Book Review – The World in the Curl – An Unconventional History of Surfing by Peter Westwick & Peter Neushul

The authors have given us an outstanding, comprehensive history of surfing as it evolved from the simple, natural way of life for ancient Hawaiians and survived the challenges of an ever-changing world to become an international, competitive sport of cultural significance around the globe.

The central theme of the book is the expansion of surfing from relatively isolated locations in the early 20th century with the world’s most famous surfer Duke Kahanamoku in Waikiki, Hawaii to the familiar shores of California and eventually to every continent. The mystery of the ocean and the romantic appeal of sand and sea have fascinated people for years, but surfing in the early days was viewed as far too daring and not widely accepted as a popular pastime. At first, surfers were scorned for being nothing more than a group of free spirits and delinquents seeking pleasure, frequently on drugs and alcohol, and rebelling against authority and society in general. The book explores the changing attitudes of the public as movies, books, and music provided inspiration and renewed interest in surfing as great entertainment. When Southern California became an aerospace success, surfers now had new locations and exciting waves to challenge.

Economic growth meant more money and more leisure time for people to travel to distant locations for adventure and fun. Tourism grew by leaps and bounds, as other countries welcomed surfers and vacationers flocked to the beaches and ritzy hotels for days in the sun. Surfing superstars appeared on the scene, and both men and a few women were now part of the surfing world. There was money to be made from this new interest in what had become a global industry with the development, production, and advertising of new surf boards and equipment, designer clothing, and trendy accessories. Surf shops in every country continue to make billions of dollars each year from sales of apparel and surfing gear. The natural lifestyle image of surfing had been replaced by the inevitable result of social and technological modernization.

Along with this widespread popularity, however, came the environmental issues caused both by nature and by man, which meant fewer good surfing locations. Buyers began searching for homes to purchase by the shore, claiming their part of the beach as private property and limiting access for surfers. Some of these problems were partially resolved when manufacturers began creating artificial wave pools in communities away from the sea. They were convenient and relatively inexpensive entertainment for many people who could no longer afford the distant, exotic surfing locations. Although similar sports such as skateboarding, snow boarding, and windsurfing grew popular, most avid surfers found them poor substitutes.

Through the years surfing has managed to maintain its image through extensive media coverage and advertising campaigns as a form of escapism, a natural release for millions of people from the hectic pace, stress, and problems in the world today. For readers who have not studied surfing and have little knowledge of the sport, this book provides a wealth of historical information skillfully interspersed with human interest stories and thoroughly researched by the authors, Westwick and Neushul. Although primarily educational in scope and style, the book is much more than the usual textbook of facts, figures, events, and names. It is a fascinating narrative that will appeal to sports enthusiasts everywhere, as well as to those of us who have never had the opportunity to experience the thrill of that “magic carpet ride,” and for all you surfers out there “Hang Ten.”

Published by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc., New York
July 23, 2013
Random House: $26.00
Amazon: $19.71 (Prime)
Kindle: $11.84

Sharon L Slayton

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