Michael Kew on his new book “Crossings”

“Crossings” is not about surfing. But surfing is woven throughout and, hey, there’s a groovy dude with a board on the cover. So what’s this stout 480-page book saying, and why should you go to Surfbeat Galerie this Saturday eve? The fact that I’m both interviewer and subject here makes for a dubious and literally self-absorbed riff. And — upon today’s arrival of my third printing — shamelessly self-promoting. For this, I apologize. Profusely. Sort of.

MICHAEL: What birthed “Crossings?”

KEW: Three things. A 10-year (starting in 2001) chunk of world travel, Lulu.com, and New Year’s Day 2012. Self-publishing a book has become incredibly easy, and once 2011 died, I felt it was appropriate to cram a bunch of my travel stories together and boil them into one neat little package that you could set on your nightstand or stuff into the back pocket of your MC Hammer-style parachute pants. You still have a pair, right?

MC Hammer.

MICHAEL: I never wore those.

KEW: Liar. You’re a child of the ‘80s. You had MC Hammer tapes and you liked his videos on MTV.

MICHAEL: Did you just say I lied?

KEW: Did I? Anyway, moving on. When I was 25, I earned a stack of cash by writing for an online start-up (thanks to Evan Slater). I was homeless, and, aside from a few childhood trips to Baja, had never left the United States. This was because I had zero dollars growing up, zero dollars in college, and despite reading about the world in National Geographic and Surfer and worldly mags like that, it was easy to hang in California and breathe familiar air. It still feels that way, but eventually city limits end up being just that: limiting.

Carwyn Williams.

MICHAEL: Where did you go first?

KEW: France. Almost everyone in the plane clapped when we landed in Paris. That was cool. (The only other time I’ve since experienced such patriotic clapping joy upon landing was last summer in Kingston, Jamaica.) So, at the urging of Surfer’s Steve Barilotti, one of my mentors, I aimed to rendezvous with Carwyn Williams, a legendary Welsh surf star who had expatriated to Seignosse. I don’t recall why, but I wanted to write about surfing in Wales. Carwyn was supposed to take me there. From Paris I flew to Biarritz, where Carwyn and a hilarious carload of dudes collected me. We drove straight to a pub and got drunk off of Stella Artois lager. I spent most of my two weeks in Seignosse down with influenza, but I did get to share a room in Carwyn’s house with Ted Grambeau, another one of my mentors, and that led to a jaunt to Norway’s Arctic Circle, my first official trip for Surfer magazine. We found epic waves. But Carwyn never left Seignosse; I still don’t know why. After Norway, I ended up in his hometown of Mumbles and survived to pen a story about it for The Surfer’s Journal. I wrote nothing about France.

Ted Grambeau.

MICHAEL: In those 10 years, did you visit other countries and write nothing about them?

KEW: Yes, probably about 20. Greenland is one I really should have documented.

MICHAEL: Greenland must’ve been interesting.

KEW: You can say that again.

MICHAEL: Greenland must’ve been interesting.

KEW: Dude….

MICHAEL: Haha, okay…so why should anyone want to read “Crossings?” Why should anyone care?

KEW: Anyone with even a dusting of global curiosity will enjoy this book. It’s not about surfing, so a non-surfing reader won’t be alienated. It’s travel writing, not surf-writing. It’s world culture, world environment, world politics, and occasionally world-class waves. It’s an intimate, personal portal into some of Earth’s obscure regions, mostly small dots on the map. And much of the travel was done solo, exposing me to cultural experiences I would not have had if I was insulated behind a gaggle of jockish pro surfers.

MICHAEL: How can somebody get a copy of “Crossings?”

KEW: Easy…[visit Kew's site to order a copy]. Or, if you come see me at Surfbeat Galerie on Saturday, flip me a Jackson and I’ll hand you signed copy. A trip around the world for $20? MC Hammer would dig that.

BE HERE: Saturday, March 31, 8 p.m., Surfbeat Galerie, 22 Anacapa St., #5, Santa Barbara, Calif. Phone 805-450-6268. Live music by Brother Bird (who is Catherine Clark, Johnny McCann, Travers Adler). Beer and wine. Art by Ricky Brotini. “Crossings” readings and signing and sales. Yes. Good vibes. Yes.

  • To learn more about author and surf-scribe Michael Kew visit the Peathead Blog and check out this recent interview.

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