Book review: Surfing chronicles the evolution of a way of life

From its Pacific origins 4,000 years ago, surfing has spread around the world – and this mammoth Taschen tome is a beautiful tribute to every aspect of the sport

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 March, 2016, 9:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 March, 2016, 9:00am


by Jim Heimann


4.5/5 stars

“He went out from the shore till he was near the place where the swell begins to take its rise; and, watching its first motion very attentively, paddled before it with great quickness, till he found that it overlooked him, and had acquired significant force to carry his canoe before it without passing underneath. He then sat motionless, and was carried along at the same swift rate as the wave, till it landed him upon the beach. Then he started out, emptied his canoe, and went in search of another swell.”

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This first description of surfing was written by William Anderson, a surgeon aboard Captain James Cook’s ship the Resolution, during the British explorer’s travels around the Pacific Ocean in 1777,

and marks the moment the sport was “discovered” by Westerners.

Surfing is usually associated with Hawaii, where Anderson probably made his observation, but it’s now believed to have originated in Tahiti as far back as 2000 BC. And with it now being

considered as a potential official sport in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, you could say that surfing has come quite a long way since then.

The origins of the sport and its evolution are lovingly charted in Jin Heimann’s meticulously compiled Surfing, said to be the largest book ever published on the sport. Weighing in at almost 7 kilograms, it’s heavier than most professional surfers’ fibreglass boards, which have themselves come a long way from the massive solid redwood monsters ridden by their Hawaiian forebears.

With more than 900 images and several essays by the world’s top surf journalists spread over 600 pages, Heimann’s book tackles every aspect of the sport: the daring, the graphic design, the fashion, the music, the movies.

Add in boutique publisher Taschen’s usual attention to detail, such as a huge six-page centrefold documenting the evolution of the surfboard and a surfboard-shaped bookmark attached to the volume on a piece of cloth, and you’ve got something, well, totally radical, dude.