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Tapping the Source

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  981 ratings  ·  117 reviews
People go to Huntington Beach in search of the endless parties, the ultimate highs and the perfect waves. Ike Tucker has come to look for his missing sister and for the three men who may have murdered her. In that place of gilded surfers and sun-bleached blondes, Ike's search takes him on a journey through a twisted world of crazed Vietnam vets, sadistic surfers, drug deal ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published December 30th 2005 by Thunder's Mouth Press (first published January 1st 1984)
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Liquid Comfort - A Surf Story by Cheryl Lee PetroCaught Inside by Daniel DuaneTapping the Source by Kem NunnIn Search of Captain Zero by Allan WeisbeckerThe Wave by Susan Casey
Best Books on Surfing for Surfers
3rd out of 69 books — 50 voters
Twilight by Stephenie MeyerThe Book Thief by Markus ZusakWater for Elephants by Sara GruenTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Must Reads in 2009
76th out of 122 books — 267 voters

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Community Reviews

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In my youth I used to listen to The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean sing about Southern California- the beautiful girls and boys, the surf, the sand...sun sun fun fun. Everyone was smiling...everyone was one had a care in the world.

This novel is NOT The Beach Boys or Jan and Dean's version of The Huntington Beach surf culture...far from it. While they were STILL singing Surfin' Safari and Surf City -during the 70s and 80s- serial killers and rapists were using the beaches as
Ivonne Rovira
Jun 28, 2014 Ivonne Rovira rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of real page-turners
Recommended to Ivonne by: Delee, of course!
Skinny sad sack Ike Tucker, not yet 19 years old, takes the Greyhound bus nearly eight hours to Huntington Beach, Calif., to search for his wild runaway sister Ellen, who ran away a year ago. All he has is a crumpled piece of paper with three names and a garbled account of a trip his sister took with those three men to Mexico. Thus, a young man who has lived nowhere but a tiny desert town discovers inner strength and a working knowledge of the ways of the world — including the underworld and the ...more
First of all, I just want to say I have the world's greatest, loveliest goodreads friends. They are smart and classy ladies with great taste in books who respect differing opinions with grace. These gals loved this book and gave it five stars and glowing reviews. Those are the reviews you should probably be reading. This one is from a tired stay-at-home mama who has admittedly odd taste in literature. Anyway, here's my review:

I didn't like this. I couldn't get myself to care about these characte
Well, I didn't see that coming!!!! 2.5 stars...

Eighteen year old, Ike Tucker is on a mission to find out what happened to his sister, Ellen, who up and left their desert home. After being tipped off, he heads to Huntington Beach, CA. with nothing more than a few hundred bucks and the names of 3 men who were intimately connected with Ellen. Ike is cautious and befriends some local surfers, keeping his motives at bay. Over time, he begins putting pieces of the puzzle together or so he thinks…

I r
This is touted as the best ever surfing novel, or a pre-eminent example of "surf noir", and I'm pretty sure it's the only novel I've read that fits easily into either category. They don't tell you this, but it's also a great example of a novel that's running along fine and then suddenly plunges off a cliff. I mean, what the hell was that with the [spoiler]? And the [major spoiler]? That didn't even make any sense! A poorly explained tangent into the realm of [spoiler] aside, it's a fine, well-pu ...more
I hate using the word "gritty" in relation to books, particularly in this case where it seems to be the default reviewers' adjective, along with "noir" and "sun-bleached."

But gritty she be. This is a gritty, dirty, greasy novel. If it were an object poem it would be cigarette butts, surf wax, warm Mountain Dew, hot sand and lubricated engine parts. Mmm. Lots of drugs, fistfights, yucky sex, culty violence, male bonding, formative mystical experiences, lost youth. It didn't leave me feeling good
Lance Charnes
Mar 06, 2015 Lance Charnes rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers who like their surfers on black water
Surf noir has been around about as long as surfing has been in the popular mind -- for one, Ross Macdonald dipped a toe in it in 1962 -- and its current strongest practitioner is Don Winslow, whose works I've reviewed in the past. But Kem Nunn was working this wave before Winslow paddled in, and Tapping the Source is the first of his six widely-spaced novels. It exhibits many of the characteristics of a debut: uniqueness, passion, but also issues with pacing and plot resolution.

A wayward mother
Interesting contrast to Don Winslow's The Dawn Patrol in the small world of surf noir. Winslow's book is a little too cartoonish, with characters that could have come out of a USA Network series c. 1994 (Hey, remember Pacific Blue?). This one seems a little ponderous. That's probably a reflection of style. Thirty years ago you could have your characters self-interrogate themselves as a way of mapping for the reader the development in both character and plot. But now it seems sorta silly for char ...more
I had heard about this book for quite some time. Now I know why.

A great read, it works as a surfing novel, a crime novel and a coming-of-age story. The three come together to create not only an original world, but a story that is both gripping and never predictable.

It allows all the characters to find both the dark and light sides of their humanity. The relationships between characters are immediately complex and real.

I highly recommend TAPPING THE SOURCE. Well-written, insightful, and a blast.
William Johnson
With the exception of a small snippet of a dialogue at the very end that is still rattling around in my brain in regards to the 'whodunnit' (which I am still a little confused about), this book is pretty flawless.

To start, it utilizes world building like the best in the business, creating a tense, dangerous yet real world location and inhabiting it with well drawn, conflicted characters who all have their high and low points.

Inside this well built universe is an evolution of the main character,
Trevor John
There are three elements driving this train wreck (well, okay, no train leaves the station as a wreck) and they are surfing, coming of age, and crime. Like Mr. Loaf said, "Two out of three ain't bad". Wow, I really just wrote that. Having limited experience in all three elements, I can attest to each being true to life and well written, and I especially liked the narrator as conscience style applied to it all. I did not like the retarded turn of events that took what was looking like a great nov ...more
Kem Nunn wrote a pretty decent unconventional detective story here. Set in the ever mystical backdrop of Huntington Beach California, a troubled young man from the desert leaves his home and goes seeking answers after being told that his runaway sister had probably been murdered. What drew me to this novel was that it served as the "inspiration" for one of my favorite junk action movies from the 1990's "Point Break"
Inspiration is by far the most appropriate term to use. This isn't a story about
What a fun book! I keep seeing it categorized as "surf noir" ---which is probably true but it seems like kind of an absurd category (how can something be noir when it's so sunny out?), but all of the over-the-top dramatic lines are very in the theme of noir! The book reminded me of when I went to the U.S. Open a few years ago---all of the sponsor representatives were passing out lots of flyers and stickers and junk on the pier, and they were handing out this big sticker that had the "Top 10 Best ...more
Craig Terlson
I wanted to like this book, I tried my damn best, I did. Loved the premise, the whole surf-noir thing - and having recently written a novel with a similar setting and themes, (noir/surf/missing persons) well, what was not to like? Heard too much about it, had to read it.

The book starts out strong, and I liked the main character, Ike. I rooted for him (this would change). The writing was decent, poetic in stretches, notably whenever surfing, waves, and water happened - throw in the sun and sky an
Felix Zilich
“Оседлать волну” - лучший роман про серфинг и один из лучших неонуаров 80-х. Половина отзывов на эту книгу начинаются с одной из этих реплик. остальные - зверски спойлерят концовку, за что их тихо, но благодарно ненавидишь. Глядишь, не будь спойлера - прошёл бы мимо.

Белобрысый парень на “шевроле” приезжает в маленький пустынный городок в Аризоне в поисках брата девушки по имени Эллен Такер. Я был знаком с этой чикой, - говорит приезжий, - она связалась с плохими парнями, поехала с ними в Мексик
Ben Loory
when robert stone blurbs a book, i listen. "the all-time great surfing novel," okay i'm in. turns out those fuckers who made point break were all over this book. which is neither here nor there i suppose. anyway, this is a good, well-written book with a crappy ending (which involves (perhaps feigned) satanism), but not really very much about surfing. more about life in huntington beach, infiltrating a drug gang, etc. coming of age, yadda yadda yadda.

still though, made me want to surf. still.
Court Merrigan
I have a minor interest in surfing so that, on Spinetingler Mag's suggestion, I read TAPPING THE SOURCE, the novel that inspired POINT BREAK. mixed feelings. So ... slow ... paced. And the action scenes are not particularly well-rendered. And the uber-80s satanic ritual cult stuff has not aged well. But the descriptions of being out on the water are very good, and Ike's an interesting lost boy. Interesting to think back to a time when Huntington Beach was a gritty, low-rent, oil-well infested, p ...more
Lenny Husen
The best coming of age novel I've ever read. Gritty, extremely well read, themes of murder, corruption, cheap sex, drugs, a boy loses the one person he has ever loved, his sister, and embarks on a quest to find her. Beautifully written, unforgettable. Every teenager and young adult in the USA should read this book.
I love the surf noir genre. I don't know how many books are in the genre but I wish there were more. The show, John From Cincinatti got me started on Kem Nunn because the show was a surf noir show and I think Kem Nunn was involved with the production. Sun surf blonds and lots of sordidness.
Jon Frankel
t occasionally happens that a book is so good I am speechless, and Kem Nunn’s surf noir, Tapping the Source, is such a book. I don’t want to spoil the mood with words. Suffice it to say that ‘surf noir’ can hardly begin to describe this book. Yes it is about surfers, and crime. And yes it takes place on the edge of a benighted continent, in that pastel hot house of nihilism, southern California. Ike Tucker is a young man living at his Uncle Gordon’s store in San Arco, a desert town with broken s ...more
I would give it a 2.5 if I could. To say there is twist in this plot is an understatement. Towards the end, the plot line jumps off a cliff and into a very dark, seedy and bizarre underworld, then lands in a puddle. Not deep enough for the ocean.
Simon Plaster
Very solid little piece of west coast noir. Kem Nunn does a great job of setting up a menacing atmosphere, and you just know there's all kinds of nefarious activity taking place underneath the surface of "Surf City". My main gripe is that I never got totally invested in the characters. They were strong enough to hold my interest but I didn't feel that all-out sense of suspense about who would live or die by the story's end. Despite that, the excellent mood and tension makes it worth a read. An e ...more
Alex Flynn
A wonderful ride through a dark side of the ocean. Tapping the Source renders beach-side southern California 70s surf culture spectacularly. It centers around the mysterious disappearance of the protagonist's--a dessert rat with a knack for fixing bikes--sister. Like all good mysterious, the actual plot is superfluous to the mood and feel of the world, and the book has a lot more on its mind then finding the missing girl and those who did her wrong. Which is not to say the story doesn't keep the ...more
Monica Nolan
A friend from my writer's group recommended this, as a well-written thriller. She was absolutely correct. A page-turner with sex and violence galore that is also kind of reflective and lyrical. It's that tone that manages to make even satanic cult sacrifices semi-plausible. Plus where else are you going to find a murder mystery set against a backdrop of surfing? The Keanu Reeves movie Point Break is supposedly based on this book but the plot is completely different. The movie just used the surfe ...more
Stephen Sanders
At its core Tapping the Source is a meditation on loneliness. Ike Turner, a kid from California's Inland Empire, comes to Huntington Beach in search of his sister. He quickly becomes caught in Southern California's surfing culture and takes solace among the waves as he learns to surf. There's something pure and true about the ocean in Nunn's novel. However, that purity has been corrupted by a decaying surfing culture.

This corruption of purity is a central theme in the novel. Ike searches throug
Ken Samuels
Aug 02, 2007 Ken Samuels rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Surf Noirists
Imagine Nathanael West trying to hang ten or Raymond Chandler shaking the sand out of his shorts and you've got an idea of the feel of Tapping the Source. Author Kem Nunn is firmly in the West, Chandler tradition of presenting Southern California as the end of the line for the Great American Dream. In this case The Dream is wiping out in the surf near the piers of Huntington Beach.

What begins as an innocent young desert kid's search for his footloose sister develops into a soul expanding and dep
A gripping, dark, moody, atmospheric, suspenseful story. It's my kind of mystery in that, on review, not a whole lot happened, and yet it is an existential page-turner. As with many mysteries, the "resolution" is something less than the build-up. I'd always heard this was a classic and was moved to read it after seeing Nunn's name on Sons of Anarchy. I would definitely read more of his (and I see there's a new one out).
Un chouette petit bouquin, j'ai bien aimé être dans la peau de cet adolescent. J'ai ressenti ça moi aussi à 17 ans, que rien n'avait d'importance. J'ai bu la tasse avec lui, j'ai eu envie de me mettre au surf, de ressentir tout cela. J'ai moins aimé la fin, je ne m'attendais pas à ça et j'ai trouvé que cela tombait comme un cheveu sur la soupe. En revanche j'ai aimé la love story, si pure malgré tout, entre le héros et sa princesse ! On est pris dans l'histoire, on se laisse porter, c'est extrêm ...more
Jennifer Gehle
This is one of my all time favorites and have read it several times now. It's supposed to be the basis of "breaking point", but is so far from the movie, it could be considered two completely different entities. The main character lives in a hodunk desert town who's sister ran away a couple years ago. A young man drives to the town to tell the main that his sister went off with a couple of surfers and never came back. He leaves the only home he's ever known to get into the surfer life "undercove ...more
Daniel Clay
I stumbled across this book years ago - given to me as part of a gift set, I think, and I've read it three times since. Nunn's debut - I've read two more of his since and, for me, he hasn't come close to reproducing anything of this quality - is dark and brooding and has been credited with creating a whole sub-genre of books (surf noire). In many ways, though, it's a novel about a main character breaking away from his past and reinventing himself; using the suspicious disappearance of his older ...more
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Kem Nunn (born 1948) is an American fiction novelist, surfer, magazine and television writer from California. His novels have been described as "surf-noir" for their dark themes, political overtones and surf settings. He is the author of five novels, including his seminal surf novel Tapping the Source. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Irvine.

He has collaborated with producer David Mi
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