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Author's Apology | Radio Free Mike

Author's Apology

A foreword to the book that explains the title

Sweetness and Blood


As a history of surfing, this book isn’t definitive. It completely shortchanges (among other major forces) Dale Velzy, Mary Ann Hawkins, Greg Noll, and most of Australia. What I’ve tried to do is assemble a folk history of surfing, a personal sketch for any curious reader of how the modern sport moved around the world and mingled with cultures that either have nothing to do with Hawaii or have strong reasons to resist pop silliness from the First World. The result is a story of hippies, soldiers, nutcases, and colonialism, a checkered history of the spread of Western culture in the years after World War II.

“Dude, you should have gone to Brazil,” people told me. Or, “Are there really good waves in Gaza?” — as if the point were to search for beautiful surf. No, no, no. I left out major wave-riding nations like Mexico, France, and South Africa because most surfers know about them. Wherever possible I chose offbeat nearby countries (Cuba, Germany, São Tomé and Príncipe) to give the general reader an idea of how surfing reached that general part of the world and still, I hope, offer the dedicated surf historian something new — about how the sport mingled with Communism, or how it wound up in the North Sea.

When I set out, I was a landlocked scribbler, living as a journalist in Berlin. But I’d never stopped being a surfer, and I’d lived too long thinking the material I grew up with, the relentless superficial glare of Southern California, had no value for a writer. Even pop silliness has a human history, and modern surfing happens to be as American as baseball or jazz. By that I don’t mean to claim it for America — surfing, almost as much as soccer, is a world sport — but I do want to provide ammunition against the eternal domestic bigots who say certain (ever-shifting, normally coastal) parts of America somehow don’t belong; or against Europeans who think everything exported by America is bad; or against northeastern snobs who think surfing isn’t worth their time. Those three groups of people would never care to be caught together at a dinner party, but to me they’re partners in ignorance.

Anyway, this isn’t Endless Summer. It’s not a pleasure trip, or a search for the ultimate stoke. When a surfer takes off on a wave, there are two possible outcomes, and my book is about them both.