Two new books have set to expand the record of surfing's history, examining topics that have drawn attention to surfing and attributed to its growth: big waves and wetsuits.
"This book is about an obsession," said Chris Dixon, long-time surf scribe and author of Ghost Wave: The Discovery of Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave on Earth, which will be released by Chronicle Books on Nov. 1.
A new biography about wetsuit pioneer Jack O'Neill, written by Drew Kampion and called Jack O'Neill: It's Always Summer On the Inside, is available now.
In Ghost Wave, Dixon dissects the historical fascination with Cortes Bank -- a shallow, 20-mile long shelf 100 miles west of San Diego -- and how the progression of big-wave surfing has perpetuated its allure. "I've seen how radical it can get out there, and Chris is pretty spot on," said Surfline's Sean Collins, who's surfed Cortes himself.
Cortes Bank detonated the surf world in 2001, when boats ferrying an all-star crew of surfers, photographers, and filmmakers confronted a massive northwest swell that hit Cortes that January. Mike Parsons and Brad Gerlach from southern California, as well as Santa Cruz's Peter Mel and Ken "Skindog" Collins, paired-off on jet skis, while Evan Slater and a young waterman named John Walla took to self-propulsion. Dixon recounts the expedition with muscular detail, from the planning and forecasting efforts by Collins and Larry Moore, and how the swell disrupted the surf contest at Mavericks, just south of San Francisco, to the disparity in equipment between the tow-teams and paddle surfers.
The January 2001 session was well covered, but Dixon extensively retraces the curious, and little known, history of Cortes. The book idea stemmed from a piece Dixon wrote for the New York Times. Dixon visited Cortes Bank in 2009, then again in 2010 to do research for the book. "It was right there waiting to be told. The hardest thing has got to be when to stop researching, when to stop writing," admitted Dixon.
Also published by Chronicle Books, Jack O'Neill, is a 256-page coffee table book that features archival photos and quotes from surfers that also appear in Dixon's tome. "It is an honor to be able to tell the story of a man's journey to perfect a pastime that was once not as celebrated as it is today," said Kampion, the author of several books and an editor at Surfer and Surfing magazines from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. According to the company, the book serves to commemorate O'Neill's sixtieth anniversary in 2012.