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West of Jesus

Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief

Steven Kotler

Bloomsbury USA

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ISBN10: 1596913444
ISBN13: 9781596913448


272 Pages



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Steven Kotler almost drowned when he got caught on the wrong side of a wave in Mexico. As he emerged from the water, battered and torn, a fellow surfer told him, "It looks like the Conductor had his way with you." This was the second time Kotler had heard of this "Conductor"—the mythical surfer who controls the weather and the waves. Strangely, it was nearly a decade earlier in Indonesia that he was introduced to this mysterious troublemaker for the first time. He almost drowned that time, too.

After suffering from Lyme disease for two years, Kotler loses the perfect job, the perfect girl and much of what had been the perfect life. With nothing of any meaning left to him, Kotler sets out to surf around the world in search of the Conductor. As he regains his strength, he begins to have mystical experiences, not unlike those hinted at in the Conductor's myth. In spite of being a committed skeptic, Kotler had out-of-body experiences, felt time stoppages, had moments of ecstasy. Could this be standard neurochemistry triggered by flashes of adrenaline and other brain chemicals? Was he achieving some kind of transcendence? Or was he just losing his mind?

In West of Jesus, Steven Kotler starts out on an admittedly mad quest and ends up at the peculiar intersection of neuroscience, spirituality and sport. The results are a startling mix of big waves and bigger ideas: a surfer's journey into the biology of belief.


Praise for West of Jesus

"A wonderful and engaging book, West of Jesus provides a unique window into the neuroscience of belief. Woven into an enthralling surf narrative, Kotler's quest will appeal to anyone interested in understanding the connection between science, sport and spirituality."—Dr. Andrew Newberg, director of clinical nuclear medicine, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Why God Won't Go Away

"Steven Kotler's struggle with Lyme disease leads him on a journey, on a surf trip of sorts, where stories of a Conductor who can control the weather and the waves lead inexorably to a place where physics and metaphysics converge. Here is a strangely exciting tale of coincidence and serendipity sub-populated with shamans, Tibetan White Buddhists and kahunas at the intersection of Stoke and Karma. The Surf Quest, for Kotler, is experienced as a disturbingly real search for the Holy Grail."—Drew Kampion, author of The Way of the Surfer and The Lost Coast

"Laying to rest the myth of the illiterate beach boy, Kotler's absorbing book speaks to the kind of surfer/reader I've always known: intelligent, complex, curious, spiritually inclined, extraordinary. An unexpectedly moving treat, West of Jesus is just plain wonderful."—Joy Nicholson, author of The Tribes of Palos Verdes and The Road to Esmeralda

"After surviving a battle with Lyme disease, Kotler finds himself searching for a reason to live and turns to his love of surfing. The novelist and journalist travels to Mexico, where he hears a story about a magical being called 'the Conductor,' who controls the surf. Having heard the same tale eight years earlier while surfing in Indonesia, Kotler decides to seek out the legend's source while researching the inherent mysticism of surfers and their sport. Detailing his journey and findings, Kotler creates a work that combines the most compelling elements of memoir, travelogue and scholarly abstract into an accessible tale of physical and mental adventure. Up for anything, Kotler seeks out big waves, bungee jumping and a risky helicopter ride. He also delves into far-flung topics: surfing's history, Joseph Campbell's work on myths, Jungian psychology, Zen Buddhism, government 'weather modification' experiments and the religious beliefs of islanders like the Maori and Hawaiians. The book reaches its peak when Kotler focuses on the inner workings of the human brain. His reasoning of how genetic and biological factors combine with physical and emotional experiences to create the spiritual 'funkytown' feeling unique to surfing is both enlightening and inspirational."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Steven Kotler

Steven Kotler's novel The Angle Quickest for Flight was a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and won the William L. Crawford IAFA Fantasy Award. His nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, GQ, National Geographic, Details, Wired, Men's Journal, Maxim, Salon, and elsewhere. He has surfed all over the world and lives in Los Angeles, California.

Ryan Heffernan

Steven Kotler

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