A midlife crisis spurs an adventure writer to pursue surfing.
At 45, having just completed a mountain-climbing expedition in Tibet, Heller (The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals, 2008, etc.) was eager for a new adventure. He found it in Orange County, Calif., where a college buddy proposed that they learn to surf. Neoprene wetsuits and surfboards set the stage for a reckless, overconfident first attempt at Huntington Beach that went awry (“windmilling arms, big splashes”) and incited the ire of nearby seasoned pros who recognize a “kook” (beginner surfer) when they see one. Undeterred by bruising and exhaustion, Heller continued even after he’d abandoned the beach for several writing opportunities and returned three years later fortified with a healthy determination to become a skilled surfer in just six months. Though his restless lifestyle had made him romantically undesirable in the past, current girlfriend Kim agreed to join him and the pair married. Heller and his new wife soon became ensconced in the Southern California surfing community, then traveled to Mexico. However, their new adventures were tabled in favor of Heller’s participation in exposing the slaughter of whales and dolphins by Japanese fishermen. The author deviates from his waterborne exploits to opine on the state of surfing (a booming “billion-dollar industry”) and its diverse culture, and he notes that his time negotiating coastal waters afforded him the opportunity to assess the rapidly deteriorating state of West Coast beaches and coastal erosion. Negotiating riptides and surprise swells, Heller eventually developed a fresh appreciation for “the forces a surfer deals with” and, even as a neophyte, applauded their “prowess and grace.” “Surfers are an intense bunch,” he writes, “and they love their coast the way they love their mothers.”
A glib, charming take on a popular watersport.