Top 4 books for surf photographers

Looking for a gift for the surf photographer in yor life?

Or just need some new reading material?

Hopefully there’s at least a couple of books on this list that you haven’t already got.

Here’s my list, in order of how much I think a surf photographer would appreciate them:

  1. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life – William Finnegan
  2. Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell: A True Story of Violence, Corruption, and the Soul of Surfing
  3. Shooting the Curl: The Best Surfers, the Best Waves By 15 of the Best Surf Photographers – Chris Power
  4. Dark Light – Chris White

1: Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life – William Finnegan

My Daughter playing with my copy of Barbarian Days

That’s my daughter holding my copy, I was so into it that I took it with us to the local National Trust property so I could sneak in a couple of pages between running around the gardens.

This is a book for all surfers, there’s some interesting bits for photographers in particular, but anyone who surfs or has surfed will love this book.

I bought the paperback version, took it everywhere with me until I finished it and then gave it to a friend. I could try to explain how great it is, but I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you.

It won the Pulitzer prize and made it on to Barack Obamas summer reading list. You, or the surf photographer in your life, deserves to read this book, I loved it and it’s definitely my number one pick for any surfer.

If you don’t fancy the hard back, soft back or Kindle versions then you can get the Audible audio book, narrated by William Finnegan himself! for free when you sign up for a trial:


Bonus: If you do go for the trial and get two free audio books, you might want to check out Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman – Including 10 More Years of Business Unusual by Yvon Chouinard while you’re there.

Another Bonus: listen to William Finnegan talk about the book and his surfing life on episode 113 of the Surf Splendor podcast.

2: Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell: A True Story of Violence, Corruption, and the Soul of Surfing – Chas Smith

Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell

Hawaii is the home of high performance surfing and therefore surf photography. Chas Smith has a pretty unique style of writing, at least in the surf world, and it’s quite a refreshing way to find out more about the unseen side of Hawaii and the surf business.

This one’s completely different to Barbarian Days, but it’s also fascinating. I wouldn’t say that it’s a must read for all surfers, like Barbarian Days is, but I would say it’s worth reading for surf photographers who are interested in the politics and modern folklore of surfing on the North shore of Oahu.

No Kindle or Audible versions of this one are available, but you can pick up a softcover or hardcover copy for a reasonable price through Amazon.

Bonus: Chas Smith was also interviewed on the Surf Splendor podcast, and you can check out his surf writing on Beach Grit.

3: Shooting the Curl: The Best Surfers, the Best Waves By 15 of the Best Surf Photographers – Chris Power

Shooting The Curl

I gave this book top honours in my Top 5 books and magazines post almost 4 years ago and it’s still one of the only books that collects photos and interviews with surf photographers, so it’s still on the list.

It’s the first book on the list that includes actual surf photographs, so if you or your gift recipient wants a ook for the coffee table that will also give them some tips on surf photography, this is a great choice.

Buy it on Amazon here.

4: Dark Light – Chris White

I’ve been a fan of Chris White’s work since the Tension bodyboarding videos. He’s since moved into still photography and recently produced a book called Dark Light.

It’s a nice big coffee table book and it features stunning surf photography alongside Chris’s words about depression and mental illness.

I’d love to write more about this book butI don’t have a copy myself so I’ll let you watch the video and read the reviews. The shipping is pretty expensive to the UK so I’ll hang fire until I can grab a copy from a European distributor or maybe from someone who’s on a trip to Australia or somewhere nearby (if that happens before they sell out forever).

Check out Chris’s Instagram feed for some amazing photos and great captions.

You can buy the book from

Those are my 4 picks, grab one for the surf photographer, or just surfer, in your life.


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