Yogis, committed at Padang. Photo: Hendra Surf Photography
Yogis, committed at Padang. Photo: Hendra Surf Photography

Book Review: All Our Waves Are Water

Soul-searching surf travel memoir asks the big questions

Jaimal Yogis is a fairly prolific surf writer, though he rarely writes solely for hardcore surfers. He’s the author of Saltwater Buddha, a surf travelogue/coming of age/spiritual awakening memoir, and The Fear Project, which looked at how fear controls some of our most important decisions and what we can do about it (including in the scary-wave surfing realm), as well as surf articles for this magazine and others. But he seems far more concerned with what surfing taps into, than with surfing as an end in itself.

Yogis’ new book is All Our Waves Are Water, sort of Part Two of the Saltwater Buddha. In All Our Waves, Yogis takes us from the Himalayas, to the bustle of New York City, to sunny Mexico, the raw San Francisco coast, and to Indonesia, among other places, constantly seeking peace, fulfillment, joy – basically the same things everybody is looking for. Yogis is a spiritual man and he views this quest through a lens of searching for enlightenment, whatever that may mean or bring, and surfing seems to be the thing that constantly grounds him, regardless of where his longing has taken him. In the end, Yogis seems to have reached as close to enlightenment as anyone ever gets—he’s got a family, work he enjoys, he’s surfing Ocean Beach daily, and he’s not struggling as much with searching anymore. He’s accepted the ride of life. The most important wave of all.

That sounds kinda hokey, and I’m on the record arguing that spirituality is often foisted upon surfing when in reality, riding waves is about fun and not about connecting with the cosmos. But the thing about Yogis is that he’s not preaching. He’s not a starry-eyed weirdo. He’s just a guy who’s trying the best he can to derive meaning from life and enjoying the ride. He mixes science with faith and he’s got a great sense of humor about everything along the way. Yogis is also an easy writer to read. He’s self-conscious and positive at the same time.

This book is in some ways the opposite of William Finnegan’s much-lauded Barbarian Days. Both works are about surfers seeking answers to some pretty big questions, and using surfing as, if not a vehicle to get there, then a foil to better understand what the hell we’re all doing here (in Finnegan’s case, testing ourselves against ourselves). But where Finnegan is celebratory and cocksure at times, and seems to demand something from surfing, Yogis is self-effacing and humble, in awe of the forces around him, not seeking to conquer or challenge them necessarily. They’re both perfectly valid approaches to living the surfing life, and lord knows I straddle both lines myself. Which one appeals to you more likely depends on what you expect from surfing.

All Our Waves Are Water goes on sale July 4th, 2017.