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Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave [Paperback]

Peter Heller
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 13 2010
Author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Dog Stars
Winner of the National Outdoor Book Award for Literature

With grit, poetry, and humor, Peter Heller, acclaimed author of The Whale Warriors recounts his remarkable journey of discovery—of surfing, an entirely new challenge; of the ocean’s beauty and power; of the strange surf subculture; of love; and, most of all, of how to seek adventure while crafting a meaningful life.

Having resolved to master a big-hollow wave— that is, to go from kook (surfese for beginner) to shredder—in a single year, Heller travels from Southern California down the coast of Mexico in the company of his girlfriend and the eccentric surfers they meet. Exuberant and fearless, Heller explores the technique and science of surfing the secrets of its culture, and the environmental ravages to the stunning coastline he visits.

As Heller plumbs the working of his own heart and finds joy in both love and surfing, he affords readers vivid insight into this fascinating world, with all of its perils and pleasures, its absurdity and wonder. Exhilarating, entertaining, and moving, Kook is a love story between a man and his surfboard, a man and his girlfriend, a not-so-old man and the sea.

Frequently Bought Together

Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave + Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer's Quest to Find Zen on the Sea + Fit to Surf: The Surfer's Guide to Strength and Conditioning
Price For All Three: CDN$ 36.87

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Review

"In this rich and gracefully written book, Heller's creative and artistic abilities are on full display. We follow along with him on an insightful, year-long quest as he grapples with the dual, ever capricious, challenges of love and the sea."
—National Outdoor Book Award

“Breathtaking. . . . As Heller slips deeper and deeper into the surfing world, he teeters at the edge of obsession. . . . Over the course of this journey, Heller comes to understand the power of the waves, the value of the ocean and its suffering at the hands of man. Perhaps most important, he discovers his ability to commit, to love.”
The Dallas Morning News

“Told with an honesty and self-deprecating sense of humor, Heller’s tale is as much about surfing as it is about his personal growth as an individual once he starts getting his glide on. With a finely trained ability to both have insight and share it, Heller connects the dots between the simple act of surfing, emotional health, personal redemption, and our duty to work as stewards of Mother Earth. Next time an employer, a parent, or a significant other questions why you surf or what the bigger meaning of so much time getting waterlogged actually adds up to, this book is the ideal answer to give them.”
Santa Barbara Independent

“The book may be about surfing, but the real subject here is obsession. How far is one man willing to push his body, mind, and relationship to achieve a singular goal? Though Peter Heller may end up catching a wave that is perfect, the life lessons along the way are even more powerful.”
Mark Obmascik, author of Halfway to Heaven and The Big Year

“Heller is a guy you would want to go on an adventure with: likeable, fallible, good-humored, given to near-fatal bouts of love—for the ocean, for his girl, for the perfect wave. What begins as a mid-life crisis evolves, in this engaged and engaging story, into a deeply impassioned stand on behalf of marine-life, and of all life. Kook makes the dangerously unhip suggestion that it is still possible to find meaning--even transcendence--in the ever diminishing natural world.”
—Pam Houston, author of Sight Hound

“Heller takes us on a wild, unforgettable adventure with the poet's gift for capturing the quintessential in risking everything and the transformation that comes with it. This book is a funny, compelling exploration of love, surfing and the everyday, even when life proves as uncompromising as the wave.”
—Rebecca Rowe, author of Forbidden Cargo

"The author has a great feel for people… As a result, the reader gets to know a collection of fascinating characters: surf stars, expats, and environmentalists, to say nothing of the creatures of the sea…Mr. Heller’s colorful and informative paean to humility belongs on the bookshelves of kooks and surf gods alike." --The East Hampton Star

About the Author

Peter Heller is an award-winning adventure writer and long-time contributor to NPR. He is a contributing editor at Outside magazine and National Geographic Adventure and the author of Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River. He lives in Denver, Colorado. He can be reached at www.peterheller.net.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you're a surfer, you must read this book. Nov. 2 2011
Format:Paperback
I loved this book from the moment I picked it up! If you're a person who loves the ocean, the coast, or if you're a surfer... you'll love this book. Reading it actually made me reflect on my life and the "lack" of adventure I incorporate into my daily life. Being a surfer of two years (meaning I'm still learning and falling in love with it everyday) this book perfectly described certain moments that I really think only true surfers can appreciate... the magical moments when you are out on the water. I could tell Peter was writing straight from experience and truly from his heart and as I continued reading on I found myself smiling as I thought of similar experiences I too have gone through.

If this book doesn't inspire you to quit your job, buy a crappy station wagon, and travel the coast looking for the perfect way... nothing will.

I give it 5 stars, and as for the "other review" stating it was overly desciptive, I think perhaps you could just not compare because you have never had such immense passion for such an activity... sitting out in the water waiting for a set to roll in may sound boring... but it can be one of the most peaceful and beautiful moments of your entire life.

Enjoy the book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun read Sept. 27 2010
Format:Paperback
Kook was a fun and enjoyable read and I am definitely happy I picked it up. It kept me entertained, and although sometimes I found that the author's writing style got a little overly descriptive for nothing, I would definitely recommend it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  77 reviews
36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Still a Kook Aug. 4 2010
By Soul Rebel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In some ways, I feel that Peter Heller is still a kook. You would think that someone who started surfing in his late forties would show a little more respect for art. Early in the book, he wrote that the California surf culture doesn't have the Aloha spirit that has stereotyped surfing for decades. He described it as more of a testosterone fueled aggressive sport. The problem is that he didn't take the time to appreciate the diversity in surfers, locations and overall attitudes. I have surfed in Southern California for 16 years and can say that although there are the aggressive competitive beaches and surfers, there are plenty of generous life loving surfers who have adopted the overall aloha lifestyle. The thing that really bothered me was an incident in which he kooked out and ran into a young girl whose father was teaching her to surf. Rather than apologize for damaging her board, he got into a pissing contest with the dad . . . in front of the girl. Although he realized that he was wrong, he never acknowledged it to the father or the girl. He seems to be the guy that he despises . . . another yuppie trying to steal an identity and understanding that in truth, takes years to develop.

That being said . . . it was a good read and interesting story.
38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Readable, entertaining, not just for 'kooks'. July 25 2010
By C. Solares - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
This is my first review ever, and I'm only writing it because there were none, so I figured it would be helpful to prospective purchasers to have something here other then professional reviews.

I'll start by saying this book is an easy read, entertaining and well worth the price of admission, even to non-surfers. Heller, as a self desribed kook (or beginner), takes us slowly into surfing culture and lingo at a pace where we can easily understand certain aspects of surfing without actually being a surfer. There is a good feel for the complexity and commitment that it takes to become proficient at surfing and I thought the author was able to get the emotions and spirituality of the surfing experience across to a wider audience. As a surfing lifestyle book, I think it is a sucess.

The other themes of the book are secondary: Ocean Conservation and Relationships. It is obvious Heller's passion is the ocean and there is a conservationist message sprinkled throughout that is mostly well integrated, but at times seemed a bit forced. If you are a right wing ultra conservative (or Japanese) you may find the message off putting, but if you fall into that camp you probably wouldn't be out surfing or reading this book.

The only reason I didn't give the book a full five stars is because I wasn't convinced Heller learned the relationship advice he was giving himself as he grew throughout the book. Towards the end of the book, he doesn't seem to be any more understanding of his girlfriend/wife's difficulties, and even if he understands, he doesn't seem to actually *do* anything about it, he just goes surfing and leaves her behind or whines about having to wait for her, even though he knows its selfish. As a relationship book, I think this fails. Heller seems proud of the fact that he finally realizes he is being a selfish jerk, but he doesn't seem to improve his behaiviour. Why?

Finally, it seems towards the end of his book he has become good at surfing, but bad at having a good surfing attitude. He seems to have become the guy he complains about in the beginning of the book, snaking (stealing) waves from lesser surfers and acting out aggressively at the slightest provocation. I may have gotten this wrong since towards the last few chapters Heller is no longer surfing 'beginner' waves and the opportunity to be polite to kooks doesn't present itself as often, but if his self described behaviour in his last true beginner's wave ('Old Man's' in Cabo or Acapulquito) is any indication, his attitude has become one where his superiority allows him to break the rules of courtesy he had such a hard time learning in the first few chapters.

I may be overly sensitive to the subject since I was just there (Acapulquito) last week: There was a gringo in a longboard that kept paddling around me to the peak, when it was obviuos it was my wave. Several times. Then he did it several times to my son. Some sort of turtle-ish tatoo on his left bicep. He wasn't even that good! Heller, was that you? :) Interestingly, the locals were more than polite and never snaked. They knew where to be at the right time for the right wave, so they didn't have to.

In conclusion, Heller's book is good. It is entertaining, which is what every good book should strive to be, and the writing is adjective rich and descriptive- almost too much so at times. The message is there and the topics are timely, and I came away with the feeling that although Heller is not the guy I want to run into at the lineup of my home break in Puerto Rico (or dating my daughter, for that matter), he IS the guy I want out there writing about whales and sea turtles, and hopefully making a difference.
25 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kook had a Kooky Editorial team Sept. 4 2010
By Dawn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
First things first - based on reading this book only and none of his other work, Peter Heller seems to be a decent writer and has the potential to be good. I get the sense that he knows how to tell a story pretty well and he has a better than average grasp of how to describe things using colorful language. The middle of this book is entertaining and kept me reading on to the end, but the beginning and the end really fell flat. At the beginning I thought I was in for a very bumpy and unpleasant ride because the author has some stylistic tendencies that I find annoying, like his love of the sentence fragment. I'm pretty sure he uses them intentionally, but it's still bad grammar. His editorial team should have fixed them, but and this is the biggest problem with the book - the editors didn't do their jobs. It's a shame because with a decent editorial team, this book could be really good. I found countless major errors in grammar and vocabulary throughout this book. "Funnest" and "disattached" are two notable examples of non-words that didn't get axed. In his many attempts at literary description, the author misused several adjectives (for example, "capricious" to describe the sun and "turgid" to describe heat). Heller's writing and this book are turgid. Repetition and descriptive hyperbole populate these pages ad nauseum. The editor's greatest disservice to Mr. Heller was in allowing this book to ramble on for 323 pages. It could have been a much more pleasant experience had they cut a good 20% or more of the text. Mr. Heller, for your next book, I suggest you find a better copywriter and editor.

As far as the story itself goes, I got the sense that the author didn't learn a thing except how to surf. Even that story was lost in all the description and unnecessary detail that should have been edited out. Nevertheless the core of the book is good, which is why I gave it three stars instead of two. If you know nothing about surfing, then you might find the explanations he provides interesting. If you are, like me, from Baja California Sur, you will find his descriptions of the places and people you know interesting as well. But, like so many other reviewers, I feel the need to point out to any beginning surfers that Heller's take on surfing is, well, kooky. He doesn't really "get" it. He seems more concerned about being cool than with being considerate and respectful of his fellow surfers (or his wife!). And he has the nerve to suggest that surfing "aloha" doesn't exist any more. He is wrong and does a disservice to the sport by spouting this kind of trash.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fab author and well written April 7 2014
By J. Elizabeth Dousson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
if you like surfing, the sea, and good travel writing Peter Heller puts together a good compelling & often heartwrenching stories about what is going on in our oceans...i'm onto Whale Warriors now
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Kind of odd July 1 2013
By Delaware Surfer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I found myself being annoyed by this book eventually. At some point this learning surfer gets a pro surfer acquaintance to fly in and boost his learning curve. Kind of strange...actually proves the title correct, but not in a positive way.
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