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Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave Paperback – Jul 13 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (July 13 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743294203
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743294201
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2 x 21.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 281 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #9,731 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"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

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Top Customer Reviews

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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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 (beta) HASH(0xa26f2138) out of 5 stars 123 reviews
47 of 55 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa271bcb4) out of 5 stars Still a Kook Aug. 4 2010
By Soul Rebel - Published on
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.
40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa271c0d8) out of 5 stars Readable, entertaining, not just for 'kooks'. July 25 2010
By C. Solares - Published on
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.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By Must Love Dogs - Published on
Format: Paperback
First of all, kooks should NOT, I repeat SHOULD NOT buy their board, wax and wetsuit and then immediately head to HB Pier. That was mistake #1.

Mistake #2 was when he bought the wrong board for a beginner. A beginner will learn best with a longboard and will also be able to catch small, mushy waves that short boards can't. No use in taking away the good waves from the experienced short boarders.

All I can say is, I went into this book hoping to enjoy it, and I was let down big time. I don't think people who actually surf will be able to enjoy this book. Mutual respect out in the ocean is a very important part of surfing for most surfers in general, unless you are in a patch of ruthless mean dudes. I also feel like the writer was out to master a really physically demanding sport in a really short amount of time, which is unreal to me. It's almost like he was trying to buy someone else's life with time and money. People surf because they can't live without it, not because they want to be a master and use it pump up their self-esteem at middle age. It all just seemed a bit forced.

You need to know how to read waves, understand weather patterns, and know paddling skills, swimming skills, and surfing skills. This guy didn't bother to learn any of that and put himself and others at risk. Yes, he was the true embodiment of all that is kook. I'm really not sure how he got into a crowded lineup right at the peak of a sweet wave in a super popular and territorial surf break in HB. It all sounds kind of made up. It would be really hard to drop in on someone at HB Pier on any given day unless the waves were crap. His description that day was mushy, waist high, so maybe it wasn't as crowded, but this break is pretty territorial even on a day when it's not pumping. This author is such an exemplary and authentic kook, he probably would have gone surfing right after it rained and gotten a lungful of cow dung runoff on one of his wipeouts.

You don't want to upset other surfers, because if you get into trouble, they probably won't go out of their way to save you. I think the author still has a lot to learn, and I REALLY hope I never have to deal with him out in the lineup. Attitude is everything! If you want the best waves, you have to be good AND earn the respect of others with your attitude, unless you're a crusty old surfer riding a huge log. Those guys will just run you over no matter what, because they can.

I'm surprised the guy at the surf shop who sold them the boards didn't give them some kind of recommendation on good spots to learn away from other surfers. A good surf shop like Bruce Jones (RIP) will give you some pointers before paddling out. I surf at Huntington Beach, mostly at Sunset or Bolsa Chica. I am a beginner, having surfed for over a year now, and not a kook. After reading the first 10 pages of this book I started to cringe and had to force myself to keep reading.

What I don't understand about this tale is that it should be pretty obvious to anyone that there are more experienced guys out there, you're coming on their turf, and they can see you're a kook. If you bring a crappy attitude, we will pick up on it right away.

Kooks can and do have the potential to put surfers, swimmers, bodyboarders, and other's lives at risk. That is part of why the term kook is a term of derision for a new surfer. People can get seriously injured or worse if they don't know what they are doing out in the surf. This book just exemplifies everything you shouldn't do. Not having taken the time to learn the rules of the road, the star kook of the book unknowingly dropped in on experienced surfers, at worst, putting life and limb at risk and at best, inciting white hot rage of its greatest form from the experienced surfer, sealing your fate that you will never be able to go back to surf that particular break again. Kooks can also injure children and bust little girl's surf boards, with total lack of remorse.

Surfers don't get laws and statutes, so we have to enforce the rules and keep each other safe with our own system. It's not a perfect system, and yes it can get unfriendly out there. But if you put someone's safety in danger or take away their wave, prepare to feel the wrath of several SoCal surfers crashing down upon you. I just wish the author had taken the time to learn some basics before throwing himself into the waves and hurting other people. I think it would have made the story much better overall.
30 of 41 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa271c4e0) out of 5 stars Kook had a Kooky Editorial team Sept. 4 2010
By Dawn - Published on
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa271c510) out of 5 stars Kind of odd July 1 2013
By Delaware Surfer - Published on
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.