Empire in Waves: A Political History of Surfing (Sport in World History #1) (Hardcover)

Empire in Waves: A Political History of Surfing (Sport in World History  #1) Cover Image
Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days


Surfing today evokes many things: thundering waves, warm beaches, bikinis and lifeguards, and carefree pleasure. But is the story of surfing really as simple as popular culture suggests? In this first international political history of the sport, Scott Laderman shows that while wave riding is indeed capable of stimulating tremendous pleasure, its globalization went hand in hand with the blood and repression of the long twentieth century.  

Emerging as an imperial instrument in post-annexation Hawaii, spawning a form of tourism that conquered the littoral Third World, tracing the struggle against South African apartheid, and employed as a diplomatic weapon in America's Cold War arsenal, the saga of modern surfing is only partially captured by Gidget, the Beach Boys, and the film Blue Crush. From nineteenth-century American empire-building in the Pacific to the low-wage labor of the surf industry today, Laderman argues that surfing in fact closely mirrored American foreign relations. Yet despite its less-than-golden past, the sport continues to captivate people worldwide.

Whether in El Salvador or Indonesia or points between, the modern history of this cherished pastime is hardly an uncomplicated story of beachside bliss. Sometimes messy, occasionally contentious, but never dull, surfing offers us a whole new way of viewing our globalized world.

About the Author

Scott Laderman is Associate Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and the author of Tours of Vietnam: War, Travel Guides, and Memory.

Praise For…

"What Laderman presents is a fascinating account of a sport whose proponents believed it to be apolitical, but facing the politics of a modern world."
— H-Net

"Laderman’s history offers intriguing moments in which he pulls together surfing narratives of soldiers and other state agents— illustrating the degree to which pleasure and power were intimately linked in the world that American foreign policy produced."
— Vernadette Vicuna Gonzalez

"An authoritative account of the intersection of politics and surfing."
— Brian Unger

"A richly documented and compactly written monograph."
— Richard O. Davies

"Well-written and engaging."
— Glyn Ford

"Empire in Waves deserves the widest possible audience. . . . An excellent example of entertaining writing from a
— Ed Jaggard

"Empire in Waves raises important and underanalysed issues in surfing history and culture. With its impressive notes and bibliography, it will contribute to university classrooms and aid academic research in future surfing scholarship."
— The Journal of Pacific History

"Empire of Waves is the best (anti-)beach book I’ve read in a long time. I highly recommend taking Laderman on vacation with you—he’ll absolutely ruin it."
— Tim Paulson

"Laderman’s highly-readable and broadly-documented analysis of surfing’s political history is a timely arrival, not only to the rapidly-evolving scholarly index of surf studies, but also to a contemporary waveriding culture forcefully embracing the political potential of surf-driven initiatives in the form of non-profits, Enviro Business, and drives for sustainability across the surfing world."
— Canadian Journal of History

Product Details
ISBN: 9780520279100
ISBN-10: 0520279107
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2014
Pages: 256
Language: English
Series: Sport in World History

Membership Benefits


 Gift cards can be used online or in-store.

Gift Card