Books for river surfers can be a little hard to find. As far as I know there are no books written specifically about river surfing, with the possible exception of this book I found on Amazon. But it’s in German, and I don’t speak German. On the bright side, at its heart river surfing is a hybrid of two longer-standing sports, ocean surfing and whitewater kayaking. So books from those disciplines should whet your appetite for some good reading. Here are some of my favorites:
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan
So maybe I’m not starting with the most original recommendation in the world; this book did win a Pulitzer after all. But if you haven’t read it yet, I consider it required reading for anyone who has ever picked up a surfboard. Finnegan is a surfing addict, but he’s also a hell of a writer, and his autobiography covers a lifetime of surfing, from vagabonding to big wave chasing to wondering whether his big wave days are over.
Kook, by Peter Heller
You’ll have to excuse the sappy subtitle, “What Surfing Taught Me about Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave.” Heller’s book captures the joys and frustrations of starting as a brand-new surfer extremely well; the repeated failures, the little fleeting triumphs. It follows his efforts to go from being a first timer (a “kook”) to riding hollow barreling waves over the course of a year.
Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River, by Peter Heller
Another Heller recommendation; he’s a guy that understands both surfing and whitewater. In this book, he follows an expedition into what many call the analogue to Everest – it just goes down into the mountain range rather than up.
The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko
What’s with these guys and subtitles? (The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon). Anyway, it’s hard to spend much time on a river and not start to fall under the spell of the Grand Canyon. Fedarko focuses on the dory boat captains who have run the river since Powell’s expedition, and the record-setting speed run by a crew during record-high (post-Lake-Powell) flows.
Caught Inside: A Surfer’s Year on the California Coast
Maybe some of the most evocative nature writing of any of these surf books. Not the heart-thumping excitement of some of the others on this list, but sections capture the feel of being on the water better than any others.