Book Review – Bing Surfboards: Fifty Years of Craftsmanship and Innovation

By Paul Holmes
Published by Pintail Publishers, 192 pages
Topic Relative Score (Surf History, Surfboard Design): 5 out of 5 stars

When I arrived on the East Cape in 2002, following my dream to learn to surf, I was virtually clueless about surf culture and surfing history. I knew even less about the evolution of surfboard design. Growing up in Ontario, Canada meant that, unlike a California kid, I wasn’t exposed to anything related to surf, unless flip flops count. I knew who Guy Lafleur and Rocket Richard were, not the seminal figures in the history of surfing. 

So when I met my neighbor Bing Copeland, I had no idea that I was meeting such a man, one who exerted a huge influence on surfing and surfboard manufacturing and design. When he generously offered to take me surfing because my surf buddy refused to go out in conditions that were anything short of perfect, I was completely ignorant of the fact that I was making the drive down the coast and sharing the waves with a surfing legend.

Ten years later, I read Holmes’s book in amazement and received the education I so thoroughly lacked. Thanks Bing! 

Bing Copeland mid-1960s Waimea Bay. Photo by John Bass.

The first thing you’ll notice about Paul Holmes’s book “Bing Surfboards: Fifty Years of Craftsmanship and Innovation” is the quality of its production. It comes packaged in a groovy reusable cardboard case that will protect it against sun damage and carelessly spilled coffee. Inside you’ll find a beautiful hardcover book in coffee-table format (9.5″ by 12.25″) that contains 192 pages of text and high-quality, historic and contemporary photographs, printed in their original black and white or full color format.

Holmes did a great job of chronicling the various aspects of Bing’s personal life, professional life and his role in the evolution of surfing and surfboard design with a narrative style that is easy to read and flows from one topic to the next and back again. But the book is more than a history lesson, it also contains a treasure trove of archival materials including handwritten pages out of order books and every Bing advertisement ever published, all meticulously preserved by Bing himself. Anecdotes by the guys working on the factory floor sprinkled throughout give the reader an insider’s view of what it might have been like to work for Bing and with the sometimes oddball cast of characters drawn to the surfboard shaping industry.

Bing was an innovative designer of surfboards, but he was also a natural graphic designer and marketer, making the middle third, where ads and archival materials are displayed, perhaps my favorite part of the book. The ads are a reflection of Bing himself, as Holmes puts it “creative, funny, informative and graphically compelling.”

Shapers will undoubtedly be stoked to find a complete review of all Bing Surfboards models and the contributions they made to surfboard design evolution, as well as three pages dedicated specifically to improvements in fin design. Beautiful detailed shots of over 60 classic Bing surfboards are provided along with each board’s serial number, dimensions and significant elements of design and construction.

Whether you’ve ever owned a Bing surfboard or not, if you are a surfer and especially if you are a shaper, you owe it to yourself to add this book to your quiver of surf literature.

Do you own a Bing? If so, tell us about it, or even better post a photo of you riding it here. And what about my Bing board? Well, my financial circumstances since moving to Baja (always broke) mean that I haven’t had the wherewithal to buy a Bing. In 2004, in his classic understated way, Bing handed me a single-fin longboard he was no longer riding and said, “Just make sure it gets ridden.” The fin alone on that board is worth a pretty penny. Up until that time, I’d focused on working towards riding shorter boards, so that board introduced me to the “other” side of surfing, one that is unquestionably more soulful. Riding that longboard on days when the smaller conditions would have normally kept me out of the water induced in me a greater playfulness and definitely improved my surfing. I’ve since begged and borrowed (never stolen) several other longboards, but the dream remains to one day own a performance Bing longboard and at least one of his shorter boards – the retro Karma single-fin or perhaps the fishy Dharma. And to that end, I must get back to work!

Bing in Baja on the board he ultimately gave me. Photo by Gary Swanson

Book Review – The Indian Lover: A Novel

The Indian Lover: A Novel by Garth Murphy
Published in 2002 by Simon & Schuster
pp. 439 (paperback version)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I met Garth Murphy several years ago surfing here in southern Baja with my board shaper. I am fortunate to be able to call him a friend and neighbor – he is a thoughtful, sensitive and intelligent man with an interesting history of his own. His book reflects those qualities.

I was quickly entranced by the historical details and beautiful descriptions of the land and life in southern California before it was annexed to the United States. The author created a believable and endearing cast of characters and a story that was engaging and made it hard to put the book down. As the story progressed, I cared more and more about the fate of the main characters, much as the story’s protagonist, Bill Marshall, did with the Cupa Indians. The author did a great job of avoiding hackneyed or cliche dialogue, a pitfall a lesser writer would be apt to fall into in a story of this sort. In particular, when it came to the Indian characters, their voices were each unique and authentic sounding. Furthermore, the handling of dialogue in multiple languages was done seamlessly and clearly. Although I am not an historian by any stretch, I felt throughout that the details (historical, geographical, and cultural) that put the meat on the bones of the story were accurate and thoroughly, if not exhaustively, researched.

The bottom line is that I found this to be an excellent read (I would give it 4.5 stars if that was an option), thoroughly moving and full of beautiful, deftly rendered prose. For anyone with an interest in the history of California, San Diego County in particular, Mexican/American relations, the history of the cattle “industry” or who just likes a good love story – you’ll find it all here and more.  If tears are a measure of emotional investment in a story, then by the end I was fully vested.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Table for Six

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I hate to start a book review with a caveat, but here goes.

Caveat: I know Katrina Anne Willis, the author of this book. I met her a year ago at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference when I was pulled in by her unguarded smile and then blown away by her quick wit and the graphic booklet she carried with her that contained a synopsis of the book she was promoting. That book, Table for Six, is the subject of this review. Less than a year after the conference ended and we went our separate ways, Katrina and I remain internet writing pals and she is now a published author.  What an inspiration she continues to be!

To the best of my ability and with all sincerity, this review is not colored by the fact that I know the author. I believe it to be objective. The only thing altered by that fact is that I read the book at all. As many of you know, I am not a parent, nor a grandparent. I may have nieces, nephews and most recently a grandnephew, but I see them rarely and they always cried and squirmed in my arms when I held them when they were babies, like they sensed that I lack any parenting genes and might just let them drop to the floor if something more interesting grabbed my attention (which could be pretty much anything). The closest thing I have to kids are six dogs and one Mexican caretaker, who come to think of it often behaves like a spoiled 10 year old. So when Katrina told me about her book, I thought it probably wouldn’t be my cup of tea. I became anxious at the thought of having to give her honest feedback and possibly a public review. I thought, “What if I really don’t like it? Oh God, I probably won’t like it because it’s about kids and traditional family life. When have I given a shit about that?” I thought this book would only appeal to those who could nod their heads in agreement arrived at from direct common experience. Well I was wrong. And that is because…

Katrina Willis is one hell of a writer, (just occurred to me her kids might read this)…er, I mean, one heck of a writer. Anyone who can make me laugh out loud at the end of a long day when I am half asleep deserves the kudos and every five star review she’s been given on I laughed or guffawed at least a dozen times while reading it. She is not only funny, but irreverent (parents, this deserves at least a PG rating for language and a smattering of sexual content along with a dash of innuendo) and a keen observer of the human condition. She knows how to weave an engaging story from the strands that are the day to day experiences of an OCD-conquering mother of four quirky and unique little people. By the end of the book, I’d fallen in love with her entire brood and her witty, patient, loud-talking husband. Her writing was so clear and emotive that I feel like I know them all, intimately, maybe a little too intimately (the words vomit, diarrhea, and, my personal favorite, dick tick appear more than once among the pages, you decide).  She made me want to invite her over for coffee or a glass of her favorite Cabernet.

I am reticent to say anything negative about this book, but in all fairness, if it has any failings at all, it is that at first, I was a bit jarred by the manner in which the stories were pulled together, blog-like, and their not-quite-chronological order. In her defense however, Ms. Willis does warn us about this in her Prologue. A few sections into the book, I quickly got into the rhythm, relaxed and let her take me along on a ride that rivals Mr. Toad’s.

So read it. The world needs more laughter (and irreverence).


What is Beauty?

Beauty – six letters, three vowels and three consonants, three syllables when pronounced – a round, fat, even lush “B” followed by a series of vowels, two that pair to create one sound and one that stands independent, punctuated with a “T” near, but not quite at the end…and finally ending in the lovely, particularly when written in cursive, and flowing “y.”

What does the word beauty mean to you? What do you consider beautiful? And do you consider it applicable to you? How do you respond to the question:

Are you the most beautiful person in the world?
Beginning in 2004, the photographic artist Michel Szulc Krzyzanowski posed this question to people around the world. He did so not knowing what to expect, how people would respond or even IF they would respond.

The question was asked in large advertisements placed in serious newspapers in 10 major cities around the world, asking readers who believed this to be the case to respond in writing with their reasons. Every person who responded was visited in their home where photographs where taken portraying how and with whom they were living. Finally, they were asked “Why do you believe you are the most beautiful person in the world?” and their responses were recorded.

Six years and a great deal of effort later, an amazing thing has resulted – a photo book of great spiritual and philosophical import, illustrating cultural and aesthetic differences and similarities among people living in various countries around the globe. But more than that – through his photos and the participants’ answers to the question “Why are you the most beautiful person in the world?” the artist has illuminated and expanded the ideas behind our notion of beauty. He has taken forceps to the concept, taken a closer look at an idea that is often expressed by a single six-letter word, something seemingly so simple and definable, and then, through the result of his investigation, challenges the viewer to examine their own limited ideas surrounding it. The book challenges our preconceived, culturally-imposed notions concerning beauty, while it sheds light on and expands our perception of a concept that, in the western world, has been squeezed down to Kate Moss-esque proportions by marketing and Hollywood-influenced media.

Michel takes us on a physical journey as well: to Africa where beauty is measured by the number of wives or head of cattle one has, the size of one’s belly or the skills possessed that put food in the family’s mouth; to China, where the beauty of a handicapped child is revealed through his love of song; and to Brazil where it is through her children that a mother sees her intrinsic beauty. And perhaps it is in the responses from people in Iran that, as a westerner, I felt my preconceptions dissolving, turning into something much more fluid.

Ultimately, it is the true measure of a person that Michel brings to light. By sharing this visionary project, he challenges the yardstick we use to measure a person’s worth, by which we judge ourselves and others.
The artist states that throughout the project the central theme of beauty informed and drove the process. Where previously he might have pushed to make something happen, in this case he allowed things to unfold naturally, making it possible for the beauty inherent in the process to shine through and drive it, even when things were looking bleak.

The beauty of the project shines so bright that the artist has decided that most copies of the book will be given away for free. A limited number of “luxury” editions are being produced for those who wish to support the project financially – the result being that the audience may directly participate in the project and, through a beautiful act, make it possible for someone to obtain the book who, under normal circumstances, might not have the resources necessary to.

And what about you? Are you the most beautiful person in the world? Tell us why.

Learn more about the project The Most Beautiful People in the World 
Order your very own copy of this extraordinary book.

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 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.