The coffee table book is the rare genre defined not only by content but by destination. Sure, not all of these oversized tomes wind up marooned beside a scented candle in someone’s living room — some make it all the way to hotel lobbies and the waiting rooms of cosmetic dentistry practices. I’ve seen volumes on Panama hats, rattan and a mall in Dubai — worthy topics of study, surely, but perhaps not majestic enough to merit the heft of the format.
Jimmy Metyko’s SHAPING SURF HISTORY (Rizzoli, $55) is, though sneakily. The book maps only a narrow portion of the surfing genome, collecting photos taken by one man over four years, of a small group of subjects over a limited stretch of California coastline. But what a scene to witness.
When Metyko arrived in Santa Barbara in 1979, he met Al Merrick and Tom Curren — surf’s equivalent of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien: talented friends whose collaboration eternally jolted the course of their trade. At the time, Merrick was an innovative board maker and Curren a spookily skilled surfer; Merrick devised the equipment and Curren tested its limits. And Metyko? He was there to capture the results.
Hailing from Texas, the photographer may as well have been from Jupiter. But the images herein, ranging from the experimental to the drool-worthy, argue that no one was better poised to cherish Santa Barbara’s wavescape (and its devoted suitors) than an outsider raised on fickle Gulf Coast offerings.
Essays by Jamie Brisick and Sam George, writer-surfers who were on the beach with Merrick and Curren, succinctly tee up Metyko’s images, which make a case for surfing as the most photogenic of sports. Beautiful bodies in beautiful motion in the world’s most beautiful medium: How could it be otherwise?