Caught Inside: A Surfer's Year on the California Coast, by Daniel Duane (North Point Press, $21)
The idea is refreshing: drop out for a year, live beachside, surf daily. That's what Daniel Duane does in this, his second book. Duane, although not yet 30 and wholly at ease with the word stoked, follows in the tradition of Thoreau. He is a naturalist, a historian, a ponderer. The Pacific—in its chilly zone, in the vicinity of Santa Cruz—is his Walden Pond.
Big-wave, cold-water surfing is an act of courage, and so is writing a 239-page surfing book without photographs, as Duane has done. His book is a report on what he learned in his waterlogged year. Between swells, we learn about surfing literature, movies and etiquette. We learn about surfers being attacked by sharks, monster waves, one another. We learn about surf, about the physical properties of a wave. "Until somebody figures out how to ride sound or light, surfing will remain the only way to ride energy," Duane writes, and in a single sentence he reveals the allure of the sport for even the most sedentary among us.
He doesn't write about how to surf. Duane, a child of the skateboarding culture, seems to have known how to do that going in, which is a shame. Caught Inside needs a journey, a start in one place, a finish someplace else. It aches for some sense of the development of its protagonist. "I called my uncle on the phone," Duane writes, "told him that theory of mine about surfing not being a story." But of course there's a story. There's always a story. Unfortunately, Duane only outlines his. He brushes at characters—a sporadic girlfriend who is indifferent to tides, a college teacher who surfs when he should be handing out exams, a lawyer's son afraid of life on the sandy side of the sandbar. They sound compelling, but who are they? Duane, for all his fearlessness, never jumps in.
Instead, he has written a long, thoughtful, uncommon essay—a tribute to the Pacific's green ceiling and the birds above it, the dolphins below it and the surfers upon it.