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

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  1,199 ratings  ·  107 reviews
Author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Dog Stars

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 lif
ebook, 336 pages
Published July 13th 2010 by Free Press (first published June 25th 2010)
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3.78  · 
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 ·  1,199 ratings  ·  107 reviews

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Aug 12, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
My second book about surfing in an week ... This time, the author, a writer in his forties, living in Colorado, discovers surfing and decides to really pursue it for a while, going from being a "kook" (beginner) to big waves in only a few months. He is really ambitious, surfing every day, and eventually goes on a surf trip to Mexico that lasts several weeks. His girlfriend, Kim, is with him, and on the journey he not only learns about surfing, but also about love. I especially liked his descript ...more
G.L. Jackson
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Before I bought Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave, I read a number of reviews that were less than flattering. Most of those complained that the book is far too heavy-handed on the environmentalist side. I see where those comments came from, but as someone who's always been a strong proponent of environmentalism and who believes that any nature-based sport has to go hand in hand with a healthy respect for the planet, I didn't find Peter Heller's focus o ...more
Mary (BookHounds)
It is always fun to read a book with your home town involved and I really enjoyed the casual writing of Peter Heller as he describes his initiation into the surfing world. I live in Surf City (now trademarked!), otherwise known as Huntington Beach, CA and where Heller first catches the surfing bug. Even though I have lived here and walk to the beach almost everyday, I never realized how hard it is to surf. I have watched surfers my whole life but have never tried it myself. The author takes you ...more
Heller annoyed me in minor ways every now and then, but for the most part I really, really liked this book, and at times his writing is absolutely beautiful. I've never surfed in my life (I have a love/it-freaks-me-the-hell-out relationship with the ocean), but Southern California has been my home away from home since birth, and I've always been a little fascinated with surfing and surf culture, so this book was right up my alley (and also really made me wish I were on some mostly deserted beach ...more
Quite possibly the best book I could have picked for sitting around for two days on jury duty. It is so easy to get lost in Heller's adventures--I laughed and cried (AWKWARD WHEN IT HAPPENS IN THE JURY WAITING ROOM) throughout the whole thing. There were times I found him quite a bit of a jerkface towards his girlfriend/wife, even more so than the moments he actually acknowledged it, but she was also clearly fine putting up with it. Despite that, I loved all the heroes and asswipes they met alon ...more
Thom Britten
May 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This made me want to buy a Vannagan and drive through Mexico, seriously I thought how can I try this. I loved the story about how he fell in love with ocean, fell in love with the woman he was with, and how it all changed his life. Surfing has that ability to change who you are in a really fundamental way, for the better. Learning to slow down and not take life and the world around for granted is a pretty great message.
Sep 17, 2010 rated it it was ok
As someone with an inexplicable obsession with surfing despite virtually no actual experience on a surfboard, I had very high hopes for this book, but it was a big disappointment, in large part because it wasn't really about surfing. Instead it was a muddy stew of different more ambitious books about love and life and environmentalism that really didn't belong here, and through it all I just wanted him to shut up and get back to surfing. Not recommended.
Aug 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
Been reading a few books about surfing & this one was lacking. The premise of the book caught my eye & I actually gave it to my boyfriend as a bday gift. The descriptions of his excitement about learning were fun & well written, but his "midlife crisis" feelings felt a little shallow & insincere as did his reflections on his girlfriend.
Kira S
May 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book was amazing, you learn about, life, surfing and love. This book made me realize how important surfing is to me as well, and how great I have it in life. This book is a real eye opener and I would recommend it to anyone really.
Kendra Kettelhut
As a new surfer and fellow Kook, I wanted to read and dive into the experiences that Peter Heller and his wife went through in learning to surf and travel Baja in a van. (This is also a plan that my boyfriend and I are currently in the works with developing). I enjoyed reading this and while he does write with a lot of surf jargon, there were times that is got to be fairly over-the-top. I am very familiar with the lingo, but I can imagine that for someone who doesn't know much about surfing it c ...more
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
As exploring a series of surfing memoirs, I picked up this book while I knew that a) this book also is written by another journalist (after all they're writers) b) as this guy starts surfing at mid-40, there are something he could only tell, as opposed other authors who started when they were boys.

I think I thought I would stop reading when he got 5-6 different boards from a local famous shaper (what a luxury) to prepare his surfing trip to Baja but kept going on as I was interested in 'hearing'
John Miskelly
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
Overwrought and cloyingly cheesy. The guy's determination and achievements in such a short time - I speak from experience when I say surfing is fiendishly difficult - are admirable but the humour's grating at best and the way he refers to his partner is patronising, weird and sexist, even when he's using her to illustrate his own self-centered egoism.
Nov 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Kind of like the movie, The North Shore, but with no Turtle.
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Take a journey with Pedro (Peter) and then take off on your own.
That's my recommendation. An immersive, inspiring read for sure!
3,5. Decidi diminuir meia estrela e dar 3,5 em vez de 4,0 porque os trechos de pura dick-lit foram bem incômodos ao longo da leitura.
Sep 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
I grew up on The Lost Coast of northern California - a rugged, cold, and gorgeous stretch of remote coastline.

My best friend from when I was a boy became a serious surfer in these wild waters – braving the temperatures, white sharks and rocky precarious coast. While we lost connection as we grew older, I watched him from a distance and was always impressed with the bravery and imagined the extreme courage he had surfing in these waters. As I left high school and entered the real world I didn’t
Christian Gompert
Jun 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Kook's story telling reflects the ambition of a big wave surfer and an erratic adventure seeker; it feels inconsistent. There are occasional beautiful and unique descriptions of the natural settings he comes across, but we are frequently sidetracked with meeting new people and new beaches that all build towards his self-absorbed dream. After awhile, we feel more like his wife throughout the tale: a tag-along. The secondary and more meaningful threads, of which Heller intentionally and notably ra ...more
Daren Girard
Jan 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Kook is a term of disrespect that signifies a beginner surfer. It is used by the more experienced surfers at breaks to intimidate and discourage beginners from spoiling their chances of catching waves. There is etiquette to surfing in crowds and beginners must learn it or suffer abuse. In my experience, however, the rules are relative and fluid. If a beginner makes a certain mistake, he is insulted. If a local pulls the same move, it is his prerogative as the better surfer.

The book is the true s
Helen Dunn
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: four-stars
I really enjoy Peter Heller's writing. Earlier this year I read his fiction book The Painter and now this memoir about his adventures in Baja trying to learn how to surf at age 48.

I learned quite a bit about the plight of the oceans, the history of surfing in Southern California and Mexico, and about Heller's own personality. Is there anything particularly amazing about this book? Not really but there are passages that really made me feel like I was out on the water with him. There were scenes f
Marsella Johnson
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
I had to read this after "Whale Warriors". Peter Heller decides to take to the waves and try his hand at surfing. In his forties he becomes obsessed with rising above a "kook" level, a beginning surfer. He talks a lot about his desires to be off on adventures but he misses the boat in relationships. He lucks out when he starts dating Kim. He convinces her to go on a camping/surfing adventure in southern California. Kim has never surfed so they are in conflict about what constitutes beginner wave ...more
Jul 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Peter Heller writes about getting hooked on Surfing after he spends a 3 week trip surfing with one of his buddies in California. Upon deciding that he wants to go from being a kook to surfing like a pro, Peter decides to take 6 months with his partner and learn to surf like a pro in Mexico. Like all travel and adventure related books, it satisfied my craving to read, once-again, about someone that chucks their stress-filled life for one that is slower paced, simpler, and with moments of adventur ...more
Jun 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011-books
Mainly the story of Heller's quest to go from "kook" (rank beginner) to accomplished surfer in six months, as a response to a sort of midlife crisis, with some ecological musings and a love story mixed in. The focus on the surfing itself is quite interesting, as Heller traces his development, incorporates references to surfing history and terminology, and provides a travelogue of his surfing journey. I wasn't as fond of the occasional introspective sidebars, but the descriptions of the surfing i ...more
Chris Casey
Jun 19, 2014 rated it liked it
This was a pretty fun and fast read. I finished the book on my 49th birthday, and despite having grown up on the beach; in fact in 'Surf City', also known as Huntington Beach, I never learned to surf. I loved boogie boarding as a kid, and enjoy body surfing even today at every opportunity that I get, but I was never enough of an early riser to invest the effort needed to surf. So the idea of a 40+ non or novice surfer or 'Kook' testing the notion that he could still learn intrigued me. So as a t ...more
Dec 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Another book by Peter Heller. this one his own story, not a novel, - about learning to surf in a 1 year odyssey down the coast of So Ca and Mexico. Its equally about learning to be in relationship with his girlfriend, Kim - brave soul who surfs, and accompanies him. He is honest with himself in realizing what a selfish, driven/obsessed person he could be at times. He puts himself out there, both in the water, in waves, and with athletes far beyond his skill & experience. He also stretches hi ...more
3.5 stars. I love Peter Heller's writing, but I'm not enthralled with surfing, which is a large part of the book. What I enjoyed most: the relationship with Kim, the environmental issues I became aware of, the descriptions of the flora and fauna, the mostly Mexican setting, and the people with whom he spent time. So it wasn't difficult to read, but between owning the book (no pressure to return) and my less-urgent interest in surfing, this took longer than usual to read. Plan to read all his boo ...more
Nik Korba
Nov 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
I picked this book up for a friend, thinking she would like it because she's a wahini. The more I leafed through it, the more interested I got. It really does explore love, life, and catching the perfect wave, not to mention the environment, justice, friendship, courage, purpose, goal setting, ceviche, and U.S.-Mexico relations, all set against the background of a surfin' safari. If that sounds like a good ride to you, I recommend it. If nothing else, you'll figure out if you have what it takes ...more
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It took me a bit to get into Heller's straight-forward writing style, but there were some really nice moments when he mixes in some really emotional evocative language. In fact, his personality really comes through in his writing, and I really enjoyed his description of the various surf characters he met on his journey. I got to the end of this story and felt the sadness of the pages running out, but the happiness of reading something so great. I look forward to picking up some of Heller's ficti ...more
Jan 31, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Peter Heller has tried to do what many have tried to do before. Take a real, true, and personal story and make it into a compelling story. It is an admiral endeavor, but not a success. His story has some interesting sections but, in the end, is disappointing. In fact, his lack of tying ends together and actually having an ending is frustrating. Not frustrating in the way some books lack a clear ending, thus, forcing deeper thought. This just feels incomplete in a way that could and should have b ...more
Mar 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: surfing, life
The back of the book says it all. This is a story of a mid forties man learning about Love. His love for his girlfriend, who becomes his wife, and the changes he needs to make of himself. It is also a love story of the outdoors, in this case a love of the Ocean. Finally it is a story of a man who takes up surfing at this late stage and how it becomes an obsession. WARNING!!! If you love animals especially Whales and Dolphins, then be prepared to become OUTRAGED by what is described in the chapte ...more
Mireille Prusak
May 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Despite the fact that the author often came off as kind of a jerk (I suppose I should applaud his honesty, rather than editing out unpleasantness), this is a gorgeous book and has only increased my burning desire to learn to surf. The descriptions of waves and locations are vividly and beautifully drawn, and the environmental asides are heartbreaking and important, and in fact inspired me to make a donation to the Ocean Conservancy. I could see myself re-reading this, which I rarely do. Inspirin ...more
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There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Peter Heller holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in both fiction and poetry. An award-winning adventure writer and longtime contributor to NPR, Heller is a contributing editor at Outside magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure, and a regular contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek. He is also the autho
“She was very easy to please, because she took joy in the smallest things, but exacting, too, because that small thing must be authentic, and wondrous in its small self, and not any kind of bullshit. She could detect bullshit from a hillside away. But then she took people at face value and expected the best of them until proven otherwise.” 5 likes
“We love surfers for the same reasons we have always admired doctors and pilots and firemen and shamans, for the same reasons we admire excellent soldiers: because despite themselves they have bowed to a force much greater than themselves, which in this case is the wave, and submitted to the gnarly rigors of its discipline. They have allowed themselves to be shaped and polished by the sea. They have given themselves up to this greater force, day after day, year after year. Crushed and punished, battered into something tempered and resilient, and sharpened to an edge by constant refinement. They are warriors in the best sense: by bending to the often brutal demands of surfing they have transformed themselves into beings who can respond to great violence with grace and humility. And beauty.” 0 likes
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