Stab Recommends: The 7 Best Surfing Biographies
Ghost writers in the sky.
I love it when some muck-raking clickbait site drags up some controversial quote from an autobiography written years prior and tries to pass it off as a scoop.
It’s a nice, modern reward for the author’s attempt at honesty, with a small asterisk at the bottom that says, "Quote originally appeared in 'Insert Cringe Biography Name Here.'" The thought of doing a round-up of surfing biopics came from all the sports journalism during lock down. People always try to appear smart when being interviewed on zoom, so they sit in front of books, either in a study, or a genuine library if they're of some stature. I've heard lots of cheeky interviewers ask sportspeople what books are behind them, the answers being the ghost written biographies of their friends and peers, which they inevitably haven't read. I thought it could be a laugh to compile a list of laughably ghost-written surf memoirs, but on second look re-discovered that there's actually some pretty good ones. Come browse the shelves.
Becoming Westerly, by Jamie Brisick
It's a match made in surf literati heaven: one of surfing's most respected scribes, and one of the greatest showmen surfing's ever seen, who one day decided to become a show-woman. Just as entertaining a read as it sounds.
TC, by Nick Carroll
Shameless name drop, but I was lucky enough to spend a week in New Zealand a few years back with Thomas Victor Carroll, and I was blown away by the man's fun-loving wisdom and retrospective candour. His brother's a smart man who writes beautifully at times, and his documentation of his younger sibling's remarkable life is well worth the price of admission.
Occy, by Tim Baker
The stories, whilst not by any means a handbook for sober living, are just too good. Occy going rogue on the north shore with the Billabong cc (used for more than tap 'n go ;), the infamous motor bike flip to crouching tiger, the list goes on. Tap in for an honest account of the wildest of raging bulls.
MP: The Life of Michael Peterson
Call me biased, but this is the surf biography by which all others are judged. I was 14 when this came out and it hit me straight between the eyes - read it cover to cover, back to cover to cover. Sean Doherty's dissection of the life and times of one of surfing's most mythical characters is nothing less than masterful storytelling.
Pipe Dreams, A Surfer's Journey, by Jason Borte
I was tempted to muck-rake this dated biography and pull out some sex quote (I remember something about dirtying a bed spread), clickbait the title of the of this article with "Slater Sex Secrets Revealed" and take home the Stab monthly reads title, but couldn't sink so low. Love the goat, and his candour.
All For a Few Good Waves; the Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora - David Rensin
I think the true fascination with Miki Dora lies in the dilemma as to whether his life was an exemplary one or not; whether he won, or ultimately lost. In terms of richness of experience and some major wins in jipping the system, Dora was definitely the victor, and David Rencin's chronicling of "Da Cat" is an exercise in wading through the fog, which he does nimbly.
Bunker Spreckles: Surfing's Divine Prince of Decadence - Art Brewer and C.R Stecyk
It's just a wild story. A young surfer, richer than god in surfing's most revolutionary period. More photo-heavy than the rest of the titles on the list, the wonderfully titled "Surfing's Divine Prince of Decadence" is a vivd account of a man who lived life on the high fringe and the absolute edge.
And as a bonus.... The Shane Gang, by Shane Stedman
Yeah it's an autobiography, but anyone who's spent five minutes with Shane Stedman will know what a talented storyteller the man is. There's plenty of surf icons who've dipped their personal quills in the ink, but the ineffable Stedman Snr's effort is new, and we're enduring fans of the man.
*Links to buy deliberately excluded, boycott the Bezos devil-machine and support your local book shop!