Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave

Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave

by Peter Heller

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With grit, poetry, and humor, Peter Heller, acclaimed author of The River and The Whale Warriors recounts his remarkable journey of discovery—of surfing, an entirely new challenge; of the ocean’s beauty and power; of the strange surf subculture; of love; and, most of all, of how to seek adventure while crafting a meaningful life.

Author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Dog Stars
Winner of the National Outdoor Book Award for Literature

Having resolved to master a big-hollow wave—that is, to go from kook (surfese for beginner) to shredder—in a single year, Heller travels from Southern California down the coast of Mexico in the company of his girlfriend and the eccentric surfers they meet. Exuberant and fearless, Heller explores the technique and science of surfing the secrets of its culture, and the environmental ravages to the stunning coastline he visits.

As Heller plumbs the working of his own heart and finds joy in both love and surfing, he affords readers vivid insight into this fascinating world, with all of its perils and pleasures, its absurdity and wonder. Exhilarating, entertaining, and moving, Kook is a love story between a man and his surfboard, a man and his girlfriend, a not-so-old man and the sea.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439171813
Publisher: Free Press
Publication date: 07/13/2010
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 268,221
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Peter Heller is an award-winning adventure writer and long-time contributor to NPR. He is a contributing editor at Outside magazine and National Geographic Adventure and the author of Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River. He lives in Denver, Colorado. He can be reached at PeterHeller.net.

Read an Excerpt


I had watched the seal catch two waves. Now his head popped up beside me where I sat on my board. I almost fell off in surprise. “Hi,” I stammered. He blinked, unafraid and curious. Oh, man, I thought, he wants to be my friend. “Right?” I proffered. The seal didn’t seem to be into conversation. He turned his head toward the open ocean, just like a surfer looking for a set. Wow. These are the kind of moments we dream about. He had position on me. I mean that, technically, he was closer to the peak where the waves broke and so the next wave belonged to him. But no rule of surf etiquette said I had to yield to a pinniped. I’m going, I thought. Next good wave is mine. You can catch waves all day long.

He turned his sleek head and looked at me with such frank and kindly condescension that I winced. What on earth are you doing in my house? he seemed to say. You are such a kook.

Kook means “beginner surfer.” It is not a neutral term; it carries a slug of derision, a brand for the clueless, for those without hope, without grace, without rhythm. To be a kook is to be consigned to a kind of beginner’s hell. The seal disappeared in a swirl of green water. Good. I always messed up when someone was watching. I needed a little alone time.

I sat on the board and focused on the horizon. My ocean-sharpened eyes were hunting set waves—the distinctly bigger, more powerful swells that came like big fat birthday presents out of the Pacific. One was bound to have my name on it.

Was that one? Way, way out? Yes! I turned the board and lay down. Ready!

Surfers, people who actually knew how to surf, spun their boards just under the wave and took off. Not me. I needed a lot of lead time. I started paddling. My wave might not get here for a while, but I’d have some momentum.

The seal’s head popped up, not ten feet away. Now he was about to burst with glee. Evidently he thought I was hilarious. He kept his head half turned, eyes unblinking and locked on mine as he effortlessly cruised beside me on my right. Go ahead, laugh! I thought. You won’t be the first, but I’m getting this wave. I already suspected he could read my mind, so I added, Big shot.

I looked once over my shoulder. Oh, man, there it was, the building wall, barreling in just behind, steepening, lifting. This was it. The wave picked up my tail and shot me forward. Yes! Okay, okay, pop up!

In the split second it took to attempt the most crucial move in surfing—from passenger-prone to standing and in control—two thoughts flashed: Anything is possible. And: What the hell am I doing here?

© 2010 Peter Heller

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