Judith White, The Sun Herald (Australia)

Australians tend, quite understandably, to look down on the British as a deprived people when itcomes to the surf. But it has taken a Pom to write the most fascinating book yet published on the noble art of riding the waves. e got himself accredited as Surfing Correspondent for The Times of London – a title greeted with incredulity around the circuit – and convinced an airline to give him a free seat in return for a mention in a travel article.

Walking on Water tells of his adventures in Hawaii as he covered the Triple Crown world contests. In the water, getting rolled and losing boards. On shore, finding friends and places to live among the constantly shifting community of surfers. In the press tent, meeting the world champions.

In the process we learn that Hawaii – not California or Australia – was the birthplace of surfing. Martin quotes the first known description of surfing, written by Lieutenant James King, who accompanied Captain Cook on his last voyage to Hawaii. He also records how Cook was killed there, and his body ment, the local people themselves, dispossessed by becoming part of the US. Yet they still set the pace on the beaches. “Surfing is what you do when you’ve got nothing left,” the writer was told by a contest marshal named Hailama (a name meaning “old warrior”).
Martin is not the first author to become infatuated with surfing. Jack London visited the island in 1907, writing a lyrical description of the sport in The Cruise of the Snark and concluding: “Upon one thing I am resolved: the Snark shall not sail from Honolulu until I, too, wing my heels with the swiftness of the sea, and become a sunburned, skin-peeling Mercury.” It’s not clear he ever did.
Modern-day lovers of the surboard will be fascinated by Martin’s encounters with surfing greats like Barton Lynch, Martin Potter and Mark Richards, Pam Burridge and Wendy Botha. Yet some of the most vivid characters in the book are not household names at all. They are people who live for the sport. People like Banzai Betty, making a living interviewing surfers for a local TV channel. And the board-shaper Willis brothers, particularly Michael. He enlisted Martin’s help to write a Manifesto of the Surfing Masses, directed against the powerful Association of Surfing Professionals. It demanded that:

“The water should be open to everyone all the time, not just to those with money and power,” and concluding:
“Surfers of the world arise and unite!”

One of the best things about the book is Martin’s self-mocking sense of humour. It carries a dedication
– “For Heather, my shaper” – nice enough you think. But later, when he is discussing boards, you
come across his definition: “The shaper takes a slab of inert matter and endows it with life.”

The pre-surfing Andy Martin may, for all I know, have been somewhat inert. By the end of the book you know he will never be a competition champion. But he has succeeded in bringing laughter and poetry into the relationship of surfer and sea. Perhaps, then, he has caught the Big Wave after all.

The Observer, John Gaustad

Strange as it may seem, one of the most intriguing and interesting books of the year was about surfing. Andy Martin’s Walking on Water was an unexpected gem, simply because it has never occurred to me that someone could write so entertainingly about this sport. It’s about surfing, surfers, waves, boards, Hawaii and Oahu’s North Shore, exhilaration, fear, obsession, and a whole lot more. I found it completely fascinating.

Blake Morrison, The Independent on Sunday

‘Andy Martin’s book about his time in Hawaii is less the record of a championship than the study of a whole culture of religion.’

Nick Hornby, Esquire

‘Gramsci meets Gazza’

Other readers

I appreciate those comments on Amazon that say either that this book is too good to be out of print or that it is a ‘little masterpiece’. But I particularly treasure this recent message from a reader in Surrey.

‘Back in 1993 I decided to travel around the world on my own (best decision on my life by the way). My mother gave me a ‘going away bundle’ – which consisted of some Kendal mint cake , a pack of condoms, a first aid pack and a phone card/emergency money – oh! and your book (being a mum she
probably just went into a shop and got the latest surfing one) Walking on Water.

That book kept me going through the odd lonely time as I made my way through various countries. Each time I went off on a ‘tangent’ and left behind friends that I had made – the book would come out.

So Thanks. I still have it in my book collection – slightly tatty, but intact – and I intend to include it in ‘my’ going away bundle when the children decide to travel.’