New Books Network

Scott Laderman

Empire in Waves

A Political History of Surfing

University of California Press 2014

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Popular CultureNew Books in SportsNew Books Network June 19, 2020 Michael G. Vann

Since 2020 has been such a horrifying year (and it’s only June!), it would be nice to relax a bit this summer and talk...

Since 2020 has been such a horrifying year (and it’s only June!), it would be nice to relax a bit this summer and talk about something fun and apolitical like surfing. After all, what’s more chill then hanging at the beach and catching some waves?

But wait a minute! Empire in Waves: A Political History of Surfing (University of California Press, 2014) is about imperialism, white supremacy, Apartheid, Cold War politics in Central America and Southeast Asia, genocide, and the ways in which large corporations commodify and suck the very soul out of vibrant countercultures. Scott Laderman tells us “surfing is not a mindless entertainment, but a cultural force born of empire (at least in its modern phase), reliant on Western power, and invested in neoliberal capitalism.” Whoa, total bummer, dude! Empire in Waves is part of the University of California Press’ “Sports in World History” series and uses surfing as a prism to explore a number of crucial political, economic, and cultural issues.

Scott Laderman is a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, Duluth – home of the best surfing in the upper Midwest.


Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford, 2018). When he’s not quietly reading or happily talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.