Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Kem Nunn's Great Surf Novels

My first introduction to the writer Kem Nunn came in Jane’s Addiction’s 1989 video film Soul Kiss. Between segments of the band playing ferociously onstage, the group’s bassist Eric Avery sits on the toilet and gives a brief synopsis of Nunn’s 1984 novel Tapping the Source.
Just a little more than 30 years after being intrigued by that unorthodox book plug, I’ve finally read Tapping the Source. This comes a couple of years after reading his other great surf novel, The Dogs of Winter.
Both novels nail the vibe of California surf culture and also dive deep into the dark underbelly of the Sunshine State. The Dogs of Winter follows an aging surf photographer that secures an assignment to shoot photos of a reclusive surf legend riding waves at a Northern California secret spot called Heart Attacks. But the strength of the book is that a plot twist comes out of nowhere like a giant sneaker wave.
Tapping the Source concerns a desert hick that moves to Huntington Beach to search for his lost sister. While there, he becomes immersed in the city’s surf scene, biker culture, and drug underground.
On the back of Tapping the Source, it notes that this is “the classic novel that inspired the movie Point Break.” The primary similarity between the movie and novel is the relationship between two characters. In the book, it’s Ike Turner and Hound Adams, who definitely inspired Patrick Swayze’s character Bodhi. But unlike the somewhat goofy 1991 film, the novel ends up paddling out into deeper, darker waters.
Fans of California literature will approach these two books the same way a surfer tackles a great wave: savoring every moment while moving down the line.  


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