In this revelatory and original book, award-winning author of the acclaimed surf memoir On a Wave illuminates the connection between waves, addiction, and recovery, exploring what surfing can teach us about the powerful undertow of addictive behaviors and the ways to swim free of them.
Addiction is arguably the dominant feature of contemporary life: sex, gambling, exercise, eating, shopping, Internet use—there's virtually no pleasurable activity that can't morph into a destructive obsession. For Americans under the age of fifty-five, the leading cause of death is drug overdose. But there is another side of addiction.
In some instances, the very activities that can lead to addiction can also lead out of it. As neurologists have recently discovered, surfing is a kind of study in the mechanism of addiction, delivering dopamine to the "pleasure" center of the brain and reshaping priorities and desire in a feedback loop of narrowing focus. Thad Ziolkowski knows this dynamic intimately. A lifelong surfer, he has been surrounded by addiction since his boyhood. In this unique, groundbreaking book, part addiction memoir, part sociological study, part spiritual odyssey, Ziolkowski dismantles the myth of surfing as a radiantly wholesome lifestyle immune to the darker temptations of the culture and discovers among the rubble a new way to understand and ultimately overcome addiction.
Combining his own story with insights from scientists, progressive thinkers and the experiences of top surfers and addicts from around the world, Ziolkowski shows how getting on a board and catching a wave is a unique and deeply instructive means of riding out of the darkness and back into the light. Yet while surfing is his salvation, its lessons can applied to other activities that can pull us free from the lethal undertow of addiction and save lives.
Thad Ziolkowski is the author of the memoir On a Wave, which was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award in 2003, and Wichita, a novel. His essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Bookforum, Artforum, Travel & Leisure and Interview Magazine. He has a PhD in English Literature from Yale University and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is the Associate Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center, CUNY.
“This book is brilliant. You’ve never seen the gorgonian loops and layers of addiction illuminated so clearly and originally.”
— WILLIAM FINNEGAN, New York Times bestselling and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Barbarian Days
“Thad Ziolkowski explores the scientific and spiritual depths of the relationship between addiction and surfing—a sport that’s often portrayed as shallow, but in truth is anything but. As in the ocean itself, the sunlit waves coexist with the profound, and darker, layers beneath. The stories Ziolkowski tells—both his own and those of other surfers—are testaments to how there is much to be learned in the deeper waters, but only if you make it back to the surface. The Drop is a searingly personal, timely, and beautifully written book.”
— SUSAN CASEY, bestselling author of The Wave
“I can’t even swim in the ocean without some dread and fear, so surfing is unfathomable to me; with drugs (and their delights and horrors) I’m somewhat more familiar. Thad Ziolkowski has masterfully woven these two subjects together with his own singular but familiar American dude’s story. The Drop is a frank, fascinating, strange, wise, beautiful book.”
— KURT ANDERSEN, New York Times bestselling author of Evil Geniuses
“In The Drop, both a vivid personal memoir and a thoughtful exploration of compulsive behavior, Thad Ziolkowski finds an unlikely but sensible commonality between the drives underlying the fervor of surfing and the siren call of addictions. He recognizes the traumatic bases of both yet points to how the sport can ultimately be a force for healing.”
— GABOR MATÉ, M.D., author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
“A poetic memoir of addiction, but also a beautiful reflection on the lure of surfing, which (as practitioners know) can be addictive. Ziolkowski examines the seedy, tweaky underside of the surf world as well as its logical upshot: surfing as a natural hook, which can show an addict the way back to sanity and light.”
— MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE, author of The Desert and the Sea
“What does a surfer do after riding a twenty-five-foot wave, or winning a world title, or getting barreled at Pipeline for a decade? Ah, solving that question—to paraphrase Philip Larkin—brings the rehab staff and the EMT crew running over the beaches in their long white coats. Through a brilliant plumbing of surfing’s dark side, Ziolkowski holds a light up to the bodies taken by addiction, while also showing a way out that exists within surfing itself.”
— JAMIE BRISICK, author of Becoming Westerly and Have Board, Will Travel
"Intimate take on the subject...vivid writing and evocative insights about the dopamine rush that the sport and drugs share."
— Publishers Weekly
"Thad Ziolkowski's ambitious new pseudo-memoir is ostensibly a book about surfing, and on a sentence level it contains some truly magical writing in the vein of Barbarian Days…But it's also an addiction memoir that isn't afraid to explore the liminal spaces where the endorphin rush of the sport meets our darker compulsions. In less capable hands the wheels would squeak right off. But when Ziolkowski is on, it's hard not to feel what he's feeling. It's a science book about the things we tether ourselves to, made spiritual."