With all that set up, the encyclopedia's charm and power lie in the eclectic entries themselves. Starting with "A-frame" (a peak-shaped wave ridable in either direction) and on to the surfing scenes in "Apocalypse Now," Warshaw moves through the alphabet. There's surf pioneer Tom Blake, the first to ride Malibu; there's Dick Dale, king of the surf guitarists; surfing's late angry young man Miki "da Cat" Dora, the inscrutable globe-trotting purist known for his charming theatrics, inimitable feline style and dire predictions of surfing's demise; "Gidget," the cinematic foundation of this multibillion-dollar industry. There are short courses on body boarding, East Coast surfing, politics and surfing, wave dynamics, genre terminology ("hollow," "edge," "Gremmie," "kook," "fish," "pig board," "goofy foot," "nose-drip," "cowabunga"). There's Tom Wolfe's surf essay, "The Pump House Gang." There's a history of surfboard design and a section on sunburn (titled "Skin Cancer"). The book ends with a short entry: "Zog, Mr. See Sex Wax," a reference to a cleverly marketed surfboard wax that sold in the tons.
There are 10 entries starting with "Australia" (with California and Hawaii, part of surfing's holy triumvirate), three starting with "California," eight with "Hawaii" (including "Hawaii Five-O"), six with "wave" and 70 with "surf." Just about every surfing break worth mentioning is included (and every country with surf), as well as a lengthy roster of personalities: surfers, businessmen, board makers, contest winners, pioneers, writers, filmmakers and musicians. Surfing aficionados will doubtless be surprised at some inclusions and decry others. My tiny complaint: Only a brief mention, under "Books and Surfing," of what was to me in the early '60s the essential companion for any day in the water -- the "Surfing Guide to Southern California" by Bill Cleary and David Stern. More than a guidebook to breaks, it is an indispensable introduction to the life and the first regional surfing encyclopedia. I still have my original copy.
That said, "The Encyclopedia of Surfing" does a good job of avoiding the parochial and the dogmatic. It is inclusive rather than exclusive, and the entries bleed through the edges of an orthodox take on the sport, much like a brisk offshore wind holds up a wave just seconds longer, allowing the surfer to make it through a crashing section. In this post-"Gidget" era, in which surfing has become part of a worldwide youth culture, Warshaw's book adheres to rule No. 1 and rides the wave the only way you can: in the direction it's going.
In "Maverick's: The Story of Big-Wave Surfing," Warshaw takes a different tack, using big-wave celebrity Mark Foo's death in 1994 at Maverick's, a break described as "explosive surf, a rock bottom and shifting currents in fifty-degree water" in central California, as an entry point -- and climax -- to a lyric and photographic history of big-wave surfing and those hardy souls with enough of the right stuff to attempt it. In 1994, Maverick's was newly discovered; it was Foo's first visit.
As preeminent big-wave pioneer Greg "da Bull" Noll, who in 1957 became the first man to ride Waimea Bay, once told me: "There's a couple of questions that I get asked at this stage of my life. One is 'What was it like to ride a big wave?' That's a question that puts me in the snore mode. You got a week to talk about it? We won't even scratch the surface. The answer, I guess, is that you don't know unless you actually do it -- and then, what is there to really talk about?"
If you're not yet quite up to actually doing it, making your way through Warshaw's big-wave tome will give you a pretty good education. *