The best books on the thrills and dangers of extreme sports

Who am I?

I started climbing and running around the hills in my teens, got into boats, became a professional sailor for twenty years, then took up surfing at thirty and snowboarding at forty. There’s something special about playing with gravity, whether it’s sliding down hills or waves, or defying it on a mountain face. All these books capture the thrill and the dangers.


I wrote...

Powder Burn

By Mark Chisnell,

Book cover of Powder Burn

What is my book about?

Sam had given up her Manhattan job and flown off to chase her dream of becoming an investigative journalist. Three months later, alone in a soulless internet café, she’s facing some cold, hard facts; she’s unpublished, unhappy, and broke. And right then, the gorgeous Pete Halland blows into her life – headed for the mythical Powder Burn mountain to write history and blast into legend. 

If she throws in her lot with Pete it could rescue her dreams, but he’s holding back some crucial information – the question for Sam is... what? Soon, Sam is up to her neck in snow and the weather is the least of her problems; lost in a secretive Himalayan kingdom with – what could be – a magic sword and a simmering and potentially bloody revolution.

The books I picked & why

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The Dogs of Winter

By Kem Nunn,

Book cover of The Dogs of Winter

Why this book?

I discovered this book when I had just started surfing, and it blew me away – so there could be great fiction about extreme sports! I loved the grittiness, the foreboding noir feel, and the unusual setting. It was part of the inspiration for Powder Burn, although they are very different books.


Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival

By Joe Simpson,

Book cover of Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival

Why this book?

The original – and many of the best – books about extreme sports are mountaineering books, dating back to a time before the phrase was even coined. This is one of, if not the best of the genre. Joe Simpson’s account of his extraordinary fight for survival after a fall in the Peruvian Andes takes no prisoners. It’s brutal and raw and a wonderful piece of writing. 


Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

By Jon Krakauer,

Book cover of Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

Why this book?

A second mountaineering book for this list, but very different from Touching the Void. Jon Krakauer’s account of a disastrous storm on Mount Everest captured everything for me about why people do these sports and why they shouldn’t – but it also captured the importance of motivation and the conduct of the sport. The controversy about the events depicted and the whole nature of guided mountaineering to big Himalayan peaks still rolls on, this is the original work.


Walking on Water

By Andy Martin,

Book cover of Walking on Water

Why this book?

I loved the book because the author’s love for the sport comes across so plainly. The stories from the spiritual home of surfing, Oahu’s North Shore, are wonderful. It’s an essential text for anyone getting into the sport, capturing its soul better than anything else I have read.


Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

By William Finnegan,

Book cover of Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

Why this book?

Another piece of biography, this time by a man who has taken on most of the world’s best waves. A man who has consistently surfed at breaks whose size and nature require complete commitment. Very few of the people that can do this can also write as well as Finnegan (the book won a Pulitzer), and the descriptions he brings back from the wave face ring with a sonorous truth. He captures the moment and the people beautifully, growing up in the 60s in LA and Hawaii, travelling cheap and light looking for waves in the 70s and 80s. If you surf, it will inspire you to get back out there, if you don’t it will inspire you to try it. Or put you off the idea for life.  


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in surfing, Northern California, and England?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about surfing, Northern California, and England.

Surfing Explore 16 books about surfing
Northern California Explore 11 books about Northern California
England Explore 637 books about England

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Freckled: A Memoir of Growing up Wild in Hawaii, The Voyage of the Cormorant: A Memoir of the Changeable Sea, and The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean if you like this list.