Caught Inside: A Surfer's Year on the California Coast


A wondrous, uproarious, and surprisingly informative account of a year spend surfing, Caught Inside marks the arrival of an exuberant new voice of the outdoors. This remarkable narrative of Daniel Duane's life on the water is enhanced by good-humored explanations of the physics of wave dynamics, the intricate art of surfboard design, and lyrical, sharp-eyed descriptions of the flora and fauna of the Pacific wilderness. From Captain Cook and Mark Twain to Robinson Jeffers and Jack London, from portraits of famous ...

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A wondrous, uproarious, and surprisingly informative account of a year spend surfing, Caught Inside marks the arrival of an exuberant new voice of the outdoors. This remarkable narrative of Daniel Duane's life on the water is enhanced by good-humored explanations of the physics of wave dynamics, the intricate art of surfboard design, and lyrical, sharp-eyed descriptions of the flora and fauna of the Pacific wilderness. From Captain Cook and Mark Twain to Robinson Jeffers and Jack London, from portraits of famous (and infamous) surfers to an analysis of Gidget's perverse significance, Duane expertly uncovers the myths and symbols bound up in one of our most vibrant and recognizably American subjects.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Wonderful . . . [Duane is] an ontologist of dudedom, Henry David Thoreau doing aerials on a fiberglass board.” – Will Blythe, Esquire

“Enthralling. Duane has an honest take on surf culture, seeing both the romance and the irony . . . Best of all are his evocative, compelling observations about nature: fresh and thrilling descriptions of scenery and life on the coast.” – David Sheff, Los Angeles Times

Esquire Will Blythe

Wonderful . . . [Duane is] an ontologist of dudedom, Henry David Thoreau doing aerials on a fiberglass board.
Bruce Barcott

"A surf break can be a Walden Pond," writes Daniel Duane, "a material synecdoche of all one finds mysterious and delightful about the world." Unfortunately, there is little of the mysterious or delightful in Duane's chronicle of Northern California surf culture. Finding himself 27 and unemployed, the author takes a year off to go surfing. He orders a custom board, finds an out-of-the-way break he can call his own and paddles out. Caught Inside begins with promising descriptions of the insiderish nature of surfing, including this dead-accurate reading of surf magazine photo captions: "Where climbing, skiing. . . and hite-water magazines identify every place in every photograph, with detailed travel and camping information, surfing magazines do their level best to disguise them: Delighted you bought the mag, but please, don't ever come here." The author leavens his seasonal diary with interesting histories of surfing, shark attacks and odd characters like Mickey "Da Cat" Dora, an early Malibu surf icon.

Too soon, however, the book bogs down in Duane's overwritten descriptions of surf spots, and by the end the reader feels trapped in a home slide show in which the host insists on describing every otter, bird, kelp bed and sunset he encountered atop his fiberglass float. Duane's enchantment with the sport is obvious, but his narrative doesn't so much celebrate surfing as inadvertently expose it. "Da Cat" turns out to be an ugly character, the world's first surf Nazi. Duane's friend Vince is so scared of getting assaulted by locals that he's afraid to speak above a whisper. A supposedly cool surf buddy spits on the windshield of two visiting surf enthusiasts because he thinks they're posers. Other friends cheat the same visitors out of a $1500 van. By the time the book ends, the surfing life seems more distasteful than romantic. Sometimes a surf break's a synecdoche, and sometimes it's just a holding pond for a jerkwater navy. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Surfing enthusiast Duane quit his unfulfilling retail job in Berkeley, Calif., and moved to Santa Cruz, where he spent the better part of a recent year riding waves, exploring the coastline, researching the history of surfing and befriending and philosophizing with various locals who have arranged their lives around the quest for the perfect wave. The results of these pursuits are recorded here in quietly meditative prose that simultaneously deglamorizes the sport and seeks to imbue it with a kind of metaphysical profundity. Dedicated surfers, Duane discovers, tend to feel a measure of guilt about their willingness to give their favorite pastime precedence over career ambitions and family responsibilities. At the same time, surfing yields unique and valuable opportunities for appreciation of and communication with nature. Duane is clearly anxious to justify an ostensibly hedonistic lifestyle, and his arguments on its behalf are not always convincing, but the deftly rendered observations and epiphanies make his own experience seem decidedly worthwhile. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
Duane (Lighting Out, 1994) is a surf hound, doubtless, but he explores a whole lot more than great green rooms of tubular water in this testament to an obsession.

The narrative starts with Duane drowning, nearly, pounded by the waters of the Point, his chosen venue, a slice of the Pacific Ocean off Monterey Bay. Neither new to surfing nor a veteran, Duane wanted to spend an intimate year with the waves, to feel their soothing, healing effects and astounding violence, to live the surfer's life. But sliding down the water's face is only part of the process; he wanted the whole zeitgeist, and he delivers it with easy precision. The technicalities are handled with aplomb: how to craft a board, from the old 18-foot Hawaiian prototypes to today's 7-foot shredding marvels; how to interpret the color of the water, the vectors of wind and swell. He conveys a physicist's appreciation of wave forms—frequencies and amplitudes and periods, energy as measured by joules per second. He is an appreciative audience for the natural world during walks to the beach, seeing and describing mustard and hemlock, cougar and bird. On the water, he explains traffic rules and pecking orders (more than once falling foul of the strictures); up and running he dips a "finger in the water just to believe it's happening, and feel the light joy of effortless, combustion-free speed"; surrounded by a pipe of water, he "physically penetrates the heart of the ocean's energy," then gets slammed onto the deck once again. Duane willingly takes his knocks. Utterly intriguing are the psycho-probings he assays with his surfing friends into the fanaticism of surfers, how it reflects their past, brackets their love lives, defines their expectations.

Duane wrestles poetry from the surf's chaos—wild and vital, supple and elegant.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780865475090
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/28/1997
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 386,088
  • Product dimensions: 5.68 (w) x 8.16 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Duane was born in 1967 and is the author of Looking for Mo and Lighting Out: A Vision of California and the Mountains. He lives and surfs in Santa Cruz, California.

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  • Posted March 24, 2009

    Daniel Duane

    Daniel Duane the narrator, decides to leave his job in Berkeley, California to see what its all about to surf the California coast. He deeply describes the animal and plant life inhabits the coast line of Santa Cruz. Through out the book, he explains the techniques the wild life uses to survive; like how seagulls dive into the water a certain way. Duane also explains the precision it takes to make the perfectly shaped boards, and describes the many differences between long boards and short boards. While he is there he meets with locale surfers and philosophers, who teach him the local lingo and the science behind the perfect tubular waves. He makes small chat with most of the locales trying to find out, what it is all about to live the surfer life. In doing so, he meets two people he becomes good friends with, Victor and Willie. They both inspire him to keep learning about what it takes to be a surfer. When Duane barley escapes drowning, (which he explains in the begging of the story), his thoughts change and looks at his friends personal problems and why they really surf. He finds that one of his friends just enjoys being away from worries, and the other was just unsuccessful and decided to skip a midterm exam for a good surf sesh. Daniel descriptions of some of the animal seem over talked about and a little unnecessary for the book to be about surfing. The only problem I see about the book is that Duane seems more interested in the scenery, then the mental relaxation that others see in surfing. I personally think that Daniel needs to write a book about the beauty of nature. What I do like about Duane's writing style is that he is very creative when he describes an object, whether the object is valuable or not. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to seek what surfing is all about while being able to get a little lesson on what kind of wild life lives on the coast of California.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2002

    Is Dan Duane A Poser?

    As a longtime surfer and voracious reader, I've been looking for a book that truly captures the essence of the surfing life and the grip it has on those of us who practice it. Does Dan Duane succeed? Yes and no - and for the ultimate answer, the reader is advised to read Duane's excellent rock-climbing novel 'Looking for Mo'. Why? Because one of that book's central themes - the angst of the writer who steals his 'autobiographical fiction' from the lives of those close to him - poses an intriguing and frustrating question to the reader of 'Caught Inside'. In 'Caught Inside', twenty-something Duane moves into an apartment in Santa Cruz (NorCal's 'Surf City'), there to live out his dream of becoming the Thoreau of the surfing scene; he will spend a year in the water and on the shores, riding waves and waxing poetic on the natures of man, fish, bird, cetacean, pinniped, and mustelid. What works: Duane's vivid description of the rugged paradise that is coastal northern California; his minimal descriptions of the act of surfing itself (wisely avoiding the 'whoa, killer' adjectives that other surf writers can't seem to avoid); and Duane himself - a likable guy who nearly drowns, breaks his cherished custom-built board, can't get his girlfriend to understand him, and whose enthusiasm - almost a religious rapture - for his life really does rub off. And yet, there is something naggingly false about the book, in the form of the two surfing buddies he hooks up with. 'Vince' and 'Willie' seem to be composite characters (a suspicion only furthered by reading Duane's 'Looking For Mo'); one never truly finds either of the two interesting, a surprise given the nature of personalities that the sport and the region produces. The book soars when Dan is trying to explain to his friends, family, and associates why he does what he does; it is a surprise that his vivid descriptions of the coastal ecosystem tend to reduce the narrative to a 'Discovery Channel' script - this aspect of the book becomes too much of a good thing. He simply tries too hard, again making the reader wonder how much of his 'year on the California coast' was actually his.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2000

    Exploring a good life as opposed to 'The Good Life'

    Daniel Duane supports and encourages our quest for time well spent in an alternative fashion. He offers 'quality over quantity', and the use of that common sense somehow lost in an MTV world bombarding us with the idolization of Money=Power=Sex as the only real truths or goals worth pursuing. Caught Inside is refreshingly honest, and the message in this book needs to be presented as often as possible for the sake of our own lives, and the lives of generations to follow. All will enjoy the detailed and descriptive account of life as a surfer in California (considering the multi-million dollar surf fashion industry is comprised mostly of non-surfers). I related to every word in this book, and I thank the author for making it so it could find me at a crucial time. I am 27 years old, and just moved back to Santa Barbara, CA (where I attended college) after four post-college years in Los Angeles pursuing a career and 'The Good Life'. The one truth I found during those four years is that The Good Life can be the farthest thing from a good life. After moving back here in September with my fiancé to slow things down and enjoy life a little more, we consciously decided not to plug in our television. So at the bookstore that first night (feeling a little unsure of what we had done), Caught Inside found me and I read it that first week. Out in the water on your board, one can find total peace and relief from any land worries like rent to pay or job related stress. This is not necessarily the magic of surfing though, but instead the shifting of your focus to what is truly important and fulfilling. Whether you surf or just wish you did, read this book to explore something interesting and enlightening.

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    Posted January 7, 2009

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    Posted June 23, 2010

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    Posted April 30, 2009

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