Book Review: “Caught Inside – A Surfer’s Year on the California Coast” by Daniel Duane

Five Stars – Nostalgic – Exquisitely written expose’ on Surfing

The book’s description on Amazon was more than enough to convince me to order a copy. I read the preface as soon as it arrived and wasn’t able to put it down until reading the final, evocative pages of the epilogue. Having grown up in the S.F. Bay Area, and traveled/surfed the same stretch of coast in the ‘70s that Duane writes about, I can attest to the honesty and authenticity of this wonderfully crafted piece of non-fiction that answers so many questions about the lure of the world’s greatest sporting adventure.

This book is everything it should be and more. Duane’s style and delivery has a poetic touch that deviates from the stodgy conventions of other work I’ve read in the memoir genre. Every passage is written with purpose and with words that stimulate all of the senses. From the descriptions of the Santa Cruz cliffs overlooking Steamer Lane up toward Natural Bridges, 4 Mile, Scott and Waddell Creek and on up through Davenport and Pescadero, Duane took me on a ride that reminded me of everything I love about that stretch of coast.

The smell and taste of thick salty early morning Pacific fog and the muffled sound emanating from the lip of a heavy glassy wave smacking into the flat water came to mind. Reading along in the warmth of my living room, the cold and camaraderie of surfing with friends in a secluded spot, away from the crowd, also conjured emotions of nostalgia. Duane’s relationship with the people in the community of Santa Cruz and those he surfs with ring true and offer insights recognizable by anyone who’s ever surfed California’s Central Coast. Though local surfers probably might not appreciate it, Duane’s story might just be the lure for others to come and experience the region.

Additionally, interspersed in each chapter are snippets of well researched history about the people who’ve brought surfing to the forefront over the preceding century. Along with references to the testimonies of the observations about surfing from explorers, missionaries and likes of prominent figures like Mark Twain and Jack London. Tales of some of surfing’s greatest personalities are also included (e.g. Greg Null and the legendary 50’ wave ridden at Makaha). Duane also provides easily digestible explanations of the technical details of wave physics, influences of weather and tide, and surfboard design, all of it contributing to the subtle complexity of what it is to be a surfer.

For anyone who’s ever roughed the wax on their board with a handful of sand before paddling out, or anyone who’s ever been held down in dark cold Central California water by a second wave in a set, Caught Inside is a must read. Others should read it for the pure beauty of place and Duenes’ exquisite writing.

Review by Gregory S. Lamb

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