Book Reviews

GOOD= the subject matter (surfing-psychology-neuroscience-spirituality);  BAD= at times hard to follow, not exactly a page turner, not sure if it is fact or fiction (though I know this is intended);  Grade= B (worth reading)

In his semi-factual memoir, West of Jesus, Steven Kotler sets out to find the origins of a very particular surf legend about a surfer called “the conductor” who can control the weather with a human bone. In doing so, Kotler ends up exploring why surfing is unique in the sense of spiritual fulfillment it provides the practitioner.   At times humorous, Kotler has a distinctly Gen-X style in his writing and his views.  Cynicism mixed with awe inspiring science and spirituality.  Kotler delves deeply into the origins of belief – Jung’s collective unconscious, Levi Strauss’s deep structures, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow states are all pieces in a puzzle that Kotler travels the globe to piece together. *

The author’s quest takes him from his California home to waves in Mexico, New Zealand, and finally Hawaii. Whether or not he solves the mystery of the conductor becomes insignificant because Kotler, in a short 266 pages, takes the reader on a survey course in spiritual thought that ranges from neuro-chemical theories of how humans are hard-wired for mystical experiences to Taoist thought to other Jungian psychology.

West of Jesus is a book about surfing that attempts to be something like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was for motorcycle riding. But I think it misses the mark.  It is good for skimming and definitely has a few passages that were well researched and offer a glimpse into surf science.  However, if you liked Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I’d go with reading Lila instead of this one.                                         *Somewhat mashed from a review on

GOOD: well resourced and cited references, clear read, BAD: poorly covers ancient surfing in Peru/Africa/other spots.  GRADE: A (buy/read)

The Legendary Surfers collection by Malcolm Gault-Williams is a multi-volume set dedicated to surf history. Volume 1, reviewed here, was printed by CafePress in 2005 and covers early surf history from 2500 B.C. to 1910 A.D.

The author’s website claims, “nowhere else can you read about the pre-modern days of Polynesian and Hawaiian surfing in such detail, extensively footnoted, and all in one volume. You would have to buy half a dozen books on history and surfing just to get a portion of what is contained in Legendary Surfers Volume 1.  I have been unable to determine whether this is hyperbole or fact.  However, I have found the collection to be thorough and well documented.  At times, it may go into Hawaiian history in too much detail, losing track of any direct relevance to surfing.  Too much information is not a bad thing and sometimes provides some general history as a backdrop.   The section on prehistoric surfing in other parts of the globe (South America, Africa) was relatively thin and needs to be expanded.  Overall, I recommend the book.  It’s one of my favorite sources for referencing surf history as can be seen in several of my blogs.


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