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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Zen and the Art of Surfing

I really did not know much about surfing when I picked up the Greg Gutierrez short story collection, Zen and the Art of Surfing. Frankly, I was not sure that I could much get into a series of stories focusing on “the art of surfing.” It turns out that I need not have worried because Zen and the Art of Surfing is as much about surfers as it is about surfing. Gutierrez, a California high school English teacher and lifetime surfer, knows the surfing culture well and his short stories make it easy, even for non-surfers like me, to understand the allure and addictiveness of the lifestyle.

There are over 40 short stories in the collection and, based upon what Gutierrez reveals about himself in the book’s dedication and author description, one has to believe that the stories are a subtle mixture of truth and fiction. Among my favorites is “The Paddle,” a neat little story about a domesticated young surfer who paddles deep into the ocean to do some fishing on his own – only to find that he will be lucky to make it out of the ocean alive. His first words to his wife, when he has finally made it home and both are in tears, say it all: “Tell the kids I caught a white sea bass.”

Another of my favorites, “Sunset Cliffs,” is the story of a surfer/schoolteacher who decides to do a little preventive maintenance to the benefit of one of his students who is being threatened by the pervert just released from prison for what he did to the girl several years earlier. The teacher’s solution is one many would like to see happen more often than it does.

And then there is “The Eyes of Night,” a story less than two pages in length that I could not help wishing had ended in exactly the opposite way it did. Even now, several days later, when I think about this story I imagine my alternate ending rather than the one I read. That probably says more about the mood I was in when I first read the story than anything else, but I cannot remember feeling that way about a story before.

Hardcore surfers are a breed apart. This paragraph from “Aldo’s Bus” explains why that is:
“Somehow surfing brings friends together in a way that is solid. My closest friends are the friends I have surfed with all my life. Perhaps it’s the fact that we know we may have to count on one another for our lives. Being air breathing creatures, the ocean is not our natural element. Every time a surfer enters the water he is automatically entered into the food chain, and if for some reason he is unable to keep his head above water, the outcome isn’t pleasant.”
Zen and the Art of Surfing gave me something new to think about - and that is what reading is all about for me. Surfers will almost definitely love this book; but it is not just for them.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
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