Surfing With Sartre: the French philosopher once declared waterskiing to be 'the ideal limit of aquatic sports' | Still: Penguin Random House

"Surfing With Sartre" is one of the most clever works blending the sport of riding waves with non-surf related topics.

And it could only be written by a professor of philosophy who also happens to be a skilled lifelong surfer. Why?

Philosophy is much simpler than we tend to think it is. It's about exploring who we are and observing and interpreting what's in front of us. It could be an object - a surfboard, for example - or even a flower.

Jean-Paul Sartre is one of the stars of 20th-century philosophy. He invited the world to question the foundations of freedom, and focus on the human subject, as someone capable of feeling, thinking, and living. Sartre is the father of existentialism.

Understandably, freedom and surfing are two words that relate to each other perfectly. More and more people find liberation in the ocean waves, but sometimes we struggle to put it into words.

The author of "Surfing With Sartre" is capable of intelligently mixing Karl Marx, capitalism, Bill Gates, religion, Lunada Bay, consciousness, Aristotle, desire, Immanuel Kant, leisure, Plato, and stoke in one book without sounding pretentious and ludicrous.


Aaron James divides his book into three main chapters and is continuously provoking the reader with more of less controversial thoughts and maxims.

"To be fair, the meaning of surfing isn't obvious to anyone. Few professional philosophers surf. And most surfers are more interested in surfing than talking or writing about the idea of surfing, let alone strenuously philosophizing about it," writes James.

A Glossary of Philosophy and Surfing

His book is also probably the first to include a glossary that lists key surfing and philosophical terms. And these are some of our favorite expressions:

Amour-propre: Comparative self-regard, especially in seeing one-self as rightly viewed as superior or inferior in the eyes of others. The source of vice. The cause of civilizations' ills.

Soul surfing: 1. Surfing with a soulful vibe and style, without regard to expectations of performance, usually away from a crowd. 2. Working less and surfing more (...). 3. Basis for reconciliation;

"Surfing With Sartre: An Aquatic Inquiry into a Life of Meaning" is not a surf book featuring technical instructions and idyllic photos, but it will teach us more than we expected about our favorite sport.

You'll also realize that the concept of "going with the flow" that so many times inspires surfers to become better performers can easily adapt to the daily circumstances of life.

Aaron James' notable work is an open window into the reflective and comparative side of surfing, and it will surprise anyone who appreciates and acknowledges the importance of having a brain.