10 Books to Deepen Your Appreciation of Water Sports

By: Samantha Dammann, Swimming World College Intern.

Contrary to popular belief, not all popular swimming books are biographies about modern Olympians.

Many swimming related books feature events and people who have conquered waves and waters across the world. Read about Lynne Cox’s daring open water swims, big wave surfers like Laird Hamilton, the first man and woman to ever swim across the English Channel, and the man that spread surfing across the world.

Water-related sports have played a huge role in America’s history, and here are ten books that highlight the accomplishments of many swimmers and surfers across time.

Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer

By: Lynne Cox

Book 1

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Lynne Cox is a long-distance open water swimmer from Boston, Massachusetts. In her book Cox tells the stories of her greatest open water swims, including 1.22 mile swim in the icy waters of Antarctica, and her swim across the Bering Strait from Alaska’s Little Diomede to the island of Big Diomede, which was then a part of the Soviet Union.

“Swimming to Antarctica” is a motivational read that also examines the political effects of Cox’s international swims.

Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku

By: David Davis


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“Waterman” covers the life of Duke Kahanamoku, a Native Hawaiian swimmer, surfer, and Olympic gold medalist who popularized both competitive swimming and surfing. Kahanamoku lived during Hawaii’s transition from an independent kingdom to an American state, and Davis captures the importance of this period in history.

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean

By: Susan Casey

The Wave

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A detailed and mesmerizing look into the world of giant waves and the community of people that spend their lives chasing after these mountains of water. Casey travels with Laird Hamilton and dives into the world of big wave surfing. She also spends time with scientists who are deeply concerned by what the presence of these giant waves means for the planet.

The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory

By: Julie Checkoway and Alex Chadwick

three year

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The remarkable story of a group of impoverished Japanese-American children living on Maui who became elite competitive swimmers under the guidance of their teacher, Soichi Sakamoto. This story, like “Swimming to Antarctica” and “Waterman,” shows the social and political impacts that swimming has had on the world.

The Crossing: The Curious Story of the First Man to Swim the English Channel

By: Kathy Watson

The Crossing

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“The Crossing” tells the story of Matthew Webb, who, in 1875, became the first person to ever swim the English Channel. The book is wonderfully detailed and shows just how unconventional Webb’s swim was. Watson goes on to recount the remainder of Webb’s life, which became crazier and more recklessly adventurous as the years passed.

Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America

By: Jeff Wiltse

contested waters

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Wiltse recounts the development of public pools from the nineteenth century to present times, and consequently the development of modern America. As centers of social activity, swimming pools have seen culture transformed.

Fighting the Current: The Rise of American Women’s Swimming, 1870-1926

By: Lisa Bier

fighting the current

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Gertrude Ederle brought women’s swimming to the public’s eye in 1926 when she became the first woman to swim across the English Channel, but women had been swimming for 50 years before Ederle. Bier traces the origins of women’s competitive swimming up to the Ederle’s time and examines the barriers these early swimmers had to break through.

The Pal Effect: A Faroe Islander’s Quest for Swimming Glory

By: Rod Gilmour

the pal effect

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Gilmour believed that the Faroe Islands had never produced an elite athlete, but Pál Joensen proved him wrong. “The Pal Effect” tells the story of how Joensen became an elite competitive swimmer and inspired his country.

The Great Swim

By: Gavin Mortimer

the great swim

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Mortimer tells the stories of the four women who strove to become the first woman to cross the English Channel during the summer of 1926. “The Great Swim” is a look into how Gertrude Ederle, Mille Gade, Lillian Cannon, and Clarabelle Barrette changed the way the world viewed women.

Find a Way: The Inspiring Story of One Woman’s Pursuit of a Lifelong Dream

By: Diana Nyad

find a way

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Becoming the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protection cage had been Nyad’s dream since she was 28 years old. She finally achieved her dream and conquered the swim when she was 64. This book inspired Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign, and is sure to inspire anyone else who reads it.

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