Book Review: Saltwater Buddha versus Kook

I just finished reading Jaimal Yogis’ book Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea, for a second time. I read it in one sitting, stopping only to have lunch.
I don’t normally make a habit of reading a book twice, not even really good books (one notable exception is Watership Down, which I read no less than three times before the age of 13). So why this book?
The main reason I read it again was to make a comparison – I wanted to compare it to the book Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave by Peter Heller, which I finished yesterday. On the face of it they are very similar books and yet, they are very different. And I wanted to jog my memory about the first book in hopes of determining what made one better than the other.
Both books are memoirs and both are about surfing from the perspective of someone who, at the beginning of the book, is learning to surf. Both books include descriptions of many of the basic aspects of learning to surf and the difficulties one encounters doing so. That is where the similarities end.Saltwater Buddha is well-written and concise. It is shorter by about 30%, but it felt like I learned more about the author’s journey from those pages than in the longer book. In Kook, Peter Heller’s writing is rambling, often repetitive and at times frustratingly verbose. One might say that Heller is the more experienced writer and Kook a more literary narrative, but I think that’s just a bunch of pompous hooey. The simplicity, or one might say “Zen” nature of Jaimal Yogis’s writing is what makes it such a pleasure to read. It’s adherence to the “less is more” paradigm makes his book stand out and above Heller’s.I am not alone in my opinion that Saltwater Buddha is good. One need only go to Amazon.com to see that 73 people share this point of view. I think that the main reason for this is that Jaimal’s writing is straight-forward and unadorned. It flows, keeps moving and before you know it the ride is over. It’s as though he is right there telling you his story. He doesn’t get caught up with the sound of his own voice. He stays on point, writes from his heart.

Peter Heller’s writing, by contrast, is full of flowery descriptions and uncommonly used three syllable words. It’s often rambling and repetitive leaving this reader frustrated and wondering where he was taking me. His ego seems to have driven the process so he tries too hard and the result is often jarring and awkward. That goes for his writing, but imagine the same might be true of his surfing.

Here are a couple of examples of how differently the two author’s treat the same experience: They both are particularly overwhelmed by their egos at one point and get irate at another surfer for getting in their way. They both get angry and yell at the offending beginner. However, Jaimal catches himself and makes the effort to apologize for his thoughtless, ego-centric reaction. He vows not to let it happen again. No apology is issued by Mr. Heller and I got the sense that he continued to believe he was in the right. A second illustration of the differing perspectives expressed by the authors is made clear when early on in Kook, Heller declares that the Aloha Spirit, an integral part of surfing since its inception, is pretty much dead. Had Heller read Saltwater Buddha, like any good writer doing his research, he might have had to reevaluate this opinion. Or he could have just been more observant and checked his own testosterone-addled perspective on the beach. I’m sure he would have witnessed the admittedly endangered, but still kicking Aloha Spirit among the boards and rashguards out there somewhere.

In summary, the writing by these two authors seems to be a clear reflection of their personalities and lives: Jaimal is a soul-surfing Zen practitioner and Peter a egotist who would benefit from learning to meditate. Both books offer an entertaining description of the trials of learning to surf, but Saltwater Buddha does it with grace, humility and depth.

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One thought on “Book Review: Saltwater Buddha versus Kook

  1. Hi Dawn,Thanks for sharing your review. I'm an avid surfer my self and run a personal development blog. Sounds like we have some things in common. I'm currently reading Kook and I've interviewed Jaimal for my blog. They are both definitely different books, but have some interesting similarities.

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