of Africa was published. Now, we get a glimpse of their world with Afrosurf – The Book.
Afrosurf contains a collection of photographs, poems, illustrations, recipes, and stores of the famous surfers and skaters in Africa. Inside it, you’ll find 50 essays about Africa’s surfing history, as well as a glimpse of their surfing local scenes. The book is all about the diversity and traditions of the 18 countries in Africa, which include Somalia, Morocco, Tanzania, and Nigeria.
Afrosurf is authored by Mami Wata, a company that wants to promote surf tourism to help the local communities in Africa. All their proceeds are donated to surfing non-profit organizations such as Waves for Change and Surfers Not Street Children.
- Author: Matt Warshaw
- Publish Date: September 1, 2010
The History of Surfing is a must-have for every surfer. It’s also the best present you could give (or receive) during the Christmas season. Or any season for that matter…
This surf book is a masterpiece written by Matt Warshaw, who also authored the publication, Encyclopedia of Surfing. He’s a surfer who started his career in 1969 and became a pro by the 1980s. He also worked for 6 years in the reputable surfing magazine, Surfer Magazine, so saying that he knows a thing or two about this sport is an understatement.
The History of Surfing features stories of surfing legends and heroes like Miki Dora, Tom Blake, and “Gidget”, just to name a few. This book captures the audience with its unique and engaging way of discussing the surfing history, the culture of different surf destinations, and the philosophies. The book also includes fun facts — like the different versions of surfboards, from the older versions to the modern ones, and stoke-inducing photographs.
- Author: Chris Burkard
- Publish Date: February 1, 2022
The Wayward: Stories and Photographs isn’t just a simple coffee book. It’s a work of art — the result of Chris Burkard’s passion and dedication in capturing the most breathtaking photographs he’s witnessed throughout his career.
In this book, he tells some of the unfortunate events he’s experienced, such as getting hypothermia, breaking camera gears, and getting jailed. The book gives us a peek at the behind-the-scenes of some of his famous shots featured in magazines and his social media accounts.
The Wayward is a collection of photographs that also includes different stories from other outdoor surf photographers. It features pictures of famous surf personalities and hidden beaches in Norway and Iceland.
- Author: Jaimal Yogis
- Publish Date: May 1, 2009
In this book, we follow the surfing journey of Jaimal Yogis — a teenager who ran off from California to Hawaii to learn how to surf. During that time, the only things he had were a book and cash of about $800 that’s enough to buy himself a surfboard.
Saltwater Buddha is a coming-of-age story and an ode to surfing and Zen Buddhism. It’s about finding peace and serenity in riding waves. As well as lessons from Yogis’ mentor about the science of surfing.
Today, Yogis is a celebrated Zen Master, journalist, and renowned photographer. This book showcases his hip and witty side, as he narrates snippets of his life story in a way that will best appeal to his young adult readers.
- Author: Lonely Planet
- Publish Date: September 15, 2020
For so many years, Lonely Planet has provided millions of travelers information about travel and lifestyle with their guidebooks. It’s a community that urges you to explore and discover the wonders of local destinations. However, Epic Surf Breaks of the World 1 is more of a coffee table book — not the average guidebook Lonely Planet is known for. It does not contain in-depth information and guides about Bell’s Beach, Teahupoo, or Namibia’s Skeleton Bay.
Instead, Lonely Planet’s Epic Surf breaks of the World features a compilation of the biggest and gnarliest waves from 200+ surfing destinations. Within its 328 pages, surfers who are still searching will surely find the perfect break with the photographs, illustrations, and personal stories from many well-known surf writers, including Pulitzer Prize winner, William Finnegan’s.
- Author: Shana Bull
- Publish Date: April 17, 2021
Good surf books don’t always contain the most awesome photographs, moments of truth realizations, and epic life and death journeys of famous surfing legends. Sometimes, it can also be in a form of a children’s book, just like Randall the Blue Spider Goes Surfing.
This inspirational and refreshing surf book is for kids who are taking interest in surfing but are still cautious and afraid of some of this water sport’s elements. Inside its pages, children can be inspired by how Randall overcame his fears of joining a surfing competition with the help and guidance of his friend, Chester.
- Author: Thad Ziolkowski
- Publish Date: July 6, 2021
From the same award-winning author of the 1975 surf book On a Wave comes a memoir about surfing and drugs, The Drop. This revelatory book by Thad Ziolkowski tells the readers of the relationship between riding the waves and addiction, and how both of them are like ‘hook’ that gives a rush of dopamine to the brain.
This book also emphasizes the influence of drugs in the surfing culture in the 1960s, and how some champion surfers have overcome their addiction. It’s a study about sociology, explored with scientist insights and spirituality awareness.
Upon its release, The Drop earned great reviews from other well-known writers. William Finnegan, author of Epic Surf Breaks in the World 1 and Barbarian Days, says,
“This book is brilliant. You’ve never seen the gorgonian loops and layers of addiction illuminated so clearly and originally.”
- Author: Peter Heller
- Publish Date: July 13, 2010
The Kook is about surf, sea… and how Heller finds love and committed to it in his late 40s.
Peter Heller, the author of the New York Times best-selling novel The Dog Stars, published a memoir about his travel to Mexico in pursuit of waves. ‘The Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave’ tells us about Heller and his then-fiance’s epic surfing journey that helped him progress from being a ‘kook’ to pro in one year.
In the book, he also narrates their encounters with other surfers and learnings about different surfing cultures. He also tells about the many challenges they both faced, such as eating only cereals with powdered milk for breakfast and staying in a single campground for weeks on end.
- Author: Paul Theroux
- Publish Date: April 13, 2021
Under the Wave at Waimea is a fictional novel about a big-wave surfer, Joe “Shark” Sharky who in his 60’s lost his stoke and spark in his surfing career. Intoxicated in alcohol one night, he accidentally killed a homeless man near Waimea. This event challenged his way of life and made him meditate about his self-worth. To recover from causing a man’s death, he sought refuge and found his way back to the waves.
His story was told in a beautiful setting that emphasizes North Shore’s complex surfing culture. For this reason, some readers might find it hard to understand some references. Those who appreciate diverse cultures, however, will surely enjoy this book about connections and self-acceptance.
- Author: Dianne Cardwell
- Publish Date: July 7, 2020
Do you see midlife as a crisis? Dianne Cardwell, the author of Rockaway: Surfing Headlong into a New Life begs to differ. This surf book reminds us that it’s never too late to have a reset in life. Hard times may come by, but resilience wins in the end.
In this surfing memoir, she tells about how she sought happiness after her failed marriage and found it inside the community of Rockaway Beach Surf Club. We follow her story as she relocated to a tiny bungalow and learned about surfing with the help of a teacher. Just when she was starting to get her life back together, Hurricane Sandy hit and almost destroyed their town. She got closer to her fellow longboarders as they searched for safer ground and tried to rebuild their community.
- Author: Derek Morrison
- Publish Date: December 23, 2020
Derek Morrison is the editor of New Zealand Surfing magazine and 2018 winner of the Photographer of the Year award. In 2020, Morrison published Surf Dreams, a surf book that captured the true essence of the surf culture in New Zealand through photographs.
Surf Dreams discusses the surfing lifestyle and the importance of this water sport in 15 major surfing communities of New Zealand. Accompanying Morrison’s stunning pictures are stories of board shapers and other famous surfing personalities. It is one of the few publications that best portray the local surf scenes of Kiwi surfers. If you’re traveling to New Zealand to surf, we recommend browsing this one first!
- Author: Lauren L. Hill
- Publish Date: June 16, 2020
In a male-dominated sport, female surfers have always struggled to make a mark. Over the years, however, there have been a lot of women who’ve created a significant impact in the surfing world. In the book She Surf, author Lauren Hill celebrates each one of them!
This book features a diverse community of women surfers all over the globe. It includes past to present heroes — from the Polynesian surfing princesses to those who promote empowerment and adversity in the modern days like Stephany Gilmore, Ishita Malaviya, and Chloe Calmon.
She Surf is also a collection of rare images of historical artifacts and vintage illustrations of water women who broke stereotypes amidst old traditions. It also includes photographs of surfing destinations and secret spots in Hawaii, Italy, and Morocco.
- Author: Paul Wilson
- Publish Date: November 23, 2021
Bad Karma: The True Story of a Mexico Trip from Hell features the true story of 21-year old surfer, Paul Wilson, who lived in Imperial Beach, the year of 1978.
In this book, he tells the story of how a supposed to be a surfing trip of a lifetime turned into a nightmare with a series of mishaps. Not knowing that one of his two friends was a convicted killer on the run, they started the trip by robbing a supermarket and buying a stolen camera.
This book has a captivating story of survival that will keep you at the edge of your seat. Wilson’s descriptive writing about his raw fear and anger will transport you to its setting in the middle of a drug cartel area in Mexico.
Bad Karma also includes original photos of drug kingpin El Chapo. Although it’s not purely about surfing, its authenticity and great narrative make this book worthy of becoming a movie. As a matter of fact, its movie adaptation will be filmed in Costa Rica and Uruguay.
Golden Daze: The best years of Australian surfing
- Author: Sean Doherty
- Publish Date: July 28, 2020
Golden Daze features the stories of Australia’s most iconic surfing personalities from the year 1915 to the present.
This surf book includes the most significant events of surfing legends and surfers who were indicted in Surfing Australia’s Hall of Fame such as Mick Fanning, Wayne Bartholomew, Cheyne Horan, and Peter Troy. In this book, you’ll learn about the years they’ve won awards, the events they’ve competed in, and the years they’ve lost.
- Author: Veerle Helsen
- Publish Date: September 1, 2021
Are you a thalassophile who eat, sleep, and dream of surfing? Surf & Stay: 7 Road Trips in Europe is your perfect guide if you plan on going for an adventure in this region.
Veerle Helsen, a true-blood surfer and journalist, crafted this guide that consists of the travel itinerary of 7 surfing hotspots in the European region. Here we learn about the hotels where you should stay and the most recommended restaurants to eat at in Cantabria, Tenerife, Belgium, Cornwall, and West Flanders. In this surf book, Helsen also takes us on the most scenic routes to lesser-known beach areas, camper spots, and local tips about culture and the surfing scene.
These surf books have provided us with countless learnings and knowledge about surfing and people who’ve made significant impacts throughout its history.
We hoped that you enjoyed this reading list and if you’re interested to learn more about the culture of the best surf towns in the world, read this article next.