The Tokyo Olympics are postponed until 2021 due to Covid-19. In the meantime, fans can read up on skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing—three of the events slated to debut at the rescheduled games—and delve into the history of the Olympics and some of its most popular longtime sports.

Epic Surf Breaks of the World

Lonely Planet, Aug.

Rating surf spots by challenge level—easy, gnarly, or epic—this title includes maps and other trip-planning information, as expected from a guidebook publisher. But the focus is on the photography—action shots of surfers inside the barrel, dreamy sunset scenes—and stories from surf writers including Chas Smith (see Reports from Hell, below) and William Finnegan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the surfing memoir Barbarian Days.

Fifty Places to Rock Climb Before You Die

Chris Santella. Abrams Image, Apr.

In 2019, 18-year-old Brooke Raboutou became the first American to qualify for the new Olympic event of sport climbing. Santella, whose previous Fifty Places books have covered surfing, skiing and snowboarding, and beer drinking, here rounds up climbing spots such as Idaho’s Elephant Perch, the Bugaboos of British Columbia, and South Africa’s Rocklands, with advice from veteran climbers.

High Drama

John Burgman. Triumph, out now

Burgman (Why We Climb), a former editor at Outdoor Life whose writing has appeared in Esquire, Men’s Health, and elsewhere, tracks the sport of competitive climbing from its roots as a counterculture pastime to its current height, on the cusp of an Olympic debut. “How did the carefree recreation of climbing become a competitive sport loved by the American masses?” Burgman asks in the introduction, and explores the answers in chapters that touch on guerilla climbers, sponsorship deals, and the Sylvester Stallone movie Cliffhanger.

The Irish Whales

Kevin Martin. Rowman & Littlefield, Aug.

Eight-time gold medalist Usain Bolt is a modern track and field superstar. A century ago, from the 1900 to 1924 Olympics, the U.S. Track and Field team’s weight throwers dominated their events, winning 18 gold medals. Martin, whose Have Ye No Homes to Go To? pays tribute to the Irish pub from Norman times onward, here follows the exploits of those men, who were born in Ireland, emigrated New York City, and became heroes of their community.

Reports from Hell

Chas Smith, Rare Bird, July

PW’s review of Smith’s Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell (2013) described his prose style as what might result “if Hunter S. Thompson circa Hell’s Angels merged with a fashion critic to write about surfing for Maxim.” Smith’s career as a gonzo surfing and war reporter began with an article for Australia’s Surfing Life, about surfingYemen in the months after 9/11. This led to assignments covering conflict in the Middle East for Vice and others, often with surfboard in tow. In 2006, while reporting on the Israel-Lebanon War for Current TV, Smith was kidnapped by Hezbollah, an experience that’s among those covered in this book.


Diane Cardwell. HMH, June

In this memoir, a former New York Times business reporter “recounts how she moved to Rockaway Beach, N.Y., after a divorce to pursue her passion for surfing,” PW’s review said, telling a “detailed story of reinvention.” The narrow slip of land jutting off Queens is a popular surf spot despite, as the author writes, its “soft, mushy waves.” Mushy or no, those waves provided a route to healing. “Surfing,” she writes, “despite my distinct lack of aptitude and struggles to find my balance in the ocean, consistently brought me joy and a sense of purpose.”

She Surf

Edited by Lauren L. Hill. Gestalten, June

Riding the wave of interest not only in surfing but in female athletes in general, this book documents women claiming what the publisher calls “their rightful place in the world of this sport.” Hill travels to Hawaii, Morocco, and beyond for a joyful look, told via photographs and interviews, of women who, she writes in the introduction, are “making up for lost decades in getting back to surfing’s legacy of inclusivity.”


Sierra Prescott, Ten Speed, Aug.

When skateboarding comes to the Olympics for the first time, eight women are slated to compete for the U.S.; several of them receive mention, as “all-stars,” in this overview of women’s contribution to what author and photographer Prescott writes is “not just a sport. It’s a feeling. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a frame of mind, an addiction, a bond.” Those new to the sport can bone up on skater slang with a section introducing terms like brain bucket (a helmet) and swellbow (a self-explanatory injury).

Why We Swim

Bonnie Tsui, Algonquin, Apr.

American Chinatown author Tsui takes an “eclectic, well-crafted survey,” PW’s review said, of humanity’s relationship to swimming, one of the most popular Olympic sports. Included in the mix are stories of U.S. Olympic athletes, including Gertrude Ederle, who won gold in 1926 and two years later became the first woman to swim across the English Channel; 12-time medalist Dara Torres, who competed for the first time in 1984 and most recently in 2008, at age 41; and current multi-record-holder Katie Ledecky, who started her Olympic career in 2012 at age 15.

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