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The World in the Curl: An Unconventional History of Surfing Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 23, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


Los Angeles Times Bestseller

"The authors promise an intelligent guide to surfing. And they have delivered one… The book is a serious compendium of historical developments in the sport, from its earliest known roots in Hawaii to today. Westwick and Neushul bring an academic rigor to the topic, backed up with an impressive review of the literature from the archives of surf magazines and The Times to books, films and historical records.”- Los Angeles Times

“The authors are studious, meticulous and logical….The 400-plus-page book tracks the strange, cultish practice of riding an oblong floatation device on the surface of a moving wave. It ranges from its ancient Polynesian roots to modern competitions, mechanized wave-pools, and international T-shier corporations, placing the pastime in larger historical context.” Wall Street Journal

“Peter Westwick and Peter Neushul trace surfing from its ancient Polynesian roots to its current incarnation as a ‘global commercial and cultural phenomenon.’ Along the way, they look at the connections between surfing and, among other things, colonialism, technology, Hollywood, advertising, fashion, real estate development, pollution, climate change — even Islamic fundamentalism…The result is provocative and highly entertaining [and] the authors skillfully debunk some of the myths that have grown up around the sport.” Washington Post

“The great thing about Peter Westwick and Peter Neushul’s new book, The World in the Curl, is that they explore all the ways surfing has been influenced by—and has influenced—colonialism, war, capitalist industry, and other outside historical forces.” - Daily Beast

"Surfers will be stoked to read The World in the Curl...Ambitious and compelling."Boom: A Journal of California 

"A lively coverage recommended for sports and sociology collections alike, which delves into topics most surfing histories don't begin to probe."Midwest Book Review

A well-rounded look at surf culture… the authors certainly did their research.”–

“Westwick and Neushul’s focus on the cultural and socio-economic illuminates hidden forces that are rarely discussed by even the most knowledgeable surfers…For every enthusiast killing time before the next big swell, the authors provide a satisfying immersion into the story of how a near-extinct Polynesian pastime came back to conquer the beach.”Publishers Weekly

“An encyclopedic history of riding the waves…. The authors leave no aspect of surfing unexplored—as rewarding for those addicted to pursuing the ‘stoke’ as for others merely smitten by surfing’s idyllic island allure.” –Kirkus Reviews

The World in the Curl is the most scholarly and comprehensive history of the sport born on the waves of Hawaii.” – Fred Hemmings, Hawaii's 1968 world champion surfer and a founding father of pro surfing

The World in the Curl is a fascinating, fast-paced chronicle of one of the world's most colorful sports. Westwick and Neushul have written a book that's as immersive as it is engaging; one that does deep justice to the power and allure of the ocean itself.” —Susan Casey, author of The Wave

“Surf’s up! And so is this history and celebration of the surfing art, at once academically impressive yet alive with the passion and insight of two surfer dude professors of a kind–and a book–that only California can produce.” –Kevin Starr, University of Southern California

“Every surfer on earth ought to buy and read this book. From the motorized 'warboards' developed by the US military in WW2, to the hidden racist evil of legendary surfer Mickey Dora, The World in the Curl offers that greatest of gifts to any sub-culture: taking it seriously, treating our great sport as a legitimate lens through which to view human experience in, on, and around the oceans for the last thousand years.” –Daniel Duane, author of Caught Inside

“Although not often recognized as such, the ocean is by far the planet’s largest wilderness.  Surfing takes place at a frontier of civilization.  Peter Westwick and Peter Neushul make their book come alive because they have walked (and swum!) the talk.  It’s an inside, honest, sometimes painful, story.  Surfing provides the matrix, but there is broader and deeper dimension to this book.  It’s a cultural, environmental, and sociological history of the interface between our species and the edge of the continents.” – Roderick Frazier Nash, Professor Emeritus of History and Environmental Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara and author of Wilderness and the American Mind

"The World in the Curl deftly and engagingly charts the origins and evolution of surfing from ancient Polynesian pastime to a truly global sport with 20 million devotees, from Tasmania to Iceland, Gaza to Japan. Surfing’s cultural and commercial influence reaches vastly farther, touching billions with pervasive images of personal freedom, youth, and quintessential cool. Westwick and Neushul show that surfing’s rise has surprising depths, as it became the world’s most iconoclastically-iconic sport by thriving at the intersections of radical change: colonialism, capitalism, consumerism, shifting gender, class, and racial mores, and above all in the paradoxical landscapes of modern war: with leisured teenagers in Sunbelt suburbs, with soldiers in Vietnam, and with aerospace engineers making surfboards and wetsuits with techniques and materials from the military-industrial complex. Surfing has long had a split personality: is it harmless, wholesome fun, or a more subversive, outsider activity? Is it soulful communion with nature, or commercial enterprise, competitive and commodified? Throughout the narrative, we are reminded of the social and moral dimensions of sports, perfectly exemplified by 'surfing’s constant struggle to save its soul.'"– Wade Graham, author of American Eden

"Surfing rides the wave of history in Peter Westwick and Peter Neushul's The World in the Curl.  Through deeply researched and engagingly told tales from the Polynesian settlement of Hawaii to today's global surf industry, Westwick and Neushul take us into the impact zone where surfing and society collide and cultures are transformed.  This book is as epic, in its way, as a big day at Mavericks.  Read it for its context, dig it for its stoke."  –David Helvarg, author of The Golden Shore

“An excellent read, a scholarly look beneath the surface which results in a greater appreciation of the texture of an alluring sport and lifestyle.” –Shaun Tomson, world champion surfer and author of Surfer’s Code

“With excellent research and epic storytelling skills, they expose the contradictory reality of surfing without forgetting the thrill of catching a wave. This entertaining book isn't just for surfers – it’s about how the modern world looks from inside the curl.” – Matthew Stewart, author of The Courtier and the Heretic

"Surfers, sprung from the natural sea to a Beach Boys soundtrack – who knew their origins span colonial  confrontation to aerospace innovation? The World in the Curl is a brilliant history of sport, culture, technology and crashing political waves, a perfect ride for anyone who delights in understanding the complex crosscurrents that have shaped our social history."  –David Beers, author of Blue Sky Dream

About the Author

PETER WESTWICK is an assistant research professor of history at the University of Southern California, the director of the Aerospace History Project at the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, and the author or editor of three books.

PETER NEUSHUL is a visiting senior associate researcher in the Department of History at the University of California at Santa Barbara.  He has written extensively on defense industries, history of oceanography, and on environmental history.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (July 23, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307719480
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307719485
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #323,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Gregory McMahan VINE VOICE on July 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book was quite a lot of fun and an unflinching eye-opener into the evolution of modern-day surfing as most of us know it today. It goes very far in disabusing the reader of many myths and illusions surrounding the lifestyle and the sport. The book pulls in diverse information from history and anthropology, to geography, environmental science and economics, and skillfully manages to demonstrate that modern surfing really is an artifice, lacking many of the traits that once made it, quite literally, the sport of (then Polynesian) kings.

The authors- 'the two Petes'- teach an insanely popular class on the history of surfing, offered through the environmental studies program at UC Santa Barbara. I, like many of the students who enroll in this heavily over-subscribed and what is most likely the most popular class on campus, have never once rode the waves on a long board, and like many of the students in the class, have come to idolize surfers and surfing primarily because of the highly stylized and very idealized depictions of surfing, surfers and the surfing lifestyle in television, song and film. Indeed, the authors more than sufficiently show that the popular image of surfing and the surfing lifestyle is just that- an image.

The book winds its way through the early roots of surfing, taking the reader from the Hawaiian Islands, and then moving up to the mid-twentieth century, where surfing becomes a cultural force in the modern American context. Here, it lingers and takes the reader on a guided tour of how surfing fed into- or rather, fueled- two very escapist movements, one that was idealized (and running in parallel with the rise of suburban America) and one that was thoroughly anti-war and counter-cultural (marked by the Vietnam War).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By DarceeMew on July 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
As a surfer living in Humboldt County, California, this book lifted my soul. Most of what I have heard about legends, politics, and surfers throughout history was included by Westwick, as well as many interesting topics I have not heard much about. The World in the Curl allowed me to become more educated on the sport that I live and breathe, and for that Westwick, I truly thank you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Malvin VINE VOICE on July 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The World in a Curl" by Peter Westwick and Peter Neushul is a brilliant academic history of surfing. Written by surfers and history professors Westwick and Neushal for their course taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara, this innovative book might well represent the first academically-rigorous analysis on the subject. Although the author's primary task is to inform and educate, the text includes plenty of colorful anecdotes and insights that make for an entertaining read. This thoroughly researched and well-written book that will richly reward readers who appreciate a fresh, unique and interesting view of history.

Professors Westwick and Neushal talk about the origins of surfing and its cultural significance to the pre-industrial Hawaiian people. The authors correct popular misconceptions about the effects of Western colonization and discuss how the sport was revived from near extinction in the early twentieth century. We see how surfing's cultural cachet as a leisure industry good transformed the islands into a major tourist destination.

Having spent part of my childhood in southern California, I was particularly impressed with the professor's chapters about how the Golden State became the nexus for surfing in the 1950s-1960s. We learn how surfing exploded with the rise of a middle class whose leisure time was enabled by a prosperous postwar economy. Hollywood and pop music projected the image of a fun, carefree lifestyle that obscured many real problems such as pollution, violent localism, drug abuse and sexism. Interestingly, we see how the tools of the surfer owed much to the military/industrial complex including wave forecasting, wet suits and boards made from lightweight plastics.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Tory VINE VOICE on June 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a very thorough history of the sport of surfing. The bibliography at the end is incredibly extensive -- the authors definitely did their homework! The only issue I have is that it was tedious to read..... so much facts. Some I truly did find interesting, but overall I was bored. I gave this to my husband, a surfer of over 20 years, and he was excited by it at first but quickly got bored and couldn't finish it. If you are looking for an in-depth analysis on the history of surfing, this is a great book. If you are looking for a brief history and facts that is entertaining to read, this is not the book.
So... though I didn't love it, perhaps someone that wanted a more academic approach would.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Edelman TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I was in elementary school, back in the 1960s, one of my favorite things was ordering inexpensive books once a month from the Scholastic Book Service. And one of my favorite books was an introduction to the world of surfing, something common in California or Hawaii but pretty much unknown here in the Midwest. I never did get to ride on a surfboard, though I did manage a few rides on an air mattress on the gentle waves of Lake Michigan, and a bit of kayak surfing in later years.

All this came back to me on reading The World in the Curl. The authors are real California surfers, as well as professors of history in the UC system, and they've brought their academic skill and their passion for the sport to this encompassing history of surfing. It begins, as expected, in the early days of Hawaiian surfing, before the arrival of Captain Cook or the missionaries that followed him, and continues right up to the present. The usual figures, like Duke Kahanamoku and the Beach Boys, make their appearance, but the authors go into detail about matters not usually covered in popular works on surfing, like the difficulty Duke Kahanamoku had actually earning a living, despite being the first great hero of surfing.

This book is not just about the early history, or what we think of as "surfer culture." There's a lot here on the business of surfing, too. There's the board makers themselves, and the evolution from wood to glass, but there's a lot here about surfing clothes and fashion, and the men who created present day empires that began with a surfboard and an idea. You probably don't know- I didn't- that the baggy shorts or "jams" that became a core part of the surfer image originated with a pair of Russian pajama bottoms- hence the name.
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