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16 October 2014

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on next : Gerry Anderson

Title: Surfing’s Greatest Misadventures. Ed: Paul Diamond and Tyler McMahon, (Casagrande 06)
Reviewer: Mark



The Facts:

Just like it says: a global collection of the mishaps, the misconstrued, the mislaid, and the misplaced efforts that constitute what you shouldn’t do when you go surfing. The book is laid out in a series of chapters; shark encounters, big wave difficulties and surfaris gone wrong. In each collection there are a number of short stories, some really short, others about 20 or 30 pages long. The writers of each ‘misadventure’ are the people involved at the time, among them surfing luminaries like Buzzy Kerbox, Carlos Burle and Steve Pezman (now Editor of the impeccable Surfer’s Journal). At other places though, miles away from glossy mags or surf industry glamour, there’s the local surfer’s story too. Indeed, its up to Oregon at one stage, and who should feature only Mark “Finger” Taylor, a regular on this very surf community. If you want to know how Mark got the nickname, buy the book.


Mark reckons:

In an age of goof-up tv shows and a broader cultural zeitgeist of lampooning and exploiting the individual (anyone else ready to thump Jeremy friggin’ Kyle?), I came at this book with a some apprehension. Would it be just more goofy, mostly Stateside stories of the Biggest “Whoooooaaaa” Wipeouts and the Biggest Waves Stories told with too much gusto and a not inconsiderable dollop of surf-chat hyperbole? The first few stories put paid to that notion. Shark attacks tend to do that, when written as well as this. In fact, I assume many of the writers here are journalists. The writing is really good – factual, even Spartan - and would pull anyone in, such is the drama, the risk and the knock on effect that one simple thing like an engine failure can have on a person’s life.


Who's This One For?

I genuinely found this book helpful. When you see the title on the cover, it actually betrays a whole collection of stories which are disparate in their scope. There’s a window on the States, yes, but also Africa, Indonesia and Laird Hamiltons effort to surf-swim from Corsica to Elba here in Europe. At times you’re laughing at the thought of a young Steve Pezman playing cops and robbers on Trestles Beach back in the 60’s when it was governed by the military and you weren’t meant to surf there. His final comment holds true poignancy on modern surf-sploitation. The next minute, youre gutted that some stories here have no happy ending. There are fatalities, and some of the accounts of the ‘men in grey suits’, that is, our toothed friends, are gripping.

The problem with any collection like this might be that you have over 30 different authors competing for your attention. On the whole though, the writing is engaging and informative.


For surfers who feel the pull towards an understanding of early surf culture, there are some real nuggets. Bruce Savage remembers 1960, old California and the Alpha male rivalry of Miki ‘Da Cat’ Dora and Greg Noll. This was the stuff of legend, as Dora endeavours to infiltrate, then ruin Noll’s fancy film premieres.


The book also works as a sometime read. You can read a quick story, then come back a day or a week later and not feel like you’ve forgotten the thread. Lazy yes, but that’s probably why its taken me so damn long to review, [and probably why other such ‘loo-books’ sell so well].

Irish people appreciate good storytelling. Over here, its an art form around the fire where wisdom is passed on to the young. Here too - for those of you who aspire to surf more, travel more and maybe take a risk with pushing up your surfing ability and scope – there is wisdom to be found. A lot of the writers are older, and should be heeded when they remember the stupid things they did back-in-the-day. This book educates in the practicalities of surf travel and good preparation. More importantly though, it serves to remind us that this pull of ours toward the ocean to ride waves can be a real leveller in terms of lost dreams and, at times, lost lives.

Well worth the ride all the way through.


And Who Not?

A lot of surfers don’t really want to think about the boat going down, getting whacked in the shark attack or engaging with the wipeout that takes you within an inch of your last breath. I think its good to know this stuff. But if its nice waves, general order and perfect peeling beach breaks that make your world go round, forget this one. Some of the images in the book are genuinely disturbing, and a salutary lesson that surfing is a pursuit that can so easily go so badly wrong.



Available in the UK from
Sterling cover price is £11.99 or order from your local book shop – ISBN is 0976951606.


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